3D Artist talks with Chi-Wai Lao about his design of Isaac Clarke’s suit in Dead Space 2
3D Artist: What software and hardware do you use the most within your work and why?
Chi-Wai Lao: Photoshop and Maya are the two main softwares I use when it comes to creating in-game art assets. Photoshop with a Wacom tablet is my ‘go to’ setup for all my concept artwork, but nothing beats my trusty pencils and paper. I always start out my sketch with a Col-Erase light blue pencil, rough out the shapes and brainstorming the design elements until I get something I like, then going over it again with a mechanical pencil as a second detail pass. Then I would scan the drawings and import them to Photoshop for further refinements or colour work. But the majority of my design work is done on paper.
3DA: Were there any factors had to be taken into consideration when initially concepting Isaac’s suit? Things like weight, movement, what it was made from and so on.
CWL: Definitely. While I have a bit more freedom on the suit designs at the early concept stage, proportion, movement, weight, textures, and dismemberment all plays a significant role on things we can or cannot do on the suit as we are narrowing down the final design. While the suits in Dead Space 2 varies quite a bit visually, they all have to work well with the same character set up, same animation, same texture budget and so forth, leaving a lot of constraints on how the 3D model has to look like in the end. Things that look good on paper don’t always translate well to a 3D animated model, and those are the things that I have to always look out for.
3DA: Isaac has awesome suit boosters to rocket around in – how were these incorporated into the design of the outfit? Was it easy or difficult to do this?
CWL: One of the main new features we have in Dead Space 2 is the improved Zero-G gameplay where Isaac can navigate freely in the Zero-G 3D space. To highlight that visually, we want to enhance the suits to work with that functionality, and that is where the additional boosters came in. It took some work to incorporate those onto the suits, as the boosters and flaps dictate certain design elements on the suit, where they should be placed, and how they should set up to work with the animation. It took some trial and error to get them right.
3DA: How much of the gameplay influences (if at all) the design of Isaac and his suit? And how did you tackle this?
CWL: The gameplay influences a great deal. To name a few examples, the zero-g gameplay functionality mentioned earlier is one of the main factor on the suit design, with flaps, boosters, and nozzles incorporated into specific locations of the suit. Also, we have to pay close attention to shapes and armor parts that won’t obscure the camera view of the player when aiming, reads well when they are in motion, as well as how well different weapons can fit on Isaac’s arm with minimal geometry clipping.
In Dead Space 2, the suits also have retractable helmets, which collapse into segments and stored in the chest projector piece as well as the RIG on Isaac’s back. It was a design choice to enhance emotional connection between the player and Isaac, seeing his face more often. To serve that purpose, the suits have to be designed with the RIG and chest piece big enough to store the collapsed helmet pieces. Getting the helmets to look and work right was a lot of work. Visibility of the HUD on Isaac’s RIG is also very important. Since the meters are crucial elements for the player to see at all times while playing the game, we have to make sure all these read and function well at all camera angles, and still look good on Isaac’s back. So there are already quite a few things to consider, without getting into the aesthetics of the suit.
3DA: Judging by the screenshots we’ve seen, his suit looks a little tighter and lighter than before, but how has it evolved visually (and with reference to the gameplay) since the last instalment?
CWL: When comparing the Miner Suit from Dead Space to the Advanced Suit in Dead Space 2, the new suit evolved in ways that geared towards to the newer image we want to present Dead Space 2 as. The suit has a much sleeker and agile silhouette, with very sharp angular shapes and helmet. The suit is more mobile, and the details reflect a more technological advanced body suit. Even the HUD visual effects has been upgraded on the RIG with full holographic display on Isaac’s back. We want to come up with a look that conveys the tighter gameplay controls that we have in Dead Space 2, and a new look that stands out a bit from the utilitarian approach of the previous Dead Space suits.
3DA: What was your favourite part of the project overall and is there anything you’d consider changing next time?
CWL: It is hard for me to pick a favourite part, as I enjoy the different stages of the design process. And as an artist, there is always room for improvements. The next sketch will always seem better than my last one, even though I have to call it done at some point without being 100% happy with it at times. I do have to say the earlier designing phase is probably the most care free, as there is more freedom to just draw something cool with less technical constraint. But there is a lot of gratification when I see my design, meshed with a lot of hard work from my teammates and turned into the cool character that many Dead Space fans love, as well as having an action figure of such design held in my own bare hands. It is a great feeling.
For more behind-the-scenes access on Dead Space 2, including full interviews with three members of the dev team, check out the in-depth feature in 3D Artist issue 26 – available to buy as a back issue from the official Imagine eShop now. Alternatively, iPad, iPhone and iPod touch owners can download their copy of the magazine through Apple’s iTunes store.
Images All Dead Space 2 images © Electronic Arts Ltd