Devstream 37 aired on 19 September 2014.
Our bi-weekly Devstreams are always focused on what’s in store for the future of Warframe, and more often than not those watching get a small taste of what’s to come. It’s pretty common for us to show off some new mechanics or a level design currently undergoing development; and believe it or not getting your feedback live is pretty vital to knowing whether or not we’re on the right track. But before a new Grineer ship can be made, or slick Archwing design can be fixed onto Excalibur, everything has to go through a very specific process. It all starts with concept.
Janice and Roger are two of our concept artists responsible for pulling together much of the iconic visual elements of Warframe, and were happy to sit down with us for Devstream 37 to talk about how they go about the process of designing weapons and landscapes that don’t yet exist.
If you missed the live broadcast and would still like to see Janice and Roger work their magic in real time you can check out our YouTube link here. Otherwise for this particular Devstream Overview we’re going to take a look at not only some of the art they shared with us, but what methodology they use to approach each task they’re given.
To get things rolling it’s important to keep in mind that each faction in Warframe has a very specific design philosophy that keeps all weapons, characters, and tilesets heavily grounded in a societal aesthetic. There’s never a point in time where our artists design a weapon or background ‘just to be more modern day’, or alter the quality of their work simply to look more gritty.
Using these rules for each faction our artists will often try to draw inspiration from things that fit the shape language and general appeal of what they need to draw. Janice for example will use real world objects that tend to fit the blocky aesthetic of the Corpus, like an ink cartridge. What objects they’ll explore looking at for inspiration will always change depending on the tone or environment. It’s really anything goes!
When designing environment it’s always important to get a sense of size and scale. Roger was kind enough to show us how the handy custom-made Grineer brush lends a helping hand in the process, placing who I’ve named as John Grineer in a wide variety of quickly sketched environments. The goal was to conceptualize the Grineer Queen’s Throne Room, and considering we don’t even know what the Queens look like it’s certainly a good challenge.
It’s easy to see that John Grineer immediately gives a sense of perspective to the scale of each environment. Each concept follows the basic rules of Grineer design while at the same time tries to capture the intimidating presence that the Queens would probably have. Let’s just hope John has good news.
Lots of small, gritty details can be quickly added by using prefabricated shapes, something Roger uses in all of his work to give that extra bit of detail. This stage is also done entirely in black and white as it allows Roger to produce a few different concept sketches in quick succession. From there each concept will be reviewed by Art Director Mynki who will decide which concept should move on. Sometimes it’s an individual concept, but it can also be a concept with alterations made, or several concepts combined into a single idea.
Each image should be able to start a conversation on its own, and the best concepts will often tell a story.
Is one Queen more influential than the other? Perhaps they have personalities that are polar from one another? Does one enjoy being closer to the Grineer in question when taking in news...or dealing punishment?
Reviewing a rough concept can take a few days to a week depending on both the artist’s workload, but once a basic design has been selected a much more detailed version of the sketch is the next phase of the process. It all depends on the feedback, and some environments can take a lot of adjustments before they’re ready for more detail.
While Roger walked us through what it took to create our environments, Janice took over giving us a lesson in making simple but effective icons for Warframe powers. The most important aspect of this concept is that Ability Powers need to be simple and easy to understand at a glance. Just looking at the icon need to give an idea of what the Warframe’s power is capable of. Janice starts off by sketching a fair range of concepts to represent each ability.
This particular range of powers belong to an earth-based Warframe made up by our Design Council, but the basis behind each ability is pretty clear. Using simple shape to convey an action we can see how each ability could be viewed in different ways. Powers transition from being simple to more chaotic (with the Ultimate ability usually being the most complex), and so Janice’s art needs to reflex that change as well.
Once it’s been decided which visual silhouette best works with each ability Janice sharpens up the concept. The final product is something a lot cleaner, and clearly represents each power at glance. You’ll also notice that, just like with Roger’s concept example, some elements of multiple sketches have been blended together.
Janice has handled most of the Warframe Power concepts, and although she doesn’t yet know the meaning of Bird Lifters she did enjoy drawing the acrobatic Zephyr’s power icons the most. On the opposite spectrum would be Mirage, due to how abstract her powers are to describe. Trying summarize abilities that rig things to explode and use the light and darkness as passive buffs just isn’t as easy.
Janice was also kind enough to talk about what goes into designing some Tenno weapons, showing off some Lex Prime concept work. After coming up with a few ideas on what a Primed pistol may look like she submits the work to Mynki. It’s at this stage where, just like any other concept work, the idea is refined and polished to be much closer to a final product. In the case of Lex Prime a small portion of each of these concepts were used in the creation of the final handgun.
To use a weapon that hasn’t yet been made as a concept example Janice also shared art for an upcoming Tenno bow. Designing weapons with unusual shapes does have its own sets of challenges, and in the case of a bow how it’s handled by the player is one of the biggest things she needs to keep in mind during its design. Generally she’ll start by working on how a weapon looks, only to go back and make functional revisions if need be.
Quite a few questions came in over the course of the Devstream for the artistic duo, ranging from personal artistic preference to their experience designing concept for Warframe. To review just a few of the more specific answers:
- Prime weapons can be a particularly difficult task for Janice due to how many specific details must be involved in their design. Corpus weapons on the other hand are much more fun to play around with.
- Both Roger and Janice were asked if Grineer weapons emulate real weapons, and the answer is a resounding no! The art direction their weapons lean towards depends entirely on what background they’re given for the gun.
- How often do weapons not make the cut? A lot. Sometimes weapons don’t properly translate to 3d, or reflect what the faction is really all about. If there’s ever any doubt as to whether or not the Corpus, Grineer or Tenno would use a weapon the odds are high it doesn’t go in the game.
- Their work usually focuses on creating concept for environments, weapons and props. Both Roger and Janice love working on interior and exterior environments, but Janice has a particular fondness for outdoors sets because they allow her to explore a different range of landscapes and colors.
- Neither really get any inspiration from anime, although they get a lot of inspiration from looking at video game art. Roger did say that he has recently started reading Akira, and is enjoying his readthrough of the manga!
When we imagine the upcoming underwater tileset the first thing that comes to mind is what the building looks like in general, but a big part of making a new environment come to life is filling it with props. Large whirring machines and industrial pollution are all a big part of what make a Grineer tileset, well, Grineer.
In the case of this these upcoming underwater bases Roger was tasked with the job of making a machine that would operate in a Grineer cloning facility. His first sketch covers all the easy bases; the shape and color of the cloning vat all adhere to the basic principles of Grineer design. You could picture it fitting pretty well in facility producing troops en masse. Then Roger had an idea...
How do these clone machines work? Do they simply generate adult Grineer, or would they need a fuel of sorts? What if the Grineer sacrificed a single clone to distill his genetic sequence and create more? With that in mind we can see his creative addition to Warframe lore. All that’s left is to alter the device to take this creative twist in mind...
A variety of alternative cloning machines are drawn up, each with their own design quirks. The tone of the cloning vats have become slightly more sinister but given how the Grineer are pretty ok with making sacrifices for the ‘greater good’ it all kind of makes sense. Once the final concept has been narrowed down Roger draws up some basic shapes in Zbrush, a tool used for creating 3D structures and images. From there he can get a better idea of what the machine would look like in game.
The core idea that we started with is still there, but as we get closer to the final product we can see where Roger’s creative expertise has dramatically shifted the tone of the structure. From here the machine moves onward to other members of the team in order to be properly fit into the upcoming tileset, but his creative expertise has laid out everything needed to help better capture the cruel technological wonder in game.
For an example of something Roger’s worked on in game that’s already been created we need look no further than the Clan Dojo! Right from the original concept work we can see that there are a lot of similarities to the final product. Part of his inspiration came from real world FBI training courses where you’re expected to clear a circuit that tests both your agility and your wits.
Another big part of the design was starting the obstacle course with a jump, because everyone loves to jump! Jumping is a huge part of Warframe, whether it’s over small obstacles and ledges or just for fun. Kicking things off with a gravity defying leap gave players just the right mindset to tackle the rest of the course. For the record, he’s really proud of how that concept turned out.
Tyl Regor ReworkEdit
While Tyl Regor is getting his own makeover Janice is working on furnishing his new base of operations. The self-absorbed father of Grineer genetics it’s only fitting that Tyl erect statues dedicated to his greatness, an odd quirk amongst Grineer who are (as a whole) known for their disposability.
To try and capture as much of Tyl’s grandeur as possible Janice played around with not only the shape and structure of Tyl’s statue but also with the general shape of the room inhabited. Long hallways versus sweeping archways and subtle adjustments to lighting all give a different sense of Tyl’s self-adoration. All that’s missing is the gift shop where he sells bobble heads and posters of himself, but I’m sure Janice is already working on that.
Finally, I would hate to end this Overview without taking a look at Janice’s undersea creature that players may find stalking the depths of the ocean. Just like with environment and props our concept artists are given a brief description of what the creature’s purpose is. In this case: An underwater crab that punches holes in Grineer structures.
It sounds hilarious and amazing, and fortunately for Janice force-punching crustaceans already exist underwater! Taking a few key design cues from the famous mantis shrimp (look it up, it’s incredible) Janice’s underwater pest is a unique mix of powerful claws and deep sea camouflage. You can see what images she referenced in getting what kind of colors and texture such a creature would have, and the Grineer silhouette gives a good idea of why something like this could be a bit of a pest hanging too close to their underwater laboratories.
As a huge fan of crustaceans I can only hope we get to ally with this species, roaming the sea while riding on our powerful boxing allies...but the reality is we’ll probably see this fellow cruising the skybox in search of a good meal. Or perhaps love. We may never know.
A huge thanks goes out to Roger and Janice for taking the time to not only share some of their work, but also in sharing methods in creating such incredible art. It help us all better appreciate what goes into creating such amazing environments and weapons, and we certainly can’t wait to see what you and the rest of our incredibly talented artists come up with next!
Be sure to stay tuned for our next Devstream on October 3!