Past and present SMS artists share their most inspired artwork.
As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Santa Monica Studio, we’re turning back the clock on some of the most memorable art from God of War — art that helped define the franchise that built our studio. From in-house concept artists still with us today to numerous legendary artists of our past, we asked each to select their most inspired God of War art piece that made a significant impact on them or the franchise. Many of these contain never before shared behind-the-scenes sdetails… and certainly some perhaps you never knew.
Charlie Wen – Former Concept Artist
(“Kratos Legendary Napkin Design” – God of War)
It has to be the napkin sketches I did when I first captured who Kratos was going to be.
After going through several iterations of the main character, I was having a bit more clarity of who Kratos was, and came prepared for a lunch/design session — armed with multiple pens, even a brush pen. Then, as ideas started to flow, I realized I had no sketchbook — good thing the restaurant had napkins. A vision of Kratos came to me that needed to get out of my head and onto paper (or napkin) — he had wide double blades attached to his forearms by chains that he would fling around. The napkins soon filled with Kratos flying through the air with double blades. I remember going through several napkins to the point that 90% of Kratos’s finished design came out in that lunch session. As for the napkin sketches, most of them probably got crumpled in some jean pocket and eaten by the wash… but thankfully, not all of them.
Cecil Kim – Former Concept Artist
(“Suicide Bluffs – God of War”)
I did this piece early in the God of War 1 production, which means we knew Kratos will jump off the cliff at the beginning of the game. What a depressing start of a game! I also remember we tried to emphasize how emotionally beaten he is leading up to this point. I remember they (probably design team, David Jaffe) were telling me Kratos could barely drag himself up to the top which was the original plan. (I did not know what event took place before this. Which was the final Zeus battle at the end of the game!) That’s why you see a narrow trail leading up to the top on the left side of the cliff in my artwork.
Also, we were a fairly small art team back then; Ken Feldman, who was in charge of the level, also sat with me and shared his challenge to build all the areas with the graphical limitations we had. So no trees! I needed a perfect angle to show everything, so I made all the rocks in a stylized way, rather focus on a dark, chill tone of the area. Unfortunately, you do not see this view in the opening scene but you can feel and smell the same air if you know what I mean!
Scott Seeto – Former Concept Artist
(“Icarus” – God of War II)
Ultimately I’ll have to go with Icarus. One: it is always fun to design a crazy character and show it in their features and pose. It may not have been a big character but he was fun to do! Two: I was satisfied with the outcome of the illustration. For sure, some things could have been done better on it, but for time I had on it, I was pleased. Three: it is hard to see and it did not make it into the game I do not think. As part of his craziness, I originally thought of him holding a deceased cat all the time as a pet (it must have been a late night when I thought of it)! I would like to add, my time as a concept artist on God of War was a blast!
Andy Park – Former Concept Artist
(“Kratos vs Poseidon” – God of War III)
I would have to say the concept design illustration I did of the first main boss of God of War 3, Poseidon, was pretty special for me. I remember getting the prompt of a water-based behemoth that the Poseidon god would transform into and thinking what a fun challenge that was going to be to tackle. However, as I was letting my imagination run wild with the possibilities of this kind of creature that would attack Kratos in several simply massive ways I caught myself thinking, “How the heck are they going to pull off any of these things?” It’s one thing to design it but a totally another thing to make come alive in a 3D gameplay environment, and with the limitations of the PS3 platform engine.
Well, it was a pleasure to design a crazy boss character like this that has never been seen in the God of War franchise, if not even the entire PS3 line of games, but it might have been an even bigger pleasure to see the amazing team execute this in reality for the game. A special shout out goes to Max Ancar making a character made of water come alive! Poseidon was definitely my favorite design I got to do during my long run on the God of War franchise.
Erik San Juan – Former Concept Artist
(“Amazonian Warrior” – God of War Ascension)
During pre-production for God of War: Ascension, the concept team had a month of “blue-sky” design time where we would toss around crazy ideas. With the mysterious fate of Kratos at the end of God of War 3, we knew we wanted to give him a successor — a new hero who would go looking for him. Not unlike the most recent entry in the series, we imagined that he had a hidden daughter and began sketching ideas of what she would look like. Other ideas we tossed around were using Artemis as the focus with similar rage and vengeance as Kratos — even concepting her to be a Centaur with magical powers!
Shown here was my only contribution to the team with a tattoo design on her face. Once we knew we were bringing back Kratos in a Prequel these designs would later evolve into the Amazonian Warrior that we see in Ascension. Santa Monica Studio is an incredible environment for creativity and I will always carry fond memories like these of my time working with such amazing artists.
Luke Berliner – Present, Lead Concept Artist
(“Canyon Bull” – God of War: Ascension)
I did this concept eight years ago when I first joined Santa Monica Studio on God of War: Ascension, I was so proud of it and felt like I was finally starting to understand what makes something work in a God of War game. Flash forward to today and this image is hung on the wall as you enter our internal space. I walk by it every day. When I look at it now years later I see how much I have grown as an artist at Santa Monica Studio and it’s fun to see how our games have changed too.
Joe Kennedy – Present, Senior Concept Artist
(“The Hunt” – God of War 2018)
The team chose the comic medium for “The Hunt” since it was an ideal tool that could simultaneously visualize components of gameplay and storytelling. The scene is a vertical slice of God of War that I had the creative freedom to visualize how Kratos and his son, Atreus, would begin this new journey. It was great to see the concepts illustrated in The Hunt maintain integrity throughout the development process and the team helped see it into the final game.
Yefim Kligerman – Present, Concept Artist
(“The Ancient” – God of War 2018)
I chose this concept of the Ancient because it shows a different take on the very common rock monster. I was able to integrate some curves to break up the solid rock shapes, as well as explore the humanity of this old magical being. The Ancient was always a great prompt to work off of because it’s supposed to be one of the oldest things in this world, a living being powered by magic and created as monument for prayer.
Annis Naeem – Former Concept Artist
(“Helheim” – God of War 2018)
I had been struggling to get a look and feel for Helheim until this pivotal piece. The brief was that it would be extremely cold and icy but it wouldn’t be a frozen wonderland. The walking dead that were infused together on the bridge, the stormy look, the towering columns/gates. Some of the elements in the painting were inspired by Zdzislaw Beksinkski and how he paints bony super structures.
Jin Kim – Former Concept Artist
(“Helheim Hræsvelg” – God of War 2018)
My portion of contribution to the project was mainly on the realm of Helheim. For that reason, I chose the artwork with the eagle chained up on top of the Helheim monolith because the eagle is such an iconic creature to the realm. Things shown in this shot can represent almost everything happening in Helheim from the Sea of Knives to the cold weather that the eagle is creating by its giant wings, giant monoliths connected with the bridges that the dead walk on and so on. I personally grew fond of this one because of how long I was working on this place and how I thought it was so cool to have a cold version of Hell was back then.
The team back then was struggling with the decision on how to have the eagle’s appearance in the realm, and I remember when they finally brought the task of concepting the scene to me to have the eagle in the very center of the Helheim, I was very excited to paint the shot. It was really nice to see everyone’s reaction when we showed the concept to people too. It also felt like a good collaboration with other artists because of some of the elements in the painting that were designed by other concept artists, and it was really nice to orchestrate them in one illustration. This was a good finale to the whole Helheim-concepting act to me.
Dela Longfish – Present, Lead Concept Artist
(“Draugr” – God of War 2018)
The Draugr were one of the earliest characters I worked on. Knowing this was a character we would see in almost every area in the game we explored a wide range of looks for what they could be. I eventually explored an idea of a character whose body is dead but was unnaturally being brought back to life by the pure will of its spirit. To further complement that, I made their bodies broken and fractured, to sell the idea that they were no longer from the land of the living.
Abe Taraky – Present, Senior Concept Artist
(“Týr” – God of War 2018)
When Kratos and Atreus discover the flooded area, they are amazed at the opulence and destruction of the temple. In support of these two themes, I ensured that every design choice added to this duality. A good example of this is the monolithic statue of Tyr that sits on the temple entrance. Its jewel encrusted shield, weapon and armor plating, stands in stark contrast to large hole at its chest and flames that engulf its helmet. Early on, this helps the player question the environment and wonder, what manner of god built such a temple and why was it was destroyed?
(“A Call From The Wilds” – God of War 2018)
The set of images for PlayStation Experience were special for me. Specifically, this one, as it aimed to capture the boy in a fading moment of solemn beauty and inevitable death.
(“Faye’s Funeral” – God of War 2018)
The reason is just that it somewhat helped me reconnect with the loss of my own mother, which is something that happened when I was a teen, and I had encapsulated that memory to have it as something that wouldn’t affect me at all. Working on this piece made me remember her. I can guess most developers had their little personal moments during the development because the game touches some very primal fibers here and there.
Make sure to hit up the PlayStation Store where we have a very special Santa Monica Studio showcase, featuring sales on many of our PlayStation 4 games, and a journey through our history. You can also now watch our full-length feature documentary, Raising Kratos, on your PlayStation console free, through the PlayStation Store as well.
Thank you once again, your unwavering support these past 20 years has truly transformed us.