Art Director Joel Smith explains how artwork is an emotional journey
Hi everyone. My name is Joel Smith and I’m the Art Director on PlayStation VR Worlds. I’ve been working on the game since the very beginning and as we finally approach the launch, I’m excited be able to tell you more about the project and how it was brought to life..
In virtual reality, art really comes into its own: it’s engrossing and compelling and it allows us to push the boundaries of what art can do. In VR, the art direction is about much more than simply what the game looks like – it’s about how it makes the player feel.
With this in mind, I wanted to dial the artwork up to 11; to make it more exciting and compelling than simple reality. Instead of a strictly ‘virtual’ reality, think of PlayStation VR Worlds as an exaggerated, “theatrical” reality.
Like all good drama, the result has to be a believable, engrossing world, but one that’s also more dramatic and exciting than real life. This exaggerated reality allows us to shape the player’s experience in a number of ways:
Firstly, it leads the player on an emotional journey. To take Ocean Descent, for example: the schematic chart below was developed in pre-production and plots not only the player’s physical journey, but also – right alongside – their emotional journey. The artwork plays a key part in shaping this.
At the top – the beginning of the journey – the shapes, colour and lighting are soft and painterly, making the player feel calm, relaxed and allowing them to wonder at the new world they’ve entered.
But as the player dives deeper, their descent and their emotional journey becomes – both literally and metaphorically – much darker.
The soft, painterly aesthetic becomes increasingly angular, dark and twisted. Sharp aggressive shapes, dramatic lighting contrasts and violent bursts of red punctuating the darkness: all the things combine to increase the tension and set the player’s nerves on edge.
In Scavengers Odyssey this journey is reversed. The world around you is fractured and destroyed to begin with, colours are vivid and punchy before the world becomes harmonious and structured towards the end.
Just as costume, make-up and set work together in the theatre and film to tell us more about the characters than the script alone, the art direction in The London Heist gives us an insight into the characters’ stories and emotions.
Take the pub in The London Heist: on the surface, it’s an ordinary boozer, but look closer and you’ll notice little details that you definitely won’t find down your local.
The stools and chairs are made out of old coshes, repeated designs of knives in feature in the glasswork and there birdcage motifs that allude to prison. Together these hint at some kind of a criminal connection. In fact, the pub is a portrait of its owner: a once potent London gangster, in and out of prison, now emasculated by age and out of step with the changing face of modern crime.
While the details tell us about the man, the colours and lighting give us an insight into his psyche. The greens create a sense of decay and envy whilst the reds evoke thoughts of blood and vengeance.
Having said the artwork should be theatrical it might seem contradictory to say it should also be believable. But think of Pixar’s animated features and the worlds they create. They’re definitely not realistic – but they’re absolutely believable.
VR Luge’s more simplistic, pared down style contrasts with the detail found in The London Heist, its strong silhouettes and bold forms aiding the exhilaration of a downhill race. Looking at the composition as a whole, at high speed, it becomes a believable world.
DangerBall is the most arcade-style game in the suite, but it too still exists in a believable world.
Its real world materials with physical properties give you a sense of being totally immersed. For example, when the ball hits the wall, the wall breaks up.
Despite its arcade style, the theatrical sense of excitement is also maintained by placing you within a colossal future sport arena – a dynamic environment, where bright colours burst against the dark space beyond.
I’ve enjoyed looking back on the project in order to share this brief insight into the art direction of PlayStation VR Worlds.
Our aim was to give you an extraordinary reality, that give you experiences like no other. As an art director, it’s been a great experience and I’m certain the end result will be a great experience for players.