Mass Effect: Assembling the Art Interview

The folks at Pixologic have posted a lengthy ten-page interview with several of the BioWare artists who worked on the characters we've mingled with in the Mass Effect universe. Contributing the answers are art director Derek Watts and character artists Jaemus Wurzbach, Rion Swanson, Kolby Jukes, Leroy Chen, and Ken Finlayson:
The Mass Effect universe features something like 20 races so far. Where do you come up with all these ideas?

Derek Watts Art Director: It all starts with writing. Once they give us a brief description we can then move into the concept phase. We spend a great deal of time creating a visual "language" for each race. We want to be able to give them a hook that sticks with people long after they play the game. We usually start in phases with the first phase being whatever the concept artist thinks would look cool. This is the phase where they have the most freedom to push their own ideas. Ben Huen and Matt Rhodes did an awesome job giving us tremendous variety in a short time period. Then we start to narrow it down in the later phases and begin looking out for trouble spots: will it work correctly for combat, animation and digital acting?

You rarely nail it in the first phase. We usually go 3 or 4 phases before we get the final version.


Normandy II is a big step up from the original. How did you go about evolving the design while also staying so very true to the spirit of the first?

Derek Watts Art Director: I can still remember the day that Casey told me he wanted to blow up the Normandy: instant rage. I screamed, "Are you crazy? The first one took months to design and build!) I was overreacting on this subject and went on many rants about why we blow up everything in video games. Once the reality set in that they weren't going to change their minds, I convinced Casey to make only minor changes to the original design. We defined the cockpit more and made it smaller to create the illusion the ship was larger. We streamlined the shape and gave it more of a delta wing appearance. We added another level of windows on the side to bulk up the size. We referenced the B1 bomber and the Concorde which still look aggressive for such large planes. In the end the Normandy 2 came out looking pretty damned awesome.

Rion Swanson Character Artist: The design was very well planned out in the concept stage, but after the base model was built there were quite a few tweaks and adjustments made to further refine it. Slight adjustments of subtle angles and curves were the major factor that eventually led to the final approved model. It did take some time to get this right, as it sometimes does when translating objects from 2D into 3D. We basically considered the Normandy II a character in itself and had to make sure we spent the necessary time refining both the exterior and the interior spaces. The original Normandy was referenced heavily throughout the process in order to preserve and carry forward elements of its unique character.
Thanks, RPGWatch.