Behind the art of Hades: “We value artistic integrity and excellence in artistic craft at Supergiant, however we’re first and foremost a game design-led team.”

After winning an impressive and deserved four BAFTAs at the recent BAFTA Games Awards ceremony, we wanted to see more of Hades’ incredible art and get the story behind its production. So here’s insight from Supergiant Game’s BAFTA-winning art director Jen Zee

Jen Zee, Supergiant Games

Was the appearance of the game core to its initial concept?

We value artistic integrity and excellence in artistic craft at Supergiant, however we’re first and foremost a game design-led team. I got into game development to make exciting, engaging, worlds and you don’t start with appearance when those are your goals.

This probably comes as some surprise though I’d say this attitude stems from a sense of confidence that we can find a suitable look and attractive artistic perspective for just about anything our game designers wanted to create.

This isn’t to say that we didn’t give the look of the game any thought up front or that we don’t lobby internally for specific artistic choices. That happens a lot too, but as far as initial concepts are concerned – I generally consider art ideas disposable until the gameplay and narrative harden up enough to serve as a solid foundation.

What influences (within or beyond games) did you draw from?

A throughline of the influences that I love to draw from are that they’re often traditional or rooted in classical art. On our previous game, Pyre, I’d gotten really into some pen and ink artists. The inky influence I’d wanted to incorporate into Pyre was resurrected in Hades.

When thinking of dark, fantastical ink work it’s hard not to invoke the incredible Mike Mignola. We also found influence in Fred Taylor, a mid 19th century poster artist.

Making assets in pen and ink goes much faster than painterly work and I knew we were going to make the biggest game Supergiant had ever produced – meaning more assets! – so it all worked out quite nicely that this art style I was personally curious about aligned with our experiential and technical goals on the game. Of course, we frequently referenced the work of the Ancient Greeks themselves!

Tell us how the art was created and by whom?

Beyond myself (characters, environments, concept) we have Josh Barnett (FX art, UI design and animations), Joanne Tran (environments), Paige Carter (3D Models), Thinh Ngo (animator) and Camilo Vanegas (animator/modeler). We also worked with contract artists to pick up some of the remaining work like icons and trophies.

Can you put ANY numbers on the scale of the project?

Sure! 59 portraits, 68 models, 194 boon icons,1,400 environment textures, 32,494 FX animation frames and 942,489 character and enemy animation frames were shipped!

What tools/techniques were used to create the game’s look?

We relied completely on Photoshop to create 2D assets. The 3D work was modeled and animated with Maya, and post-processed through AfterFX. Some additional tools we used were Zbrush, Substance Painter and Marvelous Designer. Fun note – our animator, Thinh used mocap as a basis for a large chunk of animation in the game!

At the inception of the project, we’d thought the art style would be painterly. We ended up pivoting to pen and ink when the narrative and tone changed drastically during preproduction.

The piece that gave me confidence that a switch to pen and ink could work!

 

This was the first attempt at a sketch of Zagreus, our new protagonist following a narrative pivot during preproduction. It immediately felt ‘right’ – the final design doesn’t stray too far from this idea.

 

A very early version of Tartarus that was darker and more muted than what we shipped.

 

An early attempt to visualize the color script of the game in order to catch any oddities or weakness in the full game experience. There are some biome ideas we didn’t end up pursuing.

 

The final concept that would serve as the springboard for the Elyisum tileset creation.

 

The piece that gave me confidence that a switch to pen and ink could work!

About Seth Barton

Seth Barton is the editor of MCV – which covers every aspect of the industry: development, publishing, marketing and much more. Before that Seth toiled in games retail at Electronics Boutique, studied film at university, published console and PC games for the BBC, and spent many years working in tech journalism. Living in South East London, he divides his little free time between board games, video games, beer and family. You can find him tweeting @sethbarton1.

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