The Art of Batman: Arkham Asylum

CBR is back with our continuing series of interviews with the team behind the upcoming "Batman: Arkham Asylum" game. Over the past few months, we have spoken to Senior Producer Nathan Burlow and Writer Paul Dini, who gave us some insight into how the project came together and what the game's storyline will be. This time around, we will be focusing on how the creative team approached the art design of "Batman: Arkham Asylum," and what influences they drew from in putting together the look of the game.

David Hego is the Art Director at Rocksteady Studios, and we caught up with him recently to talk about the visual aspect of "Batman: Arkham Asylum's" setting and characters.

CBR: David, how would you describe the overall look of "Batman: Arkham Asylum?"

DAVID HEGO: The first main goal while designing the visual direction of "Batman: Arkham Asylum" was to work on a glue that would join two diametrically opposed styles: the comic book style and an ultra realistic render. The traits of the characters and the environmental architecture had to be extravagant enough to embrace the essence of the Batman universe, but at the same time we wanted to give the game a very realistic touch in the texture treatment and in the details. Everything had to feel consistent and in a sense "real."

The second goal in the art direction was to recreate the dark and gothic feel that is inherent to the Batman universe in general and Arkham Asylum in particular. We wanted the game as dark as possible to really suit the twisted mood and atmosphere of the asylum. The building by itself had to feel as insane as the lunatics it holds.

As you put together the look of Batman and The Joker for this game, what were the specific incarnations of them from the comics that you drew inspiration from?

Jim Lee's Batman was a strong starting reference point as how Batman should look in the game: a muscular, trained and strong character that wouldn't feel out of place in extreme combat situations. We went for the dark grey and black costume, to stay close to the latest iterations of the comic versions.

As for The Joker, once again we stayed away from any movie interpretations as we were working with the original Batman license. We took the interpretation of The Joker from the "Killing Joke" comics and started iterating from there.

For Batman, how many concepts did you go through before settling on his look?

During the development of "Batman: Arkham Asylum" we worked closely with WildStorm for the concepts of Batman and all of the villains present in the game. I would say that there was been between 10 and 15 concepts of Batman before we started settling on his final look. The collaboration with WildStorm was very open and fructuous.

Are there any particular villains that you were able to bring a really unique take to, maybe something the fans aren't expecting?

We brought novelty to many of the characters as we wanted the Batman fans to be excited to discover a new take on the Batman universe. One character that comes straight to mind is Harley Quinn. She is drastically different from what you've already seen of her in the comics. In "Batman: Arkham Asylum" she is dressed with a mix of a nurse and schoolgirl outfit that gives her a very interesting look I'm sure fans will appreciate!

Through this game, fans are going to get a look inside Arkham Asylum they've never had before. How much have you added to the Arkham Asylum fans are familiar with from the comics?

In the comics, Arkham Asylum is commonly depicted as a big mansion or a big building. In "Batman: Arkham Asylum" we created an entire island that is not without hints of Alcatraz. So the asylum is not comprised of only one building, but of several constructions that are laid out across the island, giving the player a lot more variation and freedom in the exploration of the environment and of Arkham Asylum.

Since the major set piece of the game is Arkham Asylum, how do you create variety within that one structure in order to keep everything from feeling static?

As Arkham Asylum is composed of several different buildings, we worked on different architectural styles to make the place believable and add a layer of history to each location. For example, while the administration building (the historical Arkham mansion) is designed with a high gothic architecture style in mind, the medical aisle is more inspired from a Victorian architecture and metalwork structure. On the other hand the intensive treatment unit is composed of a strong industrial gothic architecture and the catacombs hearken of an early twentieth century brickwork and industrial Victorian era.

How does the level design process work for the art team? Are the levels built around the artists' concept designs, or vice versa?

The levels are built by the designers. The gameplay is a vital part in creating an exciting game, so the designers are laying down game mechanic elements in very simple room volumes and shapes before any artist work is done. Concept artists are, in parallel, creating pieces of artwork that will follow the art direction and the general style of each location. An environment artist will then take the shell and dress it up to make it look like a believable and functional room. He will create and place a huge amount of 3D elements both in term of architecture and objects. The amount of detail in "Batman: Arkham Asylum" is unbelievable.

How iterative is the process? How often do you go back and redesign a character or location after you see how it looks in the game engine?

Several iterations can occur during the development of a location or a character. In general we try to keep these iterations happening as early as possible to minimize the amount of rework for the artists. Building a room or a character to final quality can taking several weeks!

Does the Unreal engine the game is designed on pose any particular challenges from an art design standpoint (color palette, etc.)?

The Unreal engine is a very powerful engine and we tried to get as much juice out of it as possible. I think we are pushing it to the edge on the consoles with the amount of details we are displaying in the environment and on the characters.

A brown and monochromatic color palette is often over used to depict a dark and moody atmosphere. This is something we definitely didn't want to do, as we wanted the game to be as vibrant as a comic book. We used a lot of saturated colors in the lighting while successfully keeping the mood dark and gothic. This was quite a challenge by itself.

Another challenge was to manage the amount of detail we wanted to display while making the game fit in the console's memory. We had to steam in and out every single room seamlessly to allow us as much memory as possible to store the textures and the geometry.

Did you storyboard out all of the cinematics for the game as well?

Yes, all the cinematics were storyboarded by an in-house concept artist, before being pre-visualized in the engine. We then used motion capture to record the character animation.

Can we expect to see more of the concept and design artwork from the game, perhaps in a collector's edition?

There is concept and design artwork that players will be able to unlock as they progress through the game.

A big thanks to David Hego for providing us with a look behind the art design of "Batman: Arkham Asylum." The game is currently scheduled for an August 25 release on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Stay tuned to CBR News for more exclusive interviews, as next month we'll be talking with the developers about what fans can expect from "Arkham Asylum's" gameplay. For more info on the game itself, head over to the official website at www.batmanarkhamasylum.com.

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