…I was really surprised by how they communicated, the employees were all around the globe so I was a little afraid, but it was actually efficient.
Jean Brice Dugait is a freelance entertainment artist, currently living in Montpellier, France. He has worked on a number of successful video game franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Rayman at Ubisoft before moving on to contributing to Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition at Moon Studios.
Unfortunately, Jean wasn’t too happy with the world-building aspect of the Assassin’s Creed project he was doing, he said that “It’s a great franchise, I just wasn’t happy working on that kind of world[…]” And went on to tell us that when he heard that Moon Studios were looking for artists to help on the definitive edition of Ori, he knew that that’s where he wanted to go next. (Unknown at the time of composing interview’s first question). The work he did on the Rayman franchise made it easier for him to work alongside the talented artists over at Moon because he was confronted with the problematics of making a good platform game in the past. On the other hand, it was also a burden because the artistic style was instilled in him, making it so much tougher to adopt a new one. Today He will share with us his thoughts and ideas about the experiences he had when he worked on this project.
Firstly, I’d like to ask you if you’ve been working on Ori and the Blind Forest since the beginning or if you’ve only worked on the definitive edition?
I joined the team last year to work on Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition. New artists were needed to help with the definitive edition of the game. I was just finishing a project so it was perfectly timed!
It must’ve been a little intimidating, right? Ori and the Blind Forest is a celebrated game that boasts an outstanding art direction. What did you have to do when you first joined the team in order to fit in?
I was quite intimidated because people I admire – and who also made fantastic work for the game – would review my portfolio and decide whether I am alright for the job. I actually had to do an art test at the start, this helped everyone to see if I can do the style the team developed over the years. Of course, I was intimidated but I was also very motivated; I was working on the Assassin’s Creed franchise back then so I was surrounded by really talented individuals who taught me a great deal. It’s a great franchise, I wasn’t happy working on that kind of world though. There are other artists who would’ve enjoyed it more, and I think that they would’ve done a better job too. I like making more stylized, cartoonish and colourful stuff. As well as that, I needed to get away from the style used in the Rayman franchise, I spent three years working on those games so that style was instilled in me. It was one of my first ever projects so it was pretty much like attending art school again.
My first artworks for Moon Studios looked too similar to the ones I did for the Rayman franchise, that’s just what ends up happening naturally when I do something. Other than that, there were no problems with fitting in. Moon Studios is filled with nice people who give good constructive criticism. Also, I was really surprised by how they communicated, the employees were all around the globe so I was a little afraid, but it was actually efficient. I was working from home but I felt a sense of belonging to a team, it was a good experience overall.
When I watched the trailer for the definitive edition I saw a bunch of new areas. Can you tell us a bit about each one and what went into making it?
We wanted the additional content in the definitive edition to take place in a brand new environment. It had to be different from what the players have already seen; it still had to fit in though. The game designers came up with a new gameplay mechanic involving the darkness. The artists said that we needed to play around with light too. In the beginning, we sketched ideas where Ori shone a light to interact with the in-game environment. This was going to be a cave so we figured it’d be best to make it look natural and covered it with roots, plants and lianas and some bits and bobs of ruined stonework to indicate that people once lived here. The whole area was divided up into three parts. First, there was the area that was completely dark and Ori had to find his way using magical glowing platforms and a torch. This place was almost pitch black so it was a real challenge for the artists. We had to build something using very few elements and it wasn’t easy, next to nothing was visible in the darkness, the only things you could see where the platforms and some lit up elements in the background.
Next, there was a more normal area, this one was actually divided into thee sections itself. There was a narrow tunnel, a few sections with ruins and giant statues and so on. The idea was that each area would evoke different moods. We used a lot of colored mushrooms that emitted light which helped create variation and made it easier to establish different color palettes across the board.
The last area was outside. We wanted the player to get a breath of fresh air when they got to the end of Blackroot Burrows, so we made it a lakefront with an open background. And there’s a special place right next to it where an important plot point takes place so it was super important to make it stand out and look unique as it is where the new area finishes.
I saw that there are some new abilities for Ori now. How did the art team work with the others to make those feel “right,” just like the rest of the game.
I am going to use the example of the light and darkness gameplay we came up with for this one. You already know that we made those lit up platforms and kept doing stuff like that until we found a direction everyone was happy with. We had inert visuals painted at this point. The final design wasn’t quite there yet but we put our textures into the game engine anyway and worked together with the tech team to see what looks best. We were wanting to create good looking animated effects so we did a lot of tests and ended up tweaking a whole lot of it, adjusting textures etc. This process forces you to think about certain things, “What can I do to make this flame look natural?” and “Is it readable when it moves?”
Artists always want to make everything look good, so it’s got to be well animated with cool effects, and the tech team knows all about how to do it just right so we asked them to help us out. Doing the testing earlier on can be a real time saver and this collaborative effort led us to the finished product. Communication across different departments is the best way to get someone else to help you out with their expertise on a particular matter.
Did working on Rayman Legends two years ago help you when you were working on Ori and the Blind Forest? After all, It is a platformer too.
It helped me a great deal. I’ve spent years painting 2D assets for a bunch of games in the series so I had a lot of experience when it comes to this sort of thing. And you’re right! They’re both 2D platformers so they have a lot in common. Of course, the way in which the art is made is not exactly the same, but some things are very similar. In each game, the art has to serve the gameplay (that’s really important). The playground has to be obvious, so that the player knows where he can and can’t go. I don’t want players asking questions like “Can I jump on that?” or anything like that. If we were to build a really fancy environment, the player would have trouble understanding what can and can’t be done and he would end up trying to walk on something he can’t walk on which would ruin the entire game. The fact that I was confronted with these problems before I got to work on Ori certainly saved time when working on the definitive edition.