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Becoming Ophelia - My travels through the Keywords Art Service Line

The journey of an art asset through Keywords’ Art services line Have you ever wondered how the teams of artists at Keywords Studios collaborate on a new project, helping clients fully tell the story of their game characters, from start to finish?

The idea of a “me” started as an email thread. My Creators needed a heroine for their next game. First, I was a tiny droid, then a generic superhero, followed by a bionic warrior princess.  But my real essence wasn’t defined until one of my Creators read a story on the next step in human evolution, a time when AI Bots are able to mate with humans. 

My Creators said that I would have the intelligence of the most advanced deep learning machines in the future. My limbs, my organs, and skeletal muscles would be carefully constructed from a combination of growing stem cells on scaffolds and carbon graphene nanotube with self-healing properties. I would have a perfect body, but more importantly, I would have human empathy.  I would acquire emotional intelligence and sensitivity from my human parent. I would be just as vulnerable as I am strong. As emotionally fragile as I am physically indestructible.  I was named Ophelia.

Thus far, all I am is words; words in emails, words on whiteboards, and words scribbled on coffee stained napkins. When these words arrived at Volta in Quebec City, I was anxious. There was much conversation between Volta's artistic director Gui and my Creators. Even though the team was very adept at illustrating female heroines, I was different. I needed to project power and sensitivity, to be the perfect combination of machine accuracy and human aspirations. Gui spoke to my Creators and they worked on a number of iterations to bring out many aspects of my character. Like sculptors with clay, the artists at Volta gave form to my soul incrementally; drilling down to the essence of my Creators imagination.  My hands, my stance, my face and even my outfit materialized their vision. After many discussions and drafts, we had concepts of what I would look like. I was ready for the Liquid Development team in Portland. 

Arriving in Portland on a rainy day, for me, was nerve-wracking.  Four pages of me arrived in Josh and Gabe's email inboxes.  The first meeting between Gui, Josh, and Gabe was very long. There was so much back and forth and most of it was difficult for me to understand. The meeting was interrupted by two more people.  Allyson and Jason were known as animation TDs.  They wanted to be introduced to me early, so as to get my movements right.

And then Josh suddenly asked: who is she fighting in this game? How would she defeat them?

The room went silent, it was not something that the team had discussed with my Creators. Soon after, more emails, Skype calls, and two more weeks of back and forth between them and my Creators followed.  

Another version of me emerged.  A version that would allow me to show my human side, my empathy, and my ability to understand others. This would be the power that would allow me to defeat my biggest rival; a machine more powerful and optimized.

After a few more weeks of work in Portland, I started to take shape in 3D, with a rig specially designed for me. Allyson and Jason worked with my Creators on a list of moves that I would be able to make. That list was sent to both Mindwalk and Lakshya, specifically to Du Yi and Mayank, animation leads in Beijing and Delhi.  Both of the teams were experts at making animation magic, creating movements that would tell my story.  They first recorded reference videos where the animators would act out how I would walk, run, laugh, fight, cry, hesitate, and hundred of other animations.  These reference videos would be used as a way for them to talk to my Creators to make sure the acting fit the game and the style.  Through these animations, I begin to see who I am and who I was meant to be.

As I am being sculpted and animated, I would need to defeat an army of AI Bots.  Armed with an asset bible developed by Gui and my Creators, the team of character artists in Pune would take on the challenge of creating the most perfect AI Bot army.  This army would be optimized using almost infinite computing power to fight with precision and force.  Pune has its own concept artists who would work hand in hand with the 3D character artists.  Mukund, the studio head, orchestrated the assembly line as one army bot came after another. He worked with Aaron in Seattle, who quality checked each AI Bot. They tweaked them, fine-tuned them, and added the final touches to them, to make sure all of them looked like they came from the same place, each with its own unique qualities.

Then I needed weapons, vehicles, and accessories.  One of the most important pieces was my anthropomorphized motorbike.  The vehicle named Oja would be an extension of me with AI capabilities. It can sense my intent and my environment so to best serve my needs. The storyline characterizes Oja also as my pet and companion. The development of Oja fell upon the talented artists in Shanghai and Chengdu studios of Red Hot CG with guidance from my Creators. The team lead by Scott brought my most cherished companion to life. Du Yi divided his team and put his best creature animator on Oja's animations.  Because my animators and Oja’s animators worked side by side, they can make sure the animations - where Oja and I interacted - were believable.  These animations truly told the story of friendship and love between Oja and I.

Coming up to E3, the game already had a lot of content that was truly impressive.  My Creators needed a trailer to announce the game.  They called London.  David's team at Fire Without Smoke brought their directing skills to create two trailers that captured everyone's attention.  In record time, at the request of my Creators' marketing team, they proposed and created the first trailer based on the story of how I was conceived.  The second trailer centered around my human vulnerabilities, hinting perhaps they were a distraction to my mission.  I became the most talked about game at E3. I was a star!

London is also where we got UI/UX help. Spov's team has a world class portfolio in Motion Graphics, UI and UX.  Allen and the team had already heard about the Ophelia project and were eager to become involved. After a deep dive into me and my world, followed by design explorations, they proposed three intuitive designs and my Creators selected one that was in between the second and the third, best of both worlds they said.  Early reviews of the game came in and as predicted, Oja featured prominently in players' hearts. Spov was also asked to create an in-game cinematic that made me feel painfully human. Watching Oja dying in battle made me cry my first real tears.

Finally, as everyone at Keywords puts the finishing touches to their work, I was equipped to face my destiny. I am now ready to take my rightful place.

Writer’s disclaimer: Creators, AI Bot Army, Ophelia, and Oja are all fictional characters. They are not real.  But the artists at Keywords are real and so is their passion to create great art.

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