From left to right: Silver Saaremäel, Ramon Contini, and Kaija Rudkiewicz.
Concept Artists are responsible for creating and conveying a visual representation of an idea, atmosphere, and/or world before their work is turned into a final product. Ramon Contini, Silver Saaremäel, and Kaija Rudkiewicz are all Concept Artists at Crytek and have spent the past couple of years building the visual world and identity of Ryse: Son of Rome. They have each created the incredible faces and environments of Art Deco Rome.
Ramon, inspired by nature and sacred geometry, discovered game concept art via titles like ‘Resident Evil’ and ‘Soul Reaver’. Before landing at Crytek, he worked for Streamline Studios and CCP Games. “I consider it a privilege being at the forefront of establishing the key look for a game and working closely with very talented people,” he says. “Seeing the conceptual world gradually becoming a CG masterpiece over time is very rewarding.”
Streets of York, by Ramon.“York is one of my favorite missions to have worked on. This is one of my earliest concept paintings depicting the overcast weather, run-down houses, and muddy terrain. The town feels so real because we researched ancient cities thoroughly and came up with many little back stories.”
Kaija, mostly inspired by photography and fashion when working on her character designs, studied fashion design before focusing on concept art. She’s mostly self-taught and has been at Crytek for over three years. “The best part is coming up with new worlds and ideas,” she says. “It’s nice to see your ideas transformed into something a little more tangible, even though their actual life is given to them by the people who created them in 3D.”
The Minotaur, by Kaija.“The minotaur men are the enemy you encounter in the farthest, creepiest areas of Britannia. At first glance you shouldn’t know whether they are beasts or men. The challenge with this character was to make the scariest Minotaur costume ever out of pretty basic materials like torn leather, fur, bones, dirt, and blood.”
Silver loves to create worlds too and finds that games are the best medium to do so. He’s completely self-taught, since concept art is such a specialized skill set, and has been working at Crytek for several years. “I can draw robots and mountains all day for a living,” he smiles. “It feels great when another artist is inspired by the original concept in such a way that they create something new and wonderful, which goes beyond the concept.”
Forests of Glott, by Silver. “For the Glott level we wanted to have an extremely mystical atmosphere, which also creeps and spooks the player. We had already established the existence of Barbarian Minotaurs and added the cold winter mist for the final spook-effect.”
The job of a Concept Artist is very dynamic and fast-paced. “We do anything from defining a style in the pre-production stage to environment moods, or props and characters during the actual production,” says Kaija. “We find references, explore, and of course draw the designs.” Normal working days are therefore filled with all sorts of tasks and require for flexible people who can change gears very fast. “The creative part is where you need to be aware of current trends, art history, and fashion whilst being able to draw them well,” Silver adds. “It’s the wild part of the projects where any idea is a good idea, and what matters is variety. Then we have to take those ideas and communicate them precisely to the production teams, keeping engine and gameplay rules in mind. Our aim is to break down the concepts so well that they have no questions on how to build those concepts.”
Basilius Workshop, by Ramon.“An exploratory painting describing the general feel of Basilius’ workshop. The initial idea was to make it feel slightly morbid and eerie.”
Researching history and mythology was a big part of creating Ryse: Son of Rome, because the time period and general atmosphere had to be reflected in the smallest details of the world. “Designing a world that is grounded in reality and feels believable is key to creating a good-looking game,” says Ramon. “Therefore it is so important that we do adequate research on whatever we are designing at that point.” Kaija adds: “We tend to each pick areas of the game that we are responsible for during production. I pick certain types of characters while Silver and Ramon divide the levels between each other. Though we always cross those lines to help out whenever needed.”
Spirit of Winter, by Kaija.“Winter is one of the two gods in Ryse. His agenda is to halt the progress of civilization, to pull Rome back to caveman era. The design had to reflect that distance from regular, mortal people, while still looking human. I gave him cold colors and a very simple, strong shape. Almost like an icicle: strong and rigid.”
The fact that Ryse is a completely new IP brought along many possibilities during the early stages of development and production, including concept art. Simultaneously, a new set of challenges also presented themselves: “Early in the production, when we had to conjure up the setting and style for several missions,” says Ramon. “It was a – great – challenge to define Rome, and Ryse overall, and to make them unique. Designing major architectural structures, like Nero’s Palace, was also hugely challenging for us, having never done something of that scale and detail before.”
Rome, by Silver. “Unlike Barbarian Britannia, we wanted Rome to be a busy metropolis just like what it was during its peak in history. We looked for inspiration in Mediterranean architecture and street market culture. It was extremely important for us to create a city that feels dirty yet alive.”
“We are creating the same universe together, so we work together closely and split the project into our areas of expertise,” says Silver. “It helps to know your own responsibilities and to know that others take control of theirs. In the end we managed to pull it off in an organic, not-explainable-to-anyone sort of way. Kind of like magic.”
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