Fe Creative Director Andreas Beijer from Zoink Games, discusses fantastical creature design, working with limited color palettes and his personal connection to nature.
How does nature boost your imagination, productivity and creativity?
For me personally, it is where I recharge my imagination. I live on an island with a forest and the ocean right next to me, so I spend quite a lot of time surrounded by nature. Looking out over the ocean helps clear my mind, so I can think up new ideas.
It may sound silly, but the ocean has a quality that connects everything through distance and time. I look at the same dark waves as someone who lived a thousand years ago, waves that always change but always remain the same.
The forest however, has quite a different effect on me. It's as if the forest is indoors and the ocean is outdoors. The ocean is terrific, if you need to collect your thoughts by yourself. The forest is great for meetings and discussions with others – ha ha!
Where do you start when developing fantastical creatures?
If I know what a character or creature is supposed to do, we try to come up with a look that conveys characteristics and abilities. In Fe, we had this idea of Nordic creatures but with the dial turned up to eleven.
The design process itself could start with me dabbling with simple sketches. These are sketches that I will pass on to one of my fantastic colleagues, who will complete the 2D work before it goes into 3D modelling.
Sometimes I’ll sketch out ideas directly in 3D, as it can be difficult achieving a creatures’ look and feel when interpreting 2D for 3D.
What sources of inspiration helped developed their unique art style?
The character of Fe was mostly the work of my colleague, the fantastic illustrator and Concept Artist Stina Rahm, who also made many of Fe’s other creature designs.
For the creatures that I designed, I tried to create a fauna that could work with Stina’s designs and also creatures that I’d like to meet in a fantastical forest.
We knew that we wanted a chiselled, highly stylized 3D look and that in itself shaped the designs to a certain degree. Old expressionistic paintings also inspired us due to their use of brushstrokes, to breathe life into simple surfaces.
When do you decide what mechanics creatures will have?
I think we finalized much of it quite late. Many of the best ideas came to light when we first played the game and saw everything interact and come alive on screen
With a title like Fe, different moods and what players will feel, are a big part of our gameplay experience. The ability to move around freely is also paramount to that experience, so many of the game’s mechanics are there to help players with those abilities.
How many design iterations does a creature in Fe typically go through?
It's hard to place a typical number on those design iterations, as it differs from creature to creature.
Most creatures will have had several iterations and some will have had complete 3D redesigns. Some might go through ten stages and some of them look pretty much like they did in their very first sketch.
I can tell you now though that the main character Fe, has gone from sort of a tree shaped creature, through to various stages of looking like a fox, before reaching its final design.
Does a huge reindeer towering over the forest present design challenges?
Yes, but mainly because there is so many practical things you have to consider. It is character design as much as it is level design, and those two things must complement each other rather than compete.
The technical aspect of the reindeer also dictated it’s look to a certain extent, as it often does when working with games. It was great fun to design and build and there were many people involved to make it work, so I'm really happy with how it turned out.
Most of the creatures in-game use geometric shapes, why is that?
We wanted to give our players the feeling of being a swift, agile animal in a dense forest. For that, we needed a world that is easy to read with clear silhouettes to entice players to explore.
The forest of Fe is quite big and open, so it is important that players identify the different animals that live there and that those animals are distinguishable from each other. Simple and clear shapes help with that.
Is working with limited colour palettes more fun artistically?
Sometimes it’s rather liberating to design with a set of limitations. It can make it easier to focus on what is really important with the design.
In Fe we use color to tell the player different things, like where you are and which animals and plants have a connection.
What advice would you give someone wanting to pursue a career in character design?
Draw a lot. Always carry a sketchbook and a pencil with you wherever you go. Look at people and animals to see how they look and move.
Look at other designers and the work they do. Look at things like characters silhouettes and make your character or creature designs as readable and clear as you can.
Try to find a way to tell a story with your character’s design. A small detail that says something about the character.
Stay in the conversation of all things EA: Read our blog, follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.