An Interview with Perception's Concept Team: Robb Waters and Jed Wahl
Interview with Perception’s Concept Team: Concept Artist Robb Waters and Modeler Jed Wahl
So, tell me about the first character or concept you collaborated on?
Robb: This would have been early Bioshock splicer stuff...Jed and I shared a little office room. On the door to the office I added vinyl gold letters that read "Waters and Wahl Art services" as a joke. I think the first character was more of a monstrous take on the ceiling crawler.
Jed: Yeah, early versions of Bioshock's splicers were more like experimental mutants in an undersea research facility, before the setting evolved into dystopian Rapture. Robb and I went through a small suite of Splicers that were designed with specific attacks in mind, like melee, marksman, grenadier, and ceiling crawlers. The original ceiling crawler was a disfigured, grey-skinned woman in a back brace-like apparatus and the large hooks that remained in the final game. When the Splicers evolved into tragic former citizens of Rapture, we focused more on representing different layers of social classes in the models, any of which could exhibit the programmed attack behaviors.
How do you two work together? What is your process?
Robb: Our process is just a lot of back and forth. Sometimes I draw up something but some areas or aspects to the character are unresolved until I see Jed’s model. Once I have the model to look at in the round then able to figure out what direction I want to take it.
Jed: Robb's orthographic designs for his characters are very informative and meticulous, so I always have a pretty clear blueprint to start from when I jump into a model. Still there are always going to be areas in a 3d model that a 2d representation might not fully account for, so often I'll take a model to a certain point and then provide him with renders to draw on top of so he can work through how textured a specific surface should be or how certain elements should attach together. It's an iterative process that often continues after we get the character into the game engine, at which point we may tweak subtle details and proportions to make something feel right through the player's point of view.
What is your favorite character or concept you collaborated on?
Robb: This would probably be the little sister as it was one of the first characters that came along that really started to inform the direction of Bioshock.
Jed: She really was the key to the overall tone of Bioshock. The "Gatherer" started out as a mutant slug, back when the Big Daddies were intended to be shepherds minding a flock. That proved too resource intensive, so it was decided that they needed to be larger, singular creatures; multiple concepts were made until it was decided that we needed to visually sell some sort of emotional bond between the Gatherer and its Protector, and so it became the Little Sister that we know. I still miss the short-lived version that looked like an evil Oompa Loompa in a hazmat suit though :P
What was your approach to The Presence?
Robb: I really just had to envision what would scare me most. A shrouded hunched over figure as seemingly simple as it is still one of the scariest things I can imagine bumping into. Not knowing exactly who or what something is always more unnerving to me. I worked up some
initial sketches for Jed and once got to check out his model I went back to the concept and made some tweaks that solidified the design, making it that much creepier.
Jed: Yeah there was a certain amount of virtual tailoring going on as we attempted to get the cut and fit of the fabrics just right. At the start I actually experimented with using a cloth simulation program, draping and stitching patterns over an underlying form that I'd modeled. But with a character so defined by cloth materials, it was actually easier to just sculpt it in Zbrush rather than wrestling with simulation parameters. As mentioned above, Robb and I then exchanged renders with drawovers and notes back and forth to refine the design. After the initial forms were worked out, I put a quick UV layer over the model and applied a tiling alpha texture generated from photos of an actual afghan that Robb had lying around to generate the fabric noise on the surface of the character. :)