Dishonored's Art Director Talks Inspiration, Cut Levels

I know, we've looked at Dishonored once already here on Fine Art, but today is a little different, because we not only have some images from quite literally the game's drawing board stage, but also some commentary on them from Sebastien Mitton, Arkane's art director.

Did you know, for example, that the game's "Tallboy" units were once envisaged as town criers? Or that the game was originally intended to feature a level set in an insane asylum? Or that it was first envisaged as being set in 17th century London? Well, now you do. And you've got some nice images to go with the knowledge.

Below you'll find 10 images, most of them from very early in the game's development. Accompanying them is Mitton's commentary. Note that most of the pics are comfortably within the realms of wallpaper-sized, but also constrained by our site's 16:9 aspect ratio lock, so to see them at their full size (or read obscured text), just click on them!

This is the very first pencil drawing we did when the game was set in London, in 1666. I'm a bit nostalgic when it comes to this one, but in a positive way. This is the piece of art that triggered lots of excellent work in terms of architecture - all the landmarks…there were more than 80 cathedrals in the skyline by that time. There is this very specific skeleton aspect to the facades, there is a canyon feeling in the streets, there are strong shadows.

The plague plays an important role in our game. After many hours of research exploring narratives from the Black Plague period, we used some testimonies as a starting point for visual expression. The purpose of this exploration was to give the player a great visual impact by increasing this dystopia feeling in the city. The inspiration from this specific example (cut for gameplay consistency) came from the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who mixed with the lime wash used in mass graves.

As a visual designer, it is a fun experience and a great challenge to align visual appeal, engineering and functionality, nice animations, and a sense of power with a handcrafted weapon that you can upgrade in different ways!

I really love this ship, with its moving nose that can trap whales when harpooned. The story of its inception started one day when I was visiting our office in Austin.

I noticed a guy on stilts cleaning the building façade and told Harvey (co-creative director) we could put stilts on our town crier (loud speakers replaced this guy). He agreed, and the guy instantly became a Tallboy. Then slowly, game designers modified his original purpose, and the Tallboy became a guard, armed with its bow.

I then proposed to place a canister on his back, full of phosphorus, to get nice visual effects when he shoots arrows. Harvey preferred to use whale oil. Ok, but now we need Whales right? Hard to see Whales if you don't swim in the middle of the ocean, so it was time to design a whaling ship. Here's the result!

I then realised that the game universe was autonomous, no need to add anything from our real world. This world had its own needs and its own solutions as its own universe.

This one is a close-up. It's the "Regent" painting done by the artist Sergey Kolesov, who is one of the most talented painter/illustrators worldwide in my opinion. This painting won the 2012 into the pixel at E3. It has everything I love in paintings. It has that second layer of visual storytelling when you look at the bodyguard. It's not in your face at first sight, but it's there when you take the time to really look at it. It is the role of a bodyguard to stay discreet, you'd say!

It is always sad when you have to cut features, ideas, concepts. But that's the nature of our role in this industry. As an artist you have to stay really agile and react positively for the sake of the project.

In this case, we had to cut a mental institution which was haunted by some locals called Lunatics. I really liked the mechanics of those non-fighting guys who are really sensitive to sounds, and who drive the player into a corner, hooting when they've detected you.

After a long phase of gathering really good references from museums and libraries, it's time to throw ideas on paper, and align them with the bullet points and visual filters we've decided upon.

I like this board because it shows how crazy we go sometimes during our concept session. Jean-Luc, my assistant, not only takes notes during our brainstorms, he draws pages and pages.

One of my main goals during the creation of Dishonored was to bring iconic characters to life. This girl is the result of intense research during photo trips to London and Edinburgh, analysis of mug-shots and studies of typical English traits we found in books and pulp illustration. By drawing on those known characteristics, your characters convey emotion before they talk or move. This is visual storytelling.

This screenshot shows, if not the first, at least one of the early integrations of one of our characters in game. This is a moment of joy, when you feel everything is in place. You're heading in the right direction, and you suddenly don't care about the hard days ahead.

I talked previously about visual storytelling. Here's a perfect example of what we love at Arkane: creating a dense and visceral universe!


    Pity its impossible to get immersed in the dense and visceral universe because it is constantly breaking it with clumsy exposition, awkward silent protagonist narrative, mission screens and frustratingly unclear stealth mechanics.

      While I'm ranting (because I really love the art style of this game, and just wish I enjoyed the game), any developer that spends so much effort on the 'constant scraps of paper you can read' story method is doing it wrong in my opinion. Spend that time on creating a better interactive storytelling experience. (The bioshock/deadspace/batman obligatory sound reels are in there too, I'm sure we can move on from them too)

        although there was story to be found in books there was just as much if not more to be found by listening to people


        How so? After finishing the game last night, that's my opinion on it, would love to discuss :)

          Fair enough. Well-informed-opinion-icious :)

        Not a troll. He offered his anecdotal first-hand experience. Unless, you yourself @slyph are a troll? Though your comment seems to fall below the required level.

          Guilty of rant though! I'm just so torn by this game and its fresh in my mind after just playing it. Such awesome art style and effort put into the universe but I never felt like it just let me in and let me actually be immersed in that world they spent so much time creating - which feels even more of a shame when looking at this great concept art

            I didn't experience that at all, i am totally immersed in the game and loving it.

      Unclear stealth mechanics? I figured them out after one mission, I'm sure you just need some practice :D


      Ugh, that was in response to

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