MI6 chatted to Darren Pattenden, Lead Character Artist on "Everything or Nothing", about designing James Bond...

Darren Pattenden Interview (1)
19th July 2004

How did you land the job at EA?
I'm from London originally. Iíve been drawing ever since I can remember. I studied illustration at Falmouth School of Art in Cornwall, England. I returned to London and established myself as a freelance illustrator for a number of years. Meanwhile, I got into computer graphics and started editing character skins for ĎQuakeí. I taught myself 3D modelling and animation with 3D studio, and soon realized I was hooked and decided I wanted video games to be more than just a hobby. I applied to EA UK for the position of character Artist on ĎDungeon Keeper 2í and got the job. That was almost 7 years ago! About 4 and a half years ago I was offered the opportunity to come across the pond to help out EA California with ĎAgent Under Fireí on the modelling side. I jumped at the chance since Iíd always been a Bond fan and Iíd never been to the States before. After AUF shipped I just kind of forgot to go home afterward!.


Above: Darren Pattenden.
 

What is it like being a character artist for a living?
Making digital characters is extremely challenging and time consuming work. Especially in real time constraints. But I get a real buzz out of it.

Some mornings I just cant wait to get to work to get cracking on stuff, and I know that not that many people in this world are lucky enough to feel that way, so for that Iím grateful! I recently went back to Britain for a trip, and to see London buses driving up Oxford street with huge EoN posters on them was a satisfying and proud moment!

The characters in Everything or Nothing were convincingly lifelike, were they created from reference photos alone?
Some were, some were not. The available reference for each character varied tremendously. For example for Pierce we had some great orthographic long lens photographs (hence no perspective distortion), and a digitized head scan. But for Richard Kiel we had very little to go on. Basically just DVDís.

  1. We setup planes in our 3D modeling package, Maya, of front and side orthographic photographs of the head as reference.
  2. We model the head and body. Occasionally import digitized scan for reference of head from angles other than front and side, but we did find some distortion and decided that the photographs were more accurate. Texture map the head using the reference photographs as a base, but with a lot of painting into them. The body is built using various references.
  3. Approve head with our Art directors Dave Carson and Jay Riddle and senior production, and then onto an approval stage with MGM/Danjaq and the actors agent.
  4. Once the head was approved weíd proceed with creating about 33 facial morph targets for facial animation. Expressions, phonemes etc.

All in all one major character is at least 2 weeks work. And thatís all before any rigging or animation! Rigging is the process of attachment of model to skeleton by our character TD Eric and all the fun technical stuff that is the link between modeling and animation. Character creation is often more than 2 weeks but it depends on certain factors. Bond got a little more attention than others.

When creating female leadís what was done differently?
With females we tended to put a few more polygons into the faces and other areas, since women are softer and rounder than men. Plus we tended to hand paint the texture maps a bit more to give them a fresher, cleaner look than the males.

Do you prefer creating original characters from concepts & ideas, or from real life as with the majority of the main EoN characters?
Well, I get tremendous personal satisfaction from creating a character and having someone respond with an Ďoh, thatís Xí straight away. Likenesses have sort of become my speciality at EA. But at the same time, thereís lots of fun to be had with bringing a character to life that didnít previously exist too. So working with Iain McCaig ( the man responsible for designing Darth Maul no less ) who was helping us with character concept work was great fun.

How did you go about re-creating such a cult henchman Jaws?
We had little reference for Jaws, so to get his likeness we used a technique Iíve developed from DVD frame grabs. If I divulged what that technique was Iíd have to kill you haha! We wanted to bring him into the modern day Bond universe a little too, so Concept Artist Iain McCaig helped us give him a bit of an edge.

If you had a chance to improve any of your EoN work, what would it be and why? What are you most proud of in your work on EoN?
The thing is that you can iterate on artwork for ever and ever. There is always room for improvement no matter how minute. But at some point you have to decide that itís within 99.9% of the quality margin that you need it to be and call it done. So everything you do is within a time constraint. It sounds like a small thing but engineer friend and colleague Chris Killpack and myself worked together and really honed a technique with multi-pass shaders that we started to play with on Agent Under Fire but took to new heights on EoN.

 
Above: A pre-production concept drawing of the Jaws character from "Everything or Nothing" by Iain McCaig.

The day we got the cool metallic glints off of Bonds weapons as he runs around the level gave the game a sudden subtle leap in graphical quality. We went on to use it for all sorts of other areas of the game like subtle specular highlighting on skin. It was one of those wow moments in video games where all the hard work seems worthwhile. Iím really proud of how Bond looks too though. Heís our star after all and I think his Ďrecognizabilityí ( is that even a word?! ) factor is as high as itís ever going to be with a 3D model of that resolution.

What did you enjoy most with your work on EoN? Is there anything you didnít particularly enjoy?
To be honest I really enjoyed being the lead and mentoring and working with my colleagues on the character creation team, Anthony Mars and Paul David. They deserve credit too for working tremendously hard on EoN. It was an immense amount of character work for 3 people. Everybody worked hard though. The game on the whole was a tremendous team effort. We all felt we were part of something that was really high quality, and thatís a good feeling. Working on a video game is a labour of love. There were times that I didnít enjoy all that pizza.

How difficult is it to get into the games industry nowadays? Do you think a higher quality is expected at an earlier stage from artists today compared to 5 years ago?
It all depends on the individual applying and to where. I canít really speak for the industry. I know that when weíre looking for character artists at EA nowadays, weíre looking for the absolute cream of the crop, since quality level expectations are always being driven higher. A strong traditional Art background helps alot. Itís different from 5 years ago. Artists then were more ĎJack of all tradesí. All rounders. Modellers, animators, texture artists, lighters all in one. Nowadays people are much more specialized like the film industry, so itís hard to compare to days gone by. You do have to be very good in your area of expertise though.

Many thanks to Darren Pattenden.

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