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Stellaris Dev Diary #202: Nemesis Ship Set & Art Direction

Hello, my name is Simon Gunnarsson, I'm the Art Lead and acting Art Director for Stellaris. I wanted to go through our process of developing a style for a new ship series that will be added to the game when Nemesis is released. I'll go through the steps from the initial meeting with our game director, Daniel Moregård, through the visual development (vis-dev), concept art production and finally end at 3D production, that includes animation and VFX.

Initial Art Direction

For this time around, we had a player fantasy to cater to, so our mission statement became our guiding star throughout the process. We sat down with the game director that resulted in the imperial thematic direction. Which was enough for us to start doing some word associations to kick off the creative process.

1614092171020.png


The closer the top a word is, the more influence it should have in our direction. We held ourselves to these words even when we changed our visual direction in the middle of the vis-dev.

These first associations were part of the first brief we put together to the concept team. The theme invites for interpretations so it's important that we also define the initial art direction with supporting images, splitting the line between "what it is" and "what it isn't" is equally necessary.

With these things in mind, we curate an initial aesthetic that we think is worth exploring, so the concept team has some anchor to the vision. For the imperial aesthetic we wanted them to explore a bright and ornamental direction at first. We always enable our team to add their own touch to these curated directions, but also encourage them to also explore other paths.

Vis-dev
We had several people working with the vis-dev, all bringing their own unique take on the brief we gave them. This process is quite hard, closing doors on designs and actually drive the art direction forward is a difficult task, with all the viable options at hand, we have to be quite picky, and measure against the words that we came up with.

Asking questions like, is this conveying an imperial and dominant feeling, what works well with this specific design and what doesn't. These questions are crucial in driving the vis-dev forward.

1614092412573.png

Concept-art made by Alessandro Bragalini

1614092457152.png

Concept-art made by Ecbel Oueslati

1614092493639.png

Concept-art made by Mattias Larsson

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Concept-art made by Simon Gunnarsson (me!)


1614092609571.png

Concept-art made by Ylva Ljungqvist

There were concerns towards the mid-point of the vis-dev. The way the light works in Stellaris could make it so that white looks quite muddy. There's a chance that white takes too much color from the light and makes it look quite weird in some occasions.

So we iterated the curated art direction into a dark aesthetic. We made it more forgiving no matter what empire color the players chose, the ships will most likely look appealing in every instance.

The new aesthetic still had to hold true towards the associated words from the beginning. So we focused on more brutalist style, dark with silver details.

1614092696383.png

Final concept-art made by Simon Gunnarsson

Style Guide
The end of the vis-dev should result in a style guide, a document that should communicate the vision and the aesthetic, with extracted details and breakdowns. It is used by the whole team, from animators to VFX so it needs to be quite descriptive.

For example, below is a breakdown of materials that 3D artists will use as a guide to creating them.

1614092771319.png


Production

The actual concept art production is the bulk of our workload. It's where we create actual blueprints for 3D artists to follow. But it's really just a linear but iterative process to get to a final result. We start with sketching some ideas, and we slowly commit more and more to certain aspects until we have a design we like, then we refine it, add materials and ultimately a final asset sheet is created.

1614092955127.png

Initial sketches

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Concept artist use 3D to easier present the ship and get a better feel for the design

1614093014152.png

Laying down material patterns, starting with a broad design then adding secondary and tertiary level of material details

1614093048745.png


1614093093601.png

Finalized asset sheet, complete with materials and material ID for the 3D artists to follow

1614093132872.png

1614093142491.png

In-game final asset


The end, but not quite!

This is our process with every new ship aesthetic, but the ships have a few more stops on the road before they're truly final, both animation, VFX and audio will get their hands on these before the full process is complete!

Thank you for taking the time to read this long post, here's a Nemesis (imperial style) titan! You will hear from our VFX artist, Erik Forsström, in a Dev Diary in a near future!

 
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Praetori

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Not to be rude, but I'm not a fan of the finished asset. It looks like designed by some brutalist architect of the 1950s and 1960s, not like a vessel that signals to the galaxy that a new, brighter age has dawned.
Well that is kind of what brutalism was about trying to convey back in the day. Impressions and opinions of design changes over generations. :cool:
 

Demon_MemoryGamer

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Well done. Art's looks very promising. You had to do a great job for it :)
 

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I haven't looked at the forum in a long while, but I simply had to voice my dissatisfaction with the final shipset after seeing some nice potential from the concept arts.

The shape and design of that white shipset was finally a great step in the right direction for shipset design. Even if you didn't go with the white color design the shapes and features were great. Why not just choose a different color scheme? But no instead we get a variation of flying rectangular boxes again. At this stage of development, Stellaris shipsets should be unique and imaginative not slight variations on the rectangular box theme. Most of the shipsets look so much alike. The bigger the class the longer the ship gets and it makes even the more interesting shipsets look all the same. There are many other shapes in the world besides rectangles. Asymmetrical designs, vertical designs. There is so much creative potential in designing new ships, but again and again, you go back to variations of the rectangular box.
 
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I hope you guys do a Caravaneer style ship set someday. I want my Megacorp to look opulent and gaudy as we expand our galactic market share.
 
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Have to say I dislike the final choice, the concept art is a far more interesting in both colours and design. This is way to similar to mammalian and necroid. Too boxy. Add some of the others as DLC.
 
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I haven't looked at the forum in a long while, but I simply had to voice my dissatisfaction with the final shipset after seeing some nice potential from the concept arts.

The shape and design of that white shipset was finally a great step in the right direction for shipset design. Even if you didn't go with the white color design the shapes and features were great. Why not just choose a different color scheme? But no instead we get a variation of flying rectangular boxes again. At this stage of development, Stellaris shipsets should be unique and imaginative not slight variations on the rectangular box theme. Most of the shipsets look so much alike. The bigger the class the longer the ship gets and it makes even the more interesting shipsets look all the same. There are many other shapes in the world besides rectangles. Asymmetrical designs, vertical designs. There is so much creative potential in designing new ships, but again and again, you go back to variations of the rectangular box.
This. The ship sets look so similar and I'm forced to use either the avian, reptilian or a modded shipset to have something interesting to look at. Also the juggernauts are the same shape which is something I don't like, though I can see why the devs opted to use a wide design in place of a long one.

New juggernaut also looks like it just has a lot of scratches on it rather than greeble but maybe thats just me
 
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This. The ship sets look so similar and I'm forced to use either the avian, reptilian or a modded shipset to have something interesting to look at. Also the juggernauts are the same shape which is something I don't like, though I can see why the devs opted to use a wide design in place of a long one.

New juggernaut also looks like it just has a lot of scratches on it rather than greeble but maybe thats just me
Yeah, these ships look at best like old converted civilian ships, retrofitted on the ship. At worst like they are straight from a scrapyard bargin bin sale.