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.

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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.

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Concept-art made by Alessandro Bragalini

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Concept-art made by Ecbel Oueslati

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Concept-art made by Mattias Larsson

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Concept-art made by Simon Gunnarsson (me!)


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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.

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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.

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Initial sketches

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

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

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

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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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Will this be a "Full" shipset? I.e. Are there any station / army-ship graphics too? Or is it just the 4 main ship sizes + Titan/jugg/Colossus?

I think these are my favourite two. Alabaster White ships would look really striking.
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1614258771943.png

Though the one on the right sort of looks like a 40k ship -meets Armani.
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.
I'd love an option in the GC to "re-paint" the navy. Sort of like how the old black and white games would make your units white/"good" or dark/"bad" depending on your alignment.
I dont think there is any support for dynamically changing ship/entity textures in-game currently though, is there? Would need to swap out the entire shipset.
 
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Kinda wish they went with the white design, the last one looks very cool don't get me wrong, but the juggernaut feels like a mix of mammalian and necroid. Maybe it will be better once we see the entire fleet.
 
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1614092493639.png

Concept-art made by Mattias Larsson
This is absolutely gorgeous. Kinda sad you didn't go with that one, but i like the final one, too.
But definitely an awesome design by Mattias Larsson. I love it.
 
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I would have loved another shipset with slopes and curves like the white and gold design by Mattias Larsson. There are other bulky and dominant styles in the game like the mammalian, the reptiles or the necroids. For the elegant curved shipset I always use the molluscoid one, because it is the only one that fits that theme. Sometimes the avian works too, but usual not because the lack of ornaments.
 
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Kinda wish they went with the white design, the last one looks very cool don't get me wrong, but the juggernaut feels like a mix of mammalian and necroid. Maybe it will be better once we see the entire fleet.

If the world was perfect they would have had enough time, resources and so on to have both a bright and dark one as options. As is, I don't hate any of the designs but my favourites are the white and gold ones.
 
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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. And why the hell does the texture look so "bumpy"?

The designs during the middle of development looked so much better.

We made it more forgiving no matter what empire color the players chose, the ships will most likely look appealing in every instance.

This really should not matter. As there will always be only one Galactic Emperor at any given time, there would be no need to differentiate colors.
 
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Funny how you ended up with basically exactly what you set out to NOT do - something dark and Star Wars-y. It looks cool though.

But I do wish a lot of those other designs didn't go in the trash can. Such a waste of many good ideas(and money!)
 
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You are aware that different empire's have different ship colours based off your colours?

I think that's still a thing anyway.

I know that. But GE ships would not have to do that because there's just one Galactic Empire at the same time, so no need to use color to differentiate fleets.
 
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I genuinely would love a ship set DLC with all the roads not taken and some wild alternatives. So much of the game is building fleets and getting that aesthetic right for your empire is a huge part of it.

Also, I would love more colour control. I understand that can be difficult, but like we choose the base clothing etc for the talking head, I'd love to be able to choose, for example, Avian ship set, base white, and then set colours. Or Reptilian ship set, base orange, and so on. This would probably require lots of different skins for the ships though.

Really excited for this DLC though. Please release soon.
 
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You are aware that different empire's have different ship colours based off your colours?

I think that's still a thing anyway.

Yea but if we are talking about a look unique to the galactic community fleet (later the imperial fleet) then there won't be multiple empires controlling it. So you don't really need to take the empire colors into consideration.

That said, if its just a normal shipset then yea its a concern.
 

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Can we request a "Discarded shipset designs DLC"? Literally just shipsets. Feel free to put it to a forum vote to see which ones get made.

I love what you've done. But there is discarded concept art that would also look cool in the game. And it was the same with necroids.
 
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I am disappointed by the end choice. It is overtly evil and necroid-like looking. I would have loved to see a sheredyn-like shipset in the vibe of Simon's concept art and would have settled with the idea of brutalist ships but NOT in black. These ships look way too necron-like. They are not bad in themselves but it's really a missed opportunity.
However, the dev diary was interesting.
 
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