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.

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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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Too bad the victorian-baroque IN SPACE didn't work. I have to agree, it really looks very well. The current version is ... not bad, but it is Evil Space Empire the Nth, in a very familiar, a long-time-ago, galaxy-far-far-away fashion.
 
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Is it bad if I think that the final result looks really ugly and dull?

When I say that, it's mostly the texture and color. The models are fine. But the texture looks too rugged and really similar to the Great Khan.

For the Khan it works, because his ships are supposed to be a ramshackle. But this just looks like stone and (as others have pointed out) really, really similar to necroids.

I gotta say that all the concept art looks really good. Even the final one by Simon. But I think that they need to look a bit cleaner. A bit more regal.

Maybe through a bit more color, so it looks less like necroids. Definitely another texture, so it looks cleaner and maybe a bit more tech-y. If white doesn't work, fine, but it needs to look a bit more regal. Maybe throw in a line of orange on it, some gold or some form of plasma effect like on the front of Ecbel's 04 concept art (it's mislabeled 06 but it's actually 04).

But yes, as it stands now I would not be able to see the difference between the Defense Force's ships and the Necroid ships.

If you use this ship set for the Imperial Armada, I think you should take advantage of the fact that the Emperor has a fixed logo. Would be pretty easy to add that red symbol onto the side of the ship, so they are a bit more distinguished in battle.
 
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I mean, I have to agree with the people saying that it did end up looking more overtly evil and dark than not in the end. Maybe a brighter silver, and sleeker forms would've done the trick - I find it hard to believe that silver/white won't work and just get muddied, considering how the Humanoids shipset exists and doesn't look terrible. That base color, but with more of a metallic sheen, and different ship shapes, would've worked just fine.
 
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If we ever get that religion DLC, can we have this
I wouln't match these with religious empires. All of this screams "imperial" and "authoritarian". So now would be the perfekt time. But i absolutely agree, that if we can't get it now, we should get it with the next possible addon
 

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Great Dev Diary. A little concerned after the amazing artwork that the final product looks like you reinvented the juggernaut. Really loved that early concept art.
 
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Why one ship set at at a time. At least give 2. To play around with. One default one player choice depending what type of species you have. Blorg in a star war looking ship. The imperal blorg stormtrooper
 
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Feels like there was a fight between an aesthetic inspired by historical imperial nations and star wars with its industrial, dirty ships. Have to say that I'm with those who see the final design as a missed opportunity. Maybe it will look different when we see the full ship set but as it stands it looks like another blocky, grey model. Something that wouldn't stand out next to mammalian, reptilian, or even necroid.

I can work with roleplaying the imperium like star wars, pulling parts from all other the galaxy makes for a utilitarian look. I hope the other designs are saved for future packs!
 
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"Too overtly evil"? Emperor Palpatine?! How do you mean?
Not only did he bring peace and stability to the entire war-torn galaxy but he is also a swell grandpa!
Don't be juding him so harshly just because he is wrinkled and walking around in black nightgown !
Judging someone by his appearance is what bigots do -_-
 
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