As we announced earlier this month, we’ve secured the amazing talents of David Harewood and Jamie Gray Hyder to portray two key characters from Killzone: Shadow Fall – VSA director Sinclair and Helghast intelligence operative Echo. But who exactly are Sinclair and Echo, and how did their character designs come about? We asked Assistant Art Director Dan Calvert to shed some light on these enigmatic characters.
PlayStation.Blog: Who are Sinclair and Echo, and what roles do they play in KZ:SF?
Dan Calvert: Sinclair is the head of the Vektan Security Agency – his job is to make sure the balance of power favors Vekta without escalating the cold war into open conflict. Part spymaster – part diplomat, and with a shrewd strategic mind, he is Lucas’ direct CO and mentor.
Like Lucas, Echo is an elite operative tasked to cross the wall, and her mission puts them on a collision course. She is extremely dangerous; an equal but opposite reflection of the player character.
PSB: How did the design of these characters evolve?
DC: In order to get stronger performances from our lead characters on KZ:SF we looked to improve how we integrate the casting of our lead actors into the design process. Before we’d write, design and cast a character but due to the complexities of game development this wasn’t always done in an optimal order.
On KZ:SF we made sure we always started with a clear idea of who a character was and how we wanted them to be portrayed, then cast someone who was perfect for the role. That actor is used as the likeness, the vocal performer and for full performance capture. In the likeness we subtly emphasize those traits of the actor that made us want to cast them in that role, in a design process we call characterization. We don’t want to spend time on lengthy exposition, so we wanted to make sure that when you first see a character you understand exactly who they are, their relation to you, their personality and history and so on.
This was pretty tricky – even subtle tweaks to someone’s face can make them look like unrecognizable or even inhuman (or inhelghast). We change as little as necessary – for instance we needed Sinclair to be a little older, partly to shorthand his role as mentor, and partly to show how the stresses of his very difficult job have taken their toll on him. Sinclair might have more worry lines than David, but he is still very much David. For Echo, we needed to make her Helghan heritage obvious without making her look sickly and unthreatening, or losing Jamie’s likeness – and we also added a few subtle design features to hint at her difficult background as a Helghast agent and before.
The central pillar behind our costume design is functionality & practicality. Echo’s costume is mostly built from the same combat gear used by our most elite enemies – whilst she is an elite, she is still a professional solider in the Helghast army and gets few special privileges. The red hood shadowing her face is the only personal gear she wears – even that is designed to recall the angular, pentagonal shapes seen in the helmets of our elites. Echo’s self-identity is completely bound to her duty as a Helghast agent, and what she wears reflects this. Despite being a very important official, Sinclair wears a worn, wrinkled field jacket instead of a suit or formal uniform. It tells you without words that he’s practical and hands on, that he cares more for action than appearances, and that he sleeps in his office. Straps & braces, binding old war injuries overlap his shoulders and thigh – these little features suggest that Sinclair got his position through experience and competence, and he’s willing to make great personal sacrifice to preserve Vektan ideals.
It’s important to keep coming back to the central idea of practicality and functionality – these design features must be believable and organic to the character. If they’re too overt or impractical then the whole design falls apart and the character becomes very two-dimensional.
PSB: From a technical standpoint, how have the characters evolved from past Killzone titles?
DC: They’ve improved in every way possible. From a straightforward modeling and rendering POV we’re now able to make them more real, and shave off all those rough edges – like missing detail – that would otherwise distract you. We’ve been able to nail the original vision for these characters with complete attention to detail without the technology getting in the way. We’ve been able to capture many things that were impossible before – from small things like iris refraction to broader things like metallic reflection. All things which combine to sell the illusion that the character you see on screen is a living, thinking being.
Besides more detail, more advanced lighting and more accurate material expression, we’ve also improved our animation systems including full soft and rigid body simulations. This obviously gives fully dynamic cloth, which works brilliantly for simulating things like the cape on the Helghan Sniper, but on our lead characters we also use it for more subtle things. Sinclair’s collar will now bend and fold as his head pushes it away for instance – a small detail, but what would have been an distracting intersection is now seamless. This technology opened up new possibilities in terms of design – suddenly multiple layers of loose clothing are no longer impossible for example – and so whilst we avoided adding these things just to show off, we no longer have to dismiss them at the drawing board.
In addition to improving our engine technology, we’ve also made technological strides in our capturing and authoring. Our ability to capture the likeness of an actor has improved, utilizing state of the art photometric 3D scanning. We now do full performance capture, recording the voice, body and face of the actor at the same time – ensuring the final game has the same consistent, authentic performances our actors delivered in the studio.
Thanks, Dan. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t miss GameSpot’s SDCC 2013 interview with Jamie Gray Hyder about her role as Echo. Stay tuned to PlayStation.Blog and Killzone.com because we’ll be revealing additional characters and actors in the coming months!