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How Painting Opened Worlds of Possibility for ‘Dishonored 2’

We talked to Sebastien Mitton, Arkane art director, about his influences and artistic approach.

by Giaco Furino
28 November 2016, 3:45pm

Concept art for Dishonored 2 depicting everyday life. All photos courtesy Arkane Studios.

A framed and deposed empress leaps from buildings—and through time—in a world that’s constantly shifting underfoot. A court assassin and strongman slugs and slashes his way through blood-soaked alleys to prove his empress’s innocence. In Dishonored 2, the new video game from Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda, players choose between two unique characters each tasked with saving an empire in a fictional world that blends old and new aesthetics. The visuals for the game are stunning and sprawling, and the major setting of Dishonored 2, the island of Karnaca, was designed to have a real, grounded feeling.

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Concept art for the island of Karnaca from Dishonored 2.

The island of Karnaca blends old world beauty with a rush of new imperialism, to create a setting layered and lived-in. “I pointed out Karnaca, it was just a name on the map of the island,” Sebastien Mitton, Art Director at Arkane, explains to The Creators Project over the phone from Lyon, France. “And they told me ‘yeah, it’s a great location to pitch something new.’ So I then did some photo reference, took a photo trip in Europe and the USA, to get information about British Colonies.” The sprawling landscape, perfectly rendered by Mitton and his team, was greatly influenced by a technology boost. “We had the opportunity to move from the old generation of consoles to the new generation,” says Mitton, “so now we can add more characters in the cities, we can manage long distance views, we wanted to push the graphics in every corner.”

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Game footage depicting a cable car overlooking the sprawling city in Dishonored 2.

Mitton describes a clever analogy to explain the mixed look of the in-world technology and architecture. “Imagine a craftsman from the 19th century that has to produce a quite new BMW, but with his knowledge and tools. So he has to think ‘How will I do it? Will I do it in wood?’ and then imagine an engineer from 2016 with his knowledge and his new tools, a 3D printer, etc., and he has to produce an old coach car. And this creates a clash of two periods.”

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Designs for the cable car in Dishonored 2.

Artistically, Mitton seems moved by depictions of battle, struggle, and strife. He describes being inspired by the French and Russian (Soviet) Realism painting movements, saying “these painters started the paint the real life.” He also cites loving, from a very early age, the work of N.C. Wyeth, whose illustrations for books like Treasure Island and Last of the Mohicans depict strong, bulky men testing their might against the wilderness of nature.

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A “mood painting” depicting the dust district in Dishonored 2.

In the end, Dishonored 2 doesn’t look like any other video game on shelves today because it wasn’t designed like any other game. “What we do at Arkane is we train our eyes for cutting edge visuals.” Mitton says he and his team didn’t resort to mocked-up photo montages of real-world cities, places, and things to act as the first step. Instead, everything is done in-house, “We paint, we sculpt, we do clay sculpture. This is all from a fine arts background, lots of people here come from fine arts schools from all over the world.” Mitton says “the art drives everything,” and it’s apparent in every aspect of the visual design of the game, from the scenic beauty of Karnaca to the whale guts lining the city’s docks.

Dishonored 2 is now available in stores for Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4, and XBOX One.

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