Since we released the first images of the F1 Race Stars drivers, we received a huge amount of feedback on the character style and the overwhelming consensus was that people love them!
We decided to have a chat with Art Director, Harvey Parker, about how the look of the F1 Race Stars characters came about.
First of all, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do here at Codemasters.
My name is Harvey Parker, I’m the Art Director on F1 Race Stars, working in the Birmingham Studios primarily.
A little bit about me; I studied illustration for years, I always wanted to be an illustrator and I was one for seven years and had agents in London, New York and Tokyo. I painted book covers such as the ones I did for Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and King Arthur and worked on adverts too.
I worked from home which was great and really good fun. The money was pretty good but it’s a very lonely existence and I missed that kind of team interaction, so after a year in Australia I decided to look for a job in a team environment.
A studio called Climax had opened up in Brighton. They specialise in racing games and after seeing my portfolio, which was full of oil paintings, they took a look and they said “Yeah, we’ll give you a job”. After two years I took on a lead position there and was there for seven and a half years. It became Black Rock studio owned by Disney.
When I worked there I was working mainly on MotoGP games – so I’ve always worked with motorsport/racing franchise games. This thread continued when I spent some time at Monumental working on MotoGP, producing two titles in this franchise for Capcom. After that a head hunter got in touch with me about a job here at Codemasters and the rest is history!
Have you always had an interest in racing?
Not at all, when I joined the industry I didn’t even know what MotoGP was, so it was a case of turning on to it professionally. It started with attending my first race, which was phenomenal and then the love of it grew both professionally and personally from there and over the last 10, 12 years now. It’s been fantastic – I’ve travelled the world and have been to dozens and dozens of races and even got myself a full metal pass!
So, getting onto F1 RACE STARS – what influences did you use for creating the look of the drivers?
With a sport like FORMULA ONE which is the pinnacle of motorsport, we knew instantly we needed to make it aspirational. A lot of high-end materials were used to create the assets with the intention delivering that quality and making the game look utopian. The drivers are also heroes, they’re role models adored by millions of people across the world, so incorporating all those traits was essential to make the game appealing to everyone. In fact, the internal first tag line I heard for the game was; “Formula One for all” and I thought it was very important that these characters had an appeal far beyond Formula One itself. The idea was that even if kids saw these characters and didn’t know anything about Formula One, they’d want to play with them, they’d want to find out more about them. So I set about looking for a character style that we could use to characterise the drivers to rather than just go down the route of caricaturing the drivers.
I thought that if we create a style which looks heroic, toy-like, but had enough flexibility within it to allow characterisation then we are on to a winner.
When I joined the company there was some existing concept art and to me it was kind of what you would expect as a caricature of the drivers – big heads on top of the race suits. It would put a smile on your face if you knew who the driver was, but I wanted these characters to appeal beyond the sport. “Charm” is a word I used a lot throughout the early development as well, “charm and delight”. I looked at systems like Xbox avatar which has a very defined style but that allows everybody to create their own likeness within it, very successfully so. I thought that if we create a style which looks heroic, toy-like, but had enough flexibility within it to allow characterisation then we are on to a winner.
Further to this, Hollywood has a really strong tradition in super-polished, AAA, animated films that are incredibly successful and have got a particular style to them that says high-end family entertainment. That’s something else that was really important. That sort of style appeals to people of all ages, even if the starting point is kids. So I eventually distilled down the key phrases to toy–like, high-end family entertainment, charming and heroic. Putting them all together, we ended up coming up with this style for the drivers; they look toy-like, they kind of look like vinyl figures but they also look like they came out of a top class animation studio (well hopefully that’s how they look anyway!).
Bringing the characters into the game, we had to make sure we did this just right as the characters are sat within their cars for most of the time, so we wanted to make sure that the drivers complemented the cars too. The cars themselves have a particular look to them, there’s a certain thickness to the bodywork and I wanted to get that across with the drivers as well. We came up with a look which I’ve coined as “Automotive fold” – the characters look as if they’ve been designed by perhaps a car concept artist than a character concept artist. You can see a curve in their faces like you might see on car bodywork, for example, with the cheekbones you get to a certain point and then they will fold like metal does giving them a solidity that complements the cars. When they’re standing next to their cars they just look like part of that same set of toys, as if they’ve come out the same factory. This was something that I wanted to ensure so we didn’t have a disconnect between the models and so that they didn’t look too soft or fluffy.
“Automotive fold” – Is this something you’ve made up or is it an actual term?
Harvey: It came out of a conversation between myself and the concept group. We were just talking about it and I was explaining how I wanted the heads to look more sculptural, as if they’d been wire-carved from clay, (that’s the process that cars are often concepted in; you just get a big block of clay, you get a wire sculpt the clay to get the flowing lines of the car) – something I wanted to come through with the F1 RACE STARS characters and the fabric of their race suits. As you can see, the folds are quiet defined, there’s no soft roundness to it at all, it’s sort of art deco in a way.
Car manufacturers do it purposely. Different cars have varying types of folds on them to sell through what they want to psychologically say about the car. For example, a Freelander has got exactly the same thickness of metal as a Fiesta but it looks more substantial because of the type of fold they’re using on that car. There are designs you can make that give a certain look to a racing car that makes it look fast and expensive. Using this technique I was able to get across the right feel and look with the F1 Race Stars cars and drivers, notably with their heads.
We went through many, many different iterations on the characters to get to where we are today. It took two or three months to get there. We didn’t compromise on time and fine tuned them until we were 100% happy with them – something that you rarely get the chance to do in the games industry it seems.
We were also careful to avoid stylistic changes throughout development, something we tried to eliminate throughout pre-development and that seems to have won through whenever we’ve shown the characters to external people. They’ve been really enthusiastic about it and just instantly they’re just like “yeah got it”. They understand the game, it’s like “job done” and that’s the confidence that we want.
That’s all we’ve got time for this week. Come back next week and we’ll have the second part of our interview with Harvey!