To some he’s a legend. To others he’s a god. And to many, many others, he’s a beloved artist who lends a unique perspective to any character he touches. For this particular blog editor, he’s all of the above – and then some. That “then some” part? That’s our roundabout way of referring to the fact that Alex Ross is once again partnering with Ubisoft, this time on Watch Dogs. For the new game, the renowned comic-book artist (Kingdom Come) started off designing a pre-order incentive poster, and – no surprise here – he did such a great job that Ubisoft ended up using the final art as the basis for the game’s box art. We caught up with Alex and got his insights into Aiden Pearce, the design process, the Chicago setting and more. Following are highlights from our conversation.
“A lot of characters I work with don’t have the physicality of the superhero, the body suit or the muscularity. I work with plain-clothes characters all the time in my stories. Some of the most regular work I do is with the character The Shadow, who wears a suit. When you don’t have the physicality of the superhero, the body suit or the muscularity, you have to work with lighting, angles and whatever kind of presentation of the pose that can amplify the heroism of the figure, or at least the impressiveness of the figure.
“Aiden is about blending in. He’s not trying to stand out. He’s not looking to be spotted on the street. So in a way, his heroism has to be blended with the idea that he’s skulking on the side, in the shadows. He’s not meant to be in glorious color. That requires a certain amount of restraint in the posing, but it goes with the context of the character. He’s not out front. He’s slyly to the side, brandishing his firearm and his weapon, which is his phone.”
“The thing you want your eyes to go to is not necessarily the Chicago skyline behind him, but specifically the phone. That’s the whole focus of the game. It’s about how Aiden can manipulate his environment. The gun is only a small tool in his arsenal, so to speak. The focus of everything he does is about how he can manipulate other mechanical devices in the city through the interconnected network that he can hack into with his smart phone. That’s why it’s like the beacon of light in the painting I did.”
“What Chicago brings with it that isn’t the same in any other major cities, generally, is the large overhead train that we have going throughout the city. That’s a major visual to connect with, and it shows how his phone has an effect on the composition. Ubisoft also wanted to see the details of the most noticeable building in Chicago, which is, of course, the Sears Tower [aka the Willis Tower]. Combine that with Aiden Pearce interacting with the train stop behind him, where he is causing the train’s brakes to kick in – and that visually defines the character of the city, which isn’t the same as any other and, again, shows the overall power of Aiden.”
“I’m using a forced perspective to make it seem like all angles are in unison. There’s a thrust in the composition, which is what you are hopefully feeling as you look at the figure: you feel this physical rush going up from the ground, up through the body, and then pointed away from you, up maybe in the same direction or toward the Sears Tower. So you’re in a way looking at the whole composition as a cone, moving away from you but giving this physical thrust as the figure is pointing his gun at you with his eye turned toward the viewer.
“In the earliest composition, Aiden was looking directly at his phone and, as it evolved, the request [from Ubisoft] was to turn him toward us so that you got a physical interaction. The body is turning away from us, turning toward the phone, but the hand and the face are drawing that connection back to the viewer. All these angles are unconscious energy conduits that are following the eye as you are looking at the whole composition.”
On working (again) with Ubisoft
“[With Assassin’s Creed III] I had a more concise direction: Here’s the pose we want you to do. Now do it. This is much more: Here’s what we are thinking, but what are your thoughts? And through the development of additional drawings and compositions, I was able to present the final compositions that would wind up being approved for both the painting I did and the final design of the game box. So that’s an extension beyond where we’ve been before. It’s a maturing of the relationship in that way.
That was the hope for this entire project, to be involved in this medium. I’ve grown up with people for whom this is their life’s work, this is their passion and their industry, and I have tremendous respect for the art, because it’s so involved. It’s like making feature films. I love it!”