The Art of Fallout 3
The Art of Fallout 3
The standard version (purchasable from Amazon and included in the collector's edition) measures 6″ x 9". The larger version, measuring 8″ x 12.4", had been released in October 2009, but is not found on the Internet.
The Art of Fallout 3 has 95 pages and contains a variety of art ranging from the Capitol Building, Rivet City, weapons and armor, to architecture and storyboards. Interestingly, a small V.A.T.S. montage can be found in the storyboard section.
Adam Adamowicz, our concept artist, drew a lot of stuff. He managed to do this, always with a smile, while Todd, Emil, and myself hemmed and hawed over every sketch, usually requesting yet another iteration. This alone is quite the achievement, but the real achievement is an extensive collection of wonderful designs that capture the spirit of the Fallout universe in loving detail. This book's goal is to give the reader a peak at a rich collection of artwork that our team has been privileged to work from during Fallout 3's production.
Pre-production began with a series of paintings we commissioned from Craig Mullins. These were focused on the "big picture," mainly atmosphere and scope...something to provide inspiration for how various locations in the world would feel emotionally. Color palettes, sense of scale, and destiny of destruction were the elements we tried to capture with these, and the final in-game result is fairly faithful to these concepts.
The next step was to go down a long list of costumes, creatures, weapons, and environments that would need detailed drawings for our mesh builders to work off of. Early in the project we spent quite a lot of time iterating through a few key designs, such as the Vault suit and Pip-Boy, but as time went on we didn't have the luxury to do 20 drawings for each asset, and the pace picked-up considerably. There isn't much in the game that wasn't concepted beforehand. Anyone who works with Adam will soon come to appreciate the speed at which he can get through a lot of material while maintaining a sense of humor and creativity that was essential for the world of Fallout 3. Enjoy!
The urbanized area in and around downtown Washington D.C. is a key location in Fallout 3. We wanted the player to feel a sense of foreboding as he explored a dense concrete jungle of streets and alleyways. The palette was kept cool and blue, sky always overcast, to contrast sharply with the stark warm sunlight of the wasteland.
Given that we were designing the aftermath of a devastating nuclear war, we did a bit of research to see just what would be left standing after such a holocaust. The answer is, not much. So the decision was made early on that we would take some liberties with the level of destruction so that enough interesting "stuff" would still be left standing for the player to explore. This meant quite a few of the structures, although heavily damaged, would still be intact to provide locations for dungeons and the like. We treated the urban zones of our world map as a large, multi-sectioned outdoor dungeon, using destroyed buildings and walls of concrete rubble and rebar to wall off various zones, or cells, that we would interconnect via underground subway tunnels.
These paintings give a sense of level detail we wanted to capture, in order to have a realistic sense of destruction and decay throughout the city. They provided the world artists a benchmark to hit in terms of realistic object density, something that required a few creative tricks in order to have environments like this run smoothly in the game's engine.
The antithesis to downtown D.C. is the open wasteland, which comprised the vast majority of Fallout's real estate. The rule is bright, wide open spaces instead of the dark claustrophobic streets of the city. The challenge was re-envisioning the wastes as they would appear on the east coast, instead of the western desert-like locales from the previous games. We wanted it to feel similar, but look appropriate for the new location. Our version was made up of treacherous rocky terrain, with course dirt, mud, and burnt tree husks littering the landscape.
There's plenty of dried and dead grass and shrubs, but no healthy green plant life to be seen anywhere. It's very likely that a great deal of plant life would return after a few years and probably thrive in the real world, no matter how irradiated, but it was an appropriate stylistic decision to keep the world dry and brown in order to fit in with the classic Fallout aesthetic.
Even with these atmospheric paintings as a reference, it took time for our wasteland to come together in-game. Early on it was far too sparse and barren to be interesting enough from a gameplay perspective, with distances too great between the various scattered points of interest. But as the world art team iterated through hundreds of cells by hand, adding many additional details and locations, the wasteland quickly became an exciting place to wader and explore.
The Pip-Boy was one of the first three iconic elements we wanted to nail-down in terms of look and feel, the other two being the Vault suit and Brotherhood of Steel power armor. This was a good exercise in determining the approach we would take with all industrial design in the game; a blend of classic 50's aesthetics with a futuristic twist. This is a delicate balance; swing too far towards the retro and you end up with something campy and unrealistic, but too far with the futurism and you risk a generic look.
After much iteration the design was eventually narrowed down to a basic look. Once Adam's drawings all start looking too similar we know we've honed in on the most likely design. The overall design isn't too over-styled, as this is meant as a tough piece of field equipment. The device clamps on the user's arm, fastened via bolts (which implies that it doesn't come off very often). It prominently features a bulky mini-CRT display, hooded to prevent glare from the hot wasteland sun. There are various buttons and knobs, slightly oversized to facilitate handling with a gloved hand. The grill indicates that the circuitry within can get pretty hot, and proper ventilation is required. Also note the gloved hand with a control-box mounted on the back, it has a large knob and coiled wire connecting with the main unit. That knob is the primary controller for the user to manipulate the on-screen cursor. It's only years later that I realized that we should have put the knobs and control on the right side of the screen as opposed to the left, this would have been considerably more ergonomic. Oh well, ergonomics were never a priority in design for this era.
Designing the various outfits and armors for the world's inhabitants was challenging. Early on we made the decision to have all apparel be one-piece suits, with only the headgear being a separate object. This allowed Adam considerable freedom to come up with creative designs that would otherwise be impossible if we had to make sure all boots, pants, gloves, shirts, and coats would be fully interchangeable. Modularity, while fun for the player, can sometimes be an artists's nightmare.
The Brotherhood of Steel power armor was the first costume to be designed, and it was done entirely in 3D, skipping the concept art stage. This was an important piece to get right, as it had to feel true to the original, yet freshened and updated for this game's unique aesthetic. The other critical costume was the Vault suit, which Adam did more sketches for than any other design, as it also had to be just right. We've included just a sampling of this costume's many iterations.
When it came time to do the many different surface dweller costumes, such as wastelanders, raiders, slavers, merchants, etc, we sought to combine prewar style clothing elements with the scavenged remains of just about any object a person might find scattered about the wasteland. Most of the survivors are opportunists that will make due with whatever is handy, and this resulted in some very interesting and original clothing combinations. I'm proud of just how many of these crazier designs made it into the game with very little compromise.
Adam's approach to designing a creature is to start with its personality. From the player's perspective, in the midst of an intense battle as he fends-off slashing 10-inch claws with a tiny 10mm pistol, the personality may not be the most critical element in determining how best to kill or not be killed. Yet it's this thoughtful process of determining a beast's origins, evolutionary path, maybe hopes and dreams, that results in a convincing design that is a cut or two above "generic monster."
Many of Fallout's creatures fall into the category of mutation by radiation, a broad category that has many subtle variations. Mutated by FEV, in the case of a Super Mutant. By far too much extensive exposure to radiation, such as the plight of the Ghouls. Or just really bad skin from just, well, hanging outside too much, as seems to be the case with almost everybody in this world. Our texture artists had an interesting time painting these subtle variations.
There have been many creature designs in many movies and games, and staying fresh and original with our particular menagerie was quite challenging at times. Luckily, the previous games offered a great deal of good genetic material to work from, and having the opportunity to try and update these classic designs was a real treat for the art team. And yes, Mirelurks are heavily mutated blue crabs. We are in Maryland, afterall. These guys capture the B-movie "guy-in-a-monster-suit" spirit beautifully.
A few of these sketches were for creatures that never quite made it into the game, Can you guess which ones?
Emil's input on every robot was "make it more like Robby the Robot!" and this was the mind-set we had in approaching the various mechanical creatures in the world. For many robots that carried over from the previous games, we tried to stay true to the original design, as with Mr. Handy and the Robobrain. Where we did diverge the reason was to better fit the robot's basic design premise. For example Mr. Handy was given a friendlier, rounder design appropriate for his original purpose. I'm a fan of the classic Soviet-era aerospace aesthetic, so you'll see hints of Soyuz and Sputnik in few designs as well.
The Protectron is an original design that went through many iterations before settling on something that does have the vintage character of Robby, and we thing he captures the quintessential 1950's robot character more than any other. And the Sentrybot from the previous game looked a bit like a generic mech, so we took some liberties here and ended up with an imposing-looking tripod-mounted tank with guns for arms.
And Liberty Prime. Who doesn't like a friendly giant robot? We definitely had a bit of Iron Giant in mind when we pictured this guy, but Adam came up with an original, perfectly proportioned, towering robot that captured Liberty's Captain America personality. Then for the longest time we labored over how Liberty would launch his nuclear warheads. Railgun arms? Launcher mounted on his shoulder? None of these ideas seemed quite right until it occurred to us: Fat Boy nuclear warheads thrown like footballs. There are few moments in design where you know you've got it just right, but this was one of them.
It wasn't long into the project before I heard rumblings amongst producers cursing the number of playable weapons we had to build for this game. There are quite a few, and the amount of work that goes into getting a weapon built, animated, and programmed is substantial, comparable to the amount of development overhead a new creature model requires.
On the other hand, the effort was certainly worth it. The amount of variety in the weapons, both in terms of design and functionality, is very entertaining and makes the player's discovery of a new example a memorable experience. The design process for these varied greatly depending on the nature of the weapon. The more mundane designs, either real-world, or intended to feel like real-world, such as an assault rifle or shotgun, were designed by combining interesting elements from various existing guns into a new whole that felt slightly familiar but original at the same time.
When it came to the build-your-own and other exotic weapons, we went crazy. Physical plausibility may seem to take a backseat to some of these ideas, but the player must suspend belief and put himself in the mindset of a culture that imagined mini-nuclear reactors and ray guns as real possibilities in the near future. That being said, Adam was intent on making sure every weapon design, no matter how outlandish, looked authentic and mechanically sound.
Inspiration for much of the various bits of technology in Fallout 3 came from both commercial product design and military industrial design of the 1950's to the early 1960's. Elements from items such as old portable television sets and army field radios were studied and incorporated in some fashion along the way. We often try to achieve a careful balance of realism, future-retro-style, and practicality in the objects that people would interact with in the world. In terms of realism, it's not an essential factor, but a sense of believability within the rules as defined in the Fallout universe is important.
Technology in the world of Fallout 3 is somewhat paradoxical in that it's incredibly advanced in some ways, and downright primitive in others. Certain technological advancements that we take for granted in our own history either did not occur, or developed along a very different path. One element that has advanced to an incredible degree is the use of miniature fission reactors in a variety of applications. Inspired by the futuristic 1957 Ford Nucleon concept car, the idea of everyday vehicles powered by a micro nuclear reactor in the trunk is fully realized in the Fallout universe. Of course, hundreds of years after the war the country is full of automobiles unstable reactors that are way overdue for service and replacement, but this makes for the entertaining blowing-up of what would otherwise be unremarkable background art.
This section covers Fallout's various environments and locations, and the many structures that appear throughout. Although it takes a good deal of trekking through the world to see it all, there's quite a bit of variety in the environments. At one extreme we have the classic post-apocalyptic rusty, ramshackle town (but with a twist) in Megaton. And at the other are the vague Orwellian, massive steel and concrete government buildings in downtown D.C., or at least what's left of them. There's a decent variety in architectural styles, a blend of Googie from the 50's and 60's with some 40's-era art deco thrown-in for good measure. And to ground it all with a strong sense of past as-we-know-it, the neoclassical buildings that pervade the heart of the Capital are ever present.
Given the scale of the game world and limited resources, we have to resort to building limited sets of buildings of different classes, which we then mix about when building-out the game's locations. You'll see here a variety of these structures, some of which appear in game, but by no means a comprehensive list. Architecture is something that although we do plenty of designs for, often it's left to the mesh-builder to work-out the exact implementation as needed.
There's a selection of interior environments consisting of standard dungeon types, such as the metro system (pictured here) and abandoned Vaults, as well as the cluttered homes of surface dwellers. All of these areas are a combination of the past, hints at the culture and society before the war, with a layer of years of decay and grime, and a final topping of the current struggles of desperate survivors trying to make a home for themselves, be they human or not.
There wasn't a whole lot that we needed to storyboard for this game. Other than the intro movie and ending sequence, there aren't many "cinematic" sequences that play out in a linear manner that would call for such detailed planning. Included here are two key storyboards, however, that were absolutely critical. First is the intro movie that's shown when you start a new game. The first part of this movie, the portion up to the Brotherhood soldier reveal, was the first bit of footage, of any game content in fact, to be revealed to the public at large. This put a lot of pressure on us to make a good first impression. We wanted to do a new, but familiar twist on the intro movie from the first game, and the radio in the bus pull-back sequence was the result.
Although we didn't have cinematics in the game, the reality is that we actually have quite a few, but their dramatically executed whenever you use the game's V.A.T.S. mechanic (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System). The basic design for the system was to have a context-sensitive camera playback of the player's queued combat actions. Included here is the original storyboard for how we envisioned this camera sequence playing-out. And I'm pleased to note that the final result in the game, a few years later, is really not so far off these initial sketches, at least in spirit.
As a whole, much of what Adam has drawn in these pages has made the transition to 3D very faithfully, and I think this is a testament to the clarity of vision and quality of the concept work done from pre-production to the closing days of alpha. I hope you've enjoyed this packet sized tour of the art of Fallout 3.
Unused concept art
Some of the creatures and weapons featured in the art book did not appear in the final version of the game, including: