There are hundreds of ways, if not thousands, to contribute to video game development.
Graphic artists, designers and programmers alike all bring their unique perspective to their work, and those specialized skill sets translate into more immersive environments in all of our games.
To help build the setting for Battlefield Hardline, Visceral created dozens of real pieces of graffiti which you can find on many of the walls in the game.
We sat down with Patrick O’Keefe, Senior Concept Artist on Battlefield Hardline, to learn more about those amazing pieces of art.
Do you remember the first time you noticed graffiti as a kid? What were you doing?
I was lucky to grow up in the 1990s in a great graffiti city, Toronto, and my older brother introduced me to the hip hop scene at a very young age. In the city there were murals everywhere, and some really good crews doing really inspiring work. I started honing my skills in my sketchbook and putting up tags in my primary school and around the neighbourhood.
Once I got to high school, I started to take it more serious and started running with a bit of a crew. We would go out once a week and hit up rooftops, train yards, alleys—any place we could get into or onto.
How did you first get interested in art?
I started drawing and painting at a very young age, constantly stealing my brother’s supplies, sketchbooks and ideas. My desire was to be better than him; I could see how much he loved it and I wanted to create something that he would look upon with the same reverence.
What is it about graffiti that resonates with people all around the world, in your opinion?
Visual arts have always been the most palpable medium for the masses, and since graffiti is the art of the masses, it has quickly become extremely popular and prolific. It can be a very affordable and accessible art form to artists of any skill level and age. There are literally blank walls everywhere. Graffiti is also the only art form that is totally unedited. Anyone can do anything. It is often the voices of the people; anonymous expressions of the wants, needs, desires, demands, feeling and ideas of the everyman.
What was the research like in terms of reviewing graffiti for the game? How did you and the team make sure you were being accurate with artwork?
Besides learning the different area codes of the cities we were “painting” in, there was actually very little research that needed to be done. I have always been a fan of and contributor to the graffiti and street art scene. To accomplish this project, I just needed to bring my art inside from the physical walls, and get up on the digital walls.
Can you walk us through taking one piece of graffiti from the draft stage all the way through to putting it into the game? What are the steps you take?
To create the La Santa Muerte mural, I began with a marker sketch—I still like to do lots of my layouts, and especially my characters, in traditional medium. This painting has certain religious and cultural connotations to it, and to make sure I got them right I needed to do a minor amount of research. I scanned my sketch and then began painting it and adding all the little details in Photoshop.
I usually work in a few layers so that I have the opportunity to make changes easily, but not so many layers that I don't have to commit to any one idea. Once I’m happy with the painting, I then make a layer mask and use a textured Photoshop brush to give it some wear and age. After I am finished with the piece, the environment artist will take it and place it in the game.
How long did the process take of putting the graffiti into the game?
I would create several murals in a day. The process is pretty quick and I probably only spent a few weeks creating all the graffiti for the whole game.
What makes realistic graffiti art?
Having an authentic street style is very necessary, your ‘handstyles’ need to be tight for it to look right, but there also needs to be a balance, not everything on a wall can be a perfect, well-executed tag. I would always make sure to create a whole bunch of less refined graffiti and have it on the edges or slightly covered up by the main mural.
Often I’ll use my wrong hand, or grip the pen with my palm like a child might to get something of a looser look. Once the graffiti is created, I use some texture brushes to age it and make it feel like it has been through some weather, and to give it the feeling it was painted on a rough surface.
How did you break in with EA?
I studied art in secondary school and eventually entered into an Illustration undergraduate degree at Sheridan College in Oakville, just outside of my hometown of Toronto. After two years of study, I followed the other love of my life to Vancouver where I resumed my studies, in the field of Film Design.
While in my final year of school I took a job as a Storyboard Artist at Bardel Animation. Months before my graduation, I received an offer from Electronic Arts to work as a Concept Artist, where I have remained for 7 years, in 3 different locations. My first gig was working with the Need for Speed team, and part of the reason I was hired was to eventually do the graffiti in the game.
How did you first get interested in video games?
I played a bunch of video games when I was younger. The 1990s were a great time for video games. Great games were still being made for the classic 16-bit Sega and Nintendo consoles and the next-gen systems like the Nintendo64 and PlayStation were really starting to dramatically change what could be done with the art form.
If you could be doing anything besides working on games, what would it be?
Although concept art is integral to the creation of games, I think that many concept artists regard themselves as designers or painters first and game-makers second. So I know that if I wasn’t making video games right now, I would still be creating art for film or advertising.
I also have several little books in progress that I never seem to have the time to get done. But, if I were not an artist, I would have gone into the sciences; there was a time in high school when I was seriously considering studying physics, geology and weather systems.