Q: What does an art director do at Infinity Ward?
Brian Horton: My job primarily is to work with a really talented team of artists across the entire studio – and that includes all three modes: the single player, the multiplayer, and zombies mode – to make sure we're hitting the highest quality visuals. I work close to the tech team, and I also work with PR on assets we have going out to make sure those are looking good as well.
Q: How many artists are under your control?
Brian Horton: Oh my goodness. It's a quite a large team. I would say somewhere over 60 or something like that.
Q: How does your creative process work? Where do you look for inspiration?
Brian Horton: Well I'm very fortunate that as an artist I can I travel quite a bit, and I find I gain most of my inspiration from the different places I've visited throughout the world. I'm a photographer, I'm a painter, and I tend to gain inspiration when looking at those areas. Just by going to different countries I tend to get inspiration and build up a reference library. And then as a painter I find that observation and being able to study my subject and translate that… it makes me think of colour in a unique way. So I would say the fine arts, photography, and travel are my biggest inspirations to get things started.
Q: What do you do when someone is struggling creatively?
Brian Horton: Yeah I mean sometimes it's a lot more mundane when it comes to just problem solving, because I think that's what our jobs are – we're problem solvers. We have to come up with visual answers to the goal of the game, and that's really our primary mission. There's an experience that we're trying to deliver, and it's important that we answer those problems as efficiently and quickly as possible. So if a photographic reference is going to do it, if it's a piece of concept art… all of them are totally fine, but we're looking for the most expedient answer. For Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, it was a really big challenge for us to design a world that was not was something we could observe: it was in the future, it was in space, so a lot of the answers we had to come to came from research, but also our imaginations.
Q: What was your initial design brief for Infinite Warfare?
Brian Horton: What was really exciting when I first heard the pitch: it was a classic war story that happened to be told in space. So we were not trying to make a science fiction game per se, we really wanted this to feel like a traditional – or at least a classic – good versus evil war story with an ensemble cast; a band of brothers that would try to take on an overwhelming and hostile force. So when we think of those as just main themes, you come up with these archetypes – these characters you want to feel real and believable. And you wanna create a world for them that feels just as real. So when we thought of space, we really tried to ground it as much as possible in things that we knew. The thing that came to mind was, how are we going to create spacecraft that will feel relatable and fit into this grounded reality. That's where our NASA-meets-navy aesthetic came forward: we took things we could observe like naval battleships or aircraft carriers, and some of the touchstones from NASA like the space shuttle, and infused these things together to create what we think is a very compelling and believable vision for the future of space warfare.
Q: How much does the design of a space suit or a weapon have to make sense within the universe? Can you just add fins to everything because it looks cool, or does there need to be some in-world justification?
Brian Horton: We try to justify every single thing we put in our designs. There's very little room for affectations that don't fit some kind of purpose. These soldiers, everything that they're wearing needs to have a function, and if it's not then it should go away. So we had that kind of economy approach that there wouldn't be extraneous design elements. We wanted to make sure that we based our weapons on ballistics – something that you could recognise, that was grounded in the now. But also we converted that and modernised that by making them directed energy weapons.
So we have regular ballistics, but we also have these directed energy weapons that function very much like a traditional weapon. The difference is they're maybe modal, so you can go from a sniper single shot into a fully automatic with the flip of a switch. We have this Erad weapon which loads a battery in and out just like you would do a magazine to reload. So we wanted to create these loops that felt familiar to Call of Duty but also took advantage of future tech and what an energy weapon might actually feel like in the future.
Q: There's no shortage of futuristic shooters out there. From an art perspective, how do you distinguish the look of Infinite Warfare? How do you avoid subconsciously copying something that's already out there?
Brian Horton: Like you said, there's a lot of science fiction games out there, and I think the first thing we did was we said "this isn't really a science fiction game, it just happens to take place in space", and that was our theatre. We wanted it to feel more science fact that science fiction, even though we were doing invention, we always were going for plausibility and striving for authenticity and I think that's the lesson. If we couldn't imagine seeing this being manufactured, if we couldn't imagine seeing this as an evolution of something we already have in today's world, it probably was too far.
So we did keep ourselves a little bit more on the ground, even though we were going into space. Everything we did was based on research. We looked into a lot of research towards what the first explorations and colonisations of our nearby planets would look like. They'd be modular habitats, pre-put together and assembled on the planet. They would have very few conveniences – it was a harsh expansion of civilisation, so there wouldn't be as many of these luxuries. It really would feel like a frontier like the 1800s in America, when people went out to the West. These were the kind of things we were thinking about, and the world that we created we call it hard science instead of science fiction.
Q: How does asset creation work in your department? Do you say 'I want 15 variations on a laser pistol by noon!'? And how do you decide what to keep and what to file away?
Brian Horton: Well it all comes from the design requirements first – it comes from our story. We really wanted to make sure this was a story-driven single player game, we wanted to make the campaign new and fresh. Everything we did as far as the design process goes centred around: how can we bring this story to life? And when it comes to weapons, we have an amazing weapons lead named Sean Byers. He's extremely passionate about weapons, he's well-researched, and he works very closely with some of our concept designers like Aaron Beck, who worked on films like Elysium.
He has the same aesthetic and approach where everything needs to feel real and believable, so we would always come from that perspective: we want it to be unique but grounded. We started coming up with the idea of: what if they were doing laser printing of weapons? So we came up with this idea of milled metals that aren't manufactured but printed, and that became our driving forces of an aesthetic – especially for the settlement defence front. So once again, it's always coming through that design process of 'what does the story call for? How can we bring that forward? And what's our visual design aesthetic centred around?' It always came down to this practical, grounded aesthetic.
Q: Zombies must have provided a nice break from that from an art perspective.
Brian Horton: That's what's so great about Zombies in Spaceland – it's such a tonal shift from the goals of the single player. It has a space connection, but it really isn't tied to the narrative of single player, and we could come up with this aesthetic that was tongue-in-cheek space tropes. So we have four unique characters, each playing an archetype role: a jock, a hip hop artist, a valley girl, and a geek. Then the world itself is this really wacky amusement park, and the zombies are wearing all these wonderful '80s clothes, multi-coloured rainbow and mohawks and all kinds of cool '80s stuff. It really allowed us to let our hair down and have fun, and it was just a really fun game to try and bring forward. It was a small team of people that were able to do a lot of great work to bring Zombies together.
Q: I know it's hard to pick favourites, but what's something in the game that you're particularly proud of from an art perspective?
Brian Horton: I'm extremely proud of the Retribution. This is our mobile hub – it is the vehicle that you do all of your operations out of, and it represents Nick Reyes's responsibility, because in our story the fleet was attacked and the Retribution was one of those last remaining ships, so we really wanted it to have this war torn 'been in the battle' feel. It wasn't always perfect: it was breaking down we had to repair it all the time, but this group of people had to work together to try to keep it going, and not only survive but to bring the fight to the settlement defence front and ultimately prevail. So the Retribution represents this living world that has an ecosystem of soldiers, each with a job and responsibility. And we did extensive research by actually visiting some naval vessels in action to see how they operate to see how people work in there. A lot of photographic reference was gathered from those, and interpreting all that into the Retribution was probably one of our biggest accomplishments on the art side.
Q: The Infinite Warfare reveal trailer has 3.2 million dislikes on YouTube. Why do people love to hate on COD?
Brian Horton: We have a very big and passionate fan base, and they've been with us, many of 'em, for many many years. They have an investment in this franchise they've been with it for so long, they have strong feelings about it. We had a vision for Infinite Warfare three years ago, and we've been building upon that. When we released the trailer, some people were unaware we were going to be going in this direction. People have been seeing more and more that we care a lot about this direction, and we believe in it. It is a passion project for us – it's something that we feel very strongly in our vision, and we've stuck to our guns. We just said, "Let's continue to show people what's great about Infinite Warfare". We're just excited that it's going to be released very soon. It's really coming in quick now, and we've just very proud of the product.
Q: How do you feel about the release of Modern Warfare Remastered being tied to Infinite Warfare?
Brian Horton: Well, we look at it as a fantastic bonus to the overall package. We talked a lot of about Infinite Warfare single player and the investments we've made there, multiplayer is one of the most customisable experiences to date – familiar to a lot of players that play Black Ops 3 but building on that with our rigs and being able to select different styles of play – and Zombies mode is really unique and quirky, so that's already a fantastic package. And just to bring on top of it the opportunity to get this modern classic remastered, we think it just sweetens the pot. So we're honoured to be able to work with Raven to bring this remastered version to Infinite Warfare, and we think it's just a fantastic bonus. I think ultimately that's what it comes down to is the value you get out of the whole package. There's just not much else in the industry that could match that.
Q: How did Kit Harington and Conor McGregor react to seeing digital versions of themselves?
Brian Horton: They were stoked. I'd say Conor is a superfan. He came into our studio when he first joined us, shook everyone's hand, and wanted to meet the devs and just express his interest in being a part of this game. And then when he saw the image of him in the suit, he tweeted it out with enthusiasm. He was stoked to be in Call of Duty, and we're stoked to have him. He's an amazing talent, and his fan base has been excited to see him branch out and be a part of this game. Kit as well. He wanted to be a part of this game because he got to play a villain which he rarely gets to do in his film career, so it was a really good placement: we needed a high quality actor, and he was very much interested in expanding and bringing a villain to Call of Duty.
Q: What's the state of your motion capture tech? Call of Duty seems to be ahead of everyone else when it comes to that stuff.
Brian Horton: We've been pioneering the accurate digital double from the beginning of this generation, and we just keep perfecting that technology. We get pixel perfect down to the pore representations of our actors – not only their static still face, but all the expressions that make up the performances we want them to deliver. We scan those as well, and they combine to form a very believable sub-structure musculature of a face, which is what you need to ensure that when you animate on top of it, you see all those micro-expressions come through the wrinkles and the eyes and the brow and around the corners of the mouth all of that stuff. And we did the full performance capture, so you're not just getting the body, you're getting the face and the vocals all in the same take: you're getting a complete performance. And then we have really talented animators and tech artists that translate that performance on to our models. It's really impressive technology, we keep growing with it every game, and we think we're bringing some of the best performances Call of Duty has ever seen to Infinite Warfare.
Q: Would you ever lease your motion capture studio out to others?
Brian Horton: We developed a brand new performance capture studio just for Infinite Warfare and it's now a permanent fixture for Infinity Ward. It's allowed us to do many, many, many more cinematics than we've previously been able to do, because we get to shoot there all the time. It is our studio, it is something that we get to use, and right now it's an internal studio. It's invaluable to be able to have these scanning services and have this mo-cap studio all a part of our organisation, and as creators it gives us many more tools to make great games.
Q: How long does capture take? Are devs lining up to create digital versions of themselves to show off to their friends?
Brian Horton: It's funny, because there's a lot of guys at the studio whose faces are in the game. It's like, "Oh my god Bernie – I just took you out on the battlefield!" The scanning is called photogrammetry, and it uses a series of cameras that simultaneously can capture an image, but we use an array of them like a sort of cage of cameras. And one split second you're basically capturing an entire face. That's why you can do all the expressions, because all you need to do is hold an expression for a second and we can capture it. Then it goes through our program to generate the model. The model itself takes about a day to turn around, but yeah the scanning process is extremely quick.