Dragon Age: Inquisition

Over the years it has been a great pleasure to work closely with the artists at BioWare, creating interviews for each new installment of the Dragon Age saga, as well as Mass Effect. Each new title has further pushed the envelope of what console technology can achieve, and ZBrush has always been a central part of making that happen.

Dragon Age: Inquisition released to great acclaim in November. Players and critics alike loved its voice acting, soundtrack, detailed environments and combat. DA:I is the first BioWare title to release on the new generation of consoles and also the first to use the Frostbite game engine – a double whammy that meant the artists could go wild in ways that were never possible before. It shows! Inquisition has the most realistic characters yet seen, along with truly stunning environments.

We hope that you enjoy this newest interview with Shane Hawco and his team, which includes images and even a video never seen anywhere else!

Could you introduce us to each of the artists who worked on Inquisition?

Shane Hawco: I'm the lead character artist on the Dragon Age franchise. I started with BioWare in 2003 where I worked on environment and character art for Jade Empire. Then I worked on Mass Effect for a brief period before going onto the Dragon Age franchise as the character lead. There, I shipped Dragon Age: Origins plus its DLC and expansions, Dragon Age II and respective DLCs as well as Dragon Age: Inquisition and its additional content.

Aaron Dibbs: Dragon Age: Inquisition is my first project at BioWare. I came from a television and freelance background and have jumped between technical animation and creature modeling over my career. My position at BioWare is on the Technical Animation team but when opportunities would come up to develop a new creature, the Character Art team was awesome and allowed me to live in both worlds.

Francis Lacuna: Hello! I have been a character artist at the Edmonton studio since 2005, where I started on Mass Effect. My roles on Dragon Age: Inquisition were to define and engineer customization features for armors, prototype and plot workflow pipelines, manage character shaders, and craft signature assets like the High Dragon.

Patrik Karlsson: I am a senior character artist here at BioWare. I have been at BioWare for about 3 years now, with most of it being on DA:I working on characters like Cassandra, Iron Bull, Inquisitor warrior and various monsters including dragon heads.

Graham Kelly: I've been working at BioWare Edmonton as a senior environment artist since 2009 and have had the pleasure of working on both the Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchises. I joined the Dragon Age team towards the end of 2013 and worked primarily on Skyhold.

Uri So: I'm a senior character artist who has worked at BioWare for 2 years. My main responsibilities were making follower and NPC faces on Dragon Age: Inquisition. I also made the hair for the followers and some for the Inquisitor. Beyond that I worked on the Inquisitor mage, the Inquisitor rogue, Varric, and the Last Inquisitor body armors.

Ramil Sunga: I started at BioWare in 2006 where I was a character artist on Dragon Age: Origins, concept artist on DAII, and on Dragon Age: Inquisition I was a concept artist that was integrated closely with the character art team.

Rion Swanson: Hello, I started here at BioWare Edmonton in 2001 making character textures for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Since then, I've primarily worked on Jade Empire, Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect 3, and Dragon Age: Inquisition as a 3D character artist.

Inquisition seems to have been bigger than its predecessors in every way. How much more in the way of art assets did you create compared to the previous Dragon Age incarnations?

Shane Hawco: Dragon Age: Inquisition has been the Dragon Age game we all always wanted to make. We took notes from the lessons of the past and wanted to focus heavily on its key gameplay pillars. This meant adding great depth to customization for the player and party members, and giving them a vast, beautiful and living world to explore and discover.

We also needed to bring our huge new world to life, filling it with different factions, all kinds of wildlife and of course, dragons! On DA:I, we wanted to make our dragon combat especially memorable. They are larger, more limber and have a more predatory appearance and behavior than any other Dragon Age title. We wanted their visual appearance to reflect their combat stylings: some breathe fire, others ice and some electricity. In addition, some are armored while others have a brood that the player needs to deal with. In order to achieve this goal, we gave them different heads representing the elemental attacks and distinctive markings to differentiate the various combat styles as well as help them fit into or pop from their respective environments. The end result is that they feel very alive, intriguing and challenging, reacting to various different play styles.

Demons have been core to Thedas since Dragon Age's inception but for DA:I we needed to have them front and center as they have a major role in the story. For this we wanted to create a mixture of old and new creatures to be both familiar yet refreshing and exciting. We revisited the Pride and Rage Demons as well as the Shade to which we added a bitpack progression: a set of armored parts that are attached to the base model to change the silhouette and create a visual hierarchy in order illustrate the increased difficulty curve when encountering them over the campaign. We also breathed new life into the Demons by expanding the faction with the Nightmare and introducing the childlike Despair Demon.

Since the Demon faction plays off the player's emotions, we wanted to make sure that Fear would not be understated. Knowing arachnophobia is a commonly shared phobia, we felt it was the perfect avenue to exploit. The Fear Demon would have multiple stages. There is the main form a more humanoid floating variety with spider-like appendages that would be accompanied by the spiders you first encounter in the very beginning of the game. There is also the larger, more formidable spider-like form that would take appear only in the Fade. Having the two variations appear based on where the encounter takes place would not only link them across dimensions but also amplify the fear setting whenever they are encountered. We wanted the player to feel that after they encountered the larger Demon, it was starting to bleed into Thedas, manifesting in the more humanoid form, in turn amplifying the fear and increasing the player's resolve.

Another key faction to the Dragon Age: Inquisition story was the Red Templars. Unlike the Demons that were bent on destruction, they were the elite soldiers of Corypheus, driven and corrupted by the power that red lyrium gave them. Showing the transformation though the hierarchy of the faction was key to showcasing this. The normal soldiers look no different from their counterparts, aside from the red lyrium crystal around their neck. The more specialized creatures show how the lyrium had mutated them to enhance their abilities. From the long crystal blades of the red lyrium assassin to the sheer intimidating size of the behemoth, we wanted to illustrate that red lyrium was indeed a powerful and potent drug.

The Venatori/Tevinter are the main human faction in DA:I that does not have the benefit of supernatural powers like the Demons or Red Templars. We still needed to give them a distinct look that not only represented the more arid climate they call home but also to show they were tyrannical, powerful and to be feared. We visually described the tyranny of their resolve with elements of bondage. Most of their appearances are masked; some of them are also chained to identify them clearly as enslaved. These visual elements are designed to do more than differentiate them from other factions around Thedas, as well as to make them ominous, giving off a sense of fear and deviance when the player encounters them.