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How did the look of Mordin evolve from the original Salarian design? What role did ZBrush play in this?

Rion Swanson – Character Artist:
We really tried to push the character of Mordin beyond what the original Salarian heads offered in terms of facial features. His face shape has been adjusted somewhat, giving him a more squared-off jaw line and bulging cheekbones. His skin is quite wrinkled and weathered with lots of small age spots and flecks of different flesh and brown tones. Overall, the look of Mordin’s face and head has become more detailed and reflective of a character that has been through a lot in his life. Although he’s a brilliant scientist, the large scars over his face immediately suggest he’s had a few run-ins with direct physical threats or combat which is very true of his character. ZBrush was a great tool for achieving the aged, weathered appearance we wanted to capture. It allowed for easy and effective sculpting of both his face and head as well as cloth areas on his body. We also wanted more visible expression to show through, seeing as how Mordin is prone to sudden outbursts of gleeful expression. We put additional detail into the eye area; deep reds and oranges and more prominent inner eyelids help give a more expressive and unique look and feel.

Garrus sees some major visual changes in this game. How did you go about creating that? What role did ZBrush play in this?

Jaemus Wurzbach – Lead Character Artist:
Poor Garrus! He takes a missile blast to the face. I had to create two versions of him; one before and after his accident. In ME1 we had a great sculpt for Garrus made in ZBrush so it was quite easy to pop that file open and add in some fresh scars to his head. I also dinged up his suit as the damaged version needed a hole blasted through it. It was a pretty easy process to take the new undamaged suit we made, make a new base mesh with the hole and pop that into ZBrush to make the metal look warped and shredded.

How did the look of Grunt evolve from the original Krogan design? He does represent the pinnacle of the Krogan race, after all!

Jaemus Wurzbach – Lead Character Artist:
Grunt is a super Krogan but he is also very much like a child. When you find him in the game he is fresh out of a laboratory test tube. We wanted him to look young, like a baby. The other Krogan you see have skin similar to what you would find on a tortoise. Grunt, however has much finer skin -- it looks softer and is scaly like a lizard. He hasn’t matured enough to get really thick skin yet. The same can be said for the horns on his head. Other Krogan have a solid crown with large spikes, whereas Grunt has many smaller segments that have not formed into a solid plate yet. This is similar to how a newborn baby’s skull is soft so the bones can move around some. Originally Grunt was supposed to look super clean, his armor was flawless with no dents or dings. As time went on we decided to dirty him up a little. His armor is still quite clean, but it looks more lived in and carries a few scratches.

The Mass Effect universe features something like 20 races so far. Where do you come up with all these ideas?

Derek Watts – Art Director:
It all starts with writing. Once they give us a brief description we can then move into the concept phase. We spend a great deal of time creating a visual "language" for each race. We want to be able to give them a hook that sticks with people long after they play the game. We usually start in phases with the first phase being whatever the concept artist thinks would look cool. This is the phase where they have the most freedom to push their own ideas. Ben Huen and Matt Rhodes did an awesome job giving us tremendous variety in a short time period. Then we start to narrow it down in the later phases and begin looking out for trouble spots: will it work correctly for combat, animation and digital acting?

You rarely nail it in the first phase. We usually go 3 or 4 phases before we get the final version.

Is it challenging to create differentiation for each character within any given race so that they all look like distinctive individuals rather than cookie-cutter creations?

Jaemus Wurzbach – Lead Character Artist:
We use a morph system for all the heads we have in game. Currently we have about 8 unique base morphs per gender. These are full head shapes. We then blend those in numerous other, smaller morphs that adjust the facial features. Usually when we go about making the heads for the game the level designers will take a first pass on generating the faces, then the character art team takes a stab to polish them up. We like to have quite a few artists work on these. It can be a fun process and each artist brings a different style to the faces, so not every area looks the same. It is very easy to create heads that tend to look very similar, though, so getting unique heads that look correct can be a bit of work. Usually the best bet -- like pretty much anything else in character art -- is to have some good references handy.

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