Behind the Screen With Design and Story

During the Artella panel at CTN, Chris and I touched on how we used design to help develop the story and I wanted to write a blog post elaborating on that. This wasn’t entirely intentional at first, but after watching The Force Awakens documentary and learning that JJ Abrams had used a similar approach we felt a bit better about the process.

In the early stages of Pure, Chris and I knew that our first pass on the story was simply getting us to a jumping off point; from there we’d bring on artists that could help create our vision. We had a rough story outline, vague ideas of what our characters would look like, and not much more than reference points for our environments.

After a failed initial attempt with an artist that disappeared (this happens more than you might think on indie projects), we brought on concept artist Gabe Kralik and he nailed the design of our lead character almost immediately. His initial designs gave us some new ideas for the character’s abilities and backstory, so we began reworking some story points to fit that. This was the beginning of the back and forth between design and story.

Original hero design - the toaster
Original hero design – the toaster

This was also our first lesson in learning that not all concept art translates well to 3D. Short version: it looked like our main character was wearing a head mounted toaster rather than a helmet. That approach had some obvious shortcomings, so we went back to the drawing board (literally) to find some purpose in the helmet design.

After working through a variety of concepts, we arrived at the idea that our hero had stolen the helmet from a government agent and modified it for their own purposes. This meant that we had to find a design that could work for both our hero and the agent character, and after several revisions with a few different artists we finally arrived at a design that’s both visually appealing and fits the needs of the story. Again, story informing design and design informing story.

The design for Kaz (my favorite character) is another example of this. He was originally just a sidekick, a typical geeky tech guy/comic relief that contributes some story information and gets saved at some point by our hero. Gabe’s initial sketches had him looking more like a mechanic than a computer tech and we really liked that direction. We started to explore the idea of Kaz as a mechanic and creator, a guy who could fix or build anything. On the second pass Gabe gave him a robotic arm and we loved it; Kaz suddenly had the opportunity for a rich backstory and everything about him changed. We reworked his role on the team and knew exactly where to go with the design details, and in this final design everything about his character serves his role in the story.

We approached the sets the exact same way and Jordan Haynes and Jack Kaiser delivered. We had the script more fleshed out at this point and had several environments in mind to stage different set pieces. Chris and I worked with Jordan and Jack to nail down the general feel and tone of those sets, then asked them to visually explore those environments and incorporate their own ideas. They delivered some fantastic work (that you’ve hopefully seen on our

Slum concept design
Slum concept design

Twitter and Instagram accounts) and brought tons of new story ideas. Our review sessions often started with “So what if here…” and ended with new sequences and set pieces for us to script and storyboard. Our two main set pieces were developed over the period of a year, and during that whole process we were coming up with new story ideas.

Our entire team of artists have helped craft the story of Pure and it’s been a fantastic process. Chris and I wanted to make this a true collaboration from the very beginning, and over time Pure has become everyone’. Opening it up to the crew has pushed us and our short far beyond what we could have come up with on our own, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

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