Enemy Art: A New Direction

16 Mar Enemy Art: A New Direction

Tameem Antoniades

Recently we lost two team members. Our character artists and our art director.  We managed to hire a new art lead, Hugues Giboire who was an art director on Heavenly Sword, ten years ago now.  After an arduous search, I’m also pleased to say that we also have a new character artist joining us in the first week of April.

As we only had one character artist on the Hellblade team, we have been without a character artist for several months now.  I asked Hugues to help fill the gap as best he could and help set a new direction for the characters.

As the game is set in a hellish underworld, the original idea was to create an undead army of Vikings.  Over time, I’ve felt less and less enamored with the idea of a zombie army. Call it zombie fatigue, if you like, but I felt that we could and should take it in a more original direction.

When exploring horror, I see two camps: the external horror as exemplified by Resident Evil, Dawn of the Dead, or the Orcs in LOTR; or a more disturbing internal horror as exemplified by Silent Hill, The Grudge, Jacob’s Ladder.  For story reasons, I was more interested in the latter but felt like we hadn’t quite found the right angle.

There are a few key influences that I had in mind. As the Vikings were pagan, they had a complex belief system that included animal-shapeshifting.  The Wicker Man was a movie that had elements of this that I found appealing.  Now, I don’t mean the slapstick-comedy version with Nicolas Cage but the weird and influential original with Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward

Another British horror movie that I drew influence from was Hellraiser which had a strong body-modification theme, something the Vikings were also known for:


In terms of sheer creepiness, Lucio Fulci’s zombies were ahead of their time.  They simply looked filthy and muddy, barely an ounce of humanity visible on their faces. I felt that the Vikings should feel inhuman to Senua.


I was looking for something to tie these ideas together: paganism, animal shapeshifting, body modification and Vikings.

Hugues came in with fresh eyes and ideas and he told me about an amazing artist called Olivier de Sagazan who somehow crystalised what we were missing.


We went back to the drawing board and Alex Taini, our studio art director, worked up a new concept:


I loved this concept: in it, several ideas came together in a clear and simple manner – always sign of good design.  With this concept in hand, Hugues modelled and textured an in-game character of astounding detail and clarity in only about 3 weeks.







I am very happy we have shifted our enemy design ideas and this should give our new character artist a new direction to run with when he joins.  You could argue that we should have decided the direction for enemies sooner in development.  In the real world, that doesn’t always work.

In typical project management, the concept phase at the start of the project is the box within which creativity happens.  Then it is put into a GDD (Game Design Document) and the rest of the project is built to spec.   Creativity beyond this point is considered disruptive.

However, if you restrict creativity to a concept phase at the start of a project, then you are unlikely to move beyond the obvious tropes: zombies, space marines, and orcs.

In my experience, creativity is a process of discovery and experimentation, endless research and constant dead ends.  Originality comes from connecting diverse and chaotic ideas into one idea and that process can take many months if not years to set.  Sometimes it happens at the start, sometimes in the middle, sometimes near the end of development.   But when it happens, it takes on a life of its own and demands to come to life.

Until next time!

  • André Vila Franca
    Posted at 14:22h, 16 March Reply

    Again, i’m impressed with the way you do things, ia makes completely sense and i agree with your aproach on the artistic side of things.
    The new enemy designs looks really cool, i just hope they also move as cool as their appearance. The character damage should be a must do because now we really want to fight to the death with this vikings. Create awesome and catastrophic damage please, this game requires it so much (blood staying where you cut, broken armour, ragged clothes and change in the movements after damage is inflicted, etc).
    I have a question though: Will you also keep some of the previous enemy designs? Because there were some pretty cool ones, like that viking with his spine coming out of his back and that one with a sword in each hand with lots of spikes coming out of his body.
    Keep up the great work.
    Can’t wait to play this game!! \(^0^)/.

  • Michel
    Posted at 14:33h, 16 March Reply

    Very good choice. I did not like the movie examples but the body transfiguration clip showed a kind of creative, alien and somewhat disturbing expressive piece of art. You’ve got quite a distinct taste, Tameem. Very interesting and fitting. Also an interesting creative process you went through. Alex and Hugues did a marvellous job based on that input! Wonderful! I recognize aspects of death, paganism and animalism and it exudes some kind of elemental power. Some of your enemy concepts that already exist clearly show aspects of this, too, though. You don’t have to screw them all. Wolfsheen, Wicker and Crow have a somewhat similar touch. And, please, never let go of that hands theme (Canyon of Hands 1+2)

    • John
      Posted at 19:37h, 16 March Reply

      Totally agree! Of all the great concept art we have seen so far I think the Canyon of Hands was one of the best!

  • Austin K
    Posted at 17:20h, 16 March Reply

    Really neat direction! Just curious though… what is strong-body modification?

  • André Rogers
    Posted at 18:25h, 16 March Reply

    Quite inspiring! Can’t wait to see more 😀

  • Zura
    Posted at 19:00h, 16 March Reply

    The last video was kind of interesting! If your monster design goes that way it would be cool. But I agree with André Vila Franca. Some of your design until now are already very unique and would fit in as well. But I understand your zombie fatigue as you called it :D. I definetely feel the same! But anyway. Impressive work! Keep on being awesome ;). I can’t wait for the final game!

  • Thomas Roach
    Posted at 03:19h, 17 March Reply

    This is a master stroke of creativity. I am thrilled that you were able to find such a cohesive and fluid representation of what you had originally envisioned. The concept of a man trying to become something more than mine, but a something that he has never witnessed with his own eyes is fertile ground for imagination. I hope your team continues this brave and uncompromising approach to your creative process.

  • skeletonKey
    Posted at 06:34h, 17 March Reply

    Ninja Theory is my favorite developer because you push artistic creativity & originality. I believe this should change & evolve to the very end of a project, even if it is delayed because of it. Also, this is just my opinon / personal tastes but: I know you are pushing for a horror vibe, but please also put a heavy emphasis on the beautiful elements & the surrealism aspects. I fell in love with NT because of these factors. As always, thank you.

    • Michel
      Posted at 11:43h, 20 March Reply

      I go in line: “…please also put a heavy emphasis on the beautiful elements & the surrealism aspects.”

  • Adam Mansour
    Posted at 12:25h, 17 March Reply

    Pretty cool, but will you throw away everything? Because there still was some cool stuff like the “Rune Beast” or “winged giant” AND MY 2 FAVORITES “Crow” and “Wolfshene”!! I really really REALLY wanna see Wolfshene in this game!!

  • paulk
    Posted at 13:55h, 17 March Reply

    I want to buy it NOW!

  • Noel
    Posted at 13:55h, 17 March Reply

    I’m happy you guys found a direction for your enemy design. Its definitely different and interesting.

    I hope the “mud” concept will become the main point for the enemy and environment design. Because it’s definitely different. While everybody is trying to be clean and pretty, you can stand out by being dirty and ugly while still being artistic and beautiful.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Kiran
    Posted at 11:24h, 23 March Reply

    Man, so much detail in the character design… lovvvve ittt. Looks beautiful. Buying this game on day one.

  • Ravi Teja S
    Posted at 06:32h, 27 March Reply

    That last video was so freaky … Gave me the chills

  • Alexander
    Posted at 07:31h, 29 March Reply

    Wonderful design. I’d suggest you to add some “designator” like runes on the Senua’s sword to this new concept. That will help people who are not.very familiar with the game understand that those guys are indeed vikings =)
    I’m not complaining at all, I do love this new design just telling that it might be more… Self explanatory i guess?

  • Aidan Bhachu
    Posted at 03:17h, 30 March Reply

    Get Olivier de Sagazan actively involved! Consultant if poss? That was a legitimately terrifying video! I like the ideas surrounding exploring paganism. I was such a huge fan of Heavenly Sword. I loved the dark elements- Kai’s character exemplified these. Big fan of the humour too, well executed; and the creative Wii style use of the controller to guide catapult missiles and arrows- that I have never been able to work out how that didn’t spread!

  • Sérgio Nehama
    Posted at 07:45h, 30 March Reply


    I know i know…we are still eons away from that but still … every piece (should i say nugget?) of info you guys put out gives me this enormous need to play this.

  • Kaedhen Bharathae-Lane
    Posted at 16:34h, 30 March Reply

    Firstly, let me just say I can’t wait for this game! Enslaved was one of my favorite games on the PS3 because of the way it pushed a wonderful story to the forefront, and I hope that same quality shows through in Hellblade, as there are so few games these days with quality writing!

    Now that I’ve buttered you (the development team) up, I’m going to constructively criticize you; please forgive me….

    I’m new to this site, and it pleases and intrigues me to find out that you plan horror elements for this game! The inspirations you sited are fantastic. However, I feel the character model does not reflect the strongest elements of those influences. What is so horrific to me about creatures in games like Silent Hill and even the man in the Transfiguration video are that they are at once wholly alien and weird, asymmetrical, yet also human in their tortured expressions of emotion. What is more terrifying than seeing yourself in the monster, no? And I see these qualities in the new enemy concept art. The figure is monstrously disfigured, yet what remains of his human face is a mouth crying out in agony; his hands outstretched as if in a plea for merciful death.

    However, i feel the actual character model loses these qualities. He doesn’t appear disfigured at all and the asymmetry is lost, effectively making him appear simply human. Just a human wearing a mask. This is much less horrific and creepy. He is certainly imposing but not really scary.

    I hope my input is helpful and forgive me if it was too harsh! Maybe my ideas aren’t even in the same direction you’re heading! Anyways I can’t wait for this game and all your work so far is amazing!

  • L.S.
    Posted at 23:08h, 11 May Reply

    That’s very creepy; I don’t want to stand face to face with that warrior.

  • Reverend Speed
    Posted at 18:45h, 28 September Reply

    This… really, is just the greatest. What an excellent source of inspiration, how brilliantly it ties into your themes. I can only hope you don’t only take this approach with ripped viking giants – I think you could get a lot of mileage by applying this transformation to the skinny, knob-knee’d, scrawny scrappers out there, female and male. As they said in Fight Club, “skinny guys fight til’ they’re burger”. =)

  • Grace
    Posted at 15:19h, 18 January Reply

    I adored this design because when I first saw them, my insides were screaming in terror. And then I absolutely loved them. If I had to imagine the monsters that would come into a village and massacre everyone, they would not simply be humanoid. This is not only a cool design but it’s what Senua created in her head when she envisioned the men who had come to commit those atrocities against her. It’s pretty subtle from a monster standpoint, which I also love because the Vikings were still “just men”. For instance, all of the monsters in Silent Hill are horrific, and then there’s Pyramid Head. Pyramid Head was still “just a man” but his helmet and actions are what took that humanity away. It works here too and I just want to congratulate you guys on really finding the perfect storm for truly amazing creature design that contributed as much to the story as every other little detail in this incredible work of art.

Post A Comment