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Borderlands 3 Art Director Scott Kester on communicating

interview

Borderlands 3 Art Director Scott Kester on communicating "an attitude"

"We went nuts!"

Arjan Terpstra

08 Apr 2020 ⋅ 6 min read

Borderlands 3, launched ten years after the original Borderlands, still dons the same distinctive art style. Or does it? We caught up with Borderlands 3 Art Director Scott Kester, to chat about the art of Borderlands 3 and what it took to find new angles to a look that fans know and love so well.

Scott Kester has been with Gearbox Software for 12 years, working as an Art Director on Battleborn and as a concept artist on Borderlands 1 and 2. Mostly known for his character art, he is responsible for many of the main player characters and NPC's.


Q: Hello Scott, thank you for talking to us. The Borderlands art style is quite an established and recognizable one. How difficult is it to change aspects of this highly specific and well-known (and appreciated) design style?

A: "It's pretty hard! If the 'Simpson’s' was drawn differently for a season people would flip right? So you have to understand where you can push and pull it to evolve things while staying true to the look and the style. This is really hard for me because, as an artist, I want to experiment and try things and go wild."

"Overall, with Borderlands we want to communicate style, an attitude - at least something a bit different I guess? Personality and character are big things I hang on to, they are huge pillars for the franchise and just for my own heart in general. Broadly speaking we just want to present rich worlds with attention to detail but through a stylized 'graphic novel' lens. Something that looks cool but feels fun and engaging, and different from the photo realism I think a lot of games run with. I love that stuff too, but for this game, its design, we really see it’s a perfect fit."
Borderlands3 concept art


Q: What games inspire you while working on the Borderlands art style? Do you have clear favorites, or are you omnivorous in your appetites?

A: "This is a loaded question for me, ha! I mean, I’m inspired by a lot of things, and I play lots of games that are very different, with very different styles. Visually, I’m typically more inspired by games that push style aesthetics: Mad World, Panzer Dragoon, Jet Set Radio, Persona 5, Arc System Works games, Capcom and SNK fighters. Typically more Eastern developed stuff. I’m a big fan of 2D animation, anime, comics, movies and music. But, I’m also a fan of the detail and different production values that are more commonly found in the West and, being an artist, I want to fuse it all together into something new. So Borderlands is a bit of a mix of all of that I guess."

Q: Borderlands 3 runs on a new game engine: the Unreal Engine 4, which means a lot of the technical stuff behind video game art and animation would be very different from the Unreal Engine 3 you used before. Can you tell us a bit about the ideas the art team had at the start, the iterations you wanted to try, and the changes you eventually made to the art style and/or the technical approach to the art, due to this big technical change?

A: "This was really tricky with Borderlands 3. I said from the start that most people wouldn’t see a dramatic improvement visually since Borderlands has some a defined style to it, but we did a ton! The change from Unity Engine 3 to 4 meant we changed lighting models; technically we now have a PBR based lighting world, meaning materials and different surface reads would have more info with better light and shadow."
Borderlands3 concept art

"Generally speaking, each game has seen an evolution in technique and quality that helps realize our ideas better. We benefited from the general increase in resolution and image fidelity with the next-gen consoles, which means the world to our 'hand inked' look and assets. And hand-made they are! The only thing that is procedural in Borderlands is our outline treatment, a 'sobel' edge detection that adds the black outline around the characters and environment. We did a ton of studies and tweaks to that. We also tried a 'hatched based' shading method that actually added 'hand ink' shadows to the scenes, one of many different visual elements that further tried to emulate this 'motion comic' look I so desperately love."

Q: Praise for Borderlands 3 was aimed at several things. One of them was the scope of the game, both in terms of variety in weapons and characters, and in how expansive and dense areas are. Did this scope influence decisions on design changes?

A: "Variety was really the name of the game on this one. We went nuts! Multiple planets, biomes, sky boxes, enemies, loot, characters, guns, vehicles etcetera. To be honest it was totally irresponsible and I look back kinda wondering how we actually did it all in the time frame we made it in! The gun system is such an insane beast, which is just a monumental achievement alone! We had never made large vegetated areas in Borderlands, nor big cities, and we just went for it. I’m super proud of the variety and range of what we did to support our game design and story ambitions! It’s WAY more content that we’ve ever put into one thing."
Borderlands3 concept art


Q: Before, individual artists would come up with new character designs, and take them through iterations until they made the game. With Borderlands 3 you decided on a new approach, with several artists adding to each other's designs. Why was this?

A: "In the past games it was basically just me doing it, for better or for worse… we really only had like 2-4 of us doing concepts then, and each of us had a specific discipline we handled. Now, our studio has expanded a lot so I figured, let's just collaborate more this go around. I was really happy with the results even though it was a shift from the past. Take FL4K, the Beastmaster. That character was worked on concept wise by like six of us, sharing different ideas, angles, drawings. But in the end, Max Davenport really took those things, pulled them together and made that character complete in the end. Making games is collaborative, and I wanted to try and take that to the next level and see how it would go."

"Again, I’m really stoked on the end results and love seeing all the smaller elements that multiple people contributed to our kit-bashed, hodge-podge weirdo of a child we call Borderlands."

NB: We have some exclusive and official Borderlands3 prints on sale as fine art print. Click the gallery below for details on individual images, print details and pricing!
Graffiti Psycho Bandit (detail)



Borderlands 3 Fine Art Print Collection

Look into my eyes when I stare at you!