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Book of the Dead: Concept art

June 1, 2018 in Industry | 7 min. read

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In this blog series, we will go over every aspect of the creation of our demo “Book of the Dead”. After we introduced the Unity Demo team last week, it’s now time for Georgi Simeonov to share his work on the concept art in the teaser we’ve revealed. “Book of the Dead” is a living project with a longer story which we haven’t yet told, so we’ll try not to spoil too much...

The “Tree Person”: one of the Screwies

We call these characters “the Screwies”, people stuck between two worlds.

Screwies - Initial Explorations

Divergent Exploration, Sources, Idea Threads

These characters had to to be recognizably human while bearing visible signs of disintegration. The challenge was to do that while avoiding horror and decay, while at the same time as avoiding them from to looking too ethereal (making them ghosts) or magical.

  • Dead Matter to Semblance of Life
    • Early designs used the bark strips which proved quite a convenient material to augment the human form and shift the silhouette to something else.
      A lot of those design ended resembling various animals, but also moving too close to feeling like fantasy/horror beast.
  • Mud, Sticks, and Stones
    • I continued to iterate on the connection to the forests, and the Screwies attempts to rebuild themselves with what’s around - sticks, strips of bark, mud, resin. I then briefly went through the idea of them starting to resemble various memory shapes, maybe associated with fading memories.
    • In a lot of the cases where elements were added or otherwise augmented the base human figure, the designs quickly started to resemble something tribal and reminiscent of a fictional primitive culture.
  • Subtractive / Shattered - Pale remains of what they once were
    • They had to be less, a figment of what was once human or a soul, a frame barely standing. I experimented with various ways in which to subtract from or erode the silhouette.
  • Misremembered Shells
    • Natural, yet semi-abstract and sculptural, unreplenishable amber core.
Screwies - Colour/Material study

A quick color study of the first Screwie variant that hit on some of the key points I aimed to cover with the design, experimenting with pale ahs, charred wood and a variation of waxy and clearer resin.

Screwies - Discarded directions

Three variants for the Screwies that were quite cool in and of themselves, but weren’t right for the story so were discarded:

  • A - This variant quickly devolved into some dark demonic minions and was abandoned.
  • B - The stacked stone and woven grass Screwies reminded some fairytale creatures like trolls and elves too much.
  • C - The candle people which our final design evolved from in many ways.
Screwies - Finding the final design


The idea that stuck was the one about the interplay between the outside shell and the emptiness inside. Most silhouette alterations were made by juxtaposing the areas of darker tree bark material and fresh golden resin they used to fill their empty shells.

Screwies - Surface Textures, Detail and Erosion References

Being quite restricted in expressing design through silhouette meant that I had to rely on textures and interesting erosion patterns. We went for a mix of charred tree bark for the base and the shell with a filling of resin with marks reminiscent of the grooves left by fingers on soft clay.

Screwies - Variants
Screwies - 1st encounter final design

The final design for the first Screwie the viewer or player encounters - incorporating a mixture of the most successful erosion patterns.

Screwie encounter location thumbnails

Some early thumbnail ideas for the location where the protagonist (and the player) sees a Screwie for the first time,

KAREN / Protagonist

Protagonist / Karen - Medical / Decorative Bracelet

The bracelet is the only bit of visual design for Karen’s character that is seen in the teaser. The dialog, supplemented by the bracelet, is the primary way you discover some of her personality and backstory. The design is based on some elements common for medical bracelets but reinterpreted and hidden into what would be perceived as a purely decorative design.

The large statue: “The Bishop”

The teaser shows only a short glimpse of the Bishop, but he’s an important character for this world and plays a role in the evolving story.

Bishop - Initial Explorations

I managed to hit on something quite striking early on with his design and went through much fewer cycles of exploration. The sarcophagus/boat is inspired by both Charon, from Greek mythology, and ancient Egyptian sarcophagi. Charon, being the chaperone who helps souls cross the river Styx, and the Egyptian sarcophagi, bringing an evocative element of demi-gods and vessels for travel. We explored various poses and angles in which you can encounter him, sometimes a massive aerostat-like object floating in space sometimes as an unusual part of the landscape.

Bishop - Thumbnails, blockout and location/position ideas
The Bishop - Final design / portrait

The pattern on his chest and parts of his face is formed out of keyhole-like ornaments and other details found on locks, his earrings resembling keys. The inside of the boat was inspired by old broken typewriters and their tightly stacked letter hammers, in our case used as a support for his body and/or little archival plaques.


THE HIVE, Location & Props

The hive was based on Weaver birds nests or layered Wasps hives built on much larger scale using strips of tree bark bonded with mud or resin or roughly woven together. A lot of the smaller structures like the cars and lampposts drew inspiration from Cargo Cults, in the way that they mimic barely remembered or understood fragments of reality.

An early layout of the world

This image is one of the early attempts to put our story progression and sequence of story beats into locations on a map. The cyan line is depicting a potential branching path across the environment.

Hive - Modules, props, and structure ideas

Various props embodying the physical manifestation of memories - objects from their past life, rebuilt from the materials available in the forest - tree bark, mud, sticks.

Cars made from forest materials

Birds, roughly sculpted from mud and sticks and suspended in the branches of the trees.
Hive - Approach (An early variant)

This is an overpaint of an early screenshot showing the approach to the Hive over a fallen tree bridge up a hill.

Hive - Outer Gate

This image was one of the exploration paintings for the entrance of the hive. One of the main challenges with the design of the Hive was to keep it from looking too much like a traditional manmade fort, or some other fantasy fortress. We wanted it to bare signs on intent and hint of purpose but only barely, straddling the line between accidental and constructed.


Stay tuned for our next posts in the series. Next week Plamen ‘Paco’ Tamnev dives into Character Art, and the week after Zdravko Pavlov explores the themes and process of asset creation in Book of the Dead with his approach to the trees. More to come after that.

Meet us at Unite Berlin on June 19 to walk through the Book of the Dead environment on a console yourself, and attend Julien Heijmans’s presentation about Environment art in the demo. See the full schedule here.

More information on Book of the Dead

June 1, 2018 in Industry | 7 min. read

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