Developer Headshot: Roland IJzermans, Lead Concept Artist

You’ve read interviews with the Game Director, Lead Designer and Art Directors of Killzone Shadow Fall – but what about the rest of the team? In ‘Developer Headshot’, we interview different members of the Guerrilla development team about their work, their background, and their contributions to Killzone Shadow Fall. First up is the head of Guerrilla’s Concept Art department, Roland IJzermans.

Let’s start at the top: who are you, and what do you do at Guerrilla?
My name is Roland IJzermans, and I’m the Lead Concept Artist on Killzone Shadow Fall. I’ve been head of the Concept Art Department for over a year now.

How long have you been at Guerrilla?
I joined the company in 2002 as part of a graduation program for my Industrial Design Studies at the University of Technology in Delft. Back then I was part of a three-man Concept Art Team that also included Roy Postma [now Art Director on Killzone Shadow Fall – ed.].

Wait – the entire Concept Art Team for Killzone 1 consisted of only three people?
That’s right. And those three people occasionally helped out on other tasks as well, such as level design. Our roles were much less strictly defined back then.

By comparison, how large was the team for Killzone Shadow Fall?
For Shadow Fall we had ten artists, another ten interns, and a number of external artists all contributing to the game.

That’s quite a difference.
It’s largely a result of the increase in available processing power. With each new console generation we’re able to, or rather, required to put more detail into everything. The amount of detail the PlayStation 4 is able to show up-close is quite unforgiving, so creating good-looking environments and assets becomes more time-consuming.

You mentioned you have a background in Industrial Design. How has that served you as a Concept Artist?
I think Industrial Designers tend to take a pragmatic view of their work; we’re trained to work on products and search for new solutions. Besides being schooled in arts, there is a strong focus on technology and a big drive to improve on that. These ingredients are, in my opinion, a perfect base for a concept artist; creating new and fresh ideas that look like they could really work.

So are there a lot of Industrial Designers in the field of Game Concept Art?
These days it’s not uncommon, but back in 2002 I had a tough time convincing my university that this was a viable career path! They’re coming around to the idea, though. We actually have several Industrial Designers in the Concept Art department now. I think it’s an indicator that they fit well within our development process.

Do you feel the game development can learn things from Industrial design?
Well, for one I have been taught to operate in multidisciplinary teams a lot, which also makes a lot of sense in game development. Today, it’s less about that one lone game-developer and a lot more about teamwork. Inspiring people and getting them excited is a large part of what the concept art team does. So we’re constantly pitching design-ideas, revising concepts in response to feedback and pro-actively proposing new directions. This is something that I’ve been taught during my study as well, so in that sense Industrial Design as a study has definitely been helpful.

You mentioned you've been head of the Concept Art department for over a year. How do you like it so far?
I love it! It’s a privilege to work with all these incredibly talented people, both inside and outside the company. Getting so many artists and all of their ideas to converge into one game can be a huge undertaking at times, but I also find it very rewarding.

Is there anything you don’t like about your new role?
The only downside is that I don’t have as much time for creating art as I used to. The Concept Art team is relatively large now, and just keeping track of all their valuable input can be a full-time job.

Let’s talk a bit about the role concept art plays in game development. When did your department become involved with Killzone Shadow Fall?
The Concept Art department was involved from the very beginning. When Guerrilla decided to move forward with a second IP, several key members of the studio were given the opportunity to assume new responsibilities and deliver a fresh take on Killzone.

A fresh take?
We felt Vekta was a natural fit for this new direction; after two titles set in the harsh environments of Helghan, returning to Vekta seemed like a good opportunity to switch things up. So we spent a relatively large part of the pre-production phase imagining what Vekta and its capital might look like after all these years.

Where do you get your inspiration from?
It may sound cliché, but I try to look at other games as little as possible. I’m more into real-life designs, like architecture, automotive and graphical design. I travel quite a lot and take a lot of pictures. I’m always trying to figure out why something appeals to me. What makes it stand out? What makes is good?

So you weren’t limited by the fact that Killzone 1 takes place on Vekta as well?
No, not at all. A lot of the action in the first Killzone game actually takes place in the less affluent and industrialized parts of Vekta City. We always wanted the city to have a strong contrast between its poor and rich areas – we just never got around to fleshing out those ideas. Perhaps it’s just as well, because some of our old Killzone 1 concepts for Vekta City seem rather dated now.

So it has been very satisfying to be able to start fresh, without the baggage of earlier games, and show what a fantastic and vibrant place Vekta City actually could be. Of course, the contrast between rich and poor areas is still there – it’s simply been transposed to the division between the Vektan and Helghan sides.

Speaking of the Helghan side, how was it integrated into Vekta City?
We didn’t want to simply recreate Pyrrhus [the former Helghast capital – ed.] on Vekta; there had to be a sense of history, a notion that the Helghast had moved into this wonderful place and tamed some of its exuberance. The key was to create a layered look that would tell the story of their settlement, without affecting the grandeur and cohesion of the city underneath. It was a challenge to strike the right balance, but I believe we’ve made it work.

What about the Helghast themselves? Have the new setting and era affected their design?
The Helghast are still the dark, red-goggled characters we all know and love, but design-wise they’ve evolved beyond their World War 2-inspired roots. The first steps of this evolutionary process were already visible in Killzone 3, where Stahl Arms began providing the Helghast military with new, highly advanced weapons and gear.

How does this evolution play into the story of Killzone Shadow Fall?
Well, in Killzone Shadow Fall, the Helghast have more or less caught up to the Vektans in terms of technology. It makes the contrast between the two factions less obvious, of course, but that’s precisely the idea: to show that there are similarities between the Helghast and the Vektans, and that their conflict isn’t quite as black and white as some might make it out to be.

That sounds quite delicate. How do you design for this? How does the concept art you and the team create translate into these game elements?
Well, god is in the details. We’re spending a massive amount of our time into getting the details just right. See, it’s not just about the big picture, we have to absolutely nail it on all those little details as well to create credible environments that set the stage for a compelling story. When you create a sci-fi environment like we’ve done with Killzone those details are essential when you truly want to immerse the player in the story. It should feel like a world which is heavily grounded in reality and should go way beyond just a nice decor.

Are you satisfied with the end result?
Yes, definitely. Working on this project was immensely satisfying – the Vektan setting and the thirty year jump meant that we had a nearly blank canvas to turn into something beautiful. And I think we did it. I feel we’ve created an extremely fresh take on the Killzone universe, while remaining true to what makes Killzone so much fun.

Thanks for your time, Roland.

Remember to visit frequently, because we’ll have a new interview with a Killzone Shadow Fall development team member up soon!

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