In Their Head: Concept Art with Michael Koudal
It’s no secret that First Class Trouble has a vibe of its own. Every inch of every level and every seam on the clothing has been designed to blend together in our signature mid-century modern style. But going back to the 1950s in our world means losing out on a lot of the technology that really powers the experience, so how does the team do it?
The short answer is time, effort, and incredible imaginations. For the long answer, we sat down with one of our Concept Artists: Michael Koudal.
Michael recently worked on several of the “hero-assets” for our Ski Resort level, as well as Vruumba concepts and other at-time-of-writing unreleased assets. He was able to give us some great insight into the processes he went through for his designs on the Snow Cannon and Ski Lift.
Q: What were some of your initial thoughts when you got asked to create the snow cannon?
When I first got the assignment of designing the Snow Cannon for the Ski Resort level, I was very enthusiastic. It was my first design for FCT and my first asset that would make it into a published game.
The idea of a snow cannon makes perfect sense for the level. My main design aim was first, nailing the retro-esque look of the electronics of the FCT world and second, making sure the snow cannon would be able to stand on a slope as well as on a level surface.
Q: Did you take anything from our world as inspiration for the design of the Snow Cannon?
The main inspiration is obviously real world snow-cannons. The FCT twist came in with the colors and the materials, as well as the Dieter Rams inspired retro shapes and decals.
Real-life snow canons are often semi-mobile and can be attached to vehicles, but for my design I realized it would make more sense to have a permanently stationary snow cannon as the game level was an indoor ski resort.
My Art Director Andreas liked sketch #4 the most, so I created a 3D mockup followed by a paintover, filled with enough information to pass along to the 3D Artist. Initially, the design had a double snow cannon system, but we decided against it since it could resemble a missile turret, and those are better suited for a warship and preferably placed on the outside.
Q: Is there anything about the design you would want to change now, and were there any changes made from the concept to the final model?
There’s not a lot I would change as I am quite happy with the final result.
I feel like it has the right amount of detail to blend in with the rest of the designs and it has that funky 50s feel to it.
One thing that had to be cut from the snow cannon design was a warning light, as well as having it be able to move up and down and rotate around. I think it would have been awesome if it could lift up and the warning lights would blink once the Personoid activates the snowstorm.
Overall I think the final model turned out great! It was modeled and textured by Vendelbo, one of our 3D Modelers.
Q: Let's talk about the Ski Lift. How did you approach your design for it?
When designing the Ski Lift, functionality came first. I knew that this asset would be important and it would have to be easy for the players to interact with. There was already a placeholder cart in the level, and it imposed some limitations on the design, such as shape and size.
I had to figure out the important practical details first - does the cabin have doors? Was it running back and forth all the time or maybe it required activation? How large should the windows be for players to be able to throw stuff out of them? How does the lift attach to the ceiling?
Q: Did you look at ski lifts in our world to start coming up with designs?
My main inspiration came from real life ski lifts, cable cars and gondolas, especially retro ones. I looked at how their attachment mechanism works and it was very interesting to find out how a cable car moves and how it’s designed.
It was a fun experience to try and grasp engineering through the eyes of a concept artist. It’s exciting thinking of all the miscellaneous knowledge I will acquire in the years to come while designing!
Q: Did the final result have to be changed from the initial concept?
The design of the cabin took shape fairly fast. I feel that the design limitations made it easier to come up with a ton of shape variations.
The biggest change during the design process was the cable grip. We quickly realized that designing a cable system for the cart would be too time consuming and require way too much animation.
So, Vendelbo and Andreas came up with the brilliant idea of substituting the cable system with a steel beam system such as those found on roller coasters. Since it is a rigid structure, the cart would simply attach to the steel beam so the wheel mechanism didn’t have to be animated and it would still look believable.
I am quite pleased with the final designs and it was good fun to work on the Ski Resort level.
Michael just completed a 4-month internship with Invisible Walls, and now works with the studio part time while continuing to take courses. You can see art that he’s done on his artstation and his Instagram @michael_koudal which include more than just what he's done for First Class Trouble. Everyone on the team has enjoyed working with him, and we hope you enjoyed getting some insight on his design process!
The Invisible Walls Team