In 2019 I was fortunate enough to participate in the development of XR’s Angry Birds VR game.
This was a really exciting project to work on as this game would take place in a hitherto uncharted part of the Angry Birds world: beneath the surface of the ocean. Therefore, despite it being a well established brand there were very few restrictions on the creation of the visuals. Dream scenario!
Rovio were wonderfully relaxed about our approach to developing this world and more or less told us to ‘go nuts’.
Early on I wanted to have a colour script to help guide the design from the get go. The broader understanding you have of the world you’re creating when you start, the smarter you can be with your design choices, especially when you’re dealing with a ‘road movie’ scenario in which the characters advance through an environment.
With the narrative leading from shallow island waters, into deep sea, sub aquatic ruins, volcanic fissures and then out into an alien feeling ocean beneath the ice caps, it was clear each area could have its own distinct colour palette.
For the sea around the Piggy Island we wanted to give the environment an industrial feel. The initial idea was to show degradation of pig-made technology as it had begun to degrade and become part of the environment.
I produced sketches of a number of weird and wonderful aquatic flora to populate this seascape with.
Like the man made reefs that are found across the planet, we thought it would be nice to create a landscape built on the remnants of past technological achievements very much on its journey in being reclaimed by nature.
Moving on to the undersea area of Bird Island we really wanted to push harder on the bird inspired elements of the flora and create some ocean grasses and corals that drew from the shapes of the characters of the Angry Bird brand.
It was clear from the sketches that it proved really effective to design some of the longer leaves as though they were swaying in some unseen current. Even if physics weren't going to come into play in the final assets, if they looked as though they were under pressure then it would help the sea bed look more irregular.
In order to make the concepts scalable I examined what a single blade of grass would look like, then in tufts and then full meadows of Bird Island seagrass.
I then applied the same process to columns of rock. Sometimes there needs to be just bare stone visible but as they grow bigger the larger areas would begin to encompass a grassy top.
For a moment we considered creating organic structures based on the characters of the angry birds. fun idea but didn't feel quite right.
For a while we were considering having remnants of a flooded Bird civilization below the waves.
I thought it would be really fun to have the bird houses looking like drowning faces, or being swamped by waves (of seagrass). These sketches were some of my favourite concepts. There's a really creepy, haunting quality to the lost buildings.
We also wanted to play with scale so that the trees of coral would be as they would to real life birds, colossal alien structures.
As we sink deeper into the ocean I wanted to explore how light would play a part in creating the right atmosphere for the murky depths. While the lack of colour was used here to exaggerate the lighting, desaturation is an effect that happens in low sunlight, however its not always a viable choice.
We then looked at what kind of creatures would populate the background of this subaquatic world. I did a few initial sketches of sea life, but it was rightly suggested that more purpose and character was required.
After feedback from Rovio, I then focused on simpler outlines that would indicate the movement of the animals and with both sets we began to have a roster of fauna to populate our environments with.
Finally, we needed a villain. The shark came out first go. I seemed to catch his miserable and vicious personality in one sketch, so I coloured him up and we were ready to rock and roll.
There is a notable jump in what the piggies are capable of from previous incarnations of Angry Birds. Where once planks, crates and recycled machinery were the order of the day, the piggies have seriously upped their game in R&D.
Taking the original sub design I toyed around with a number of different scales for the in game vessel.
There was a requirement to have the inside take inspiration from a huge bond villain style lair. This is where the hero sub would be launched from the ‘mothersub’.
I then took time to consider how different tools would be deployed from the main deck of the ship. There were a whole slew of fun ways the plunger torpedoes could be launched from a manually loaded chamber.
It was important that the lighting inside of the sub should change to reflect the external environment. So at the surface it would be lit externally and have caustic lighting on the floor of the boat, but then the glass would black out and the sub would be lit internally as they got deeper into the abyss.
While the game that was developed was very grid based we initially tried to hide that with sweeping curves and rounded elements to the design.
Finally I had the opportunity to produce the illustrations for some publicity and the cover art for the Boxed game. For this I produced a number of concepts which were whittled and honed down to a final design. Being a fan of cinema I managed to sneak a few movie poster homages into the mix.
This project was nothing but a pleasure to work on, and XR Game's talented team put together a really fun experience that mirrors the slapstick and frenetic energy of the Angry Birds movies.