August 3, 2010

Guardian of Light Artist Kam Yu - Part 2

Today we continue with the second part of a two-part fan Q&A with Kam Yu, Senior Artist for Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Part one can be found here.


NightWish ( Totec's look is very elaborate. What sources of inspiration did you use to create his image? Was it a long process?

Kam: We wanted a character that looked formidable and a bit dangerous. We referenced a lot of ancient Mayan imagery and pulled out what we thought were the most interesting features. In the end, we went through a series of concepts and a couple of model variations. I'm quite satisfied with the end result.

A work in progress image of Totec (click to enlarge)

disapearing-boy ( How much research was required to create an accurate Mayan warrior? And at any point did you stray from historical accuracy to allow for a more stylised design or creative freedom?

Kam: I like to use the theme of a character, in this case a Mayan, as the framework from which to design the overall appearance. Foremost in my mind is whether the character achieves our desired goals. Is he strong? Is he commanding? I don't mind taking certain liberties when it comes to the design if it improves the look.


Treeble (Eidos forums): At first, I thought Totec's visual as a whole as a bit unnerving, but I came to terms with it. I'd like to know through how many revisions his visual identity went through before the one we see, with lots of exposed skin, "empty" eyes and the little awesome horns on his face. Is this how every good-will deity would look like? lol

Kam: We went through a few versions of Totec before settling on the one seen in the game. One of them sported a big, white/gold headpiece. He came to be known as, "The Chef"! LOL. I don't think he'll be making an appearance any time soon. Maybe if we had a cooking game.


aussie500 ( Is there some internal joke attached to the now infamous merc clones? Or are we just meant to think all mercs look alike.

Kam: Believe it or not we had three different character artists work on three different mercenaries and that is what they came up with! Just kidding.

aussie500 ( Do character artists do their own concepts for the characters or do you base your design on someone else's idea? Who thought up the way Xolotl would look?

Kam: For this project, I had the distinct pleasure of concepting all the characters as well as modeling and texturing them. Dan Neuberger, our Creative Director, was the one who came up with the idea of Xolotl. I went through several concept iterations before coming up with his final look.

just*raidin*tomb ( How does the character design process begin? [Also,] what is the most exciting thing about being lead character artist?! It must be rewarding to see your designs come to life.

Kam: I definitely feel that seeing my work come to life is the most rewarding thing about being a character artist. I always try to picture what the characters would be like in real life and how they would move about and behave. I feel the most successful characters are ones where the form follows function. Every character must look purposeful.

My ultimate goal for every character is to elicit some emotion in the player, be it fear, trust, loyalty or whatever. It's those emotions that leave a lasting impression.

An early sketch of the "Chompy" boss and a more fully fleshed-out version (click second image to)

Ward Dragon ( When designing an original character (or perhaps even redesigning Lara) do you listen to the voice actor and take the character's voice into consideration for the character's final appearance?

Kam: The best designed characters are the ones that work on every level from animation to voice. Because a character's appearance should be an extension of their personality a lot of effort is put into matching the voice to the visuals.

Danielsun (Eidos forums): How many stages or processes are there when designing or redesigning a character and how many people are involved?

Kam: Typically, the design of any character begins with a series of brainstorming sessions. These are pretty much "blue sky" sessions where any idea, no matter how crazy is taken into consideration. Those ideas are then pared down to a smaller, more reasonable list and taken to concept. The ideas will evolve a great deal at this stage and get further refined. Much of it is done in Photoshop but recently I've been relying more on 3D concepting with ZBrush (or some other sculpting package). Once that is approved, then construction of the high resolution model begins. A game resolution version is then generated with textures and materials coming last.

There are usually a couple of concept artists and character artists involved with each major project. However, for LC:GOL, I was the only one! It was a unique opportunity that put to use my background in illustration and character creation.


Ivo ( Which previous Tomb Raider games did you make artwork for?

Kam: I'm responsible for 3 versions of Lara: Legend, Underworld and LC:GOL.

Altair ( This might be a quirky question, but I am curious as to what Mr. Yu's desk looks like? I am always pleasantly surprised how people express themselves via workspace in a seemingly "corporate" world.

I'll be getting a photo of this if you don't mind :) –Keir

Kam: I'm a minimalist!! LOL. Most people are surprised by how bare I keep my desk but I like simplicity. I do have a large Frankenstein toy, though. . . and a lot of food. I'm famous for my lunches.

Kam at his desk!

**LARA LOVER** ( What are your thoughts on XNALara? How do you feel about the fans being able to play around with and pose your characters?

Kam: I love seeing what others have done with Lara's model! People can be so creative (and resourceful)! :P What it really says to me is that there still exists a lot of love for her. Go forth and create!

trXD ( Did you play any of the previous tomb raiders that you didn't work on? If so, which is your favourite?
Helion555 (Eidos forums): So which Tomb Raider model is your favorite. You have the classic Lara's (TR 1-5), AoD, Legend, Anniversary or Underworld. Which one was your favorite and why?

Kam: TR1 is still my favorite. There was an amazing sense of discovery in that game that is still hard to rival.

Max 28 (Eidos forums): Not including Lara, who is your favourite character from the Tomb Raider games series?

Kam: It's hard to say but if I had to commit to one I'd have to say Zip. Yeah, he talks a lot and interrupts the game but, hey, I can relate to the tech guy.

Evan C. ( I know that we (the fans) are really annoying when it comes about Lara's look. Did you take any idea from the crowd or you just did it without having in count to what they (we) say?

Kam: Believe it or not I really do read the forums and take everything that is said into consideration. At first, I must admit, it was really disconcerting! I felt like there were a million eyes scrutinizing everything I did! But after a while, I began to feel that everyone on the forum was just doing their part to contribute. Even the ones that flame have an opinion. I try to put it all into perspective. I know it's hard to please everyone. However, I feel very strongly about creating characters that are compelling and hopefully satisfying to not only the fans but to newcomers to the series.

Billy959 ( What software do you use to create lara CGI renders?

Kam: It depends on what the image would be used for. If marketing material is required, more often than not, we'll use Maya and mental ray. Otherwise, many shots you see are done in-game with our proprietary engine. One-off renders are often created in ZBrush as well, especially when we want to show work in progress or high resolution detail.


Ward Dragon ( In general, how do you come up with color schemes for the characters' outfits? For example, do you look at the colors of the level and try to make the character blend in, stand out, or is it decided independently from the level's visual appearance?

Kam: Lara's outfits follow a certain color scheme that was developed by Toby while working on Legend. Of course, what we ultimately use in game has to take into account the surrounding environments. For practical purposes, Lara has to remain visible in every circumstance – even in darkened corners. Thankfully, we have a host of other options that we can use, especially lighting tricks.

And there you have it! Once again a big thanks to Kam for taking time out of his busy working days to answer your questions, and thanks to everyone that took part. There will be more chances to get to know the guys behind the game soon. Watch this space. –Keir, Community Manager, Square Enix

And thanks to Keir for coordinating and sharing these interesting developer Q&A sessions with us, the fans.


  1. Thanks for going to the effort of putting these up, makes really interesting breakfast reading.

  2. Give me a break ! The design of Totec was taken from one mayan warrior in the Apocalypto movie. The skulls in his shoulders was taken from other mayan in this same movie, the mayan commander. Anyone who has seen this movie will recognize the look.