Alex Ross is one of the premier artists working in comics today. His paintings have graced the covers of both Marvel and DC titles, as well as a number of other books. Additionally, Ross has worked on projects outside the comics realm — from DVD boxes to posters for the Academy Awards, but most recently his work has found its way to the video game arena.
His ultra-realistic style was used as concept art and a Game Informer cover for the hit Assassin’s Creed III. The project went so well, that Ubisoft invited Ross back to work on a GameStop exclusive poster for the highly anticipated Watch_Dogs open world adventure game. The exclusive poster, being announced today, provided all the incentive we needed to sit down with Ross and talk about his art, Superman, and his inspiration for the Watch_Dogs artwork.
GeekDad: I read that the Electric Company had a big influence on you as a kid. Do you see any programming like the Electric Company that might inspire the next generation of artists and creatives?
Alex Ross: I guess some kid watching, what’s that character — Sportacus — on that show Lazy Town with weird flesh-looking puppets. It’s not the same as some guy dressed in a Spider Man costume, where there’s a major comics character you’re seeing for the first time on a children’s program — that set me off. I wanted to be Spider Man, I wanted to draw him, I wanted everything to do with Spider Man after that.
GD: Did you always know you’d pursue a career in art?
AR: It was always the dream. I was obsessed with superhero characters and drawing. I was always drawing comic books and I never really thought of art in terns of fine art. To me, fine art was comics, I didn’t see the difference.
GD: Was there a point you said to yourself, yeah this is it, this is my style, I’m doing hyperrealistic paintings with watercolors!
AR: Really it felt like that on my first day of art school or roundabout then. when I first was working with live models and had something that could translate to that photorealistic kind of feel. The idea that I could capture that made me feel very self-satisfied.
GD: As a Superman fan, are you excited by what you see in the Man of Steel trailers?
AR: Sure I am, absolutely. It’s weird for me because I’m so close to it and I know my version has been seen by a lot of people making movies and other adaptations. In some cases, they have a similar vision and in cases like in the movies they are going in a different direction than I did, graphically. It all comes down to the costume, who is being cast, and of course, because they keep making multiple movies with these characters, if you don’t like a certain version that’s happening now, with, say, Christian Bale as Batman, well wait a little while and you’ll get a different guy playing him. You’ll get a totally different interpretation of that property.
GD: In addition to all of this great comic work you’ve done, you’ve also done some work in video games. Your first was somewhat familiar territory with Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, but just last year you did the art for a couple variations on Assassin’s Creed 3. Seeing as it was a bit of a departure for you and a significant change in setting for the game, how much latitude did you get from Ubisoft in doing this artwork?
AR: I had very strong direction from Ubisoft on what they wanted for Assassin’s Creed. We had a much more creative collaboration on the Watch_Dogs project because they wanted to see what I could come up with that would work with staging of the figure and how to present him incorporated with the city. So we pretty much worked together from the ground up on that project, whereas Assassin’s Creed mostly what I was able to contribute was some of the figure positioning and the back shot that I did, but for the most part, they had a very strong direction.
GD: With Watch_Dogs we have this seemingly normal guy , Aiden Pearce, who can’t fly, doesn’t have any superpowers. Outside a smartphone, no overly cool gadgets. Did you approach him differently than you would a superhero?
AR: You don’t have the really flattering costume that becomes the subject of where you draw the eyes to like you might with a skin-tight outfit or even the Assassin’s Creed outfit that has so much detail going on so what you have to do with someone wearing more plain clothes is use more lights, shadows, and figure positioning to try to augment the drama as best you can. That’s why, with the pose, it’s very much a “looking up at him” shot, with perspective that tries to add drama to the figure. I work with plain clothes characters all the time in comics and half of my work is to make dramatic shots of regular people in regular clothes, so it’s not that far removed from my regular sensibilities. You just have to use these other tools because you can’t have this figure shot of the main character in Watch_Dogs with his fist raised and fully buffed musculature because he doesn’t have that revealed
AR: I went and photographed the location exactly. The request came to include the L train into the shot so we could show a connection between his phone and the train’s brakes and also to frame it with the Sears Tower, I thought “That’s a really specific thing, I want to make this true, if possible.” So I went to multiple locations downtown to photograph exactly where to frame the shot with the L train tracks with the visualization of the background. I gave Ubisoft about three or four options and they picked one. This is a real location. The only fabrication in the entire thing is showing the power of what the character’s phone can do and showing the security camera on the wall behind him – that’s the only add-on, because there was no security camera there.
GD: With Assassin’s Creed 3, you did some extra things beyond the cover art for the mass market version of the game, is it possible we’ll see some other Alex Ross pieces for Watch_Dogs?
AR: Hopefully. Yes, absolutely.