Diablo 4's Art Direction Emphasizes Hand-Crafted Details, Plenty Of Customization, And Just Enough Realism

The Diablo IV art team breaks down the grim hand-crafted style that is being used to make Blizzard's return to its RPG series look grim and memorable.


In its latest blog post detailing the current progress on Diablo IV, art director John Mueller and his team provided a deep dive into the overall character art style, character customization, the dye system, monster design, and more.

Compared to Diablo III's brighter art direction when it first arrived in 2012, Diablo IV returns the series to its dark and gritty roots, painting each scene in the game with a more grim and macabre set of colors.

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Now Playing: Diablo IV Rogue Breakdown and Open World Features | Blizzcon 2021

"Our goal was to make the characters in Diablo IV look as artistic and as hand-crafted as possible using the latest tools and techniques," Mueller said in the latest Diablo Quarterly blog post. "Over time, our ambitions around what we thought we could achieve evolved and really solidified into what you see today. We wanted to use the latest tools and techniques, but we did have a concern about leaning into 'realism' in a way that wouldn't have that hand-crafted feeling we felt was fundamental to a Blizzard game."

To embrace that design philosophy, Blizzard had to completely rebuild its rendering engine and authoring tools while assembling a team of artists, tools engineers, rigging specialists, lighting, and surfacing experts. This resulted in "massive improvements" to the level of detail, the surfacing of complex materials like skin, cloth simulation, hair, fur, metal, and even small details such as the highlights of the eyes and rivulets of perspiration, according to Mueller.

The added benefit of this character art development focus is that most of Diablo IV's story cutscenes will be rendered in-engine using the game models, allowing for cinematic moments that feature the player's custom character in action. Diablo IV's Rogue announcement trailer as an example, was created entirely in the Diablo IV game engine.

Even with all of those details though, Mueller stressed that all of those elements were designed to work with the game's isometric viewpoint and camera system, keeping the visual information of Diablo IV grounded and readable.

Diablo IV's Lillith
Diablo IV's Lillith

"The fidelity we put into the characters and the balance of detail all has to work with our game camera," Mueller explained. "Those looking closely will notice we like to work with bigger shapes on the armor, and we tend to reduce things that affect readability. I think we've found a sweet spot of detail that retains the readability, works well with the environments, but also keeps things looking grounded, which is super important for this vision for Sanctuary and how we present the world to you, our most important critic."

In terms of character customization, Diablo IV will allow players to alter a number of details on their in-game character, ranging from hairstyles, facial hair, and jewelry to things like makeup and tattoos. Some elements will be class-specific to support the classes' unique backgrounds, but there'll be many shared elements for mix-and-match gameplay.

The dye system for Diablo IV will allow players to change the color palette of their armor pieces, such as changing silver to gold or replacing a white cloth with a black cloth. According to lead character artist Arnaud Kotelnikoff, each piece can be dyed with a different color palette if the player chooses or the same palette can be applied to all of them.

"This system was challenging to implement because materials such as metal do not allow themselves to be dyed with inappropriate colors when they follow PBR rules," Kotelnikoff said. "To address this, we added data to our armor that identifies specific material types and tells the dye system what color goes on what material, such as leather, fabric, metal, and other specific surfaces. The result is armor that is dyable in a range of colors that still feeling grounded and realistic in the world we're building for Diablo IV."

Diablo IV Succubus
Diablo IV Succubus

This attention to detail also applies to the monsters of Diablo IV, as Blizzard used its latest technology to create vampiric blood magic sorcerors with squishy organic layers, undead skeleton lords made up of fused skeleton and body parts, and a Succubus with numerous intricate details.

"In order to achieve this, we needed a process and technology to realize these amazing and, honestly, disturbing creations," associate art director Nick Chilano explained. To do that we have built a world-class team creating monsters and demons at a level of quality that raises the bar for the Diablo series."

For more on the game, don't forget to check out our Diablo IV hub for everything that we know so far on Blizzard's return to its iconic RPG series. Which probably won't be out until 2022 at the earliest.

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