Buzzfeed Interviews Art Director Aaron Garbut

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If you missed the tweet because your brain was in pieces on the floor after the official GTA V website update, you'll really want to read an interview from Buzzfeed with Aaron Garbut about making Grand Theft Auto V the most beautiful open world game the industry has seen to date.

Enough yapping. Here's some quotes:

I know that a tremendous amount of work went into creating the right “California” feel for the sunset, and for lighting and color in general. Can you tell me about this process?

AG: Owen Shepherd, our principal lighting artist, has spent the best part of four years working with our graphics coders to create the lighting solution we have in the game. Effectively, he’s been tweaking the values off the back of this throughout that time. There’s a whole world of tech to this but the short version is that we’ve got solution that is far more advanced than I thought we’d ever manage. From the clouds, to the ambient lighting, to the sheer volume of lights we can squeeze on screen, we have something pretty incredible.

I think one of the most amazing features is the way we handle lighting in the game to maintain a consistent look despite the constraints on realistic lighting and shadows on current hardware. Every single light we place in the world is stored, streamed, and laid into the map, even into the distance. The entire world draws all the time: You can fly high in the air at one corner of the map, look over the miles of city and skyscrapers, over the hills and desert to the furthest ridges of the most distant mountains. It’s all there and visible. That’s amazing to see. But the really cool bit is that you can see a street light in a distant town, fly toward it for kilometers until the street itself is visible and the light bulb eventually comes into view. It’s amazing. It’s a level of solidity that I’ve never seen before. It brings the world alive in an incredibly realistic and organic way. That all the lighting the artists have placed to fill out streets and buildings form, at a macro level, the shape of the settlements themselves, that you can look over the desert and see the little towns and trailer parks miles away and get a feel for the road layout even in total darkness and know that it’s not faked, that you can go there: That’s cool.


Do you think there is a particularly British conception of California — or at least one that is distinct from the way Americans think about the state? If so, what is it? How does that come into shaping the world of GTA V?

AG: I’m sure there is. A lot of the guys involved in making Grand Theft Auto are British. Our perception of California comes firstly from film, music, and TV. We were all brought up with American culture but as consumers of it from afar. It’s odd. It was so pervasive growing up with this as a kid that California felt like a familiar, well-known place long before I’d ever been there. I’d seen so much of it again and again but always through the camera lens and the skewed vision that Hollywood or TV networks wanted to show. I guess that’s where our conception of California comes from. It’s the one that’s pumped into your brain as a kid and the one that is informed more by fantasy than reality. Funnily enough, the real California doesn’t always seem to be that far removed from the fantasy.

In terms of how this influences the shaping of Grand Theft Auto, I guess we’ve never got caught up in being too literal. It’s always been about capturing the feeling of the place rather than building a carbon copy, and at the same time not being afraid to put our own stamp on it. It’s always been our version of America, just as it was Hollywood’s we were brought up on.

OK, what about the way the people look? I don’t just mean the three main characters. When it comes to depicting Californians, what were the visual or aesthetic things that you wanted to make sure you got in the game? Obviously there are stock types (surfer, Valley girl, etc.), but what else?

AG: The environments in V are incredibly diverse and so the people we needed to populate it had to be too. Like pretty much everything else about the game, the scope of what we did with the characters is huge. We have a world that incorporates all of Los Angeles and its entire socioeconomic mix. We have countless specifics for workers of various types. We have to make every area feel properly populated and sit right with the world and layer another level of realism onto the world. Then we have the towns, farms, campsites, trailer parks, settlements, and various large installations outside the city. Then over that we layer the specifics: the crazies, the one-offs, the random characters, etc. As soon as we had decided on the scale and scope of the world, the obsession was to make sure that it was teeming with life. When the scope and detail are this extreme, that pretty much means that our goal was to get everything in the game.

The character team has done an amazing job; there’s so much variation in our characters, enough to populate this world, and over that they have built a massive library of clothing for each of the player characters to wear. Even our secondary characters have multiple outfits to cover every situation. And then there’s Grand Theft Auto Online…


I think most of all what we’ve done is create a world that you can lose yourself in. A place that’s interesting and fun to live in. I’ve effectively lived more in the game world than I have in Edinburgh over the past several years as we’ve filled it out. I still find it engaging and still come across things I’ve not seen before. I think that’s the difference when each part is handcrafted: Each area is filled with multiple artists’ ideas and vision. My job is to keep it feeling consistent and interesting, but what you experience as you explore the world is an outpouring of devotion and talent from a huge number of talented individuals, and I think that shows from the moment you arrive in the world and it’ll keep you intrigued and engrossed for as long as you decide to stay.


And what about cars? California obviously has a hugely unique car culture, from souped-up Hondas to Teslas to box-frame convertibles. What are the cars that you felt you had to get in the game to express California?

AG: It’s hard to narrow down to specifics. We’ve got a huge, huge number of cars, and they’re balanced through the map as they would be in the real world. We checked census listings for accurate information on population sizes from town to town, we checked vehicle ownership and sales statistics to get a sense of which vehicles were popular in specific areas.

Check out the full interview here. There are a few new screenshots in the article as well that were not added to the official site yet. Enjoy and join us at the GTA 5 forums!