When I started working on Bientôt l’été, I was trying to find a style that was vague, blurry and perhaps a bit glitchy. At the same time, I did want the 3D simulation to feel real, and tangible. A big part of the effect I wanted to achieve could be done in post-processing the rendered image. But for an image to be processed, it needs to exist first. So I figured I should build a game world first and then mess it up visually.
I designed and blocked out the exterior area over several iterations. There’s the sea and the beach, a dyke with a row of houses, a pier and an industrial harbour on one side and a villa on a cliff on the other, and there’s dunes. A lot of elements were inspired by my Google-enabled virtual visits to Trouville-sur-Mer, the city on the coast of Normandy where Duras lived for some time, aspects of which one can encounter in several of her books and films.
As the game environment started feeling like a real place, I also started to realize how much model and texture work was going to be needed to achieve a near photographic illusion. And what for? To mess up the rendering of this reality in post-processing. I realized that I was taking the long way around and that this was stupid considering the small scale of this project.
And then it came to me: why should I show anything in the game that is not important, that is not pertinent or poignant? So I swiped it all of the table and started, almost literally, with a blank slate. I had developed a fondness for photographs of early urban development at the seaside around the turn of the previous century (like this and this). I like the emptiness in those scenes. Not much had been built yet, but what was there was wonderful Victorian seaside architecture.
I decided to start from an empty space, a white room. And only add detail to elements that were important. In fact, make those elements as beautiful and “realistic” as possible.
It’s very liberating to think of my game environment as empty. Instead of worrying about how to get all those models and textures made, and where to make the unavoidable sacrifices, I can now work in a purely additive fashion (and accompanying positive mood). If I need a tree, I’ll add a tree and make it beautiful. But I don’t start from the assumption that there will be trees. Maybe there will not be any.
This idea also connects well with the artificiality of the holodeck context as well as with the gravitation towards silence in Duras’ work. And it’s something that is always on our minds at Tale of Tales: the desire for an aesthetic style that emerges from the medium’s own strengths rather than its capacity to imitate.