Any game that lets you to shoot Nazis in the testicles and then watch as an X-ray cross-section of their undercarriage unfolds to show their plums popping in slow-motion has no right to be a good-looking as Sniper Elite 5. Nevertheless, I was consistently surprised by how detailed and lifelike the miniature open-world environments in Rebellion’s gratuitously gory snipe-em-up could be.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the game’s Spy Factory level, which is set in and around a stunning recreation of Normandy’s famous tidal island, Mont-Saint-Michel. The approach to this island is littered with photo-realistic rocks and sand dunes that feel like they’ve been plucked straight out of the ground from the actual location. Then there’s the level’s twisting network of meticulously crafted passageways that run around the lower portion of the island, which are draped with lush green ivy and covered with period authentic WW2-era advertisements. The real show-stopper however is the Abbey that acts as the centrepiece to the island. Its exterior is so highly detailed that the thought of someone creating that in a video game boggles my mind, and that’s before you go inside it to see the towering stained glass windows, expansive marble floors, beautiful painted ceilings and the myriad of rooms cluttered with incidental props and rich environmental story-telling.
One of the reasons why Sniper Elite 5’s levels look so damn good is down to a process called environmental photogrammetry (https://80.lv/articles/rebellion-capturing-photogrammetry-assets-for-sniper-elite-5). Rebellion’s in-house artists used environmental photogrammetry to create most of the assets for the game, and that’s why everything from trees to tanks to simple textures looks so sharp and exact. But, as marvellous as this method is, it wasn’t actually used for what quickly became my favourite little detail in Sniper Elite 5 – the charming, personality-filled paintings that lined the walls throughout each level.
Now, I feel like paintings in video games, much like other incidental props, are often overlooked. I mean, who has the time to appreciate art when bullets are whizzing by your head? Not I. Or at least, not I at first. You see, that was before I wandered into one wing of the Spy Factory’s abbey and came face to face with a painting of Rebellion’s CEO, Jason Kingsley. Jason, dressed in mediaeval garb, is instantly recognisable thanks to his long flowing locks but, instead of being painted by an artist, this image was in actual fact a still from Rebellion’s short film, Grail Knights Quest.
That one image was enough to make me start paying attention to the artwork though and soon, I was zooming in on every painting I saw, admiring all the little details and the variations in style. Who makes these paintings? I began to wonder. Were they made in house? Were they bought assets? Were they scanned in from the real thing using photogrammetry? As I was pondering this on a live stream at the time, my viewers also got involved with the sight-seeing, and this led to one of them tweeting me with one of their finds:
— Ed Sears – Please Be Kind (@Ed2003wrx) June 7, 2022
This then kickstarted a whole thread of discovery as I tagged in members of Rebellion’s development team to see if I could find an answer to the origins of the artwork, and would you know? Most of the paintings in the game were in fact the work of just one person! How wonderful is that?!
The artist in question, Edouard Groult no longer works at Rebellion, but take a quick look at his Artstation page and you’ll be bombarded with awesome images and concept art that range in style from sci-fi and classical through to the fantastical and the technical.
What I also learnt, thanks to Rich May, a Lead Programmer at Rebellion, was that each of Edouard’s paintings had a comical file name too. The painting the viewer tweeted me was a riff on classical artwork that was called “Religious Headpat”, while others had similarly descriptive names like, “Sad Beach Lady” and “Mr Sleeves”. This of course spurred me on to hunt down these images on further live streams and, based on the name alone, I was quickly able to track down Sad Beach Lady, hanging on a wall above an old bookshelf.
When discussing this piece with Chris Donlan, he guessed that Sad Beach Lady was ‘partway between a Sargent/Renoir pastiche’ but, being the uncultured swine that I am, those influences had passed me by. What I think impresses me about most of the paintings in the game though is how each one seems to be inspired by a different form of art. Just going by the work on his Artstation page you can tell that Eduoard is extremely prolific and a master of many styles. This rings especially true in the game as it would be easy to think that behind each painting was a different artist but, as it turns out, Edouard was even behind most of the propaganda posters in the series too, so it seems like his talents are never ending.
This little scavenger hunt of discovery that I created for myself is the main reason why the incredible art of Sniper Elite 5 is one of my highlights of 2022. As I mentioned above, it’s easy to skip over the minor details of a video game when your life is in peril, but spending the time to take in the sights and learn about how some of the game’s assets were created, and who they were created by, just felt so magical to me. Sure, I’ll still be popping bollocks like a pro in the inevitable Sniper Elite 6 but, when that eventually comes around, you can be sure I’ll also make time to scope out the artwork too. Thanks for your hard work Edouard!