In the summer and autumn of 2020, smoke fills the sky over San Francisco, hangs heavily on the coast, and bathes the city in a terrifying orange. Huge wildfires are sweeping across California, eating up piles of dead trees in the mountains and destroying nearby housing developments. By the end of the year, wildfires across California would have killed 33 people and 2020 would have been the biggest wildfire season in the state’s modern history.
Cecil Powell was living and working in the area at the time, helping with development Call of Duty: Vanguard As a senior lighting artist at the Sledgehammer Games. For the last few days, he and his teammates will wake up in a red world filled with shadows and then they will sit in front of their computers trying to recreate the devastated landscapes of World War II. As a lighting expert, one of Powell’s tasks was to create the sky above Stalingrad, a scene of a bloody city characterized by bombed buildings and fires.
Fire – Just as it is burning across California, the Bay Area is turning a Mars red.
“It was a very strange feeling,” says Powell Engadget. “But I remember talking to the team about it, and we actually thought, man, it feels like a time of war. Like destruction. “
Call of Duty as a series has had success year after year turning tragedy into entertainment, using the real-world horrors of war to create digital playgrounds for soldiers, snipers and spawn campers alike. To Powell and Sledgehammer’s crew, the orange sky created by the fires in California was created for natural, ruthless source material, especially since color photography was not ubiquitous during World War II. Powell Vanguard The reference photos were all black and white.
Sledgehammer’s team agreed that it was a good idea for Powell to capture images and light textures of the burning California sky for use at the Stalingrad level, but they were concerned about his health. After all, the air seemed radioactive. So, Powell bought an air-quality monitor, checked it out and got the green light. He did some quick research and discovered that the types of ocean breezes in the bay were pushing the smoke upwards and circulating fresh air to the ground, and all the consuming toxic aura was simply due to the reflection of light through the clouds.
“As soon as I found it, I grabbed all the camera gear I had from work and ran away, and decided I was going to capture it because it was an opportunity for once in a lifetime,” Powell said. “I have never seen anything like it before and I hope I never see it again, to be honest. Because, you know, it’s pretty sad to think about what’s going on. And I remember when I was there, no one was hanging out.
Powell made the trek in September 2020, amid the height of the California wildfire season and the global COVID-19 epidemic. The city was largely closed, the streets deserted, and hot smoke billowed from the empty buildings. He proceeded towards the coast.
Powell set up his camera and captured a panorama of the sky and also took some light readings. At that time his girlfriend came and he asked her to document the process in the interest of history.
When he brought the photos and readings back to the sledgehammer, “everyone was shocked at what it did to the level lighting,” Powell said. “Sky is the most important thing in terms of light, because for outdoor lighting, it really sets the tone for mood and dimension. And when we come up with it, it’s actually quite good for us to come out of this kind of destruction, like Bah.”
Powell’s Fire Capture is used at the Stalingrad level, one of the only theaters in the game to show an entire city destroyed by bombs and fire. Like last year’s California coast and valley, the light is burning a hellish orange across the entire layer.
“Nature is the best artist to me, you know?” Powell says. “If you can copy it, you’ll win.”
The Stalingrad level may be an automatic win for Powell, but when everyone else still has to shoot their way through it. Vanguard Published November 5.
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