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Ubisoft tool brings 2D art into video games

The studio uses its UbiArts tool to translate traditional two-dimensional drawings into digital scenes for a game called Rayman Origins.

A screenshot from Ubisoft's Rayman Origins created with the UbiArts 2D design tool.
Screenshot by John Scott Lewinski/CNET

Unlike many video game studios that hire animators and 3D artists with backgrounds in game design, Ubisoft reports that it can now recruit traditional painters, illustrators, and graphic designers to design a video game world.

The game studio did just that in creating Rayman Origins, a game for which it translated traditional 2D art into video game scenes via its new digital-art tool, UbiArts. Rather than having to reinterpret 2D art into 3D-rendered imagery, UbiArts lets 2D talent directly create a game.

"We wanted to work with people who haven't typically worked in the gaming industry to get a fresh perspective."
--Michel Ancel, UbiArts inventor and Rayman creator

Rayman Origins, set for a November 15 release, is the latest game in the long-running franchise. Rayman was Ubisoft's first hero and the first major franchise for the publisher in 1995. Since then, Ubisoft has released three more games in the franchise and positioned it as an art-centric game with picturesque graphics and environments.

According to UbiArts inventor and Rayman creator Michel Ancel, Ubisoft wanted to return to the roots of visual creation.

"We wanted to work with people who haven't typically worked in the gaming industry to get a fresh perspective," Ancel said from France. "So we found artists of all kinds--people in animation studios, painters--and we used a scanner to take their home drawings and put them directly into an engine."

"The goal was to create a unique artistic approach to making a game. It's helped us to find ways to help people express themselves. The engine itself is nothing magical, but what's magic is the art that people can now put into the game. With this approach to games, we can really use the work as it was intended instead of converting the art for 3D engines."

But Ubisoft and Ancel aren't looking to change the game-designing business with their new tech. It's another tool in the box.

"I don't want to make a statement like this engine will change the industry," Ancel added. "I think there's already a change going on, and the creation of this engine is consistent with that movement. Since the beginning of the industry, and particularly the advent of 3D, there has been a race to create more and more photo-realistic games with more and more complicated controls and cameras. Additionally, there are a lot of technical constraints that limit creativity because they have to focus on polygons or textures or size."

"Now that we've about reached the limit of how realistic we can make games, it is interesting to see how many more creative game concepts are emerging from the woodwork--concepts that put fun and originality first and attempt to appeal to a much, much wider audience. It's amazing to be able to create a universe with the quality of the best animated features, but in an interactive experience."