CVG sits down with art director Michael Khaimzon to talk aliens, frozen jungles and how to get away with illegally chopping down palm trees

There's no denying that Crytek's chilling FPS Far Cry sort-of-sequel, Crysis is one of the most visually stunning games on the horizon right now. So we suppose then, under our special logic, that the art director behind the game, Michael Khaimzon must be one of the most talented pixel-sprucers in the industry.

Recently, we managed to sit down with the man who spends his days contemplating frozen palm trees, to talk about the inspiration for Crysis' gorgeous jungle environments, icey alien wastelands and how he managed to chop down trees in Tahiti without getting caught by the law.

So without further ado, it's over to Mr. Khaimzon...

What extra considerations have to be brought to the art design of a game like Crysis as opposed to a game like Far Cry?

Michael Khaimzon: Far Cry was done by a bunch of guys who never worked on a game before, first of all. We had to work with our instincts, not so much experience; we just try many, many things.

It was not experience and skill, it was just pure passion and trying to do something and getting used to an engine that does these cool things. But when we started to do Crysis we actually had the Far Cry experience behind us, so it told us exactly what we needed to do and implement. So Far Cry is probably the reason that Crysis is how it is right now; without Far Cry we would not have been able to do this.

We prototyped a lot of things, we did a field trip to Tahiti which is a location very close to where Far Cry is supposed to be and where Crysis is supposed to be. We took a lot of screenshots, photographs, made a lot of research about how to build things, how to make things go together, how vegetation exists in the world and how to place objects so that it's correct, how to create lighting; many, many things.

Did you get any inspiration from other games, movies and books for the art design in Crysis?

Khaimzon: I think we were pretty influenced by movies like Predator, Aliens - stuff like that. These are movies that inspire you no matter what project you work on. They have everything; they have aliens, they have predators, they have jungle, guys with big guns and muscles running around. So we have often looked at Predator I think, to compare the vibe of our game with the movie, it was a good reference for us.

For our Alien designs it was very hard because there is no movie that resembles even close the kind of aliens that we have. I mean, some people call them Sentinals because our aliens also fly and have tentacles but that's about the only connection we have between us and The Matrix.

The alien part of the game was very hard for us to work on, but other things like our Tahiti trip and Predator were good references.

On to your Tahiti trip; tell us a bit more about your on-location research for Crysis?

Khaimzon: We spent one week in Tahiti; me, a programmer and a level designer. The problem with Far Cry was nobody on the team was ever in the jungle. I mean, how can you work on something when you never were in the environment you're trying to make? So we had to go there.

We took tons; gigabytes of videos and images and basically we came back with enough material to answer any question that could pop up during development. If you wan to see how the palm trees should be, sure. If you want to see how the house should be, it's there. So it saved us a lot of time and we didn't actually do that much concept art for our locations, because it's so wild and open.

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