The world of Assassin’s Creed: Unity is one that Ubisoft was worried some of their fans might not know quite as much about as some of the previous games. “The period of the French Revolution is an important one in history, but one some of them might not know as much about.”
To help out their non history-buff fans, Ubisoft teamed up with two names that are at once well-known and perhaps unexpected: Rob Zombie and Tony Moore. The unlikely duo teamed up for a video short that is part motion comic, part animation, and all brutal, historical violence and mayhem.
We sat down with Tony Moore at Comic-Con International: San Diego last week to watch the video and chat with the artist about making something so unique, the role of the Assassins in history, and his unexpected favorite thing to get to draw in the short (it wasn’t any of the violence).
Newsarama: Tony, after just watching the short, the first thing that really stood out to me was the transitions, with some of these zoom-in-zoom-out moments. Where did that come from, was that something that came from you?
Tony Moore: No, a lot of that was in the script. I was happy to try to give them what they asked for. A lot of the stuff that was in the script I thought was just brilliant. I was really able to just sink my teeth into it, and when they would give me notes on how to take a certain direction, I was able to accommodate my art to fit that goal.
But yeah, I love that zoom-in on the eye, then it turns to the fish. That was brilliant. And it gave me a chance to draw a crazy close-up of a fish! (laughs) Not so much something I’m usually called upon to draw!
Yeah, I get to draw a guy getting his throat slit, and then I get to draw a fish. So it’s a good day.
Nrama: How did you get brought into the project?
Moore: The poster artist Angryblue also did all the finishing on this. He’s also from Kentucky. He had been talking to New Science long before I had ever talked to anyone, even about previous projects. When this started to come about, he was talking to them about it and they wanted someone with a more storytelling focus; he suggested they reached out to me and I was happy to jump on board.
Nrama: So you said those transitions were in the script – how much of the storytelling decisions did you get to make, as far as how to present the script?
Moore: I mean, I did have the freedom to run with it when I needed to. There wasn’t a whole lot that I felt needed reinterpreting. There were a couple of spots where I wanted to change the angles and go my own way on it. But for the most part, everything was pretty straightforward.
Usually I just kinda go with my gut and roll with it. But this was really straightforward stuff. I had part of the animation team at New Science that put this together – they had done some of the legwork for me ahead of time. Some of the images are based on the old etchings and pieces from the time period. So that stuff was all figured out for me! When you have an iconic image of the Storming of the Bastille or whatever, you should go with the Icon that’s been around for two centuries or so. A lot of that had been figured out for me.
Nrama: How do you approach the art differently when you’re working in this unique motion style – are you drawing more in a storyboard style rather than traditional sequential art?
Moore: Yeah. On a page, you know, I’m kind of accustomed to giving visual weight to scenes that I want the reader to linger on. That’s part of the storyteller’s tool box, trying to figure out the flow of the page. With this it’s a static picture playing. The edge of your TV never moves, it’s the same dimensions. So we have to figure out other ways – the animators can slow down and speed up parts, but it’s not in the reader’s control.
So it’s a whole different process. As far as preparing the artwork, a lot of it was drawn as you see it, but a lot of it was drawn in multiple layers. So the scene of the 7 year war was drawn on six different levels. There were the background guys, then the mid-background guys and the… less-background guys (laughs). Then the animators went in and cut those things up even further to take little elements and move them around. I’ve seen enough motion comics and cartoons to know how it operates, so I just tried to keep that in mind for when I was working on it. Some were drawn as-is, but some were drawn almost all just as assets. The scene when the blade comes down on Robespierre for example, I drew the rails of the guillotine separately, then the blade separately, and the head, and so on. Then the animators stuck it all together and made the whole thing.
Nrama: Is it weird to hand your art to someone else and just say ‘OK, this is yours to do with as you please now, I guess!’?
Moore: Yeah, comics had kind of primed me for that a little bit. I generally try to do my own inking and coloring whenever I can in comics, but a project with this level of art, this many pieces and turnaround time, I had to have a team going. So I’ve worked in a team environment, and it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t really know what I was in for as far as the animation was confirmed, but when I started seeing some of the in-progress cuts of it I wrapped my head around it and started getting really excited about how animated it would be. I was expecting like a motion comic, and this is more than that for sure.
Nrama: So of course you got to draw that extreme closeup of a fish, but you also drew a lot of the stuff you’re known for like beheadings and dismemberment and giant holes in the face…
Moore: Yeah, those things are right in my wheelhouse! Those are always kind of the “joy frames” where I can just sink my teeth into the gore, and really let it ride. Whenever the script called for something that got really gross, I got really excited – that’s what I do!
Nrama: Was there any back-and-forth collaboration between you and Rob?
Moore: Not really direct hands-on stuff. We’d get some notes when he’d call for something specific and I’d try to do my best to accommodate. I tried to do that as much as I could the first time around but every once in awhile there was something to noodle around a bit.
Nrama: What do you think about the setting of the French Revolution for the newest Assassin’s Creed?
Moore: I think it’s pretty great. As far as history goes, we’re far enough into the industrial revolution that you have some modern conveniences as far as warfare is concerned. But it’s still primitive enough that there are a lot of getting in the dirt with your fists and a knife kind of moments.
It’s a great juxtaposition of filthy, blood-and-guts kinds of things with beautiful architecture, the setting of Paris in the Revolution coming off King Louis’ decadence. That juxtaposition makes for really cool aesthetic.
Nrama: So if you were doing a prequel trailer for the next Assassin’s Creed and got to choose – what timeframe would you put it in?
Moore: Oh that’s interesting, I haven’t really thought about that.
Personally I have always loved drawing American West stuff…
Nrama: That could be interesting! A turn-of-the-century Gunslinger Assassin.
Moore: Yeah, I guess that would be cool! I don’t know, there are not a lot of eras that are as visually rich as the French Revolution. I think what makes any project engaging is something that’s just far enough out of your wheelhouse that you have to really work on it. This project was perfect for that. There was plenty of gore and stuff that I was familiar with, but I’m a reference hound too. When I get a project I sit down and just start hording visuals. As an artist I have what I call a morgue, just clip files and in the modern ages it’s google images, and you just download terabytes and terabytes of images you may never use.
I’ll just sit for hours hording visual images off of any kind of reference I can find. I love it, it gets you into that headspace. It’s engaging to then take all of that and process and synthesize it into something that’s a new thing.
Nrama: Any other comic work you’re showing off at the convention this year?
Moore: Actually, no! Angryblue and I did a silkscreen print of Arno, the main character in Unity, but we did that and the trailer. For the most part, I haven’t done San Diego as a free agent, so it’s kind of weird!
Nrama: So you did get to draw Arno in the end of the trailer and in the print – what’s it like brining life to one of these mythical assassins?
Moore: It’s really cool. As a relatively new character, he has certain tropes of character design. He has a certain Batman thing going – so that’s where I started, this cloaked, silhouette figure. But then he has all his finery added. So it’s fun, it was a good time.