BOOK REVIEW: The Art of Dead Space by Martin Robinson
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Over 300 iconic, full color images and sketches, with commentary from artists.
PROS: Absolutely stunning images that latch onto the mind in an icy death grip, annotations from artists deliver a glimpse into the twisted creative cycle that spawned such striking and grotesque visuals.
CONS: Some may consider the price steep.
BOTTOM LINE: An collection of art from all three Dead Space games, recommended for fans of the series, concept artists, and aspiring authors/horror film directors looking to add a serrated edge of inspiration to their work.
So how is this for something different – I’m going to review an art book! Bear with me, as this is a first, but I feel as though my love of video games and my limited stint at an art school provide me just enough knowledge to get the job done. As a disclaimer I must warn you, I haven’t played Dead Space 3 yet. Nor have I beaten Dead Space or Dead Space 2, though I have owned each at one point in time. One thing that always has impressed me with the series has been the unique art direction. Dead Space is a series that is visibly influenced by the titans of space horror that came before it. The Alien franchise is an obvious source, as is Event Horizon. Still, Dead Space has developed an identity all of its own. As the introduction of the book states, “It has sci-fi that’s never fantastical, horror that’s always personal, and action that’s delivered like a punch to the gut…” I couldn’t agree more. All of the science fiction elements of Dead Space are utilitarian. The future isn’t a bright, gleaming beacon of hope – it’s worn and functional and grimy. The horror is isolating and atrocious, and the action is limb-dismembering-visceral. All of this becomes evident as you open The Art of Dead Space and begin to flip through the pages.
One of the coolest things about Dead Space is its protagonist, Isaac Clarke (wink wink). He isn’t a genetically enhanced super soldier, he’s an engineer; an everyman. Looking at early sketches you can see how close Isaac was to being a generic, yawn-inducing, action hero. Thankfully the developers went with the design that has become iconic – the serrated, “ribbing” motif. Further character designs explored in the book include a number of somewhat typical models but the important thing to take note of is the emphasis on the mundane. Dead Space isn’t about form-fitting jumpsuits and flashy colors. The culture and fashion feel like a futuristic extension of our own.
The Art of Dead Space includes internal and external renderings of the USG Ishimura, the “planet cracker” mining ship from the first game. From the outside the USG Ishimura stays true to the “ribbing” motif of Clarke’s suit. It’s an interesting looking space ship that doesn’t conform to the tired images of the genre. From the inside the ship has a utilitarian atmosphere, it feels like a place that people live and work. This style is furthered explored in the tools that Clarke uses to fight the Necromorphs, to the environment and vehicles of Dead Space 2 and 3.
The book moves onto the the Marker and the Church of Unitology. One glance at the Marker and you get the instinctual vibe that there is something very-n0t-right about it. I was less impressed with the designs of the Church of Unitology which feels tacky and unoriginal. But then the book moves on to the Necromorphs and if you were considering reading The Art of Dead Space before bedtime you might like to skip this section until morning. This chapter comes under the sub-headline of “Twisted Anatomies” and it would be difficult to find a more apt description. The creature concept designs are chilling from the unnatural angles to nauseating variations. According to the commentary the design team bought a goat at the butchers and pulled it apart to learn first hand about viscera and gore. Now that’s dedication.
The book goes on to explore the drama and culture of the franchise. I personally found the section on Tau Volantis of Dead Space 3 to be especially entertaining, as it breaks away from the claustrophobic and dark settings of the first two games to instead explore the bleak harshness of an arctic environment. This time around inspiration is drawn from The Thing, and it provides a whole new flavor of horror.
The Art of Dead Space is an impressive collection. The illustrations and paintings are vivid, some spanning a full pages. The talent and ingenuity of the designers is undeniable. For fans of the video game franchise this will make a wonderful collectors item. Even those who aren’t diehard followers of Dead Space can enjoy the art and commentary, and I am a prime example. Anyone looking to write horror of their own or perhaps film a horror movie could learn a lot from the collected wisdom of the Dead Space designers. Some might consider the cost to be steep but for 192 full color pages, featuring 300 plus pictures, in a sturdy hardback binding I feel it’s a fair price.
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