By Ryan Smith
12:00 PM CDT, April 29, 2013
Mysterious protagonist Aiden Pearce might be the star of the upcoming video game "Watch Dogs," but downtown Chicago lights up the box art.
Comissioned by Ubisoft to paint a scene that contained both the iconic visage of the Willis Tower and an "L" train in the background, artist Alex Ross recently drove down to the Loop from his Glenview home and hunted for a perfect background. He chose a section of LaSalle Street between Wacker Drive and Lake Street, which he later painted complete with Pearce, the menacing masked man who can hack computers with his smartphone.
The result was so compelling that Ubisoft decided to use Ross' vivid take on Pearce in Chicago for the box art of their open-world sci-fi action game. The video game publisher announced Monday that those who preorder "Watch Dogs," which will be available Nov. 19 for PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox 360, WiiU and Windows PC, will receive a copy of Ross' poster.
RedEye spoke with Ross, known for his photorealistic take on Marvel and DC comic superheroes, about his newest work painting a subject a bit closer to home.
Were you excited to hear that "Watch Dogs" would be set in Chicago?
Yeah, anything that brings attention to our city. We need to have more stuff in Chicago—more video games, more movies here, because Chicago is a super cool city with a lot of character. We had a whole lot of movies made in the '80s and early '90s and that changed until a few years ago when we started having Batman and other stuff here. To me, what Ubisoft is doing with trying to bring the city to life in this game in a 3D way is pretty astounding.
How did you end up choosing that part of Chicago for your painting?
They wanted to give a sense of Chicago and the context of the character being able to control things with his phone, like the train. So getting the figure, the phone, the "L" train, and the Willis all in the same scene--it was an interesting challenge, especially since there were no images online. So I took a trip downtown, and it was kind of this adventure. My friend drove me around so I can hop out and look the framing of the best possible shot with the tower in the background with the tracks. It was a fun afternoon.
Visually, how does Chicago stand out from most cities?
Our elevated train wrapping around the downtown area brings a lot of character. Our overall lakefront abutment to the city proper is a very different thing than Manhattan surrounded on all sides of water. There's a presentation aspect of the city; a shot from the lake is pretty awesome. One of the earlier compositions we explored was looking down the Chicago River at the buildings that surround that area and the bridges, which would have been cool to see too. But they wanted the "L" train in the background.
You usually draw comic book heroes like Superman. How is drawing someone like Aiden Pearce different?
I don't think the video game characters are different at all. The character from "Watch Dogs" isn't wearing a costume, but I draw plainclothes superheroes all the time, like The Shadow and Green Hornet. These guys have suits on. So I play it both ways. It's fun to play with a character that has more of a costume, but I go all over the place.
Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.
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