Between her costume designs for BioShock Infinite and her historical Disney series, Claire Hummel is a prolific artist with an intricate and elegant style. While exhibiting at the first edition of LightBox Expo, an attendee admired her illustration of Medusa, praising the emotion and ideas it conveyed. Besides showcasing her art at a booth, Hummel also participated in a character design panel at LightBox, representing games while her fellow panelists covered other disciplines like animated films.

At the moment, Hummel is the art director on In the Valley of Gods, which already has an interesting development history. Last year Valve bought Campo Santo (Firewatch), the original developer of In the Valley of Gods. Campo Santo has essentially stated they maintain creative control over the game, which puts players in the role of documentary filmmaker Rashida during the 1920s. She has to work with her former friend, Zora, to make a make a movie about the rumored discovery of Nefertiti’s tomb in Egypt.  

Final in-game shot from In the Valley of Gods with modeling by Jane Ng and Katy Hargrove, and visual effects by Matt Wilde. Based on Claire Hummel’s concept.

Grounded in Egypt

“[Campo Santo] were looking for a new art director after shipping Firewatch,” Hummel said. “They ended up reaching out to me after seeing my personal work. They didn’t have a game in mind, so we ended up creating In the Valley of Gods together.” 

Hummel explained that this was her first time “creating a game from the ground up.”

In an interview with illustrator and LightBox co-founder Bobby Chiu, Hummel elaborated more on this, talking about Egyptian art she had made and shared with Campo Santo.

“I sent over some Egyptian art I had done, and was excitedly talking about this time in Egypt where it’s right after the Egyptian revolution in 1919,” Hummel told Chiu. “So there’s this national revival of Egyptian pride and this tie to Egyptology while Western Egyptologists are coming in and taking artifacts, and it’s such an interesting time period.”

Developmental art by Claire Hummel for In the Valley of Gods. It seems to show the game’s companion character, Zora, exploring Egyptian hieroglyphs.

From Campo Santo to Valve

After Valve bought Campo Santo, the Firewatch developer released a post about it on their blog explaining their decision. According to PC Gamer, Campo Santo has kept “creative freedom” over In the Valley of Gods, and will “also benefit from the support of a much larger talent pool.”

Hummel shared that Valve could provide more resources. For instance, she said that when the original team needs more people, Valve can bring in reinforcements for In the Valley of Gods “like S.W.A.T. teams.”

Hummel’s early studies and boards for the opening shot of the In the Valley of Gods trailer. According to her ArtStation, they drew inspiration from “the cliffs above Luxor.”

“For us, it would allow us to make the game,” Hummel told Cliqist. “Match the scale of the game to our ambitions.”

Most of the original team on In the Valley of Gods moved to Seattle after Valve bought Campo Santo. Hummel, on the other hand, goes up to Valve in Seattle for one week every month.

The situation between Campo Santo and Valve isn’t an anomaly. Other collaborations between indie and AAA developers have happened too. For instance, Portland-based indie developer Rose City Games maintain creative control over their games while VIZ Media publishes them. There’s also Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda published by Nintendo and developed by Brace Yourself Games.

Left: Hummel’s concept for Zora. Right: What appears to be a screenshot of Zora.

Driving the Look of In the Valley of Gods

As the art director, Hummel oversees the entire look of In the Valley of Gods. She explained that her work involves doing concept art for environments and props; storyboarding; and generally providing art direction “for anyone working on visuals in the game,” making sure the project’s art remains consistent.

Hummel has held a variety of jobs as an artist, ranging from work for Neopets to Xbox. Is art directing distinct from those other artistic jobs?

Hummel’s storyboard for In the Valley of Gods.

“It’s potentially less hands on,” she said. Hummel explained that her tasks can include more meetings and enabling other people to do their best work.

“It’s been a good experience,” she said. “It’s been hard, but good.”

It’s not necessarily Hummel’s first time either. She previously worked as a production designer in games, and she described it as similar to an art director. In fact, Hummel shared that her career trajectory has been aiming toward this.

“Just been wanting to drive the vision of a project,” Hummel said.

Alyssa Wejebe
Alyssa Wejebe writes about games, reads about games, and plays them too. RPG, hack-and-slash, and fighting games are some of her favorite genres. She loves nonhuman characters. One of her earliest gaming memories center around battling her grandmother and younger brothers in “Super Bomberman 2” on the SNES.
Alyssa Wejebe

@AlyssaWejebe

Freelance writer/editor with a focus on games, and other areas in arts and entertainment. Bylines at @Cliqist, @NewNormative, @TechRaptr, @ArtStationHQ.
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Alyssa Wejebe