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How the L.A. Noire makers re-created the city of 1947

The production design team went through image archives, vintage clothing stores and more to get things just right. (But OK, they did cheat a little on the palm trees.)

April 24, 2011|By Charlotte Stoudt, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Western Costume didn't have period firemen's clothing, so Team Bondi went to the source, the L.A. Fire Department's small museum. Wood tried on an old uniform: "It was unbelievably heavy. The inside was charred. The smell of fires from 50 years ago was still there."

In a few cases, Wood acknowledges, L.A. Noire takes some license. Most of the palm trees in L.A. are imported; in 1947, many of them stood about 3 feet tall. "But when Chee Kin put them in the game like that, they just looked ridiculous," Wood says. "So we made them taller. Sometimes you have to art direct past the reference."

Rockstar has stayed on top by breaking the rules. Before the success of Red Dead Redemption, the consensus was that gamers would never play a period western — the weapons weren't cool enough. But L.A. Noire is even more of an anomaly. Will it lure "Law & Order" junkies who've never spent $60 on a PlayStation game? Will younger players find the game's meditative pacing too slow? Will L.A. Noire come close to matching Grand Theft Auto IV's first five days gross of $500 million?

Wood feels there's an irresistible pull to 1947. "There's a real romance to the time, as well as incredible violence. Doctors told you to smoke. Everybody danced. There was a formality to things." The production designer confesses he unwinds by cruising his own (re-)creation: "I go to Pershing Square and watch the secretaries eating lunch. Or I just drive. It's so relaxing. And if you're in a bad mood, you can go find some murder cases."

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