Today, in part 5 of 6 of this series, we tackle Two Face. This character had relatively little screen time, especially without the Catwoman DLC gameplay. Still, Two Face serves as a great showcase of how character-driven environment design and cinematic design can round up a character design beyond the actual character model.
As always, for other parts of this series check the Batman tag.
Who Is Two Face?
First we have to take a look at the character himself and his origin. Let’s gather the narrative bits, that need to be expressed through visual design here.
Two Face’s civil name is Harvey Dent. Dent was one of Gotham’s most rigorous district attorneys. The citizens gladly elected him DA and criminals feared him. Though he was cracking down hard on organized crime in Gotham, he always did it by the book. Laws, rules, and regulations where kind of holy to him. And he was not only popular for his stance against crime, he was also revered as a very good looking man. In the press, this earned him the nickname “Handsome Harv”.
So far so good. We got a strong combative crime fighter, who holds rules above everything else and is popular for his good looks. How did that got flipped around? Let’s dig beyond the public appearance. His written origin includes him being abused by his father on a regular basis. Every evening his dad would flip a coin, and if the wrong side came up, it would end in a severe beating for little Harvey. Also, Harvey Dent has dangerous anger management issues. Always on the edge, he is suppressing his urge to physically hurt criminals and is encapsulating this violent anger in a second self.
All we need now is a catalyst event to set this bomb off! Catalyst events are a big theme in Batman stories. Bruce Wayne’s parents got killed, he becomes Batman. The Joker became what he is through a chemical accident. Victor Fries, lab accident makes him Mr Freeze. Poison Ivy – accident, Zsasz – parents get killed, Penguin – loss of fortune, Robin – parents get killed, Oracle – crippled by Joker, Clayface – getting assaulted with experimental chemical, Man-Bat – failed lab experiment, Bane – lab experiment and on and on.
When it comes to the catalyst event spawning Two-Face, this is where the multiple incarnations of the character massively differ. Not only can’t writers settle on when and how his face got scarred, they can’t even settle on what the nature of the tissue damage is. In some media it was an acid attack in the court room, some claim chemical accident, some claim the face is burned…
Anyway, Dent looses half of his face, his public standing and his purpose. Subsequently everything about his character flips to the direct opposite. Handsome Harv becomes a disfigured man, the crime fighter becomes a criminal, the agent of laws and rules becomes a coin flipping agent of chance.
This character profile and backstory give us plenty of themes to explore visually:
struggle of opposites:
- order vs chaos
- reason vs insanity
- calmness vs fury
- law vs chance
- the duality of man
- ying and yang
- two sides of a coin
- schizophrenia, split personality
criminal justice system:
- courthouses and trials, including related props and language
- “blind” justice
- jury, judge and executioner
- elections for district attorney
the number 2:
- anything, that comes in pairs
- double or nothing (gambling)
- anything starting with “double”, like double barrel shotgun for example.
Arkham City’s Two Face
Two things are always constant with Two Face designs. His face is split in half – one side whole, the other side damaged – and his suit is split into similar halves. But other than that, the looks for his dress abd the ways his face is damaged, come in many styles.
Rocksteady was quite clever in picking the right appearance for Dent. They looked beyond the comic reader crowd and styled the character in way, that resonates with TV watching and movie going audiences as well. Combining the TwoFace from the very successful 90s animated TV show with the Two Face from the also very popular Chris Nolan Dark Knight movie. Good pick to appeal to a wide audience.
Character Design Through Environment Design
The first thing we see of Two Face is his district attorney office. After beating up his goons (who sport Two Face iconography, to express their allegiance), we get a chance to look around in this place. You might notice that the right half of the room is in slightly poorer condition than the left half. This is of course analogous to the design of the Two Face character model.
When we turn around and look to the other side of the room, we discover the split to be way more obvious. We are also treated to two sculptures. A galant steed in battle with a monstrous snake. Strong symbolism for the fight of righteousness against wickedness within Dent.
Carefully scanning the office allows us to find some artifacts of his campaign for district attorney and more symbolic references to his duality and damaged half.
Dent’s gang territory is separated via fortified gates. Note the two different panels used as doors for the gate and the literally ripped in half campaign banners (uncle Sam style). We can also see the court house already.
In Dent’s territory we find those nice vignettes: Harvey Dent’s campaign office. Here also the right half is in slightly poorer condition than the left. Or note the custom propaganda poster.
The outside of the court house sporting onesided damage and disfunction all the way. Also part of the symbolism here: the court house itself as a place for justice (throwback to Dent’s former occupation) and more Dent campaign propaganda.
Inside of the building the theme of the broken right side not only continues but intensifies with more severe destruction and corruption. The inside and the outside of the court house both show a statue of Justicia (or Lady Justice) – roman goddess of justice – balancing two vessels (like a scale). A symbol for the struggle to balance the whole and the broken side of Dent’s personality. Also note that the corrupted side holds a burning vessel, symbolizing the burning anger or destructive energy of Dent’s evil side.
Note how the green light in the “whole” side of the room is an index for a save way out (emergency exit), while the green light on the “broken” side comes as a signal for gruesome death (acid vat). The acid vat as a method of killing is a very fitting stylistic choice for the acid victim Dent. And the gallows pole holding Catwoman’s body suspended above the deadly fluid, is a great symbol for brutal death penalty (reference to justice system).
One very nice gag in the level design of that early sequence is the tightrope spanned across the room. If you put Batman on that rope and carefully adjust the camera, you can use the rope to cleanly cut the room into two sides. The cut is so clean, it looks like a montage.
The 180° Rule
Lets talk cinematic design. An old and tried and true rule of cinematography is the so called 180° rule. The gist of it is, that when using multiple camera angles in a scene of two people interacting with each other, you stay on one side of the interaction, keeping your camera angles within this 180° radius. Otherwise you risk creating the appearance, that the characters switch sides during the scene or risk ruining the geographical orientation of the viewer completely.
You can however use this geographical confusion as a storytelling device. With just one character monologuing, you can create the appearance of two characters being physically present. You do that by deliberately breaking the 180° rule.
You may remember this scene from Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings:
Rocksteady used the same trick in this early cinematic, where the character of Two Face has an argument with himself. Now to up the ante, the environment design and character design massively enhance the impact of this cinematographic maneuver. With every cut we do not only get the appearance of the character switching his physical form, the backdrop of the court house also switches the same way.
Whenever Dent talks reason, we see his good side, superimposed onto the whole side of the hall. Whenever Dent talks violence, we got his burned side superimposed onto the broken side of the hall. A full and complete switch between opposites, through all layers of the presentation.
I hope you enjoyed this trip through the several layers of character-driven design utilized by Rocksteady’s art department.
One final episode to go. :)
As always, for other parts of this series check the Batman tag.