The Reaping Room

In some ways this is a bit of a ‘backwards’ post, in that I’m going to be writing about an artistic idea, rather than actually showing you. Don’t worry, when the painting’s done it will appear here, but this will be a painting with a chain of thought behind it. I thought I might write about that – call it the development stage, if you will!

So, what am I thinking of doing? Well, even in spite of the ME3 ending, the Mass Effect series remains my current #1 obsession (outside of work that is – there has to be something to compete with the role of metallicity in substellar atmospheres!).

Anyway, there’s been one little thing that’s been bugging me all throughout the series, since ME1, in fact. That thing is that apparently Reapers have passenger compartments. In fact we even see this, very briefly, during one cutscene just after the opening segment of ME1. (It’s the one where Saren starts off sitting in a chair looking tetchy, then he abruptly goes nuts and has his little tantrum.) I just found this fundamentally weird – apparently Reapers can carry passengers? It’s also potent fuel for serious epileptic trees. (Example: prior to the WTF? ending of ME3, my personal favourite crack-fic theory was that Sovereign et al. had effectively been buses in a metaphorical past life! A somewhat over-engineered approach to mass transit, certainly, but it would explain the passenger cabins…)

Anyway, one of the interesting things about the series is that the Reapers themselves mostly stay offstage, even arguably in Mass Effect 3 too. (There are a few dramatic exceptions to this, of course.)

So I found myself wondering what Sovereign’s passenger cabins might look like.

Obviously, we don’t know for a fact; we only get the one glimpse of them, and that’s only for a few seconds. But it’s enough to suggest a few clues. Also, later on, Matriarch Benezia drops a few more clues too. Apparently the spaces are unsettling, being laid out with peculiar angles. This is implied to be part of the indoctrination process; presumably the unsettling layout makes organics feel cowed and scared, thus weakening their will.

There are also some other possible clues; presumably the internal spaces would be consistent with the general aesthetic of the rest of Reaper tech. That seems to be based heavily on semi-organic shapes, curves and panels and lots and lots of cabling. (The Reapers seem to have a thing for bulky wiring … clearly no-one’s told them about this wonderful thing called wireless!) Also they seem to have a liking for recessed bands of little lights.

In addition there’s also one more big source of data, but that’s a major spoiler for ME2 so I won’t detail it too much here 🙂 (Plus also there’s good reason to think that the derelict would be an unreliable guide – for a start, it’s been badly-damaged!)

So, a putative illustration of Sovereign’s interior would have to be consistent with these things. It would also need careful control of the mood; the way I see it, Reapers should convey a sense of awe, fear and power, but they certainly shouldn’t look cute in any way!

Here, in summary, are the aesthetic guidelines that I’ve got so far:

  • Any Reaper interior must have…
  • …Odd angles, layouts that make people feel uneasy – lack of symmetry, maybe? Things like doors and light-fittings all being off-centre or eccentrically-placed, perhaps.
  • … no windows! (Sovereign doesn’t appear to have any on the outside, and being able to see out would be reassuring! And Reapers do not do reassuring!)
  • …lots of peculiar curves.
  • …maybe a vaguely-organic look here and there – perhaps shapes like bones or spines? (cf HR Giger, of course! But perhaps minus all the penises.) This would also suggest the idea of a ‘living machine’.
  • …strips of little lights here and there.
  • …a palette heavy on the blue and grey, like in the scene from ME1.
  • …perhaps poor lighting and mistiness, to add to an oppressive sense?
  • …maybe a large, and largely-empty space, both to reinforce the sheer scale of a Sovereign-class Reaper and to strengthen the sense of ‘smallness’ and relative powerlessness of the passengers.
  • …perhaps some more-familiar objects, like recognisable organic furniture? This would be there to emphasize the sense of incongruity – after all this is a place where organic life exists only just barely on sufferance, at best!

In some ways this would be an unusual project. The basic idea is to create a scene that isn’t pretty or reassuring, which feels rather perverse in some ways!

I have a very preliminary first sketch. I’ll upload it once I’ve had a chance to refine it a bit some more. If nothing else, this should be an interesting experiment!

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