Celebrated in May, Asian Heritage Month is an opportunity to learn about the many achievements and contributions of people of Asian descent and to celebrate their diverse contributions to our society.
With the help of Assistant Art Director Joanna Tsui and Scriptwriter Simon Ducharme, we take a look at two of Rainbow Six Siege‘s most iconic operators: Azami, a former Japanese bodyguard, and Grim, a former member of Singapore’s special forces.
The country of origin is one of the first decisions made about a new operator. Once that’s done, “we do a lot of research into the country’s culture, especially military and police culture,” relates Simon.
The team also reaches out to Ubisoft studios in the target countries, in this case Ubisoft Japan and Ubisoft Singapore. “We come up with an idea of what playstyle or personality we want the character to have,” Joanna explains, “and then we contact our colleagues to help us ping pong ideas.”
When there’s no Ubisoft studio in the target country, the team works with consultants. In both cases, the point is to talk to someone from the culture the team is trying to represent. “Instead of looking at it from the outside,” Simon continues, “we talk to people who actually have that lived experience and so make sure the character is going to be as authentic as possible.”
A modern take on tradition with Azami
While Siege’s first female Japanese Operator, Hibana, comes from a counter terrorism background, Azami’s background differs in that she was previously a hired bodyguard.
Azami’s occupation allowed the team to be more creative with her appearance, “but we didn’t want to fall into clichés,” Joanna notes, “so we talked to our colleagues at Ubisoft Japan about different fashion styles, from traditional clothing to modern streetwear.”
Their suggestion was to have Azami come from Kyoto, a city known for its history, traditionalism, and acute taste for elegance and fashion. The city’s reputation would perfectly justify Azami’s strict, precise, and careful movements and sense of expression.
Regarding facial design, Joanna explains that “every culture has a specific way of applying makeup, wearing jewelry, or doing their hair.” The team’s Japanese colleagues provided feedback on Azami’s facial design to give it an authentic look. “Ubisoft Japan mentioned that cat eye makeup in Japan, for example, has no lines underneath the eye,” Joanna notes.
Azami’s mask is another distinguishing feature that’s closely related to her country of origin and her personality. “Even before Covid, people in Japan wore masks every time they get a cold to the point where they made it a fashion accessory,” Joanna relates. Inspired by this custom, the team gave Azami a mask that highlighted her colder and sleeker side and allowed her to express her fashion sense
Grim’s subtle rule-breaking
The team’s approach to Grim was entirely different. “Our archetype for him was the typical military tough guy – Rambo,” relates Joanna.
“In the West, there’s a perception that Asian men are slenderer because of how Asian pop culture got transferred into the West,” she explains, “but that’s just a sliver of the entire culture.” So, the team decided to highlight another aspect of the culture by creating a more muscular character.
“He reminds me of characters like in the Korean movie Oldboy who are grittier and who don’t make it to TV as much,” Joanna relates. “But we also wanted to keep a balance. There are archetypes we take inspiration from, but we don’t want to go too far in that direction.”
Grim’s military attire didn’t leave much space for personal expression. To make his personality shine, the team had to focus on the details: scars on his face, bandages on his nose, bushy eyebrows, and slicked back hair.
His Singaporean origins also brought a complexity to his character. “Singapore is small and has a lot of different cultures,” Simon explains, “so we had questions about his ancestry and family background.” The colleagues at Ubisoft Singapore
provided the team with extensive information on the country’s history, politics, and culture.
“There’s a lot of things that we think about deeply, but not everything makes it into the final bio because we have limited space,” says Simon. Some information has to be conveyed through details, like Grim’s civilian name, Charlie Tho Keng Boon, that hints at his ancestry.
“We have to think about what we address, what we put into our assets, and for the things that we don’t have the opportunity to talk about, if it’s OK that they’re not included,” Simon explains.
A dial to be adjusted
For every character – Azami and Grim included – the team has a specific demographic which they want to represent. “Every culture has its own
archetypes, and it tackles them in its own way,” Joanna explains. “We have to dive into each culture’s take on these archetypes as they exist in their unique cultural context.”
“Operators have things that are unique to their culture that are going to affect their choices later in life,” Simon adds. “But the whole bio isn’t going to be all about the character’s culture; you don’t want a surface-level stereotype.”
The influence of the country of origin on a character is adjusted like a dial. “Characters won’t always fully associate with their country of origin,” Joanna explains. “Some characters may paint their country’s flag on their face, but others aren’t as influenced by it.”
The final result of all these efforts are characters who are shaped by their country of origin but who also maintain their unique personality.