Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Geralf's Mind Crusher

In the long list of pieces that I will invariably be stuck with for the rest of my life, we can add Geralf's Mind Crusher.  What can I say about the piece?  Well, it started with the following description:

ART ID: 139875    title: [Maddening Zombie]

Color: Blue creature
Location: Your choice
Action: Show a huge zombie whose head and neck are covered with many eyes of different sizes and colors. It's at least seven feet tall with a stitched-up misshapen body and muscular limbs. Blue-aligned zombies are created by alchemists. They are stitched together parts from multiple corpses and stitches should be visible on its body.
Focus: The zombie
Mood: Just the sight of it induces madness

Simple enough, right?  So I went and did this sketch:

©Wizards of the Coast
I'm not sure what exactly I was thinking when it came to design.  I know that I dug the idea of a layered torso, which lead to the overlapping (and I assume extra) ribcage.  It's got the required stitches, and all those extra eyes make it clear that he's been manipulated in some way and is not just your average, wake-from-the-dead zombie.  This is one of those Frankenstein's monster undead types — alive because someone made it so.

Whether or not he's maddening, I can't say.  I suppose if you saw something like him in real life you might go a bit mad... at least temporarily.  But the bottom line is he was approved as is, and I painted him up thusly:

©Wizards of the Coast
As usual, he's oil on paper on hardboard and measures 12" x 9".

I wanted the piece to feel very noir-ish and wanted also to insinuate that the creature had been stumbled upon whilst creeping through the village one night.  So, I lit him in a way that gives the impression that there's a streetlamp or someone with a lantern just off to the right.  This light has caused the creature to begin emerging from his hiding spot, which means that given his final title, mind crushing is likely about to happen.

As far as other details, I made the stitches irritated and fresh.  Perhaps there's some infection going on there, as well.  In addition, I included some metallic pieces sticking out of his back, the visible parts of the armature I imagine helps keep him together, and also contains various tubes and hoses that deliver the necessary chemicals which keep him animated.

©Wizards of the Coast
If you reread the above paragraphs, you'll see that I've tried to inject some story into the piece.  I could have taken the description above in a hundred different directions.  It could have been a more menacing piece, or one that was more overtly terrifying.  I chose a story that made the most sense to me given the creature, the world, and the piece.  I like to think that the stories we try and tell are what makes each artist's images unique.  Sure, there are the obvious aesthetic differences, but beyond those are the tales we tell and the sensibilities of those tales.  What stories we tell do matter (the tonality needs to be consistent with the job, after all), but more important is that we try and tell stories to begin with.

It was the story of Innistrad, the world that this card set takes place in, that drove much of the design.  It was the context that helped shape things and bring the horror tropes into synch with one another.  While I intend to talk a lot more in depth about the experience of helping bring this world to life, I did want to touch on the monsters like the one above.  While I didn't really have a hand in fleshing out the straight-up brain-eating zombies, I did have a hand in the creation of these guys.  The blue zombies.  Those that had been manipulated and brought to life by alchemists.

What little insight I can provide is that I imagined them to be not unlike living sculptures.  I figured that they had metal armatures around which everything was based.  I did a bit of leg work on injection systems for alchemical liquids into the zombies, and the like.  I put some thought into how runes may play a part.  You know, the usual.  At the other end of the spectrum was Daarken, who (unconcerned with these things at first) began putting together a variety of silhouettes and overall designs.  Nothing either of us did excluded the work of the other, and I think, when combined, our efforts made for an interesting and rather open ended concept for other artists to follow.

The Frankenstein's monster inspired creatures weren't something I ended up pursuing to the end.  In fact, Daarken and Richard Whitters were largely responsible for their final look.  Still, this is one of the few pieces that I got to paint that depict a facet of the Innistrad world that I actually helped create.  It's also a really weird one, and like I said, is likely to be taking up space in my flat files for years to come.


  1. I think it came out smashing. I saw this card the other day and must say the reduction in size takes a little bit away from how good it is. But that probably can be said about the many Magic card art. Never-the-less, it's an awesome piece.

  2. Thanks, Steve. I still haven't seen any of the cards. I'm a little worried that they all came out a little less orange than they are in real life. Perhaps a good argument for turning my stuff in again.


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