Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Closing the Door On Innistrad, Part 1

The Innistrad expansion block of Magic: the Gathering has come to an end, and before I put it to rest, I want to go back to its beginning. At least my involvement in its beginning. Several times I've teased the idea of a post wherein I talk about the concepting process. I thought I'd write some fun stuff and maybe get the other guys involved to contribute. Possibly even do a round robin of articles for our various blogs or some such. Turns out that coordinating such things requires more time than I can currently afford to spend on the blog. While a post like this, where I simply ruminate on my own, can be done in fits and starts throughout my schedule, actually planning ahead has proven to be much more difficult. I just have too many projects to juggle right now. However, given Innistrad's waning relevance, it seemed imperative that I put something together. This and the next couple posts are that thing. Perhaps if I get called upon to contribute on another Magic concept push, I'll have the wherewithal and forethought to do a daily diary, but for now, for Innistrad, this post will just have to do.

©Wizards of the Coast

In the beginning of May 2010, I found myself slogging through sketch changes to the cover for Badass: Birth of Legend, minding my own business. I want to stress that last part because I rarely look for trouble, and almost never go searching for major projects that will mess up an already full schedule. Unprecedented was the fact that I had actually planned out the timing for my various jobs fairly well so that I wouldn't be too stressed over time management and could actually enjoy the summer. Or so I'd thought. Richard Whitters had other plans.

Richard, for those of you who don't know, is the lead concept artist at Wizards of the Coast. He's got a staff job which requires him to endure sitting one cubicle wall away from Magic's art director, Jeremy Jarvis, and do whatever bidding is necessary. In short, he spends his days hunched over a pad of paper or a Wacom tablet creating many things that have come to fruition over his tenure, and many more that have not. He was also in charge of assembling a crack team of illustrators to help create the world that would eventually become Innistrad. Turns out I would be on this team.

©Wizards of the Coast

I got the email from Richard inquiring as to whether I'd be able to spend three weeks at Wizards' offices doing concept work for the upcoming Magic block. I would need to be there in three weeks. Now, the fact that Richard emailed me with such short notice indicated that I wasn't his first choice. I don't know who or how many had turned him down up to that point, but it didn't really matter. I intended to say yes. While you'd think I might be incensed that I wasn't considered the pick of the litter, I wasn't. Experience has taught me to just keep my head down and try to do a good job when called upon. Being the third or fourth — or even tenth — person called doesn't matter.  An opportunity is an opportunity, and you've got to make the most of those when they come.

I gave Richard the affirmative provided I could suss out the impact on my cover deadline, which thanks to the good graces of my art director at Harper Collins, I quickly managed to do. About a week after agreeing to join the team, my plane tickets were bought, my schedule was fixed, and my excitement finally subsided enough to recognize that I was missing a couple bits of vital information. First bit: what was the set's theme? Second bit: who would I be working with?

©Wizards of the Coast

Richard provided the following information: 1. The set was to be gothic horror themed. This was all I could get out of him. 2. My fellow artists would be Steve Prescott and Mike "Daarken" Lim.

Steve Prescott
I've known Steve for quite a while, having first met him at GenCon eight or nine years ago, and he's one of the most likeable people I've ever known. As I believe I've said before, he also happens to be one of the most naturally gifted draftsmen I've ever met, to boot. The combination of talent and personality results in a guy you wish you could hate but simply can't. At least I can't. Of the three of us, I believe he was the only one who'd done work concepting for Magic before, as he'd done a great deal of excellent work for the Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block, much of which can be seen on his blog (link), as well as in his excellent book, Aggregate. Clearly Steve's roll was to be the foundation, the rock, the elder statesman, if you will.

©Wizards of the Coast

Mike "Daarken" Lim
Up to this point, I'd only known the guy as "Daarken." If I'm honest, I didn't know his real name or much about him. I saw him once at the Spectrum show opening at the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators a year or two before. Someone pointed him out to me, so I had an idea of what he looked like. At the time I felt like I should have gone over and introduced myself, but I was afraid he'd just stare blankly at me having no idea who I was or why I was wasting his time. I didn't get the sense that he was that kind of guy, I just made a rather bold (and it turns out, inaccurate) assumption. Either way, he was a mystery to me, and I was a little nervous about meeting and working along side him. It seemed to me that his role was two sided: he was the finisher and the guy who had mastered the mystical art of digital painting — a skill that Steve and I both lack.

After being filled in, I prepped myself for the long haul ahead: three weeks holed up in a hotel adjacent to the Wizards offices in Renton, Washington, drawing all day and painting a cover piece by night. If nothing else, I was going to be productive. At least I hoped.

©Wizards of the Coast

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome all comments, questions, and discussion so long as you keep it civil.