Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Closing the Door On Innistrad, Part 2

If you haven't caught part one of this tale, it can be found here. If you have read that first part (or at least pretended to read it and looked at the pictures), check out the second part below.

Wizards of the Coast's offices are an odd mix of corporate architecture and gaming wonderland. The fact that there are cubicles throughout belies the head space of those who dwell within. Take a peak into any given workspace and you'll find more gaming and fanboy odds and ends crammed into the various shelves and cabinets than your average booth at a comic convention. A dragon statuette here, some DnD miniatures there, and posters and product pinned to just about every wall imaginable.  It's a little overwhelming aesthetically, as there's just so much to look at, and a man like me can get lost in picking over someone's Happy Meal toy or assorted PEZ dispenser collection.

©Wizards of the Coast

The Magic writing and art team sit clumped together and are arranged adjacent to a couple of empty rooms that I believe were designed to be private offices, but instead one room provides a place for visiting artists to work while the other functions as what might just be the world's most cramped conference room.

I was the second artist to arrive on the scene and while waiting for instructions found Steve Prescott's belongings tossed casually into a cubicle opposite the artist bullpen where I was to make my home. The bullpen consisted of two work stations with a computer and WACOM tablet a piece, two drafting tables, and a shelf containing various art supplies that could just as easily be found in the supply closet of a day camp's arts and crafts center (minus the glitter). I took one station and awaited Daarken's arrival before settling in. I figured I'd give him the opportunity to swap if he wanted to, but it turns out that one station was supplied with a far more modern tablet that was clearly intended for him, leaving me to take the station with the more primeval tablet. I tried to make myself at home and unpacked my sketchbook, pens and pencils.

©Wizards of the Coast

Steve Prescott had been there a full day ahead of me and had jumped into the deep end upon arrival. He filled me in on the wide variety of stuff he'd been working on, which was pretty awesome indeed. We caught up, talked a little about the direction of the set, and began leafing through the many books collected on the shelves for research and inspiration. With a bit more direction in mind, I also took some time to pour through Google Images for anything I could get my hands on that felt right.

Daarken eventually arrived later that day, but he wasn't alone. With him was his very lovely wife, Midori, who I learned would also be sharing our space from time to time. While it might sound like that would make for a cramped work environment, it surprisingly was anything but. In fact, before long, irritated by what I can only assume was separation anxiety, Steve joined us in the bullpen and three became four. The room from that point forward could best be described as cozy and blazingly hot.

©Wizards of the Coast

With all parties present and accounted for, we finally got the official brief with all the writers, art directors, artists, and research and development folks in one room. This is where we learned the following things:

•The world was to have among other things as inspiration, 18th century Prussia.
•The world was almost constantly about 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit.
•The world was to be built entirely around horror tropes.
•These tropes included, but were not limited to: werewolves, vampires, mad scientists, zombies, Frankenstein's monsters, ghosts, devils, and demons.
•There was a religion having something to do with angels (this was still being fleshed out).
•This was the home world of the vampire planeswalker, Sorin Markov.

I remember furiously writing notes down during this meeting. Notes which I don't believe I ever looked at again. I had gotten the gist, which was the important part, and the notes seemed less important as we went along.  Truth be told, I was itching to get to work, but before the work truly began in earnest, Steve, Mike and I spent some time tossing around ideas on where to begin. I mean, how do you start to visually define an entire world? What's the most important thing to nail first?

©Wizards of the Coast

As I mentioned, Steve had done this before, and Mike has a great deal of concepting experience, as well. I was the neophyte on the team, so I likely was the only one who was completely clueless. Aside from the list of influences, we knew what Sorin Markov looked like, so we had some real tangible ideas for vampires. Outside of that, we would be making it all up as we went along. Steve suggested that getting the humans and their costuming right was paramount. Figuring out how the people dressed, what their tools and weapons looked like, etc., would help inform the rest of the world and how the humans had shaped it. It would also probably help us develop the zombies, as well as further develop the vampire race.  I appreciated the simple logic in this and Mike seemed to nod in agreement so, with that, all three of us went to work.

©Wizards of the Coast

Now, a quick aside. Steve Prescott and I have a certain level of comfort with one another. We tend to joke around, poke fun and say generally horrible things. It's just what we do. Our souls drip with sarcasm and the need to force other people to bathe in said sarcasm. We can't help it, it's in our nature. Daarken, on the other hand, is a very quiet guy. Even in our discussions about direction, his contributions were pretty brief and typically verbally minimalist. It didn't help that he was suffering from an epic cold. Having two idiots bantering back and forth around him probably didn't make him feel any better.

Midori, on the other hand, is pretty outgoing by comparison. She was willing to talk, if only to keep boredom at bay, which I assure you was a task beyond my own abilities, at times. Unfortunately, she was sharing custody with Daarken's cold, and it was clearly playing one parent against the other.

The point is that it took a while for Mr. Lim to warm up to Steve and me. I suspect he didn't quite know what to make of us at first, and who could blame him? There was probably part of him that hoped every morning that Steve and I wouldn't show up, thus leaving him in relative peace. Still, by the end of our three weeks in that little room, he was slinging zingers with the rest of us, and I'm happy to say that I got to know him a bit, as a result.

©Wizards of the Coast

Anyway, with a direction and a starting point established, the three of us began to chip away at the world of Innistrad, revealing each secret in turn. And while our starting point was the same, we quickly branched out and began covering ground rapidly.


  1. Hey, I'd really love to see the style guides of all the previous and this set... is there any chance, that they will be released?

    1. I honestly couldn't say. I'm just a freelancer. They tend not to share any of that kind of information with the likes of me.

  2. Thank you for this awesome insight into one of the more hidden acts that create Magic!


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