Thursday, June 21, 2012

Closing the Door On Innistrad, Part 3

Hopefully you've noticed that this is part 3. It's sort of the end. The beginning can be found here. The middle can be found here. If you haven't already done so, go back and read those other bits so this bit makes more sense (assuming it makes any sense to begin with).


Truth be told, Steve Prescott had done a great deal of ground work for the human costuming. He'd also done a good job of building on the designs of the vampires and their corner of the world. While Mike Lim and I attempted to add to this stuff a bit, it became fairly obvious early on that we weren't going to be contributing much, as Steve had pretty much nailed it. So, we spent our time asking ourselves what priests or mages would wear and then trying to come up with corresponding drawings to answer those questions.

From there, Steve and Mike spent some time designing the werewolves. This I avoided like the plague, and it turned out that I could afford to as they'd managed to find a direction that I thought really worked, and the Wizards team agreed. Relieved that I could avoid that subject, I moved on. I had a hankering to start working on some landscapes and architecture.

©Wizards of the Coast

*Record scratch*

Architecture? Seriously? Steve Belledin working on buildings? That's like Superman brushing his teeth with Kryptonite toothpaste for the fun of it! Seriously? Yup. Can't say why, but it was the one thing I was sure about design-wise and I set out to pin it down as much as possible. Plus, at the time, no one else seemed interested in taking it on. My inspiration was largely Prussian and Germanic architecture, with a gothic churchy vibe mixed in. It's fairly well trodden ground, but I knew I could provide a decent baseline for future illustrators to build on, and my fellow concept artists didn't seem to argue. These drawings took an inordinate amount of time — especially due to my refusal to use a ruler for much of them — but I'm pretty happy with them on the whole.

The landscapes were based off of strange memories of Universal monster movies, and parts of England and New Zealand I've seen. Both Steve and Mike added to this pile of imagery and we slowly started to get a real feel for what the world looked like — what it felt like. It's weird, but I feel that if a concepting team has done its job, you can easily imagine what a given place smells like. That's what I was striving for. I wanted people to smell the wood burning in fire places, the wet pine needles decaying on the ground, the odor of the damp grass as it's trodden upon. It's an element of the game, and indeed the world, that will never come completely across, but I was certainly thinking about it while I worked on the thing.

©Wizards of the Coast

When concepting in-house at Wizards, there's a process involved. As drawings are finished, they are affixed to a long, magnetic dry-erase board that's somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25 feet long. This is done using magnets that are one of the five colors of the Magic color pie, so that foresty stuff gets a green magnet, demony stuff gets a red magnet, and so forth. Over time, the board is divided into five sections. Everyday, we'd spend about fifteen minutes going over the progress and deciding what made the cut, what didn't, and what needed to be revised. Surprisingly, very little was ever changed, and though there was a small reject pile, most of what we did stayed on the board and eventually made it into the styleguide.

©Wizards of the Coast

The free form nature of the three weeks is still surprising to me. We had no set things we were each responsible for. There was a list of needs that we strove to fulfill, but we were free to shift gears at any time and move on to something completely different should we grow tired of a given subject. As a result, we were never bored, and the list of needs for the set got shorter and shorter. We didn't even strictly stick to a given medium. Daarken did some pencil drawings (some of which have been confused with mine) and a bunch of digital concepts and paintings. I worked mostly in pencil, but did a watercolor painting then switched to digital when I worked on the geists and spirits. Prescott, on the other hand, stuck to pencil, and the mileage he put on that thing was phenomenal.

Admittedly, I am not the world's fastest drawer. Mike is pretty quick with his stylus and easily put me to shame as he was able to do a full-color image in the amount of time it took me to do a solid pencil drawing. Steve, on the other hand, would crank out page after page after page of concepts — often with two or three fully rendered drawings per page. I think at his peak he put out three pages to my one and I'm still amazed two years later.

©Wizards of the Coast
Despite what felt like my lagging productivity, the three of us ended up covering the dry-erase board. We were told that our efforts had produced the most usable concepts from a single concept push in Magic history. Well, at least to that point. But we weren't satisfied. We continued until we'd covered much of the wall, as well.

While three weeks seems like a long time, I assure you that it is not. The time flew by and before I knew it, I was checking out of the hotel and on my way to the airport. Steve left the next day, but Mike had signed on for four weeks, so he was left to do some clean up work and refinement. Before long, he was gone too, and Richard began to fill in gaps. If he didn't do the work himself, he farmed the work out to other folks like Wayne Reynolds or Vincent Proce. Additional folks who had their fingers in the punch bowl include Matt Cavotta, Adam Paquette, James Paick, and Jung Ho Park.

Eventually, the work got compiled into the styleguide, the styleguide got sent to all the Magic artists working on the world, and their efforts, in turn, resulted in the Innistrad, Dark Ascension, and Avacyn Restored sets of Magic. Six hundred, seventy-four pieces of art, not including that which was produced for promotional cards, packaging and advertisements were created (link). I'm sure that if those other things were counted, you'd easily end up with a clean seven-hundred or so. It's daunting to think about what goes into a set on the front end, and what that translates to when it's all said and done. Either way, I'm tickled to know that my efforts helped Innistrad come to be.

©Wizards of the Coast

I'm not sure if I'll ever get another crack at helping to create a new Magic plane, but I'm grateful to have gotten the opportunity for this one. The three weeks I spent working with those other guys were among the most fun I've had in my career. It was quite reminiscent of my years at Pratt Institute, bouncing ideas off of other artists, swapping input, and watching movies together (both bad and good), while getting our work done. It made me wish that I could afford to share a studio with other artists every day in hopes to keep some of that going. But another part of me is content with the fact that only sounds in my studio right now are the humming of the ceiling fan and the clicking of the keys under my fingers as I write this.

Despite the fact that the fun of the concept push was over, the fun that the set would provide would continue. After all, I got to work and play in that world for the next year. And so did everyone else. I have been utterly amazed to see where all the other artists took our raw designs and ideas. It has been awe-inspiring to say the least. Unfortunately, however, with the release of the last set, Avacyn Restored, even that fun has come to an end, and I have to say that I'm sad to see Innistrad go. The entire year was a blast. Still, there's much to look forward to. Before long, a new styleguide will arrive at my door, and with it will come the excitement and joy of unwrapping a whole new world and getting to play in its recesses for a while. Man, it's going to be sweet! But that's not all.

The biggest side-effect of this experience has been that I've discovered the bliss of building new worlds just for myself.

©Adam Lee

From left to right: Richard Whitters, Mike "Daarken" Lim, Steve Prescott, and some other art nerd.

1 comment:

  1. those human character drawings you post are delicious I must say


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