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Vance Kovacs Location: US Web: www.vancekovacs.com Media: Photoshop Vance Kovacs is a typical modernday concept artist: he’s worked on feature films (Narnia) and video games (Unreal III) but continues to search for new ways to test his skills. He acknowledges his influences too: “I have a great respect for past artists, artists that I look to for inspiration – Arthur Rackham, NC Wyeth, Howard Pyle – that whole Golden Age of illustration, when the illustrators, as far as entertainment went, were the top guys,” he says. But that’s not to say there’s anything typical about his artwork, which is familiar enough to grab your attention but original enough to take you on new journeys in colour and composition. Vance has also worked on an array of card and tabletop games. He produced hundreds of character portraits for WizKids titles, including the sci-fi title Mechwarrior and Pirates of the Cursed Seas. He’s also done regular work for Wizards of the Coast and Magic: The Gathering over the years, and more recently he’s been doing World of Warcraft cards. “Magic cards are nice because I get to explore things visually. It’s not set in stone,” Vance explains. “They’re a little bit more open with the artists, whereas doing World of Warcraft, they want you to follow certain design guidelines. They have to fit in with the established Blizzard style, which makes sense. I think the game’s been a little bit successful…”
For this Magic: The Gathering card, Vance got to indulge his own fantasy – painting a dragon.
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Magic: The Gathering ÂŠ Wizards Of The Coast
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Art: Laurel D. Austin
The Art of
Laurel D. Austin N
We catch up with the Canadian-born concept artist and illustrator who’s putting the buzz into Blizzard Entertainment’s illustrious gaming output
StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void
Laurel’s eye-catching poster art for the StarCraft expansion pack Legacy of the Void, which was released at the end of 2015.
Green parrot Dragon
An example of Laurel’s skilful blending of animal attributes and anatomies for which she’s famous.
Game art is a lot less restrictive than other areas. There’s more room to play around and do fun things
ow senior illustrator at Blizzard Entertainment, Laurel D. Austin muses: “I was, perhaps like some of the readers out there, the weird arty kid in my class.” Weird or otherwise, her dynamic, energetic style has served her well, winning her commissions working on big-name trading card series and numerous blockbuster games titles. It has seen her grow from small-town Canadian bedroom artist to becoming one of the leading concept illustrators in the video games industry. “I was definitely an arty kid,” says Lauren. “To the exclusion of a lot else, I think! I was lucky that my parents were very encouraging. I loved drawing, and they always made sure I had reams of paper and buckets of crayons, pencils and markers at my disposal. I was interested in a few subjects from an early age – animals of all sorts, especially dinosaurs, mythical creatures and the worlds they lived in. My parents told me they knew I’d be either an artist or a scientist.” Science’s loss is the concept art world’s gain, though, and after a multidisciplinary art course at NSCAD University in Nova Scotia, Canada, Lauren embarked upon a career in the games industry with the London-based Splash Damage (creators of Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Dirty Bomb and more). Lauren was eventually let loose on the studio’s first original title, BRINK. Under the stewardship of art director Olivier Leonardi, she flourished: “It was a small team, but full of great talent,” she recalls. “I learned a lot from artists like Georgi Simeonov and Tim Appleby. I was incredibly
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Learning from the best “Seeing what pro artists were posting online, what careers were possible and what working to a professional standard meant, gave me a clear target to hit and showed me the resources I needed.”
Lords of War: Durotan
“The most enjoyable episode for me to work on...” she says. “I love me some wolves.” And she adds: “I can’t help but feel more connected to Durotan as a character after drawing him so much. Funny how that happens, really.”
Sigvard The Victorious A character concept Laurel created for the online Game Artist Academy.
Lords of War: Grommarsh
One of Laurel’s concept animation pieces of Grommarsh Hellscream, the legendary World of Warcraft character.
The Hearthstone, Heroes of Warcraft expansion is one of Laurel’s favourite games and features many of her character creations.
lucky to have my first few years in the industry at such a unique studio.”
More than a game Video game art seems like a calling to Laurel, and her passion for the broad imagination and creativity required to create whole worlds of believable characters and environments is evident when she talks about the nature of the work. This isn’t an artist who’s simply treading water. Gaming development and art is her lifeblood, it seems. “Since video games are such a young medium, the art surrounding them seems a lot less restrictive than other areas of entertainment,” Laurel explains. “There’s just more room to play around and do things that are fun. “The way I look at it, the art for video games does three basic jobs. The art is certainly not the only aspect that can tell the game’s story, but it’s the medium that does the lion’s share of the job of communicating mood and background to the players. In games like Portal and BioShock, you actually get tableaus in
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the environments that describe events in the game – words scrawled on walls, and bloody trails leading to locked doors, for example – fleshing out the story and hinting that things may not be what they seem. The best examples of this are when the writers and artists work together to make truly engaging stories. Separately, it never works as well. “The second aspect is in enabling the gameplay. Art can have a real impact on how fun a game is to play. It’s frustrating when icons aren’t large or clear enough, or important objects blend into the environment too much, or you just can’t tell where to go next because there’s no environmental cues to guide you along. Like the story, this is achieved best when designers and artists are working very closely together to get the best results.”
The artist’s job “Finally, art sells the game. The first moment anybody sees any media about a game, the thing we’re most likely to respond to is the art style. If we like the art style, we’re more likely to investigate
Laurel D. Austin
Vital statistics The one-stop-shop for info on Laurel
Current location Southern California
Sketchbook or canvas? Sketchbook
Favourite artists Too many to count! Some particularly important influences are: James Gurney – Dinotopia was a revelation to me as a kid. Ilya Repin – there’s just so much feeling in every story. Sebastian Krüger – nobody paints a better craggy face.
Favourite food Candy. But as for real food… I’m spoiled by the great vegetarian food in southern California. Irrational fear Reanimated terror birds Best holiday destination Anywhere with a good natural history museum and good local food.
Favourite music Do podcasts count as music?
Cake or pie What kind of monster would make someone choose?!
Brush or pencils? Pencils
Jason Chan produced this image for the Gatecrash expansion pack released in 2013. With its landscape size, itâ€™s also been used in posters.
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Magic: The Gathering
The first 20 years
In 1993 a new collectible card game was released. No one knew it then, but it would entice generations into a complex fantasy world and inspire the greatest fantasy artists working today…
All images © Wizards of the Coast LLC
rad Rigney is carefully describing what makes Magic: The Gathering unique. As a life-long fan and player of the collectible card game (CCG), not to mention a phenomenally talented and widely admired digital artist, his passion is palpable. “Magic fans spend a lot of time with the cards in their hands – they get attached to them, they have memories associated with each card in their deck,” Brad says. “They may hate what a card does and dread seeing it played on the battlefield, or love a card and relish the experience of slapping it down and saying ‘Eat it!’ to their opponent.” Mirroring the company’s history, the game’s simple concept – players taking the role of Planeswalkers, moving through the Multiverse, battling other Planeswalkers with cards – becomes as multifaceted as the people that play it. There are thousands of cards to choose from, all with various powers and meaning, so your deck is unique. The game can be played with two people or 2,693, as in 2013’s Pro Tour. “You get a lot of laughs and thrills in Magic games. Cards get flipped over and
the rush of victory or sting of defeat follows,” says Brad, “and it can be your art that immediately broadcasts that. Players see the art and know what the card does.”
A colourful past It’s been over 20 years, and Magic: The Gathering is still the most popular CCG. It’s morphed and shifted, expanded, embraced digital art, developed huge multi-tiered tournaments, and changed scoring systems. There’s also one other thing that makes it stand out. “Magic was the first CCG to be released and it’s never given up the advantages that head start gave it,” says Peter Venters, an art director who’s been involved with Magic since the beginning. “CCGs survive through a thriving player base. If people can’t find anyone to play a game with, they stop buying the cards and the game dies.” A strong tournament scene has been Magic’s life source, keeping the fans engaged. It also helps, says Pete, that the people behind the scenes know what they’re doing. “One of the secrets to releasing a CCG is that by the time you have a set released, the next set better be on the way to the printers
Cards get flipped over and the rush of victory or sting of defeat follows, and it can be your art that broadcasts that
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Created for the Devacurse trading card game. â€œShe comes from a myth in Thailand. Her duty is to take care of all plants.â€?
Art: Sinad Jaruartjanapat
the Art of
Sinad Jaruartjanapat The Thailand-based illustrator’s bright and colourful work is an extension of the artist himself – there’s no room for gloominess in his beautiful pieces
inad Jaruartjanapat is wellknown for his colourful, loosely anime-inspired style of high fantasy. “I like to create work in this style because I feel comfortable doing it, and it’s very much how I imagine it in my head,” says Sinad. “But as we all know, the future is not certain… Who knows, we might see my work become darker!”
Ultimate Fighting System editions) and numerous Thai-based games. The moody, gothic pieces of many European concept artists are not for Sinad. Nor is the typically tortured metal-inspired look that’s a favourite of many a young US illustrator. His images exude enthusiasm and energy, and it’s no surprise to find that this is a reflection of the artist himself. “My main inspirations are the feelings of joy I get from each job, and the challenge
The part I enjoy most is really putting my all into a job. I want everyone who looks at my work to feel good For some time now, Thai illustrator Sinad has quietly been building up his portfolio of fabulously detailed and graceful pieces – both personal works and card game art. Resolutely upbeat, his images often feature beautiful women with elven faces – although if he needs to paint a burly man with a big weapon, he can do. The girls in particular have been a big hit on CGSociety, but you’ve probably encountered his work elsewhere: his art features in books such as Digital Painting 2, and he is also an active member of the prestigious Imaginary Friends Studio network. Meanwhile, his card art has featured in series by Tenacious Games and Sabertooth Games (particularly the
behind it,” he says. “The part I enjoy most is really putting my all into a job. I want everyone who looks at my work to feel good and enjoy it… That’s what I intend for every piece.”
Creating a world That’s not a particularly fashionable ideal, at least not in Western markets, but Sinad doesn’t seem to care about any concept of being “cool.” As a child, he discovered he enjoyed creating characters and props in particular: “When I designed those, it made me feel like I could create my own little world,” he says. And like many artistic kids, he was later delighted to discover that he could actually do this for a living.
Created for the book d’artiste Digital Painting 2, which was released by Ballistic Publishing in 2008 and features a wealth of artists.
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In Depth Define textures using acrylics
Adapting a fantasy art classic Tired of the same old approaches to fantasy icons, Kev Crossley breaks out the acrylics to put a fresh and inspired spin on painting a unicorn his is an interesting brief, as it brings together two subjects with very specific fan bases that you might not expect would cross over. When you think of unicorns you’ll no doubt think of a beautiful white stallion with a noble gait and a sparkling golden horn jutting proudly from the forehead. The clichés attached to these mythical creatures are often a bit kitsch or even twee, with soft colour schemes to match. Zombies on the other hand couldn’t be more different: mindless, rotting, putrescent – every new film or TV show seeks to present ever more disgusting make-up and special FX to make their zombies as grim as possible, and zombies have never been more popular than they are right now. So, let’s combine the two, to paint a zombie unicorn… The strong aesthetics attached to each subject are tough to ignore, but I decide right away that I want to do something a little different from what might be expected. To this end I look to the heavy working dray horses of yesteryear as a starting point for my unicorn. These beasts are thick-set and heavily muscled with a sturdy frame as would befit an animal bred for heavy hauling and hard work. Their physique also resembles some of the horses that feature in the classic fantasy paintings of people like Frank Frazetta, and having some stylistic resonance with such great art is a welcome bonus!
Also, rather than going for an action shot, I opt to create a static image, somewhat akin to the old engravings or illustrations of prize animals. I want the unicorn to be the core of the image, and excessive movement or suggestion of narrative would detract from this. A unicorn needs a horn, of course, but there will be no pretty, corkscrew spike for my version. Instead I plan to bestow it with a gruesome, heavily deformed weapon, bristling with spines and scales. I want the horn to look like it’s been used to monstrous effect. When I produce a piece of fantasy art, I try to create something that catches the eye and encourages the viewer to linger a while. To this end I utilise beauty, composition tricks and horror. This painting will rely heavily on the last of these, so I might have loops of innards hanging from the animal. The addition of a few weapons driven into the spinal area will serve an aesthetic purpose too: arranged in a spoke formation they will serve to draw the eye into the focal centre of the image. Now, turn the page and we’ll begin painting! Kev created comic art for 2000 AD and others before writing numerous art books. In 2012 he illustrated Ian Livingstone’s 30th Anniversary Fighting Fantasy title, Blood Of The Zombies, shortly before his second book was published by Ilex: 101 Top Tops From Professional Fantasy Painters. www.kevcrossley.com
Materials Paints Winsor & Newton Galeria Range: Phthalo Green, Sap Green, Pale Olive, Cadmium Yellow Medium Hue, Pale Lemon, Naples Yellow, Crimson,
Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Ivory Black, Mixing White, Acrylic Glazing Medium DalerRowney
Cryla Range: Rich Transparent Red Oxide, Phthalo Turquoise, Vandyke Brown Hue, Prussian Blue Hue, Titanium White
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Using Penci ls
A 2H is usefu l for fine lines. The HB is great for strengthenin g 2H lines. 2B to 6B are soft, dark grades used for filling in areas.
Pencil: finishing touches
I use an orange Col-Erase pencil to draw a rough outline for the unicorn, before using an HB pencil to add detail such as protruding ribs, a skeletal aspect and a broad head that is in part inspired by a pit bull terrier.
I continue refining the posture and exaggerated muscles, using a 2H pencil with the orange to boost the shading and add a sharper edge to some lines. I use an electric eraser as a sculptural tool to carve away areas of pencil with precision.
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The canvas board I use is about 1.5 times larger than the sketch, so for scaling up I use a blue Col-Erase pencil to draw an inch square grid over my sketch, and an orange pencil to draw a 1.5-inch square grid onto the canvas.
3D texture sets traditional work apart from digital. “Mixing White” acrylic paint is blobbed around the edges of the art board. A small piece of card is pressed onto the paint, and leaves cool veins and ridges when lifted away.
Keep acrylics wet Use a spray-nozzle bottle of water as needed to keep the acrylic wet on your mixing board.
Using the grid
Tone painting: wash
I use an orange ColErase pencil and an HB pencil to sketch the unicorn onto the canvas art-board, with the grid making it easy to keep the proportions correct. A Prismacolor Jet Black pencil helps enhance the darker tones and add dimensionality to the block shadows.
A tone painting is a greyscale under-painting, which picks out the shadows and light areas. I use Ivory Black acrylic paint mixed into plenty of water to build the shadows up and develop the details. Repeated washes build the tones.
In Depth Compose a game card
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Setting up for painting
I tint the initial sketch so I’m working in a colour space that’ll be close to the final painting. I make corrections to the image that the art director asked for, such as having the bow and arrows come at the viewer more, to place arrows in a quiver behind the figure and add the armour to the legs and shoulders.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Photoshop custom brushes: Loose rough brush
I use this brush to block in most things and to give realistic “brush dragging on canvas” effects, seen in the art of some traditional painters.
Decide on the colours
Here I paint out the old arm and bow and sketch in ones that point more at the viewer. I also change the head position to match the new direction of the bow. I’m painting some of the armour, testing and balancing the local colours of the warm purple and white gold armour, as well as the hair. I keep fine-tuning these colours in a few small spots like this until they look like they’re all lit with the same colour and intensity of light. In this case the light is a cool lavender-blue. I choose this colour so her skin, the light itself and the environment are all in harmony. Contrary to popular belief, shadows aren’t always cooler than the light side – especially when the light itself is cool. This is best seen in this painting on the purples in her armour where the cool light is desaturating the purple in the light side, making it greyer.
This is my workhorse brush, used for painting detail all the way up to atmosphere. It has a touch of texture in it that keeps the strokes looking natural. Streaked brush
I use this brush alongside the others, usually to give a nice brush stroke feel. It’s also great for anything made of fibres, such as hair or grass.
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Focus on the final composition
Always keep an eye on your whole painting as you work – never let yourself get too lost on one section or detail. The ability to zoom in and out makes it easy to step back quickly. But it’s also a trap, because you can zoom in and get lost in a single rivet on your character’s armour for an hour.
It’s important to always keep the whole painting in mind, and what you’re trying to achieve with it. To this end, I go back and make some changes to the composition to work with the new figure pose better, adjusting the overall lighting and focal point to be closer to what the final will be. I also change the cloak to be a bit more energetic and more complementary to the curves of Sylvanas’ figure. I sometimes spend half my time on an illustration just getting these little rough things right, so that when I put my foot on the gas and start making things look real, everything is in the right place, in the right colour and is drawn correctly.
Starting to bring things together
Here I further fine-tune the values in the background so the figure and arrows (not in place yet) will be the two things that stand out most. I also begin to tint the previously monochromatic legs with the colours that her armour will be in the end. I always try to jump around catching things that aren’t matching the level of finish that other parts have. This ensures that I have a pretty good idea of where the painting is going as a whole, and I can make composition changes if I see things drifting off the rails. If I were to focus on just painting the legs, for example, finishing them first, I might find they are totally the wrong colour, or the shape isn’t pleasing compared to the ones I paint later. It would be frustrating and a waste of time. Working up the image as a whole avoids these costly mistakes.
Final colours and shapes
I work up most of the figure, and her arrows, into what I consider a mid-stage block-in. All the local colours, like the purple armour, the maroon cape and hat, black leggings and bluish skin, are finally right. I add highlights and begin to render some parts more finely, like the metal on her top. I block in her face as well, using the colours that work well in her belly area. This is one of the rare times I use layers (other than to separate the figure and background). I find many more layers just slow me down. I might paint, say, a weapon on a separate layer, so I can focus on that. But after I’m done with that element I’ll almost always merge the weapon onto the layer the figure occupies.
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