Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 have always been known for having amazing art, and one of the best art teams in the industry, if not the best. Personally, I’m leaning towards the side of the “best team in the industry”, and I know I’m not the only one that thinks so. The team and its members have won numerous accolades – just last week it was announced that Daniel Dociu, ArenaNet’s art director, won the Grand Master Award from Expose 9. This is no small feat – just look at the previous winners, artists like H. R. Giger and Ralph McQuarrie. Kekai Kotaki also won a Master Award for Game Art, so there’s certainly no lack of ANet representation.
Clearly, ArenaNet’s art department is full of very talented, skilled individuals. But what does that mean for us? Well, on top of having games that simply look gorgeous and have amazing concept art…there’s a lot that us artistically-inclined fans can learn as well, by studying the concept art released and how the team works!
The first thing you should do is download the GW2 Asset Kit, that ANet was so kind as to share with everyone. Don’t do what I did and download only the HD one – make sure to get both! The HD kit has lovely, high-quality PSDs of a few pieces of art, but the real treasure trove is the regular one. Unzip them, take a look, and drool over the prettiness for a few minutes. You know you want to. I sure did for a while.
But the real jackpot is when you realize how large some of these files are. We’re talking huge – you can zoom in to 100% and see each individual brush stroke. And that, my fellow artists and art appreciators, is awesome. That one little fact can give so much insight on how they work. And so I’ve assembled some tips, based on studying these pieces of art!
Work large and loose. If you take a look at a lot of the concept artwork, it’s noticeable that a lot of the detail is created by zooming out/sizing the images down. If you zoom in all the way, you’ll notice that it’s a lot of large brushstrokes, loose painting, and really not a huge amount of actual detail. This particular concept art, showing Divinity’s Reach (it’s the one titled Divinitys_Reach_1.jpg in the asset kit) displays this very well.
It’s actually a very useful way to work in general – my boyfriend studied game art and said that he was taught to work this way for painting textures – start out huge, don’t use a lot of detail, and then shrink it down and go back and add a bit more in. It creates a unique look, one that seems to be very detailed but really isn’t, and also means that you’re not as likely to get burned out on painting while still halfway done because you’ve been going nuts trying to get the little details right. It also allows you to make changes more easily as you have less work to redo if you change your mind.
Don’t be afraid to start over if it’s not working out. As I’ve touched on in a previous post, ArenaNet uses an iterative working process while creating their games. If something doesn’t look right, they redo it until it does look right. Now, I know this is something that a lot of artists are loathe to do; art is rather time-consuming, and it can be kind of upsetting if you’re working on something and you just can’t get it to look right. I know this certainly bothers me quite often.
But if you simply can’t get it looking how you want, or looking good, or whatever…don’t be afraid to scrap it. Maybe something with the initial sketch was off. Maybe it’s something that is out of your reach right now – while it’s always good to push yourself to try new things, don’t feel bad if you hit a wall. Maybe it’s what you’d like to do right now, but your artistic muse has other ideas. So, don’t be afraid to just scrap it! Try starting over. Redo your sketch. Try it from a different angle, maybe. Or just set it aside and work on something else for a while. It’s okay. Everyone has this issue. I can’t even count how many scrapped pieces of art I wind up for each painting or manipulation that I finish and am happy with. I’m not saying to give up – the opposite in fact! Just keep to working at it, and restart if you feel you need to.
Work outside of the box! If you have an idea and it seems weird or random…just go for it. Who’s to judge what you’re working on? Some of the coolest things can come from a spur of the moment idea, or something unexpected. For example, in Guild Wars 2, the kodan race came from two different concept arts (an armored bear and a building/monastery built into an iceberg) that the developers, upon seeing, decided were so awesome that they had to work them into the game somehow. And hence, everyone’s favorite 10 feet tall spiritual armored polar bears were born.
This doesn’t mean that, if you have something in specific you have to create, that you should completely ignore that and do whatever you want. But if you’re just drawing for fun, or are just given very loose instructions, don’t be afraid to follow a whim. You may be very pleasantly surprised at the results.
There’s so much other stuff that we could potentially learn from ANet’s artists – I know I’d love nothing more than to see a livestream of how Daniel or Kekai work. That would be amazing! And I’m sure there’s plenty more that I could have written about here. But I think these are the three biggest tips that can be pulled from simply looking at the end results, and are things that can help all artists.
Also, don’t forget the fact that the GW communities have a large number of fans that are artists! There are active art forums on both Guild Wars Guru forums – Nolani Academy on GWG, and Library of Whispers on GW2G. You can see some really amazing art by poking around those forums, of a large variety of styles. So come and join in and don’t be afraid!