BlizzCon 2015 - Art Designer Interview with Chris Robinson
Wowhead had the opportunity today to interview Senior Art DIrector Chris Robinson about the Art coming with the Legion expansion.
See below for our summary of the interview, covering artifact weapons, demon hunter designs, melee animations and more!
Video will be coming soon!
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What were the inspirations for the new zones and how do you keep them unique and yet cohesive?
We definitely use the natural world, as well as concept artist imaginations. We were looking at Greek isles and other natural environments that inspire us. Although sometimes we do run out of real world stuff to look at and that's where the imagination comes in and we focus on color and form. Sometimes we start with one single tree! A tree can reflect the personality of an environment and that develops the overall picture - we add some assets and add some color, etc. There is not always a set way of doing it, it's a balance of real world factors and imagination.
Were any zones particularly challenging or fun?
They were all challenging, not in a negative way - that's where the creative comes from! Hitting things right off the bat is boring, and generally leads to one dimensionality - we want it multi dimensional.
Broken Isle is all torn up, but originally, we thought the Broken Shore would be very coral and reflect other things from the bottom of the sea floor. But then we looked at it and we thought it was too serene and nice for a demon invasion! So we said let's look at what's not working here, how do we convey the message in a stronger way. That led to us playing through it and getting a feel for the zone, which led to us to wanting to re-concept the area: What happens when demons come and destroy everything? So we came to a new concept, which was the tone we wanted. Then we honed in on the core stuff, removed the extraneous stuff like coral, and focused fully on the demon theme. It's not my most favorite zone, but it was a challenging zone.
Sometimes in zones or areas, you need a moment to breathe, so we often will introduce a contrary environment afterwards.
What about factors to ensure class hall embodied the feel of each class?
Those were fun because it's an opportunity for us to focus on what classes are all about. Anytime we can do that, it helps people identify with their class. Interestingly enough, there's a lot of overlap with artifacts and class halls--made sure visual elements with artifacts were referenced during class hall creation. We drew from armor sets from the past, class-specific props, abilities, and then we boiled it down to the core elements: what stories of a class have we told before? We key in on those things and blew it up to the hall level.
Can you tell us about Artifact design? Style, variations, colors?
Similar to Order Halls, we wanted to hit the tone for the class and spec. A few were easy because they were established, but the new ones were more difficult since they weren't established. We had to come up with something that felt lore-comparable and helped answer the questions: what is the core class fantasy? What weapon feels like what you want your character to feel like? I play a rogue, so I used a lot of personal experience to get the feeling of what a rogue would want to pick up in their hand to use. Then with spec differentiation in the weapons we went on with further honing into that class fantasy.
What was it like to create a weapon from scratch when there's some well-known artifacts like Doomhammer and Ashbringer?
We start with a base artifact level, i.e. Ashbringer - this is what the player expectation is for an epic level artifact weapon. Using that as a reference, all weapons should feel comparable next to each other. The problem with that is there is no established lore for the new ones, which makes them harder to identify with. So the new weapons had to look above and beyond to feel equal to Ashbringer. The base visual levels for the new weapons were a bit more complicated than the established weapons to make them feel equally epic.
Another difficulty was Shaman. Doomhammer was difficult because it didn't feel right seeing two Doomhammers (as dual wield). A solution was to make one a magical magma version to avoid breaking fantasy and make it seem like we're just giving Doomhammers away.
How did you decide on the customization options for the Demon Hunter?
We looked at the Death Knight as a base, that's the bare minimum for epic customization. Then we wanted to add around 30% 'epicness', aka Death Knights plus.
So, where is the customization and where is the fantasy behind Demon Hunters? You basically get to play Illidan. There's also something that resonates about the elf culture tied to Demon Hunters. Built off Illidan to make Demon Hunters more aesthetically enticing for depth, and to also make sure Demon Hunters don't all look alike.
There's so many cool aspects to them--the blinding process, and tattoos that form after they go through that process. These are things players have always been asking for. We looked at existing Demon Hunter iconography and expanded on that asking ourselves, how can we make interesting versions for every player? How can an eye covering be more than just a wrap?
Yes we are very fired up about gliding!
One of the designers was just like "let's just throw those wings in there, make it default." The glide ability didn't have it at first but we love it! Really reinforces the fantasy.
Any changes coming to melee animations? Gamescom trailer hinted at flashy melee animations.
Still in progress, still working on it for quite some time now. Goal is combat feels familiar to what you have now, but poppier, more snap! Meant to make you feel more locked in combat, not just swinging your swords and doing some damage.
Still tying that all together - small things with animation and design made a huge impact we didn't think about. Previously damage above your head appeared mathematically, but timing the numbers to when you make hits is a visceral feeling. Seeing small damage when things actually happen feels more effective than seeing big damage numbers more randomly.
Any new spell effects or animations?
We now have 3 effects artists full-time, more than before. Most classes are getting little tweaks to make combat feel more engaging i.e. colours of spells to coincide with class core fantasy. Did a pass on class-specific things that affect your animations.
How do you determine which NPCs get updated i.e. like Genn Greymane?
The number one thing is how much we're interacting with them, so it evolves organically - we see Genn quite a bit!
So then we decided: let's make him better. We want storied heroes to look as cool as the new player models, so that lead to a revamp. We either use dressed NPCs, which is similar to a player character model we dress up, using armor existing in the game. If we have existing imagery, we try to match them. Or we have custom models like Maiev, who doesn't use any technology like player models. Then we have to decide if they maintain same armor or blow it out with custom system. We look at visual cues to sell the character and identify areas we can go crazy with.
We saw the Sylvanas model update - anyone else getting updates?
Sylvanas and Varian, for sure: this was an awesome opportunity to take those characters to places we'd never seen.
Varian for me was less about making him more epic and more about using visual cues with armor and dressing to tell a story of what's going on with him. In beginning sequence, it's all about the struggle he's going through during the battle, he's changing as a character and person. This is about the subtlety in his character and getting a sense of who he is as a character--not bigger shoulderpads and weapons. Character depth is important, so we took away armor from him and repainted other parts.
The prerender was different from the version in the in-game cinematic. The cinematic team takes the in-game model, spruces it up with animations, and there may be tweaks for close-ups. For Varian, they repainted scar going across nose, and then we took that and put it back in the game. Interesting to see how details like that develops organically.
Long answer, but Varian is really growing up.
Any player character model updates planned?
Nothing is set but there are plans and then there is reality. Yes there are plans, there are plans for everything, we have a big list! Right now we're focusing on making Demon Hunters epic.
We know classes are going to feel unique with artifacts - how well have you accomplished this? Making each spec feel unique visually.
We are trying to make this a balance and it will always develop along with characters - artifacts being there early on took us into a more streamlined weapon design process. There are usually 550-750+ weapons, this time 240....so we had more time to make them more epic.
As we worked on armor sets, we used visual decisions from artifacts to layer them on top of armor sets. There are not spec-specific armor sets but we looked at all the artifacts from one class to utilize visual elements on armor. Provides a more cohesive vision.
Any themes to dungeon sets/questing sets?
No generic sets! We are focusing less on the world, it's more about class concepts even in quest rewards and dungeon items. There's also some other sets themed around the new cultures.
The Demon Hunter is always in process and it feels really good to see everything come together. There were different people working on different things so seeing it all together looks so incredible to see the holistic vision.
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