BlizzCon 2008: The Art of WoW

By Garrett Fuller, Industry Relations
By Garrett Fuller, Industry Relations

One of the key game elements that Blizzard is known for is its artistic style. Warcraft art has always had a strong look and feel which brings players into the game. BlizzCon '08 gave fans a chance to sit down and hear from the art team that works on World of Warcraft as well as get a look at Lich King’s largest city Dalaran. Chris Robinson, Gary Platner, Wendy Velter, Jason Morris, Roman Kenney, and Slim Ghariani were all on hand to show players their jobs and also how much work goes into the artistic style that Blizzard creates.

The World of Warcraft Art Team consists of forty-five members. From concept art to digitally bringing their creations to life the team has a huge job. Many of the lead artists on the panel had their team members stand up and be cheered by the crowd. It was great to see so many people who work endless hours on making WoW’s art style.

Everything in WoW begins with the concept art - even those little birds and rats.

First we heard from the Environment team and watched how they plot out the new zones for Wrath of the Lich King. The map is always the starting point which eventually grows into the zones we explore. Once they have a general feel for how the zone looks they begin adding in terrain features to give it some life. When the team has this map in place they hand it over to the concept artists. The concept art team is the most important at Blizzard because everything you see on the screen is based on the concept art. When the artwork is done, then the programmers and graphics team begin laying out the tiles for the zone, these tiles make up sections of the zone that players explore. When all the tiles are in place the zone is open for the devs to explore and get a feel for what to put where, it’s hardly finished at this point. They go about placing trees, rocks, and other terrain features on the various tiles. Everything in the zone is hand painted and hand placed and then hand painted again to give the zone the best organic look artists can create.

Roman Kenny spoke about the character art that goes into Warcraft. Again everything is based off of the concept artwork. The character and monster art is decided upon and drawn up in sketches. Once there is a sketch the team likes they go forward with a full painting. These paintings come to life as the developers start building the wire frame which will support these creatures. Once the skeleton is built the team ads textures and adjusts the colors on the character. This finally gives a basic working model of every mob you see in game, as well as your own avatar. Every detail is worked on in depth. Kenney used the Death Knight armor as a good example of how the team works on the whole picture to make every piece of armor and movement feel realistic. They also mention that certain points on the armor are always enhanced, such as the glowing orbs on the shoulders or areas where skulls and other cool parts can be put in. The entire process goes from a pencil sketch to what you see on the screen.

One of the hardest areas to work on art is in the spell effects team. Slim Ghariani was on hand to show us just how much work goes into the spell effects that we see in WoW. Like all Blizzard games, the Warcraft team really wants players to feel their own impact on the environment. Slim gave us some examples of the Death Knight spells and how they come into play when building the deadly effects this character can have. With lots of dark power the Death Knight has a very specific look and feel in how it weaves spells. Working more with the game engine and ideas rather than concept art the spell team has to come up with what looks best on the screen. Spells have to hold a very clear effect in the game that is not just seen by one player. Slim took us through the steps of how they created the Blood Presence spell. Dripping blood of a skull that hangs over your head is quite a cool effect. It just shows you some of the effects that are coming in Lich King.

As always, the WoW team amazed and awed at the art panel.

Next up we heard from the prop team, who handles all the items you see in the game. Not just your item, every item in the game. Sounds crazy right, it is. The props team are responsible for simply coming up with things to put around the world. Not only do they make weapons and armor, but all of the knick-knacks you see in the cities, taverns, dungeons, and even outside are added in by the prop team. The amount of items is endless that these guys work on. Also if you ever wanted to know who does all the holiday items, thank the prop team. As the saying goes, nothing is done until the prop team adds in their items throughout the scene.

The last place we got to see is the city of Dalaran. The work that goes into building a WoW city is endless and players need to stop and look around once in a while to see just how much is on the screen. All of the teams come together when a city is built. But like with all Blizzard art everything begins with the concept work. Once an image for the city is found the team begins with the geometry that will make up the architecture. Seeing the entire city in its skeletal form is amazing, let alone once the textures are added. When the city is in place the teams begin filling it with items from the prop team. The task is huge and the whole art team works down to every detail. Dalaran is huge and has a very city like feel to it. Players will have a lot to explore.

Overall the art panel was fascinating. Learning the amount of work that Blizzard’s art team puts forth is amazing. Seeing the team work on pressure pallets to paint their digital images is just unbelievably cool. In the end we walked away with a new respect for the artwork that makes Warcraft so unique.  

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