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Concepts in Art
Dragon's-Eye View
By Jon Schindehette

A while back, I did a short article that touched on the differences between illustration and concept art, but I continue to answer a lot of questions about this issue. I get it. So many of us look at art, as, well, art. To the casual observer, the differences in intent between specialized art forms aren't always apparent. Since I was just answering this question again this morning, I felt it would be fitting to kill a couple of birds with a single stone.

Last time, I mentioned that I had two concept art interns starting work on the team.


I gave them a day to get acquainted with the rest of the team, figure out how to get around the office, and play in the library for a bit. Then it was into the deep end of the pool with them! I told them to hit the library and learn everything they could about goblins. Everything, that is, from a lore and visual sense.

The next morning, I handed them some references for the approved direction goblins will be going in and a laundry list of assets that I wanted them to explore. I included things like the following:

Head studies—male and female, all ages, and showing racial variations
Role archetypes (6 of 'em)—male and female
Weapons and armor—with level, tribal, and material differences
Living arrangements—encampments, hunting camps, villages, and so on

Now, I'm not looking for finished assets. In fact, without this article, chances are good that this concept art would never see the public eye. You see, concept art is about "pre-production" rather than "production." We use concept art to get down ideas. We don't get married to them. We throw out a whole lot more than we keep. In fact, in the samples I'm showing, a lot of ideas will be abandoned immediately. Some ideas might be chased for a little bit and then cast off, and maybe one idea will survive long enough to make it into an IP Bible. Concept art can be a doodle, a sketch, a line drawing, a rough color piece, and even occasionally, a fleshed out piece.

Click image to enlarge

So why is this important?

In the world of the tabletop RPG (TRPG), your imagination is king. You can use my art, or you can dream up your own visuals. That is the joy of the theater of the mind, but when I'm working with video game developers, comic publishers, and a host of other licensed partners, I need to provide them with detailed and consistent art direction. This is where the IP Bible is crucial. It allows me to increase visual consistency and reduce development times. I know, that doesn't sound very sexy, but it is a vital part of my job.

It is this IP development that really helps us define all the nuances of the brand when it comes to entertainment products. Although the TRPG might not really care about what a gobbling diaper pin might look like, an entertainment partner might. Remember, it's the difference of the intent of the products—the TRPG gives you enough information so that you can dream up your vision of the world and all its details, and the entertainment properties need to know what those items look like so that they can stay true to my vision of the world.

Recently, I was having a conversation with a fan, and he asked why I was re-imagining the whole world. So we are clear here, I'm not re-imagining the whole world. Where information exists, I'm trying to use that information, document it, and dig in deeper where necessary. More importantly, though, where there is conflicting information, I'm working with the IP Dev team to find the info that most closely matches our vision for the world, and then I make sure we document that. Then there are all those spaces in the world where we have no information . . . or maybe only a few mentions throughout the years. Those are the spaces where we are trying to flesh out the world. Again, this is so that our entertainment partners can make products that actually tie into the existing world. Whether you choose to use the info in your campaign is up to you. Use it . . . lose it . . . you are the captain of your game.

I don't intend to show you every piece of concept art that we create as part of this process. That wouldn't be productive. By the time you see these images, we'll be well beyond this step. The concepting process moves far too fast, and it creates far too many assets to share them all. Not to mention, I suspect you'd get bored with me showing a lot of stuff that is going to hit the waste can all the time. Rather than doing that, I'll do a check in with the process every now and then, and share some of the notable stuff we've been working on.

Speaking of . . . here are a few more concept pieces that were created by Steve Prescott.

Click image to enlarge

Credits: Tara Fernon, Adam Williams, Steve Prescott

Jon Schindehette
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at theartorder.com.
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