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The Look of Return to Ravnica

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The letter W!ell over a year ago as of this writing, before any of you had even seen Innistrad, Magic creative was full speed on the turnpike back to Ravnica. The challenges were similar to those of revisiting Mirrodin, but with a couple of differences. The first being that Scars always had an eye on where that block was going... it was as much revisiting Phyrexia as it was a rebuild of Mirrodin. The second was that, while many people really liked Mirrodin, almost everyone freaking loved Ravnica. Don't get me wrong, we are used to being under pressure to produce the best possible creative against an intimidating schedule, but this felt different. The stakes were palpable.

Step One: Assemble the Team!

Richard Whitters, our dauntless Canadian, once again donned his mantle as Lead Concept Artist.


Aleksi Briclot returned to draw awesome things and validate the team's belief that Richard's grasp of the French language is, in fact, tenuous at best.


Pete Mohrbacher had been busy impressing me with his card illustrations so we invited him as an infusion of new blood into the style guide creation process.


Wayne Reynolds, Magic Veteran, agreed to come back in case we had to kill Pete for some reason.


Sam Burley is the name of another guy we know. I'll get to Sam later.


JJ. I helped too.


In preparation for the team's arrival, we printed out every single style guide page and card illustration from the original Ravnica block, taped them to the walls, and then proceeded to circle, mark, or take down the images based on what we thought worked, what perhaps needed a push, or what needed a full-on visual redirect.

I'm going to try to recap our mindset for each of the first five guilds resulting from that process, as it would determine our plan of attack.

Rakdos

What was working:

Carnage and mayhem were certainly coming through, as was a sense of cultish-ness. Danger, aggression,... and an appropriate relationship with fire.

What to push:

An aspect of "glee" and "performance." Rakdos needed to visually convey carnage AND "candy." Sadism, but with a curtain call. Any real sense of a visual vocabulary was missing from the cult. It needed a design sensibility, especially in the face of so many demons, devils, and cultists in the Innistrad block.

To find direction and inspiration we looked to the big top and Mardi Gras. Touches of "harlequin" here and there. We looked for various visual cues that implied "performance." For adding visual cohesion to the rabble and minions we drew cues from Rakdos himself... the chains, the compound sets of horns, etc.




Deviant Glee | Art by Michael C. Hayes

Rakdos Cackler | Art by Ryan Barger

Motif sheet:

One of the last things we did before compiling the style guide was a three-day concept binge to fill holes and solidify things between and across all ten guilds. It was just Richard and myself, holed up at his place, drawing twelve- to sixteen-hour days over a long weekend. This was months after we had the concept team in-house, and work had continued both internally by Richard and externally by artists working to polish things up (including Daarken and Vince Proce). There was still just too much to be done. This push needed to finalize four enormous things: final swaps and edits ("this guy no longer fits in Rakdos, but make those armor shapes out of chitin and put mold on him and we'll call him Golgari"... that sort of thing), fleshing out the revisited Gatecrash guilds to reasonable extent, "motif pages" for each of the ten guilds, and a defined look for the guildless citizenry of the plane.

While Richard was busy with drawings of things that would actually look good, the task of the motif pages fell to me and my trusty Copic markers. The idea was to distill down the key visual elements for each guild so artists would have a pinpoint reference for what makes something look like it belongs in its native guild.

Here is the Rakdos costuming motif page:


The real value of these pages is that it allows us to ask for things not represented in the style guide specifically, and have them still come in within the fairly specific look-feel.

Rakdos Ragemutt | Art by Ryan Barger

Architecture:

This is where Sam Burley came into play. Sam was part of the concept push because we needed an architecture specialist. Sam is a newer, very talented Magic artist, and while he can paint pretty much anything, it was his eye for landscape and architecture that originally drew my gaze his way. We not only wanted a visual identity for each guild, I wanted a corresponding look for its architecture. Sam's goals were the opposite of the motif page exercise; that were about "boiling down," whereas Sam's charge was to "extrapolate from."

The heart of Rakdos architecture became a juxtaposition of scale: locales filled with normal size guys and gals but with entrances, portcullises, or gates large enough to accommodate Rakdos himself, should he choose to invite himself to the next shindig. Enormous doors with human-sized steps.



Art by Richard Wright

Selesnya

What was working:

Selesnya already had strong design motifs from the first block. The humanoid races were well covered.

What to push:

Breadth. Broader applications for those design sensibilities, and we needed to solve for green's desire for big fatties.




Risen Sanctuary | Art by Chase Stone

Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage | Art by Jason Chan

Motif sheet:


Architecture:


Selesnya Guildgate | Art by Howard Lyon

Golgari

What was working:

A shamanistic take on green and black came through strongly in the first block, as well as a constant awareness of "life and death," visually.

What to push:

They needed serious broadening. We wanted them capable of pride and power, not just filth and darkness. We needed a better sense of the environment they inhabit and how they interact in it. And I wanted the "swarm" part of The Golgari Swarm to have more meaning and a visual basis. We broadened their face paint from the single skull mask into insectoid motifs and incorporated chitin into their armor. They now have a variety of insect mounts for traversing the undercity and Richard even designed an insectoid race that allies with them.



We pushed for that sense of majesty on a wider basis... what Brady referred to as a feeling of "Dark, Unseely Court." In the first block, Savra had this, but she was about the only instance.




Slime Molding | Art by Marco Nelor

Trestle Troll | Art by Peter Mohrbacher

Golgari Longlegs | Art by Volkan Baga

Motif sheet:


Architecture:

We wanted to push "sewers" into a more distinctive sense of "undercity." City is built on top of city, so the Golgari could still be represented in an urban, Ravnican environment of some sort. We webbed the buildings (back to the "swarm" visual connections) and relied on pipe holes, or busted ones, to imply "sewer" without needing to resort to covering everything in garbage and refuse.




Promotional Prerelease Corpsejack Menace | Art by Vincent Proce

Azorius

What was working:

Most of it. I felt like Azorius was good-to-strong in the first block.

What to push:

Broadening of the feeling of "job-iness." Reinforcing a police-like and legislative feeling to keep them away from Boros's increasingly militaristic look. Most of this was done by adding runes to nearly everything... their weapons, their armor, and their magic. But we also accomplished "bureaucrat-police" by one of my favorite visual additions to the setting... we gave them all "stiff necks."



Martial Law | Art by Tyler Jacobson

Righteous Authority | Art by Scott Chou

Motif sheet:


Architecture:

I wanted a sense of "library" combined with "DMV." A lot of multilevel walkways, stairs, doors, and nooks. Architecture that forces people to stand in and move in lines.

Everything looks a little inconvenient.



Art by Richard Wright

Izzet

What was working:

The costuming, the strong color-cues, the mix of metal and armor, and device and fabric.

What to push:

We wanted to move closer to magically powered devices and experiments and nudge away from steampunk, which a lot of original Izzet was really close to.

We also really wanted to broaden the Izzet members themselves. Izzet should no longer be only old white males.

Brainstorm | Art by Willian Murai

We actually had a bit of a head start with Izzet, as we already had Ral Zarek in the can, so to speak. When Eric Deschamps was creating Ral for the Duels of the Planeswalkers game, I gave him the exact same set of concerns to address. We wanted a more awesome, more geared-up, and more aged-down version of Izzet with more attitude and a junkier silhouette. During the concept push we simply continued to explore that territory.

Ral Zarek | Art by Eric Deschamps



Nivix Guildmage | Art by Scott M. Fischer

Mercurial Chemister | Art by Wesley Burt

Blustersquall | Art by Willian Murai

Motif sheet:


Architecture:

We pushed for "industrial science." Laboratory-meets-boiler room-meets-magical automotive plant.


Art by Richard Wright

Steam Vents | Art by Yeong-Hao Han

Revisiting the Guild Symbols

I knew early on that we would want to revisit the guild symbols. Some of them just needed a bit of polish (Simic) and some I knew I wanted to really overhaul (Gruul, Izzet). What I did not realize, however, is what a huge task that would be. Iconography in and of itself is very difficult to do well—especially when it needs to all be one big family, and yet individualized enough to get the respective ethos across—but in the end it needs to work as a "language" of icons. By the end of the redesign, five artists had worked on them and it nearly wrecked our schedules due to the underestimation of the amount of work required. It took Richard, Adam Lee, Matt Cavotta, Soe Murayama, and myself to get these things where we wanted them. We'll go ahead and talk about all ten since you've seen them all already.

Azorius


Azorius was close and the shape was good. I like the triangle's implication of a solid hierarchy, but I never liked the literal labyrinth in the center. Even though the Azorius are bureaucratic in nature, I do not believe they would self-identify this way... a maze would not be how they represented themselves on their business cards. We wanted to recreate the spirit and shape without the maze. Richard went about the task of using the law runes that we established on their armor and in their magic to serve the same visual purpose. Now I felt that the icon was on-message, would look good in the art, on the cards, and on a t-shirt. I was excited! Then I showed it to Cavotta. He asked if it would hold up in embroidery. I swear to god, he said that. "Embroidery." I peed a little and lost vision in my right eye for seven minutes. I'm fairly certain it was a mild rage-stroke. Anyways, the point being: that's the sort of scrutiny these things were under.

Izzet


The original was too hectic for my taste. I wanted something more refined and tightly executed. Although the Izzet are chaotic themselves to some degree, I do not think Niv-Mizzet would appreciate his personal seal reflecting this. Plus, I had license to push this one pretty far... the flavor text from the original Izzet Signet is "The Izzet signet is redesigned often, each time becoming closer to a vanity portrait of Niv-Mizzet," after all.

Rakdos


I felt the Rakdos Guild Symbol lacked the same touches the Rakdos guild itself lacked the first time around. After I floundered on the redesign myself, Richard swooped in for a win. Notice how the horn/knife structures are informed by the motif page.

Golgari


Again, I felt the original was too preachy on the guild's ethos. The "snake-recycling" element felt like it was saying "garbage man"... not how the Golgari would self-identify at all. We wanted a symbol that kept the general shape, but that "The Swarm" would rally around proudly.

Selesnya


Selesnya just needed some TLC and clean-up for aesthetic reasons. This was an Adam-Richard combo.

Orzhov


Didn't touch it. It was already perfect.

Gruul


Gruul was a beast! (Pun intended.) The original tree-fire/Cyclops-eye was just a casserole of look-bad. We wanted something more tribal... something that could be scratched and smeared on to surfaces as a territorial warning. I wiffed on this one. Badly. I tried twenty or thirty variations and none of them worked. This was another case of a Richard Whitters save.

Simic


This just needed to commit to the nouveau shapes that the original teased. You'll see why in a few months.

Dimir


Dimir just needed some clean up and a rebuild. The difference is subtle and purely aesthetic.

Boros


Lastly, Boros. It was a big departure but got nailed down quickly. I wanted something solid, like their architecture, that felt more like propaganda. Within minutes of me uttering that desire Adam had a version very close to this final design, which I am very happy with.

Art by Mike Sass

Guildless

What does it mean to have no guild affiliation on Ravnica? What would I wear? Which guild's sensibilities would my armor be derived from? Watch for a follow-up article or Arcana on that subject, as well as an article digging into the remaining five Ravnica guilds as we get closer to the release of Gatecrash.

Well people, with that I leave you one final thought:

Embroidery.

Credits

Concept Illustration
Richard Whitters (lead), Aleksi Briclot, Sam Burley, Peter Mohrbacher, Wayne Reynolds, Daarken, Vincent Proce, Jeremy Jarvis

Return to Ravnica World Design
Brady Dommermuth (lead), Doug Beyer, Jenna Helland, Adam Lee, Richard Whitters

Original Ravnica Concept Illustration
Todd Lockwood and Doug Alexander Gregory (leads), Tomas Giorello, Martina Pilcerova, and Dan Scott, with contributions from Rob Alexander, Glen Angus, Scott M. Fischer, Thomas Gianni, Greg Staples, Arnie Swekel, Joel Thomas, Pete Venters, Kev Walker, and Anthony S. Waters

Original Ravnica World Design
Brady Dommermuth and Jeremy Cranford, with contributions from Cory J. Herndon

Magic Senior Creative Designer
Brady Dommermuth

Magic Senior Art Director
Jeremy Jarvis

World Guide Graphic Design
Lisa Hanson

World Guide Layout
Richard Whitters and Lisa Hanson

Finished Illustrations
Rob Alexander, John Avon, Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai, Matt Cavotta, Carl Critchlow, Eric Deschamps, Scott M. Fischer, Donato Giancola, Jeremy Jarvis, Todd Lockwood, Stephan Martiniere, Christopher Moeller, Jim Murray, Terese Nielsen, Martina Pilcerova, Puddnhead, Adam Rex, Dan Scott, Charles Urbach, Kev Walker, Anthony S. Waters, Lars Grant West, and Richard Wright

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