A peek behind the scenes!
Greetings, Dragon Lords!
A while back, Dragons Art Manager PGKharnyx joined Crisis for a weekly livestream to show off a behind-the-scenes look at how we make the many War Dragons that are available in-game. We broke it down step by step, from concept to completion. Now, we’re bringing this streaming presentation to the blog for a detailed breakdown of the development process.
You can also watch the archived stream of this presentation on the War Dragons Twitch channel right here!
From theming to final implementation, it can take anywhere from 3 - 5 weeks to make a single Dragon. Of course, we’re working on multiple Dragons at once by spreading the work across the many Artists on the team, otherwise we’d only be able to make about 12 Dragons a year! So how do we make Dragons? Let’s break it down!
Step 0: It Takes an Army
The many visually stunning Dragons in-game can’t exist without the dedicated work of the Dragons Art Team. There’s tons of people who work on any given Dragon, and here’s a list to name a few:
Designers (like PGLawson and more!)
Art Manager ( the one and only PGKharnyx)
Concept Artists (1 - 2 per Tier / Collection)
3D Artists (2 - 3 per Tier / Collection)
Animators (like FineSpline)
Marketing and UI Artists
Community Reps! (Crisis + Arelyna)
Step 1: Theme
The mood board for the Duskfall 2018 Season.
All Dragons from Seasons and Tiers start with an internal brainstorm. During this brainstorm meeting, Dragons Designers and Artists get together to discuss possible themes for an upcoming collection. For example, the Duskfall 2018 theme was “Masquerade.”
After a theme is decided, the primary Concept Artist compiles references and inspiration for the Season or Tier. This reference graphic is called a mood board, and is commonly used for concepting the general vibe and motif of the collection. Duskfall 2018’s mood board can be see above!
Step 2: Thumbnail Sketches
Thumbnail sketches for the Duskfall 2018 Season.
Here’s where the beginnings of a collection start to come together! After the brainstorm, the Art Manager works with the Design team to decide on Dragon names, lore, and Class + Element combos (such as Dark Hunter, Fire Sorcerer, etc). Once the mood board is created, the Concept Artist will begin sketching ideas of Dragons for the theme; these rough drawings are called “thumbnails.” The first thumbnail sketches for Duskfall can be seen above.
Step 3: Refining the Look
The first rough sketches for Aristrat of the Duskfall 2018 Season.
After these thumbnails have been created, the Concept Artist will explore the look of each Dragon with the help of the Art Director. They’ll pick which sketches to refine based on the following premises:
Which sketches are most visually appealing.
Which sketches best match the Dragon’s required Class + Element combo.
Sometimes, multiple sketches will be combined into a single Dragon, as can be seen above with the second revision of Aristrat.
Step 4: Production Sketch
The Production Sketch for Aristrat of the Duskfall 2018 Season.
Here’s where the Dragon really starts to take shape! Thumbnails are just rough gestures of potential Dragons while playing around with the collection’s theme - now it’s time to decide on the details of each individual Dragon.
Once the Concept Artist and Art Director are satisfied with the direction for a given Dragon, it’s time for the Final Concept!
Step 5: Final Concept
The Final Concept for Aristrat of the Duskfall 2018 Season.
The Final Concept is the complete, finalized version of the Dragon concept that will then be used as the official reference for all steps that follow after it. Without the Final Concept, a lot of important details can be lost, and the process can be faulty. The Final Concept is considered the crux of the process, as the steps prior are leading up to its creation, and the steps after will base everything from it.
Step 6: Orthographic Projection
An Orthographic Projection of Aristrat.
The Orthographic Projection is the last step in the process before 3D development. While the Final Concept looks great, it doesn’t provide all the information that a 3D Artist will need to model the Dragon. To make sure the Dragon looks as intended from all angles, we make an “Orthographic Projection”, which is a simple line art that shows the Dragon in a neutral pose from other views. From here, the 3D Artist can begin the next step!
Step 7: 3D Modeling and Texturing
The first 3D model renderings of Aristrat.
This part of the pipeline is a multi-step process, and there’s lots to do! First and foremost, the 3D Artist will create a high resolution sculpt - just like sculpting a clay statue in a digital form! The rendered sculpt will be very dense and detailed, capturing the entire essence of the Dragon to shine in-game.
After this, the 3D rendered sculpt is then ‘painted’, and a flat color is added. The first color pass on the Dragon looks matte and one-dimensional, but is essential to provide the base of the Dragon’s full effect.
Finally, additional textures are added across all parts of the model and are rendered to the game’s resolution, which is typically a simpler version of the official sculpt. The textures add the finishing touches to the Dragon that can be seen as the many shadows and effects that appear in-game.
Step 8: Rigging and Animation
A behind-the-scenes look at the rig of Aristrat.
Rigging and animation are two distinctly separate processes that are intertwined in the creative process. Dragons (and all 3D characters you see in media) need what’s called a “rig” in order to move and be animated. The rigging process is like adding a skeleton inside the 3D model! When you move a rig ‘bone’, the ‘skin’ surrounding the bone moves with it. This is an essential step prior to beginning animations so the Dragon twists, turns, and flies naturally.
After the rig is added, the Dragon can have the usual animations applied to it - Dragon’s Den idle animations, flying animations, and any others that may be custom to the Dragon. Posing a rigged Dragon is sort of like posing an action figure - Animators will find various poses to stage the Dragon as, then seamlessly animate the movement from pose to pose, which slowly becomes the overall movement of the Dragon in-game. For special Dragons (like Pathox), we also make custom animations!
Step 9: Visual Effects (VFX)
Examples of Aristrat's specific Den VFX.
We’ve reached the finishing touches! Now that the Dragon is ready to be added into the game, the final details to finish are the VFX (visual effects). These are extra visual flourishes to add that last bit of glamour to the Dragons, such as toxic gas, blossoming petals, beams of sunlight, or cascading snowflakes.
From the concept, we saw that the vision for Aristrat was for them to have glowing eyes and super-heated claws. Our VFX Artist added a subtle blue glow around the eye sockets, and scintillating heat and sparks when they Dragon scratches the ground.
Step 10: Spells and Breath
Examples of VFX designed for Aristrat's spells.
While the Art team is creating the 3D art, animations, and VFX, the Design team is creating the ideas for the Dragon’s spells. Playing off of the visual queues of Aristrat’s concept (as a noble Dragon of shadow and fire), our VFX Artist creates a fitting breath weapon. The breath then becomes super-heated (just like his claws) when the player casts the Inferno spell! This is the step where Art and Design come together in a perfect marriage to tie these Dragons up nicely.
At last, a brand new War Dragon is ready to soar the skies! What do you think of the Dragons development process?