Rules Finished, Art Process!
Today I have some glorious news. The card design for Sentinels of Earth-Prime is finished! We got the final files from Christopher Badell after a thorough playtest, which is very exciting indeed. As you know, this has been the major stumbling block to progress on this project. With the rules in hand, things will start moving a lot faster now!
We've seen in the comments that some of you are interested in seeing more of the process behind the art. With that in mind, I asked James Dawsey to write about it, and conveniently this lets us show off more of the character designs. Take it away, James!
Greetings, Freedom Fans!
Sentinels of Earth-Prime Art Director James Dawsey here, with another update on what has been happening in the world of Sentinels of Earth-Prime. Today I'm going to talk about how we went from knowing we needed Model Sheets to getting an artist to make them for us. The overall process starts, as you might expect, with a spreadsheet!
I know, I know, that doesn’t sound very glamorous. And it’s not. Basically, whenever I’m putting together a project, I need to know ahead of time what we’re going to need in the form of art assets. Generally, this means breaking the project down into steps (real or hypothetical) and filling in numbers. For this stage of Earth-Prime, however, it was much simpler. We only needed one illustration for each of the primary characters that would comprise each deck… or so we initially planned. That changed over time, as we dug into the “story” of each deck, and realized that some characters would have distinctly different looks based on “who” they were presenting themselves as at any given moment.
Hades, for example, is an interesting character. He presents himself as a mysterious man in modern attire, until he is revealed to be the sinister Greek god of the Underworld in the flesh! The need for two versions of his design became clear when I was researching art reference for the character, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
You see, after I put together the spreadsheet, which I also use as a form of checklist, I then pulled out my stack of Mutants & Masterminds books (from all three editions of the game) and started looking for references. I wanted to give our model sheet artist as clear a picture of what the character looks like as possible, so I had to pick what we (as a group) decided are the ‘best’ images of that character. Sometimes we wanted to make changes, to clarify the author’s original intent, or to update a character’s appearance to reflect a better understanding of how we wanted them to be represented across our various media. For characters who have undergone changes during the evolution of Earth-Prime’s timeline, we also wanted to pick images that reflected the time period of the story that the cards will reflect. More on *that* in a future update.
The discussion of how we wanted to update or alter the characters was generally down to a small group of people: myself, Steve Kenson, and Hal Mangold. Hal’s the visual designer who curates the “look” of the M&M franchise, and I defer to him whenever a concept looks like it could go more than one way. Steve is the person who originally conceived of the world of Freedom City, and the larger world of Earth-Prime. So, in the end, he’s the number one fan of the franchise, the person I most want to be happy with the end results. I take the lead as much as possible, but in the initial stages it really was important that I made sure our art reflected the intentions of these two creators, so staying in communication with them was key throughout the process.
Sometimes, this is an easy enough task. Some of the best art I found for Sentinels was in the most recent edition of Freedom City (Siren, I’m looking right at you!). In general, one of the major draws for Mutants & Masterminds has been the amazing, full-color, comic book style artwork in the books. But sometimes we came to the conclusion that no single image really explained the character to a new artist as well as we wanted, so we needed to reference multiple images. On top of that, I needed to write an explanation of what we wanted changed from those images, updated to better reflect the character concepts that Steve Kenson originally had. Sometimes I made a sketch, or used Photoshop to tweak a piece of artwork, to communicate changes we wanted most clearly. One example of this was some updates we made to Daedalus’s armor. This is mostly little things, like making sure the armor looked like it could seal itself for space travel, and making sure the bristles on the helmet’s crest looked stiff and even, and making sure we got the ‘Delta’ on his armor to look like a Delta, and not a letter from the modern English alphabet.
But it’s a lot of little things!
It comes down to wanting to make sure our model sheets represent the best foot (or, in some cases, armored boot) forward for the design of the character. Because those model sheets would then be used to generate literally *hundreds* of illustrations by multiple artists for the rest of the game! So we had to be extra nit-picky about these model sheets.
What was I saying about Hades? Oh, yes: art references. You see, it came to our notice that we basically had two versions of Hades in our books. A representation of him in full battle armor, and an image of him changing from his modern look into his armor. Neither one of these, by themselves, really told the visual story of the character in a way that would be intuitive for the artists who would be creating the card art. Thus, I asked Chris Pramas for permission to have two model sheets created, one for each ‘look,’ so we could better communicate what we needed further along. Since he’s paying for the project, each piece of art we have created, it’s largely up to him when money decisions enter the discussions. Generally, he approves, but I always try to have a back-up plan in case he decides not to add to the cost of a project.
So, after these discussions, I put together a PDF that had a short explanation of each piece of art we wanted, and images that we wanted to reference. Then, it was a process of either approving or critiquing the art at different stages (sketch, line art, final colors), until all of us were happy with the results. The back-and-forth with the artist was sometimes minimal, sometimes required more fine-tuning to make sure we captured the elements we wanted as clearly as possible, but it was always relatively quick and painless. That’s thanks mostly to the amazing work of Denis Medri, who worked tirelessly on this project for us. I can’t say enough good things about him, and I really do look forward to working with him again!
And that’s the story of how we created the model sheets for Sentinels of Earth-Prime, a series of images designed to explain to future artists how to draw our characters!
We’ll have more stories (and art!) to show off in upcoming updates, but for now, I’m going to take a virtual bow and sign off. Thank you all, once more, for helping make this game a possibility! I’m very excited to show you more about what we’re working on, in future updates!