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Daniel Warren

The first question I always ask is how long have you been illustrating?

DAN: Lets see…professionally, for about 2 years and since I was 3 for drawing in general

 What sort of artwork got you interested, or lit your fire?

DAN: I was always really into the art of video games. Even as a kid I loved the paintings and character art id find inside booklets and on game covers. When I got older I fell in love with the art of Yoshitaka Amano, and also Frank Frazetta.

 From your beginnings with art to your beginnings with the Message project. I believe I found some of your artwork on a posting website…?

DAN: Yes, I believe we met through conceptart.org

That’s right! I’d slipped there looking for someone who could capture the “rougher” side of the Message’s world.

DAN: Yes, I remember early on seeing the work of some of your previous artists. And I specifically remember you asking me to get the sense of ‘other cultures’–specifically the warrior culture of the Pridesman which differed a lot from previous artists and their tasks with the Vinians.

Definitely! I was looking for someone with an added “edge” to their work, and you brought that, but you also seemed to bring a good deal of education to your illustrations. Given my cultural component, what sort of influences went into those early illustrations?

DAN: Well, in regards to the Pridesmen- Tynan and Magdallion, there had to be a sense of a warrior society that was not only lion influence, but also looked and felt like a real warrior culture so a lot of the look was influenced by and borrowed from two distinct warrior cultures- the Norsemen and the Spartans. I wanted something rough and battle ready to show their warrior side, but also something elegant and gilded to the armor to show the majestic, godly lion influence.

On mentioning the godly lions, which bring up Greymane.

DAN: Yes, Greymane was a fun one.

That was a unique character. Many have already made a connection to Aslan from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, though I do think I had a different take on it. How did you take the lion’s illustration?

DAN: Well, from descriptions he had to be a mottled lion of a grey and silver color. He also had to have aspects which were added on, or exaggerated to show his power and majesty. Starting with a powerful lion body, a lot of work went into making his mane as large and impressive as possible without looking odd. Extra fans of hair were added to mirror the mane on him, such as behind the legs, down the back, and bushing off the tail. I tried to look at the extra patches of hair and consider how they’d look if he was walking. I thought they should look like wavy, silver fire.

I have that illustration hanging on my wall at work. I’ve gotten many compliments on this one drawing.

DAN: That’s nice to hear. Its one of the designs I think I’m happiest with.

And most people don’t even notice the extension to the mane, seeing it only as a lion, which grounds the Rhianlor Lions in reality while offering a simple flare of fantasy. It’s an excellent piece. From there, you moved on to your next piece – Was it Siraj?

DAN: Yes, Siraj came next, and surprised me. The prompt for Siraj had a lot of detail in it as to his look and feel, so I assumed it would be easier to capture. In fact, I wasn’t happy with a design for the character until recently when I did a variant for the cover. All in all there were 4 Siraj designs, the 4th being the one used.

What made him such a challenging character to illustrate?

DAN: I’m not sure if I can pinpoint it, but if I had to guess id say he was probably harder because he was handed over entirely fleshed out. I love the character and what I read on him, and he had a complete visual look already in place. Whereas with other designs for the story I was told to basically work from the ground up.

You added a bit to him though. The cloak was all yours, though I think I listed that he wore one. And he was ugly, according to himself in the book, disheveled, etc.

DAN: In the original talks with you about Siraj, I remember distinctly that his attitude should come across; he should look like a vagrant, but still be attractive in almost the same sense as a sort of rock star.

That is true. I think I actually used the name – Keith Richards…scary

DAN: (laughs) Yes, I believe I remember that.

From there, you moved on to the Judges of Shouphat which, though not difficult on the surface, I would fear was an illustration filled with pitfalls

DAN: Yes, the Judges were an interesting process with a few of their own revisions. There have been lots of similar ideas in fantasy illustration for darker characters, and the trick here was to make something unique. So instead of letting the cloaks and hoods speak for the evil, a twisted sort of skeletal glowing armor was employed over their robes. I liked this especially because it showed darkness by employing light, whereas the cliché’ would be to use nothing but blacks and shadows.

Albeit green light. Isn’t green considered a more “evil” color?

DAN: Yes, green and red are usually used for darker characters. Green is creepy, ghostly.

It worked for them, and made a nice contrast to their counterparts in the Knights of the Order

DAN: Indeed. I liked the glowing design of the Knights, and respected their original artist’s intentions for them, so naturally the Judges employed a similar feel of magic and energy, shifting from the more pure blue to the weirder greens.

Which brings up another question – how difficult was it working against previous artists?

DAN: I’d have to say the trick wasn’t actually working ‘against’ them, but employing aspects of their work in order to make my illustrations relatable to theirs. Regardless of the difference of cultures, the visions and the Pridesmen, even Merach who came later, all had to be part of the same world. A good example of that would probably be some of the embroidered fabric adorning the Pridesmen and their waist-guards, in relation to the Vinians and their very cloth oriented, patterned look.

Move from that one to probably the 2nd most challenging illustration – the Dragon. What do you remember of that process?

DAN: Well, the dragon was another illustration there was a lot of freedom with, save one specific element – he was supposed to have an array of horns that were not only functional, but looked like a crown, and the most work went into the face and horn alignment to make that crucial aspect work. The dragon’s body and wings are very muscular, the underside plated to emphasize its form. He had massive legs needed to support a creature his size, but again most of the work was really in his face,

The face was actually what impressed me the most. The Dragon is a regal character, but with a harsher edge than, say, Greymane. You did an amazing job of illustrating that characteristic. Now, we’ll need to tiptoe toward the most challenging illustration, not just for you, but many artists. Let’s start with the Med’arbeh insect/ Widow.

DAN: Yes, the Med’arbeh was really fun. I remember a series of insects recommended and compared with the Med’arbeh. The challenge was to borrow a lot of different things and make a new creature out of them, so rather than just drawing Merach, I remember we discussed it’d be better to actually create the insects anatomy in one piece all its own. There’s a lot in there! Wasps, spiders, and warrior beetles, even some pieces of grasshopper and praying mantis. All in all, I think the Med’arbeh designs were a pretty good success.

Another design element was the “sun” on its back. Where did that idea come from?

DAN: The design arose from looking at a lot of venomous and ‘killer’ bugs. They tend to have patterns, usually symmetrical, on their thorax. Out of coincidence, the sun worked double well, as it reflected something from Merach’s culture

Right, the “Great circle” and the “fiery falcon”.

DAN: Yes, so in the end, I think that design was a real success incorporating just the right amounts of realism and the fantastic.

And all that leads toward the most challenging illustration – Merach.

DAN: By far the most challenging, for myself and at least 2 others.

Which was how I sold the character to you – it was a character that was hard to get “right”, whatever that meant. How do you think you were able to pull it off?

DAN: When you handed me Merach’s prompt, I knew it was a challenge, but I think I pulled it off alright. I will say though, if I was ever to redesign a character, it would be Merach.

Really? How so?

DAN: Having seen the previous illustrations of Merach, which used massive insects to create a sort of armor plating, I decided to go with something entirely different, smaller bugs in mass amounts. A literal ‘swarm’. I think in retrospect the perfect Merach would be a fuse of both – a swarm with larger bugs on top in certain places to help show Merach’s anatomy

It’s certainly the swarm that slows you down – the detail was unreal!

DAN: He’s definitely a tricky character, and while I’m proud of my contribution to his development visually, I don’t think he’s reached his final form yet.

He has been the Achilles heel for many. You also designed a weapon for him that in the book, I refer to as “Ka’ni”. What was the thought process in this unique weapon?

DAN: The design for this weapon was a sort of spear/axe combination. Visually, it had to relate to Merach and the swarm so the blades were taken from warrior beetle mandibles with a sort of wing pattern employed below them. The weapon had to feel like it would rip someone to pieces, while still fitting visually. I think that came across.

It did… and I added it to the book in the next draft. Nice touch for killing people. After this, you were done with the character designs, but not the illustration. Your next piece was… well, massive.

DAN: Yes! And it grew and grew with time.

I think it started with like, 3 characters and a scroll

DAN: (Laughs) Yes. The final number was what? Somewhere over 10?

(Laughs) It was nearly everyone from the book.

DAN: 16? No, it was 17! (Laughs) 17 characters, maybe even more.

And a city!  Not the original plan, but you’d add one, and then I’d add two, then you’d add three and suddenly it became a George Perez comic. That project might’ve gotten away from us in some ways, but given what it needs to be and how I’m using it, I think it worked out well. Aside from continually growing the work, how’d the process work?

DAN: The process went well, though hectic at times. Because it was a central image, it had to be balanced and semi symmetrical. Because we kept tacking on more people, this started to become a problem, but in the end with a lot of editing, it turned out pretty well. A lot of it was showing the same characters in a new way – Magdallion with his spear, the Dragon facing forward to show the full crown. And it was a nice opportunity to use the Widow Med’arbeh design which otherwise was reserved for the archives

Right. We hadn’t planned on doing anything with the Med’arbeh. Another unique thing was your illustrating other people’s designs. How was that for you?

DAN: It was interesting. In a case like the visions, which Mandy designed, applying my style was risky due to her very painterly touch and sense of realism. I tried to copy as much as I could to respect her original designs. The same was for the Knights, whose design was already splendid. In the end I think it worked quite well.

You mentioned that you wanted to change Merach a bit. Are there any other things you wish you’d have attacked differently?

DAN: I’d say yes on a few things. Siraj didn’t flesh out until the end of the process so revisiting him to expand more would be nice, and even Greymane, who I was very happy with, I could even see changes within. I’d say I’m happiest with the Pridesmen armor.

That was an excellent beginning! What was some of your favorite touches from the actual story?

DAN: From the portions you sent me, my favorite things were the attentions to culture and feel. Having read scenes from the Pride, I knew pretty well what they had to look like, especially in regards to Magdallion who was adorned in the mane given to the greater warriors.

This brings back up the culture that you touched on earlier. You mentioned how culture impacted your illustrative eye, of how though they all were separate cultures; they needed to look like they came from the same world. I’m going to guess that the Pride was your favorite people’s group. What part of them did you enjoy most?

DAN: The Pride were indeed the most fun because, like with all warrior cultures, there has to be a sense of nomadic living. A lot of different details on top of a general form. With the Pride there is the armor plating, the gilded lion detailing, the woven leather belts, golden manes and trim for their boots and gauntlets. There’s embroidered fabric possibly from trade or seamstresses, and on top of all that, the weapons that are essential to them. They presented the combination of lots of different things.

And you did it very well. I’m certain this won’t be the last project we do together. We’re already working on some updates and other things for the site, but if the reader wants to see more of your work, where would they go?

DAN: I’m working on a personal site that hasn’t been finished quite yet, but my work is always viewable on conceptart.org – my user name is henchman 21

Thanks for your time and work and send me a link when your site is done – I definitely want the visitors to this site able to go your way. Any last words to add?

DAN: The only other thing I’ll add is that it’s been great working with you, and I look forward to the possibility of revisiting the Message project in the future.

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