It’s that time again: with Emperor Edition comes a new base set, and more art than in a regular expansion. This proves to be a challenge – more art means more art descriptions and more communication with artists – but it’s also really exciting. Having spent months looking at the cards I can now sit everyday excitedly at my computer roaming forums to see players’ reaction to the cards, be it their artwork or their mechanics. The thrill of everyone finally getting to see our army of artists’ endeavors is slightly addicting. Much of this work started 9 months ago, and I still flip through it enjoying the many great pieces produced. Steve and I hope you enjoy all the hard work everyone has poured into Emperor Edition and its ensuing expansions.
What are we doing to make the art of this arc the best to date?
1. We want you to get the best of the best producing their best material which is why in addition to our already strong and committed existing artists we are bringing back artists you love who haven’t been around as much of late, such as Mario Wibisono, William O’Connor, April Lee, Jason Behnke and Matthew Armstrong. As you may have seen with the already previewed cards, they haven’t lost their touch in the slightest and still can contribute heavily to the development of the Rokugan we all know and love. Some of these artists were not available immediately for the base set but you will discover their contributions starting with the first expansion of the arc.
2. We’re scouting for and bringing in great new talent to the game such as Sam Flegal, Adam Schumperts, Shen Fei, Wenn Juin and Chris Burdett. We get a minimum of 4 art portfolios a day, and we are honestly amazingly picky about these. Maybe one or two a month get asked to work with us once, even less stay on as a more regular artist. Working with a new artist is a lot like a first date: you never know how it is going to go, oftentimes you never see them again, but if it worked out really well you keep asking them out. By trying out new artists we get to see what they can bring to Rokugan and if it is up to snuff we keep asking them to come back.
3. We built a massive gallery full of images from the game’s long history, and filled it with the iconic art (16 years worth of art gives us plenty!) to inspire and help our talented artists see what the world of Rokugan and the Ivory Kingdoms looks like. We also filled it with real life photography reference images of buildings big and small, gardens, weapons, armor, landscapes, faces, and scenes of classic Asian cinema.
We also create a mini guide for every set to let the artists know some of the key points of the sets story, who is fighting who, is it in court, on the battlefield or in the shadows. We give them the season, the region, and as much background detail for each character who has it available.
This greatly helps get the creative juices flowing and get the exact feeling we want for the art across, especially with the artists less familiar with the world of Rokugan. This has already paid off tremendously as the art is more coherent and consistent than before.
4. Starting with Emperor, we’ve surveyed our artists to find out what they excel at and try to get them the type of images they feel strongest in. Artists who love landscapes do landscapes mostly, those who do beautiful samurai women get assigned, you guessed it, beautiful samurai women. In addition to that, high profile cards will tend to be assigned to the high profile artists. For example, we will more likely use Drew Baker for a Champion than a Holding, especially since he prefers Personalities. Everybody is a winner this way: the final consumer benefits from quality artwork while the artists get to produce artwork in the field they prefer.
5. Steve and I take an approach of tag teaming sketch and finals. I review world content and point out things like “no fur on the Scorpion courtier, also she needs a mask and no gold coloring stick with her clan colors, add her family mon on her left shoulder” while Steve offers feedback on compositions, lighting, shading, coloring, etc. He does paint overs to help convey his meaning. All of this means every single piece of art has a minimum of two set of eyes looking at it from two unique perspectives, providing complete feedback to the artists and better guidance in regards to the final rendition.
6. A professional artists and a fan boy are your Art Directors and we are both passionate about this game. Steve with his huge talent is also our backup artist, when on the rare occasion an artist fails to turn in or produce at the level we feel comfortable using. Steve is the go to man, this means we have a solid backup on staff who is always available in a worst case scenario. Steve is also producing your logos, Emperor has an amazing detailed logo and the following sets don’t disappoint in that department either. Myself, I am OCD about the artwork, looking over it daily judging it, nerding out over it, or grumbling about it. The rule I try to follow is that L5R art should be epic, beautiful, badass or a blending of the three.
7. We also believe the art should be telling its own stories, as well as be in-line with the one written by the Story Team. What does this mean? More cards that have mini scenes play out across them, more diptychs, and regular harassment of Shawn for details about characters. We also try to include establish characters in other card types, because sometimes you just want to see Hida Kisada gearing up for battle, or Nitoshi leading of his forces.
8. Last but not least: the L5R Art tumblr (http://l5rart.tumblr.com/). We love the artwork of this game and we want to share it with you. Because it was made for you, you should get to see more of it. Expect regular updates in full resolution glory of your favorite art and who knows, maybe a sneak peek or two at the art coming in a future set!
So what else to expect?
Well, as you have no doubt noticed, past art has made it way back to soul of cards, and some classic cards like Imperial Gift. This means old school players will get that immediate spark of familiarity with the cards they remember from years of playing. We all have those memories of games when the right or wrong card flipped at a critical moment. Past art is a connection to all those many games of the old days. Experienced players playing their old copies will also have less questions from the new players who will be familiar with the card’s look.
New and old players also have a narrative for the history of the game’s artwork sitting right next to the new art showing them where we’ve been and where we are going. We’re proud of the old art; it has stuck around for a long time and our new art is a direct descendant from these past illustrations. So we felt that using some of the old art would be a fun way to explore a bit of the game’s history visually.
Past art on “Soul of” Personalities works especially well for several reasons: its consistent with story ideas of reincarnation, the celestial cycle of rebirth, a culture of respecting its heritage, and school techniques passed down through the ages. When an old player sees Tsuruchi Samuru he sees Tsuruchi Mochisa, while a new player will see Samaru. My grandfather sees my dad’s face when he looks at me; he knows I’m different but there are powerful memories already tied to my appearance. I personally think that is a fantastic tie to the past, a heritage of imagery in the game’s artwork.
However, we laid down strict rules of never using card art on personalities for anything but their “soul of:”. It would be madness to put artwork on a card that is mechanically dramatically different than the original and you have our word that will never happen.
To sum up we really feel you’re going to love what we have coming for you, and we’re glad you’re with us from the start. Enjoy Emperor Edition, let us know who your favorite artists are, tell us what your favorite card art is, we listen and it makes a difference to us.
Adrian Burton and Steve Argyle
L5R Art Directors