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Mar 01 2009 -
Watching Over the Shoulder of a Graphic Artist
e usually introduce new creatures in special teasers before they get implemented with an update. In addition to some bits and pieces about the monster itself, we spice up these teasers with concept art and ingame screenshots to give you a first impression of what is to come. The concept art and monster sprites are usually created by our graphic artist Jan as we already explained in the featured article about the content team.

But our community is also very creative and many players express their creativity through fan art. We already received many questions about Tibia's graphics and several players obviously show great interest in the whole process of creating ingame graphics and art works.
A few days ago, Jan allowed us community managers to peer over his shoulder when he was working on the concept art and sprite of a new Tibia monster that will be implemented this summer. He took us step-by-step through the creation of the concept art and monster sprite. Of course, we want to share this exclusive monster preview with you and in the following interview you will get many great tips directly from the artist himself.

Interview with graphic artist Jan

CMs: Alright, Jan, let's get straight to the point. What are you going to draw for us? We're so curious and can't wait any longer!
Jan: After a small chat with the folks from the content team, we decided that a Medusa would be really cool to have. The Medusa is a creature originating from Greek Mythology, but various adaptations have found their way into many a fantasy Game, and I think it's high time for a Tibian version, so on we go.

CMs: Indeed! So you agreed on the Medusa. Are there any guidelines you have to follow concerning the design? The creature has to fit into Tibia's setting, of course, but is there anything distinctive about a Medusa?
Jan: Obviously, the snakes forming her hair are a characteristic feature that has to be in there to recognise her. In fact, it has to be clearly visible or, so to speak, "visually readable" when I make the ingame monster later on. Since I don't want people to mistake our Medusa for just another witch with a bad hair day, I will use a bit of a different scale for the snakes, making them quite large in relation to the rest of the body. So, with that thought in mind, I'll go on and sketch her out in my sketchbook. (starts sketching and the CMs are watching in awe)

CMs: Can we have a look at your sketchbook now that you are done with the pencil sketch?
Jan: Here you go. (hands over book)

CMs: Whoa, amazing, there are so many great sketches, now this is a real treasure, can we keep it? (laughing) No, just kidding. You probably still need Medusa's sketch, don't you?
Jan: Yes, this pencil sketch gives me a good idea on some of the key features that I want to get in there, her long head and face with the big snakes coming out on the side and a cobra going out to the back, her long robe like a costume, her freaky wiry arms with the large clawish hands, and the small snake tail coming out at the back of her robe.

CMs: She really looks scary, let's hope we don't turn into stone if we continue to look at the picture. And by the way, she looks like she is about to start twirling the snake like a feather boa in her hand - how evil is that!
Jan: Hehe, it seems that the sketch is well received, so it is time to take this into Photoshop. I also quite like the pose and the attitude she emanates so far, so I am going to turn this into a more polished piece of concept art. One thing I realize is that I didn't draw a symmetrical head in terms of how many snakes come out of her head on her left and right side, but this can easily be remedied once it is scanned.

CMs: So you scan it and then fill in the sketch with colour like in a colouring book?
Jan: Actually, I often work in grayscale first before I turn to colour. Reason being is that it is much easier to control the values in an image that way, once the values are fine, it will not be too hard to add colour later on. Value is a term that defines the range of the lights and the darks in an image. At this stage it's very important to flesh out the forms of my creature, make them clearly readable and give an illusion of volume to each of the shapes that make up my creature and of course the creature as a whole.
I already indicate some atmospheric effects as well, but this piece will be about the character only, so I'll keep the background elements simple. I also add a small design element to her forehead and correct minor issues in the drawing during the various stages of the grayscale painting. I gradually build up detail level, clean her up a bit against the background and call this stage done for now. I could push this a hell of a lot further at this point, going crazy with ornaments on her dress, patterns on her skin and whatnot, but this isn't a piece for marketing. It's clean, the major design elements are there and read fine and she's got some cool petrifying attitude going so I decide she's ready for some colour.


CMs: And how do you do that? She's all grey!
Jan: I use a combination of layers in Photoshop, the blending modes set to Colour, Multiply and Overlay. These layers let the underlying grayscale painting I did in the previous steps show through and allow me to control the colours separately. I use a combination of such layers until the colouring matches what I want to have. Since all the values were established in the grayscale image, almost all of the shading is preserved and allow me to focus on finding a colour palette that works well for this character.
I go with some palish blue tones for the skin and some violet for her robe, the red waist belt will serve as a nice separator between her upper and lower body. All this will contrast nicely against the green I chose for the snakes. I had a version with a quite monochrome palette which worked nicely if this was going to be a piece on its own, but at this point I am thinking that the colour contrast will again make the sprite read better later on. The colour choice for the snakes is a bit obvious, but I like the connection to the already ingame Tibian Snakes and Cobras and to a certain extent the Hydra as well. And this will be as far as I'll take it for the concept piece, which will serve me well as a reference when I make the sprite.


CMs: Sprite? You're referring to the little ingame figure, don't you?
Jan: Yep. When making a monster for Tibia, I always start with a still image for both the south and the north facing directions. I roughly paint in, or, as we say, block in the general shapes first with the pencil tool in Photoshop, trying to get the overall proportions to work in Tibian perspective. For a creature with a rather complex head form like this, it's quite a good idea to keep the main elements, body, head and arms, separated on layers as I go.

CMs: Maybe you can describe what you are doing step by step?
Jan: Of course. Step one shows a good starting point which nails the pose of the still quite nicely, it already establishes a lot of the proportions of the creature, like how big the torso is in relation to head and body, which is comfortably hidden below her robe in this case. I then add the arms on a new layer in step two. the gesture of her arms was a bit of a challenge to choose, since a lot of her arms would get covered later on by the whole snakes coming down from her head. I'll go with an angled ready-to strike-position which both fits the mood of this character and also allows me to show quite a bit of the arm coming out from under the snakes, as can be seen in step three, where I block in the head on yet another layer on top of everything.

CMs: Amazing, she already looks like a Medusa!
Jan: Yeah, this shot pretty much lays it all out and in terms of anatomy and proportions, everything is in place with this step. For better readability, I always keep a pair of snakes in a similar range of green hues. Even if a big part of the underlying structure is covered up, the pose and gesture is still easily read, so on this basis, she is ready for detailing in step four. I add highlights and shadows to the forms, draw in the eyes and indicate a tiny ornament on her dress as well. This pretty much covers the main processes involved in the creation of a Tibia Monster, barring small changes, this will do for the still facing south.
Now all that is left to do is the still facing up, and then of course the animations for the two directions, oh and yes for those who will be tough enough to beat her, her corpse in three stages of increasing decomposition. Since this is basically a symmetrical monster, meaning that it does not have a shield or sword in one hand, or weird mutated anatomy, the missing directions facing left and right can easily be created by flipping and rotating the sprites. Then, the ball will be in the court of the content team again, turning the sprites into a hopefully mean, stat-studded Medusa with cool barks.


CMs: Thank you so much, Jan, for taking the time and telling us about your work. We really enjoyed this creative journey!
Jan: My pleasure!

We hope Jan's description will come in handy for anyone who is interested in drawing and in the process of creating ingame graphics.
As some of you may know, Tibia was dependent on volunteers for a long time and many ingame graphics were designed by players. Nowadays, most work is done in house by our employed graphic artists but we would like to take this opportunity to thank all the talented external artists who provided us with many wonderful items and great sprites over the years. Your work contributed to Tibia's unique and charming graphic style. We would like to give a special mention and thank you to Izuael for all the items, environment graphics and much more, Lord Ariakas for monsters, environment graphics as well as items and last but not least, Oin for all the things he did, especially the fantastic technical equipment. They still help out and work together with Jan every now and then. Thank you!

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