Highlights from Blizzard's latest AMA session.

Thursday afternoon the Hearthstone art team hosted an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Reddit. With a total of five different members of the group taking time to answer questions over the duration, there's a lot to keep up with. We've rounded up some of the most notable answers below.

As a recap, here's who partook:

Ben Thompson Art Director I’m responsible for developing and maintaining a consistent art style of the game from start to finish by leading the team of talented artists below. I’m also very hands-on and have worked on every expansion and Adventure since Hearthstone's launch.

Jeremy Cranford Outsource Art Manager As the outsource art manager, I work with and manage 3rd party artists for card art.

Hadidjah Chamberlin FX Artist As the FX artist on Hearthstone, I mostly do card FX – spells, minions, legendary animations, etc. – and I’ve done pack openings, hero skins, and golden cards. Working on FX means I get to work a lot with our design, engineering, and audio folks in addition to the rest of the art team, which is all pretty awesome.

Jomaro Kindred Concept Artist I work on all visual aspects of the game from concept to in-game assets which include card backs, game boards, card illustrations, UI, effects, and packs. I am also responsible for concepting and exploration for upcoming expansions.

Jerry Mascho Concept Artist I help create the visual identity for the game’s cards, card backs, game boards, and other exciting elements of the tavern experience. I’ve also had a hand in modeling some of the game’s boards, card backs, and animations.

Highlights

  • The game boards in Hearthstone only look the way they do from the camera's perspective. They'd look broken if you moved the camera at all.

  • Only 10% of the card art in Hearthstone is physically painted.

  • Creating a pack opening animation usually takes a couple of weeks.

  • The art team really likes transitioning to so many different types of content in just a few months time.

  • In no way does Blizzard regret having guest artists for cards like Kill Command that don't necessarily fit the well-defined art style of the game.

  • Blizzard's internal art team only works on one or two pieces of card art per set. They mainly focus on the game boards, FX, card backs, logos, and UI.

  • On average, a full minion entrance animation takes one to three days.

  • Some like Curious Glimmerroot take a long time because they involve multiple departments at Blizzard.

  • Ultimate Infestation was originally supposed to have its own special effects.

  • The key to designing the Death Knight heroes was to keep the silhouettes relatively the same.

 

Full Questions

/u/Argandr: Are there any instances of you guys suggesting a card that doesn't currently exist because of how amazing you know it could look?

Cranford: The creative process is really collaborative between art and design. For example, I remember not wanting to have all the mounts in The Grand Tournament be horses so I pitched the idea of having creatures like "Muklas Champion" and "Tuskarr Jouster" riding a hippo and a turtle and the design team said: "go with it". When I asked Brode what he thought "Skycap'n Kragg" should be riding and he said: "A giant parrot" and I loved the idea. Another example is how the art team will pitch creature ideas for a set during the concept art development stage. I remember design needing some smallish creatures for the Journey to Un'Goro expansion and Jerry Mascho wanted to draw some cool turtle folk creatures. Design loved his drawings and that's how Tortollan appeared Hearthstone.

 

/u/its_tharid: What race does the Howling Commander art show? Is it a Tauren? Dwarf? Val'kyr? The lore nerds must know!

Cranford: She is an undead female Dwarf. The horns are part of her helmet. Something kind of like a Vrykul would wear.

 

/u/wiibomb: some art is Hearthstone is constrained by the circular boudaries of the cards, that makes cards like the stoneclaw totem look like a snake instead of a totem with a murloc behind.

How has that made you change the way you make the art of the game to not confuse players?

Mascho: The minion frame definitely gives artists a challenge since the tokens are fairly small in-game. We always strive to make sure that the illustration reads well when small and that there is enough separation between the character/creature and the background elements to make the minions easy to digest quickly in-game. It's satisfying when the art hits that sweet spot as a full illustration, but also reads well in-game.

 

/u/theslash_: Q: How do you deal with the 3D effects on the board with the current engine?

Thompson: The boards are actually painted as full illustrations and then projected onto the models that are created with that illustration as a blueprint. It was tricky at first but once the modelers got the hang of it, it really unlocked our ability to help push the proportions and as a result the style of the game even further.

If you were to rotate the game board to any other view than the one presented in game it would look like Picasso modeled the corners ;)

 

/u/Lasercannon521: How much of the art is done digitally versus drawn by hand in a medium like painting?

Cranford: We leave it up the individual artist but approximately 90% of the card art is painted digitally and 10% is painted traditionally.

 

/u/Thatanas: Do you intentionally put at least one extremely cute card in an expansion? Think Snowflipper Penguin, The Alleycats, Murloc Tinyfin etc.?

Chamberlin: It's always happened so far, thankfully, but if it didn't people would hear from me. :P

 

/u/PupperDogoDogoPupper: Which card was most challenging to translate from the more menacing style of World of Warcraft to fit within the lighthearted style of Hearthstone?

Cranford: There is actually a range of art styles in Hearthstone. On one side of the spectrum we have super cute images like "Snow Flipper" penguin but on the other side we still have some pretty menacing art like Ragnaros or the nine Death Knight heroes. We decided not to go super cute for the Death Knight Heroes as it seemed to take away from what those particular characters needed. So, to answer the question, it really depends upon how we want to cast a character and how much we want to dial up the cute.

 

/u/adamtheamazing64: For Chamberlin, how many revisions do you do on average per card fx. Let's say as an example, a pack opening effect for an expansion, one of the most important ones due to how often players revisit it and it's impact on game play. Favorite one was Mean Streets btw.

Chamberlin: It really depends on the FX. With spells, legendaries, etc., a lot just work right off the bat, very occasionally something takes like five revisions or we just completely scrap something because we come up with a cooler idea later. There's not a whole lot of rhyme or reason to what does or doesn't wind up taking multiple passes, although if there's more robust WoW reference to pull from, the card art's already in (we're getting the card art in sooner and sooner and it's sooooo much fun getting to riff off of it for the FX), things like that, it tends to reduce the likelihood that it's going to wind up with a bunch of revisions. :)

You're completely right about the pack openings being some of the most iteration-heavy. Pack openings tend to be a couple weeks of work and iteration, all told. They're also a little more technically noodly because they're a lot more 3D than a typical card effect, so we're jumping back into Maya more, doing more animations on top of the particle FX themselves, stuff like that.

Stoked you like the Mean Streets one! That was the first one I got to do (Charlene le Scanff did the base art for it), they're always loads of fun. :D

 

/u/jacknewall2274: is it a challenge for the team to create such unique themes per expansion? No two expansions in my opinion share a common artistic theme, each is unique and stands out. The themes appear isolated, defining a single expansion as much as the text of the cards do. How does the fact each theme artistically is so different affect the artistic development and what are your thoughts on creating new and most importantly "standout" themes going forward.

Thompson: The theme for each set is always one of the defining features and as such generally involve much discussion.

Often we tend to look at the mechanics or keywords that we want to highlight in the set to possibly inform a direction. (Curse of Naxxramas helped highlight Deathrattle, while Journey to Un'Goro celebrated the Adapt mechanic).

Similarly we often will look to some of our favorite content from WoW and try to offer a unique or unexpected twist to the content (One Night in Karazhan and Mean Streets of Gadgetzan are good examples of this). The internally developed style guide for each set will definitely help guide the aesthetic for a given set, but ultimately the personal styles of the freelance artists will really help expand on the theme in ever-surprising ways.

Ultimately we continue to stay true to one of our guiding principles which is "Delightful Surprise", and this extends to consistently developing exciting new themes for not only our players but also the team to work on!

Chamberlin: I love how different each set is - I know for me it makes for a ton of variety in what I'm working on but always gives me a true north to point to if I'm worried something's starting to wander thematically astray. And it's hard to get bored when every four months everything changes and you've got a brand new set of art pieces and challenges to play with. :)

Within each set, at least on the FX side, at some point there's always definitely a challenge to keeping everything feeling cohesive without getting samey - I never realized how emotionally distressing trying to find a fourth way to put a dinosaur on a board or quickly shatter ice was until I had to do both.:P We (half-)joke about how Old Gods was the goo-and-tentacles FX set, Karazhan was the disco-sparkle set, Mean Streets had the three distinct families, Un'Goro was the camera shake set, and Frozen Throne was the ice set, and I already tease Design with my guesses for what the universal FX of the next sets will be. But the jokes are only fun to make because we love how unique each set is and getting to run wild in those brand new settings.

Mascho: It's a challenge, but it's a challenge that makes working on the game fun and unique. The stories we are able to tell in Hearthstone are basically "What If...?" tales in Azeroth that gives a lot of flavor to the game. We have the freedom to explore crazy ideas like a disco party in Karazhan, and then turn 180 degrees to show all of our heroes die in Northrend. The vibe and flavor of the art can change, but our core principles are consistent on the art side. My favorite part of working on the team is hearing what Design's first thoughts are for a new expansion. That really gets us excited... finding ways to make the new theme standout, and make it feel truly Hearthstone is really rewarding.

 

Hearthhead: Feel free to answer any and/or all of these.

  1. Obviously Hearthstone has a very specific art style that's become very defined as time has gone on. Do you regret (regret is a bad word, wish I could think of a better one) having guest artists like with Kill Command that don't necessarily fit with that?

  2. Re: FX. How long does it take to make an entirely new card animation (like Deathwing for example).

  3. What's the biggest misconception Hearthstone players have about the art process?

  4. What is your favorite card art in Hearthstone?

Thompson: 

  1. No regrets honestly. Art will always be a subjective endeavor and as such opinions will vary that said there are those pieces that certainly hit the nail on the head when it comes to capturing the ever evolving Art Style of the game

  2. I'm going to let Hadidjah answer that one ;)

  3. That the internal art team is solely responsible for the art found on the cards themselves. While we try to find the time to do at least one piece in every set, much of the art created has to do with the assets that make up the game as a whole: the boards, card backs, user interface pieces, logos etc.

  4. My favorite piece is by far Archmage Antonidas. So much so that I bought the original painting from the artist. the fun part about that piece for me is that the artist (Wayne Reynolds) added a stone with a swirl on it to his belt items long before we ever picked the Hearthstone swirl as our icon. Serendipity...

Chamberlin: It completely depends on the animation, honestly. On average, I spend 1-3 days on an entrance. Some just work and it's less than a day start to finish (Wickerflame fell into that category). Others - mercifully rarely - might take a week or multiple revisions over the course of several weeks, either because we don't feel it's right yet or because it's really elaborate and just takes more time to get all the pieces working together. Deathwing was me chipping away at it over the course of a few months when I had free time, but if you lumped it all into one, I'd guess maybe four days?

There are also some, like Curious Glimmerroot, that we know are going to take ages, because it's a ton of collaboration between Design, engineering and FX. But they're fun too, just getting to work so closely with everyone and trying to hone it down to the right thing. :)

 

/u/jachcemmatnickspace: 

  • Annoying question, but let's just sum it up: You've done great job with new Deathwing and Thalnos animations. What about the other Legendary cards from Classic set? The most played ones/impactful ones like Malygos or Ysera would sure deserve some effects.

  • Do you think that there is enough difference in animation when playing different spells and minions? Because I'm wondering why has Ultimate Infestation the same effect as Wrath, even if it's a lot powerful. I would expect some big and fancy stuff, but I totally understand that this is hard work to do. Also, with a release of a new expansion, people may be thrilled to see new animations (at least I am) and they may be disappointed, I remember Kibler on a reveal stream. He was excited about playing Furnacefire Colossus, a card with unique effect, to see its animation, and then he played it and it was a classic "gain buff" animation.

Chamberlin: 

  • You can't be annoying asking about one of my favorite things! :P I definitely want to keep updating them, but it's a passion project that has to happen outside the main schedule, since all the new content needs to take priority and look cool, so it kind of happens when it happens. I love getting the chance to work on them though, especially the ones that have a ton of lore to them to pull ideas from (like, with Deathwing it was a matter of narrowing down what to do rather than coming up with something). :)

  • I'm a wee bit biased towards moar FX, especially when there's an awesome opportunity for story or flavor, but part of what I like about Hearthstone is how clean the art style style is, and I think having a core set of smaller FX that we reuse a lot lends itself well to that. I think it helps keep things really easy to read since most people have a decent sense of what the holy heal/buff, a Fireblast-sized fireball, etc. imply gameplay-wise. We always try to make sure we get a lot of the unique feel of each set into the FX, both in one-off FX for really big spells and minions, and in smaller FX that we'll get some reuse mileage out of for that set and probably never again afterwards.

Ultimate Infestation, specifically, was slated for its own effect, but unfortunately we didn't get the chance to do a unique super-version. We like to try and make sure that all the FX going in are nice and polished, rather than rushing in more things that might feel a bit slipshod at the very end. :)

For runes/symbols/etc., I tend to hunt down class-related stuff from WoW to try and keep things consistent, and because someone way more talented than me already came up with some sweet symbols for me to steal (Krul and Bloodreaver's are both from Warlock spells or quests... I forget specifically what Bloodreaver was from, but Krul's are from one of the the first Warlock/Voidwalker quests). They're not ripped wholesale, I simplify them a bit so they fit a little better into the Hearthstone style, but I like referencing WoW when there's an opportunity.

Thanks for the kind words, and the interesting questions! :)

 

/u/Robinette: How was the process of creating the deathknights? Did you have the freedom of "making them your own", or was it limited to hit the thematic theme of the game designer's concepts (Frost Lich, Pestelant...)?

Kindred: I was tasked with the early conception of the nine Death Knights heroes. First let me say as a concept artist and an avid World of Warcraft player, it was absolutely awesome to work on this! I definitely had a great deal of freedom but there are a few things we had to keep in mind. Making sure the hero was still recognizable was key, like we couldn't overkill them. We accomplished this by doing our best to maintain the overall silhouette of the original hero. A good example is Garrosh's pauldrons, they went from bone to ice.