Brushing Up On ‘The Art of Blizzard’ With Chris Metzen and Sam Didier

By Kevin Kelly


Video game concept art is a curious thing. It is some of the most beautiful artwork that you will never see, for the most part. These works of art are used to shape the course of the game, providing a template for the game developers to work from. But usually the general public never sees these beautiful creations. Thankfully, that trend has been changing, thanks to organizations like Into the Pixel, and the publications of books that collect the art of a single title.

But what about collecting the work of an entire company? Blizzard Entertainment has been busy making games since 1991, and in the process they have created a treasure trove of gorgeous artwork in the process. Now Insight Editions has collected much of that art and put it together in a fantastic tome full of over 700 pieces of art that range from Warcraft to Diablo to Starcraft and beyond.

This book is so massive that it will threaten to crush your coffee table, but it is so attractive that you won’t want to hide it away on a bookshelf either. We’re giving away one of these volumes, which comes complete with commentary from Blizzard wizards Nick Carpenter (VP of Art and Cinematic Development), Sam Didier (Senior Art Director) and Chris Metzen (Senior VP of Story and Franchise Development).

Read on for our interview with Chris Metzen and Sam Didier!

MTV: Did you ever think you would see some of your art pieces framed and in a gallery some day?

Sam Didier: Of course! It was all part of my plan. But in all seriousness, it’s fantastic that people like what we do enough to have it up and framed.

Chris Metzen: No. No way. It’s crazy. At the outside, I hoped maybe I’d get some art in a comic book or two…but that seemed like a huge stretch in and of itself back when I was just getting started. Being a part of Blizzard’s art culture for all these years has been an amazing honor and opportunity.

What does The Art of Blizzard book mean for you? What do you think it means for the community?

SD: It makes me really proud to know that the art we love to draw makes people happy, and that they love it enough to warrant us putting out a 400+ page book. It also makes me chuckle at an old art teacher that said I would never make a living drawing He-Man. He-Man? Dude it was CONAN! Big difference, Teach!

CM: For me, it’s just an amazing celebration of what we’ve been doing all these years—conjuring and rendering the most imaginative designs and ideas we could. Art has always been at the core of Blizzard’s creative process, so it’s been really cool to see this book take shape and tell the story of our craft.

Community-wise, I’m really excited for people to see some of our lesser-known work from years past. There’s a whole section of ‘fallen games’ that we never published—so a lot of art and concepts from those games will be seen for the first time. I think that’s super cool to get to share all that with our community.  

What are some of your favorite pieces of art that you have created?

SD: Thrall on his throne marked our change from traditional fantasy’s evil orcs to our shamanistic, noble Warcraft orcs. The first Pandaren has always been a favorite of mine. The Dark Archon for the original StarCraft was one of my first Photoshop pictures. I have a bunch of others, now that I think about it, but I’ll leave it to these three for now.

CM: I did a pencil piece for StarCraft back in the day that I really had fun on. It was a marine just chillin’ by an old broken sign, his rifle lying by his side. I really got into the armor details and graffiti and such. It just had a kind of ‘street flavor’ that I imagined permeated the StarCraft setting but wasn’t always evident from the game’s distant, isometric perspective.

What is one of your favorite pieces of art from Blizzard?

SD: I really love the old pencil drawings that we did back at the start of Blizzard. They aren’t the greatest pieces of art but they are snapshots of what would become these huge game worlds that are loved around the world. It all started with those rough pencil and paper sketches we scrawled out back in the day.

CM: That’s a rough one. I love it all, really. I’d say Samwise’s initial Warcraft III painting of the Alliance and Horde forces going at it—with the Legion falling from the sky behind them. I just felt that image encapsulated all the themes and bombast that define what Warcraft is. It really inspired me to dig deep during the development process of that game. 

How important is concept art to the design process?

SD: It depends on the game and the team I’m working with. A brand new game benefits highly from massive amounts of concepts and designs being thrown around. You are building a new world. It needs people, structures, vehicles, and enemies to crush. The team that I work on was the first development team here at Blizzard, and I have been working with some of my fellow artists for 20 years. They know what StarCraft is, and they know what Warcraft is. They need fewer concepts than say, a brand new artist, fresh to the team. The newbies need to be tutored and schooled in the Blizzard art style.

CM: For us, I’d say it’s critical. Fundamental. The right piece of art creates energy, excitement—gives any idea immediate scope and identity. A good piece of concept art can launch a thousand design or story ideas. Concept art is the spear tip for invading imaginations.

What medium do you prefer to create art with?

SD: Generally I start with pencil and paper to work up an idea. I don’t do many thumbnails and have a tendency to go with my first idea. It is usually the best one. Then, I’ll scan in the art and bring it into Photoshop and start coloring away. More recently, I have just been doing the art in Photoshop and skipping the whole scanner bit. But pencil and paper is my favorite medium still. A great sketch can convey more emotion and power than some fully developed paintings.

CM: I’m a paper-and-pencil guy. I hate drawing on the computer. I used to enjoy using inks and colored pencils for my colored work, but pencil’s always been my favorite. I’m only missing the digital boat by about 17 years or so, so I still hold out hope…

With most concept art being created on computers, do you think that physical artwork still has a place in game development?

SD: Absolutely! Artists need to keep up their skills in all mediums. Computers are just another tool one can use to create with. I use the computer daily to create art. But what is going to happen when the world goes to ruin and electricity and computers are gone?  Some poor artists are going to be sitting there holding a long dead Wacom pen while I will be drawing pictures on ruined sidewalks and buildings with crayons or the charred limbs of my enemies. So as you can see, it pays to master the basics.

CM: Once, I would have defended physical art—painting, drawing with pencils—as a necessary cornerstone…but after all these years, I’m not so sure. I see our artists using digital in so many unique ways that it’s just changed my perspective completely. Even with digital, you still have to know the fundamentals of light, color, form, composition…I dunno. Digital’s here to stay. That said, I love seeing real paint on canvas. I love seeing quick pencil sketches on the back of cocktail napkins. There’s something pure and warmly old-school about all that. But for the kind of fast-turnaround iterative art that games depend on, digital makes all the sense in the world. 

What advice would you give to young artists out there?

SD: Never stop drawing what you love. Even art directors don’t get to draw whatever we want, whenever we want. So I draw at home after my awesome day job! ABC… Always Be Creating!

CM: Never stop chasing your dream. Create what you love! Share it with people! DO YOUR THING and don’t let people give you shit about it! This world needs artists and creators who are fearless and inspiring!

Even if YOUR THING happens to be axe-wielding warriors and space fighters….

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