November 8, 2011

Murder and Zombies

A while back I was asked to do the following two pieces for Wizards of the Coast.  What I always try to do when approaching client work is add elements that are going to make the pieces interesting to me.  If I lose that feeling that I am learning something new or adding details and elements that I like to a piece, the image will usually fail in my mind.

In this case I wanted to play around with the point of view, and especially in the case of the Zombie painting, explore variations in skin tone and lighting (something that I've been focusing on in the year since).  The very stylized fog was also kind of a throwback to some of my earlier stylistic choices in my work.  In the case of the Bloody Murder piece, it was a good opportunity to paint some snow, and I was really interested in exploring the pink/green color scheme.  I think this was the first time I'd really pushed pink in a piece before.

Here are the final pieces:

And here is a short walk-through of the Murder painting! 

I'll always start with thumbnail sketches.  In this case, I did a bunch and then neatened a few up and sent them to the AD to see which ones she liked more.  If the deadline is very short, I don't always send thumbnails off (although I will still do them), but instead I will just send a final sketch, similar to the one below.

After thumbnail approval- or before the final sketch- I'll gather references for items that seem important to the piece.  In this case I took a few photo references for the characters, and also gathered a lot of references of houses from the internet to help inspire the setting.

So next is a sort of abridged progress.  I'll usually draw out the sketch and include values in some way.  Depending on the piece I'll sketch in values or in line, or alternating between the two- but usually it will be something more like a line drawing with some multiply layers to add value.

After that, I'll start in with a variety of multiply, color and hard light layers to get in some very rough colors.  Then I'll pick a spot and start to render, skipping around to the next areas that look interesting or are bothering me and I want to see completed.  Once everything is in, I'll just keep refining and adding details until I'm ready to call it done or I need to move on to another piece.


  1. Awesome post, Anna! Thanks for sharing so much input on your process and including all the eye candy ;) I really dig the vertical format of the murder piece, you handled the space really well. And grats on the WotC gig! :)

  2. Yeah, the 'Brutal Murder' format's definitely a tough one. Great pieces, and it's interesting to see process stages.

    I'm always hesitant to include blood and gore - how much leeway to you have with WotC?

  3. I love the composition of the murder piece!!! And the stylized fog in the first piece is awesome too, it's Reality+ as they say.

  4. Love both pieces, but the composition in the Brutal Murder piece is killer(no pun intended!). Thanks for also sharing your process. :)

  5. Great post! The perspective, palettes, and design on both pieces is excellent, and I love the fog in the first one. But what gets me the most: a noble elf being torn apart by a filthy zombie... that's pure illustration gold.

  6. Thanks guys!

    Eric- yea, loved the vertical format (I love unusual formats for pieces, gives me a challenge).
    Sam- This one was a bit more forgiving I think than usual due to the nature of the piece, but I believe the rule of thumb is to keep it PG/PG-13 rated.

  7. Looking good! :D Zombie:1 Elf:0 - just the way I like it.

    Those reference images are outstanding!

  8. The zombie-eating-elf piece is my favorite of the two but I love the way you solved the extreme vertical layout on the second piece. That format is one of my favorites for designing within for Wizards, as I always learn something about layout when doing a piece at those dimensions. :) Your use of the window framing literally makes my brain expand the piece horizontally into something cinematic and awesome. Really impressive. Great solution.

  9. really dig the point-of-view on both pieces. thanks for putting in all the behind-the-scenes info, too! these are both really compelling pieces, and nice to see them together. your intention to really explore of point-of-view really paid off on these!