Friday, December 13, 2013

Games of the Mighty And Powerful

Dračí Doupě II: Hry mocných (Dragon's Lair II: Games of the Mighty) is a supplement rulebook for the Dračí Doupě II roleplaying game, which I worked on and which was released in June 2011.

I've done all the illustrations for classes back then and I got to paint all the class illustrations for this "advanced" rulebook.

DrDII comes with a low fantasy setting you can use for the game (but the rules don't depend on it). Its inspiration comes mainly from Slavic myths and much of it is fairly closely based on early medieval times. It's all hills, rivers, fields, forgotten ravines and decaying bronze age hillforts. Bands of steppe people roaming vast plains, rich merchants travelling between walled cities by rivers under heavy guard. It's about adventuring in small villages full of ordinary characters as well as facing supernatural threats in complex cities.
If you've played any of The Witcher games, it's quite similar.

                                  (concept art for The Witcher, NOT painted by me, (c) CD Projekt RED)

It's quite possible to play with western-style-fantasy flying ships, paladins in shining plate armour worshipping their angry gods and dark elves living in the Underdark. We just like our own semi-Slavic flavour better. :)
(another example of such regional RPG flavour would be Drakar och Demoner in Sweden)

What I enjoy about this work is mainly the low key aspect. This advanced book is aimed at players at high levels, who want to lead armies, build cities and defeat godlike creatures. Still, while I had to show these classes are very powerful and that they have abilities far beyond what the basic classes can do, they had to stay believable and...plain? Simple?

Here's all 10 of them (painted in ArtRage 4):



1st row: Kroll** Warlock is carried by his company of diseased cultists./ Dwarven Inquisitor is using her seer ability to investigate a murder./ Elven Wonderdoer (super skilled wizards) walks a path in Between the Worlds and wards off hostile elder beings
2nd row: Human Avenger is quite smug about her ability to sneak up on a heavily protected villain. / Kroll Destroyer in her half-dragon form is wrestling a hydra./ Human Palatine is receiving a blessing to fight an undead wolf demon.
3rd row: Hobbit Shadow carrying a bag of precious loot escapes a guard./ Elven Leader rouses a crowd./ Dwarven Elementalist uses his affinity with the earth to ambush a travelling army.
4th row: Female hobbit Zhretz*** receives tribute from devoted villagers.

** - krolls are a DrD specific race, similar to half orcs in their strength. They also have bat like ears and hearing.
*** - Žrec was a name for Slavic priests, we used it for a class of shaman/druid like super priests of Nature.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Come hang out on webcam!

AetherCon is an online convention. Last year I only watched a couple of my fellow artists' online booths, this year I'm participating as well.

This weekend (15th-17th November) you can come and watch me paint on webcam, we can chat, I'll probably do a sword/armour tutorial and answer questions. Or we can bore everyone by talking endlessly about Tolkien.

I'll be on at these times:

Friday: Jan Pospisil- 2 PM- 5 PM EST
Saturday: Jan Pospisil- 1 PM- 4 PM EST
Sunday: Jan Pospisil- 1 PM- 4 PM EST

 For my Czech/central European friends, that's 20.00-23.00 and 19.00-22.00 in our local GMT+1 timezone.

My public AnyMeeting profile is here:

You should be able to get to all the streams from there.

I hope to see you tomorrow (or on Saturday. Or Sunday.)!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The hand that wields it

"What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?"

Tonight's post will be another in the "Drawing swords" series!

In the past I've talked about the importance of proportions, axis alignment and other aspects of a good sword drawing. Now we'll talk about weight.
Swords being portrayed as heavy unwieldy bludgeons is a trope I try to fight against. However, in art, giving a sword some weight can be a good thing.

How much do swords weigh and why do we care?

It depends on the sword. You can completely disregard any talk of swords weighing more than 3.5 kilograms.
The biggest swords ever weighed around 5-6 kg and the heaviest among them are considered to be either executioner swords, or parade weapons not intended for actual combat. Of course, weight would depend on the user, strong men could afford really big swords. But!
We're still talking about swords used with both hands, for very specific purposes.

Single handed swords would weigh from around a kilo, to about 1,5 kg. Interestingly - medieval longswords (used with two hands) would fall into the same range! (their blades are generally slimmer)

For real life reference - that's less than a two liter bottle of soda.
read more on Wikipedia:

This is less than most people assume, but it's not an insignificant weight.

What does it have to do with drawing swords?

A lot of information about the human body's anatomy and pose is very subtle and difficult to construct without reference. That's why we shoot reference for paintings, using whatever props we have. We can definitely appreciate these subtleties in art if they're done right - everything just feels natural.

What do we look for with swords? Their weight should affect their wielder's bearing (how much depends on the desired "story" of the painting - are they out of balance, because they're swinging wildly? Are they entirely in control, like the cool calm blademasters they are?) and almost more importantly, the sword should look natural in their hands. A lot could be said about swords not really fitting into hands, clipping through space where palms or fingers should be etc. This can be avoided quite easily - just photograph yourself holding something sword-like.

I apologize for looking tired in this pic, I was quite tired indeed. (as to why there is a stoned frog on the mirror, I have no idea) This is what I use for reference most of the time - an old practice sword. It's wooden, but the shape is quite close and it weighs around a kilo, so it makes a usable substitute.

Two things about using reference:
1) A sword is absolutely the best choice you can make. A broom handle, or a plastic lightsaber might work as well, but you're missing on some of the subtle differences. Sword handles are often not entirely round, instead they have an oval profile. Weight distribution and the object's overall weight also matter - a broom handle or a plastic lightsaber are both very light and will not make your hand and arm react the same way as a sword would. If you weigh them down, be careful where you're putting that weight. (you might end up with an "axe/mace" if you put it at the end of the stick) Most swords have a point of balance about a palm width from the crosspiece. A sword has a flat profile and edges, if you use a round stick, you'll lose that reference information.
2)  Learn how to handle a sword, at least the basics. Swing it about a bit, carry it around, even if looks silly. Get a "scabbard" and try walking around with a sword on your belt, try sitting down etc. Learn how to grip a sword properly - most people try to use swords like baseball bats, golf clubs, hockey sticks and other sports gear. (I wrote about that in my sword sins post) Most of the time their grip is way too tight.

Kingdom of Heaven is a good film to watch for sword handling reference, Liam Neeson shows you that swords are not weightless and that it's badass and practical to rest one on your shoulder.

A painter who does swords very well (of course he does, he's a medieval reenactor himself) is John Howe. Here's a painting of his which has been among my very favourite of his for a long time - Yvain and the lion:

It may not seem so at first, but that's one big sword! But it looks just right, like it belongs where it is, resting on Yvain's shoulder as he gazes off screen.

Oh and here's another John Howe piece - "Tom Badgerlock" from Robin Hobb's novels. You can see he clearly took a photo of a friend in armour with a sword. (he describes the process on page 64 of his "Fantasy Art Workshop" book.

Specially for what the fingers do while handling a sword, I recommend watching real fighters and sword users in videos and going through their motion frame by frame. You can also use these frames for pose reference.
Here's a good explanation of a grip:

I especially like his comment on mostly using the two middle fingers to grip, this is something I came to use myself. The outside two fingers do most of the sword manipulation and allow for a wide range of movement within the grip.
I don't know if this guy does any sparring, but his sword handling and cutting ability is formidable.

They're defenseless plastic bottles, but see how they mostly don't fly off and instead he's able to cut them into tiny slices? That's good edge alignment during a cut, there's little resistance that would otherwise send them flying. See how light the sword looks in his hand? That's practice right there. ;)

What you won't generally get from bottle cutters is real combat stances and intensity, their form is very controlled and they don't move about much. For intensity and intent, I'd recommend something like these guys:

They're using lighter training swords, so it's mostly for the way their bodies move during combat.

Certain aspects of John Clemens' interpretation of fencing manuals are disputed by many in the HEMA community, but you can see the many different types of grips possible in this video, it has nice closeups on the hands.

What should we do about it then?

Painting is often not about recreating reality exactly, slight exaggerations (of things rather subtle in reality, which we don't notice consciously) are quite necessary to make an image dynamic and to improve its storytelling.

Making a sword seem slightly heavier than it would look in reality helps ground it in the scene as a real object, it needs to interact with its environment and with the person holding it. 
Looking for examples of my own art to illustrate this post, I realized I don't actually get to do many sword-wielding characters. I also noticed I tend to prefer a specific sword pose, where the sword hangs point down, its weight dragged into the cut. (possibly from a hanging parry, or a thrust position)

I now see things I could improve upon, but the general idea is there - the fact fingers are not wrapped rigidly around the handle, the wrist is not stiff and straight, the way the body turns into the cut (you don't cut with just the arm, it's like punching in boxing - the whole body twists to generate momentum). 

That's it for today! It took quite a while to explain something fairly simple - 

Remember swords weigh something, that they should look like your character is actually holding them, carrying them, or swinging them with force. Take reference pictures and know what makes good sword reference. Done! :)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Designing the Wailing Sword

This is a copy of my post in a fanart thread over at the Project Eternity forums. PE is an RPG being made by Obsidian Entertainment.


(Background: During the last hours of the Kickstarter video stream, Chris Avellone expressed a certain opinion on swords. To quote (from memory), it was "Swords are boring!". When I protested in the chat, he continued to say that "If you like swords, there's something seriously wrong with you."

I should probably mention that I absolutely love swords. Swords, to me, are super interesting, I could read about their evolution, design, decoration and other aspects for hours and hours. And not only are they very cool as tools with a certain purpose, their role throughout history (other than "you poke people with the pointy end") is fascinating as well.

I decided I would attempt to prove Chris Avellone wrong.

The next day after the stream, I was sitting on an early morning bus, heading to the city where I went to school at the time. It was dark, the engine's humming made me sleepy, but all of a sudden, an idea for a sword struck me. I kept thinking about it the whole time and quickly typed it all in my phone, so that I didn't forget any of the brilliant ideas. (:D)

Then I got really busy with school and illustration work, so the sword didn't get painted until today. I found myself with a free evening and having backed the Torment Kickstarter, it reminded me of the sword design in my desk's drawer.)

Last note: I had NOT yet played Planescape: Torment when I came up with the idea, I was actually bringing my old CD of PT with me on the bus! I played it about a month later and when I got to Dak'kon and read the description of his sword, I thought: "Oh."  
I have to wonder, it seems like the only sword there is in that game. Did Avellone write it? That'd make me SO mad. :D

Wailing Sword of Eír Glanfath

Lore: This ancient elven short sword is made of obsidian, inlaid with copper, the copper handle decorated with opal. Powerful yet unknown magic has been used for its making - the obsidian blade does not shatter on impact, if it's wielded by a warrior of strong will. Mages speculate that the copper inlay transfers the impact and vibrations into the handle, where the opal heads with tongues stuck out connect it to the soul of the user. This puts the mind under pressure, similarly to how ciphers use their gift sometimes.
The stronger the warrior's soul and will are, the more powerful the sword becomes. However, one moment of weakness, one break in concentration and the user may end up blank eyed and babbling, wiggling on the floor in a pool of urine. As a reflected wave, this energy flows back into sword and comes out of the opal heads on the pommel, transformed into sound. It's form and intensity range from subtle humming to blood-curdling wailing.
It is rumored that if an especially weak minded person draws the sword, it'll break in the slightest breeze. Or it may even shatter and kill its bearer with an explosion of burning obsidian shards.

Design ideas: As far as I know, the ancient elves of Eír Glanfath are described as quite primitive, technology-wise, yet with impressive knowledge of astronomy and so on. I went with a very simple, yet ellegant bronze age design - a short leaf blade and a cone pommel. The sword is vaguely reminiscent of celtic weapons, but I didn't stick too close to any historical style. It's magical after all, so it's longer than any obsidian weapon we could reasonably imagine. Beside obsidian I chose the most primitive metal I could think of - copper. No idea if the elves actually used metal or not, this one has that ancient look for sure. Opal is just cool, I really liked the idea of it being a magical transformer for soul energy. ;)
Obsidian I chose for obvious reasons, but also because it's supposed to (perhaps as an urban legend) hold an edge one molecule wide and thus able to cut anything. (if only it wasn't fragile! hey, magic solves that problem! ;))
The copper inlay all revolves around sound. The blade decoration looks a bit like a signal, a sine wave and a snake (Ouroboros? I know they got rid of that, it's an old idea). The guard ended up looking a lot like pointy elven ears, but that was NOT intentional. Maybe it was subconscious. The arms holding the "signal" symbolize the user's soul grip on things being the only thing keeping the sword intact.
The opal faces are pretty self explanatory - the handle ones dig into your palm, make it slightly uncomfortable to use, reminding you of the responsibility you have when you draw the sword. 

Possible system uses: 

- obviously more damage or armour piercing if the user's willpower or soul power (uh, whatever stat you choose :D) is higher
- regular roll checks if the sword breaks and hurts you?
- maybe there's a chance the wailing (if you do a critical?) scares some of your opponents and breaks their morale?
- maybe you can do sonic attacks by waving it wildly? Or if you hit the ground?

So, that's that. It'd be kind of cool if I could mod it into the game one day, but who knows how that turns out. (2017 edit: It didn't. Boo! :D Obsidian, we want mods!) 

Let me know what you guys think. ;)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

How I do things

The wonderful people at Cubicle 7 have been nice to put up an interview Iain Lowson did with me. I talk about  making of the cover for the Dark Harvest anthology. (that Frankenstein monster with a train)

I know I described my process in the previous blog post in more detail, but this might be of interest to some as well. Maybe. Who knows? I don't. I hint at a secret exciting project too!