Turians, Skaven, Archivists: Designing A New Species Pt. 1
Matthew DeMino is a professional illustrator based out of Texas. He joined the Solar Studios team after a selection process of hundreds for Art Director. Matt has been professionally working for over 6 years, doing work for companies like Nickelodeon, Dungeon in a Box, Albino Dragon, WB and various TTRPG teams and projects. He is an avid gamer, and specializes in fantasy illustration. Today, he’s sharing how a species of Dema is developed aesthetically from start to finish.
Hey Y'all! I’m going to walk you through my experience designing the Archivist species, because they were one of the most fun to work on in a project full of great species ideas.
A lot of team meetings go into what exactly a Redsky species should be like. What is their native environment? How do they live and interact with others? Clothing? Tools? Ancient doomsday weapons?
When the lore side of the team discussed what they were looking for visually in Archivists to me, we settled on expressing traits like intelligent, stoic, traditional, and having a strong heritage of martial arts skills. I also was told to look briefly at the Kaminoans from Star Wars for that nonhuman frame of reference. Kaminoans that can fight like John Wick. Heck yeah!
My first attempt was mainly to get feedback to expand on in later versions. It was a good starting point, but not enough to make them distinct. We wanted people that stood out as strongly and memorably as the Draenei in Warcraft.
These early Archivists were too bland. I skewed too apelike in their faces and their body structure was just a generic silhouette, with little to differentiate them. It reminded us of the Brutes from Halo, but skinny, which our nerdy snow fighters obviously didn’t share much in common with besides body hair.
I went back to the digital drawing board.
Never let anyone tell you art always gets better in a later draft. The second attempt was the one I was least happy with, and a candidate for the worst thing I've ever drawn.
I went in the opposite direction away from Brutes and wound up with Archivists that were way too lanky. Large fish like eyes, gangly swimmer bodies. You couldn't take them seriously as warriors who can hold their own against Wakewalkers, or like, just in general. Lanky fish nerds.
I was left with a feeling of needing to fix the body structure as soon as possible.
Now, these designs I liked the most. I adjusted their physiques from smooth and featureless to something with more weighty muscle definition. Still broad chested like a swimmer, but trim and physically defined. They’re masters of their body, a healthy balance of ape and elf. Their faces are more rugged and serious, but also more expressive. I liked where they were at physically. At this stage I still needed to revisit their body hair. Ultimately we decided on more full body coverage. Less hair for pants and more Tom Selleck.
But what about their body regulation? Their species trait of being able to control their metabolism was huge. It would be one of the main influences on how they might dress. Plus, there was their culture’s whole conservative, reserved “Water” vibe set in a cold climate. We’d need to see enough of their bodies to know when they were in heightened activity mode, but nothing scandalous or bad at keeping them warm.
This led me to think about clothing and item design.
I settled on using a rigid shape language to show that water element of their society.
Sticking mainly with right angles and squares. Firm, rigid, conservative and practical. You can see this in their gloves, for example, where the metal buckles are squared off. It’s aesthetically Water, and practical to hit people with.
Since Eldertech is such a big part of their history and culture, that design principle had to be related but distinct from Eldertech. Everything that connects Archivists to Eldertech carries that square language. The Eldertech itself, though, like the orb the female Archivist is using, stays rounded. It will never be fully assimilated into the Archivist culture. They worship, hoard, and use it, but they can’t reproduce it.
Now we had an anatomy, a clothing and item aesthetic, and enough lore to tie it all together. I feel proud of these Archivists. They’re fleshed out and complete. I’d say they were my best group to work on, but all the species feel that way when the dozens of choices you have to make finally click together like this. It’s hard to pick a favorite in Dema.
I’ll talk more about the designs of the other five species and more in future posts. Thanks for reading, everyone!