BlizzCon 2017: Art of Warcraft panel and Q&A surprises – upright Orcs, new Druid forms and more

Today’s Art of Warcraft panel mainly focused on the amazing new art and design we’re going to see in Battle for Azeroth. But it also held some surprises in a Q&A after the panel. Upright Orcs are on the way, as well as updated Druid forms to reflect the Allied Races. Goblin and Worgen models are still being worked on – not for release with 8.0, but it will be happening eventually. In addition, those quivers for Hunters that were mentioned way back when the original model updates were ongoing? That’s a conversation that is still happening, now that the days of Artifact weapons are coming to a close.

However, that’s all Q&A. Let’s talk about the panel – which included brief overviews of things we’ll be seeing in Battle for Azeroth.

Creating new cultures

Senior Character Artist Christopher Chang gave a brief overview of the different cultures we’ll be seeing in the next expansion. Kul Tiras and its residents are practical, tough, and battle hardened from years spent fighting enormous sea creatures and other enemies. That might sound a little bit like Gilneas, but there’s a distinct difference in the design approach. Nautical motifs feature heavily in Kul Tiran design, whether it’s armor, weapons, scenery, or architecture. Even the character models are different, reflecting the culture of Kul Tiran lifestyle.

The same applies to the Zandalar. We’ve encountered them before, but they wanted to deliver a fresh approach. What we’ve seen has been just a small piece of what is a vast civilization steeped in ritual. Zuldazar and the Zandalar pull heavy references from Aztec and Mayan culture – it’s reflected in the environment, as well as the Zandalar themselves. Armor and weapons are littered with gold and ornate carvings. And of course we can’t forget the dinosaurs – that giant one from the trailer? It dwarfs a Devilsaur.

Worldbuilding and spells

Senior Animator Ian Lang spoke about worldbuilding, and how that strong cultural narrative drives the things they make. They want to create a cohesive experience. Each NPC has a reason for being where it happens to be. A naval port like Freehold is going to have merchants, which means that merchandise is going to attract rogues and riffraff. Guards are needed to keep things safe, and town criers are needed to make sure everyone knows the rules. New idle poses and animation has been added for a lot of these NPCs as well.

In the realm of spells and other important shiny stuff, FX Artist Sarah Carmody discussed some of the spell changes we’ve already seen in Legion so far. This is, in fact, an ongoing process – they aren’t done, and they’re planning on hitting spells from every spec in the game. The idea behind the changes is to do a better job of visually communicating what a spell does. Is it damage, is it healing? Simple changes, like softening the shapes in spells can help make that distinction more clear.

Environment and zones

Senior Environment Artist Tina Wang talked about some of the news zones we’ll be seeing, and the thought that went into the environmental design process. Zones like Nazmir in Zandalar were designed with inspiration taken from salt marshes and swamps. New water has been designed for this expansion, allowing the environmental team to create murky water with muck at the edges. While they do take their influence from the real world, they try to make each piece of scenery feel unique. In Nazmir, we’ll be seeing ancient, massive trees with upended root systems that players can run through. They do try to design with both dark and light spaces in mind, however – they don’t want players stuck in dark and gloomy places all the time.

Dungeon Artist Jessica Clarke spoke about the thought behind architecture and structure design in Battle for Azeroth. The Dungeon team doesn’t just design Dungeons – they also design buildings around the world as well. For Kul Tiras, building design was inspired by study of ships and ship structure. The shape of windows and balconies reflects the idea that this is a seafaring culture, with nautical design motifs sprinkled throughout for hits of additional flavor. Architecture design also helps define the culture – a building of thieves isn’t going to look very fancy, whereas the more upper class citizens are going to have more ornate structures.

Prop design

Prop Artist Ashleigh Warner went over props – all the little pieces that make spaces feel lived in. For the Zandalari, they went back and looked at what they’d done before, and how to make that feel new again. They dove into that Mayan and Aztec influence, and brought in that dinosaur motif as well. The Zandalari are an ancient culture, spiritual and intellectual, but they’re also Trolls – and still wild.

Warner also spoke briefly about creating material for holiday events. The prop team loves working on holidays, because it allows them to be a little sillier than normal – but it also presents challenges. With the Auction House Dance Party, they had to figure out how to make something as complex as a DJ turntable fit into WoW without looking too advanced. Check out the gallery for an extended look at the new art and designs we’ll be seeing in Battle for Azeroth – there’s some extraordinary stuff in there.

Art Q&A

On to that surprise Q&A, featuring Senior Art Director Chris Robinson, Lead Prop Artist Dan Moore, Lead Environment Artist Ely Cannon, Lead Character Artist Dusty Nolting, and Lead Animator Steve Aguilar.

  • Q. We’re seeing heritage armor for races – are we going to see similar armor for the old races?
    A. They’re excited about the prospect, but nothing planned. They may look at that in the future.
  • Q. The new NPC idle animations – are those going to be incorporated into character special idles to give our characters more personality?
    A. This is the first pass for this – their hope is that they can pepper it into playable races, but for now it’s just NPCs.
  • Q. How do they improve Zandalar culture and art to make it seem more vibrant and alive — what kind of improvements were done to attire and clothing?
    A. Colors and what they wear, how reflective is their gold. They refer back to older troll armor sets, and design new – taking in the dinosaur motif, using Zandalari skulls on belts and shoulderpads and that kind of thing. When you walk around the city, they try to match the characters to their zones – make them look like they belong there.
  • Q. FX question from a Warlock main. What slows down the reimagining of the magic process – what happened?
    A. It’s complicated – they’re working through all the different schools and specs of magic. They’re working through every class as well; making sure each class uses them differently. Warlock shadow magic looks different from priest shadow magic, etc. It’s happening, it just takes time.
  • Q. How do you breathe life into creatures and characters? They feel realistic when running around the world.
    A. They look at a lot of reference material – creatures with similar anatomy. Things like murlocs are different; they bounce different ideas off of each other.
  • Q. Question for Chris Robinson – Quivers, when are Hunters getting them?
    A. He jumped the gun when he mentioned them before – they weren’t at the point where they knew they were going to do Artifact weapons. They had to put it on pause so they didn’t cannibalize anything from that system. Now they’re having that conversation.
  • Q. Where do they draw inspiration from – Gilneas seems more English, Kul Tiras seems different.
    A. References come from a variety of sources. They want to capture the larger theme, rather than a specific real-world cultural theme. It’s very organic – sometimes they want specific concepts, sometimes they go off of concept art and build on that. It’s a collaborative process between the team.
  • Q. Armor – will the other allied races get more different stuff for their quest rewards? (The question was a bit confusing.)
    A. Yes, Allied Races can wear any armor set they currently have access to – they aren’t stuck with Heritage armor. But Heritage armor is tied to the allied race it’s meant for. If you have a Zandalari, you won’t be able to wear Highmountain totems, etc.
  • Q. Model updates – characters look amazing, armors looks amazing. But there’s been no new plate bikinis since BC, when will there be more?
    A. It’s a polarizing thing, and they don’t want to offend people. What they look at while designing armor is what’s appropriate for the race, class, and story they are telling.
  • Q. Hats! Is there a chance hats won’t continue to give everyone unexpected and free haircuts?
    A. Good question! There are lots of Kul Tiras hats in the works. Unfortunately, making every hat in the game fit with every hairstyle in the game is hugely difficult, it would be too hard to put together.
  • Q. With the Zandalari as an Allied Race, that means Horde trolls can now stand up straight. Anyone else in the works, like orcs or tauren shadow priests?
    A. Bent spines are neat on all the races, they think. But surprise – they will be adding upright Orcs!
  • Q. Where’s the Goblin and Worgen model updates?
    A. They’re not planned for Battle of Azeroth, but the team hears the playerbase, they’re going to see what they can do about it. Chris Robinson speaks up and says to be clear – they are working on that. It’s not on the slate for 8.0, but it will be happening eventually.
  • Q. Druid – are we getting new travel forms for new allied races? Moose travel form, more Mayan influence for Zandalari Trolls?
    A. Yes, there are new Druid forms on the way!
  • Q. Allied races and their body types as they are currently in game – is that going to translate into character creation as well?
    A. Yes, it’s making its way to character creation in Battle for Azeroth.
  • Q. Will there be any fishing pole or fishing pole artifact appearance updates?
    A. They love making fishing poles – they’ll be adding some kind of fishing poles in Battle for Azeroth.
  • Q. Green fel flame was added back in the day for Warlocks. Are other classes going to get other colors for their spells?
    A. Nope! Color variation makes it hard to read what those spells are.
  • Q. Mail transmog looks really weird on new Gnome Hunters. Are they going to update anything about that? Older and newer gear looks weird.
    A. Unfortunately, stuff is sometimes lost in translation when scaling up or down for different sized models. But this is something they’re constantly watching and tracking.
  • Q. Are some of the changes we’ve seen in the environment going to be applied retroactively to places like Westfall and other old areas?
    A. They’re going to make updates where they make sense. So if they start working on new content and it makes sense to update, they’ll update the zone. But they’re also working on updates to the fidelity of the game with effects like fog, working on lighting tuning, that sort of thing.
  • Q. Any future plans to restore the transparency to shadow form?
    A. No plans specifically for shadow priests right now. If it’s something that people really want, they’ll look into it.
  • Q. Are there real-world historians on staff that help the art team pull from real-world cultures and references?
    A. There are Azeroth historians, but no specific real-world historians.
  • Q. What were some of the favorite things designed for the new expansion?
    A. Steve Aguilar: The trolls hanging from posts, Kul Tirans leaning against walls – things that create a mood.
    Dusty Nolting: Allied races – coming up with new Void Elves, how many moose horns go on a Highmountain Tauren, coming up with new choices for players.
    Ely Cannon: Coming up with what the zones are going to be – he really likes Nazmir, they’ve been wanting to make really big trees you can walk under for a while. New landscapes.
    Dan Moore: Excited about everything from Kul Tiran lampposts to Zandalar tents!
    Chris Robinson: Maybe it’s the fact that there are two distinct continents, but it’s too hard for him to pick just one thing!
  • Q. Will there be any improvements in mount riding animations?
    A. That’s very challenging, they’ve been researching how to try and make that work, but there are a lot of mounts out there. They’re looking into it!
  • Q. Cloth gear – can we get more options that aren’t robes?
    A. If they can make a shadow priest look awesome without a robe, they’ll do it.
  • Q. Transmog system – ever any plans for an armor dye system?
    A. It’s really complicated to go back and retrofit armor like that; there are thousands of models out there. Maybe someday…but in the far distant future.
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