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Growing Away from the Standard

By David North on August 16, 2011 | Columns | Comments

Growing Away from the Standard

Receiving a description to a race of beings that don’t exist can sometimes be a very exciting event.  You may have some ideas in your head that you just have to get on paper before you forget them, so you do your best to sketch as many of those images in your head as you can before they get replaced with new ones.  Then comes the research to integrate into your sketches to make sure you are being unique with your ideas.  After that, revisions followed by several more revisions, sprinkled with a heavy coat of, you guessed it, more revisions.  Yes, I have learned this the hard way.  As a concept artist, dealing with revisions is a challenge, but the job is exciting and sure is a lot of fun.

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When I read the description that the team over at ArenaNet acquired, while getting ready to design the Sylvari, (noble, beautiful, and plant-like) I can see that they have done an incredible job of meeting the description perfectly, but not without jumping over some hurdles.

Based on the first couple of pieces we have seen for the Sylvari, we can see that though they are well done, they still seemed a bit plain and basic.  They were very humanlike with just a few plantlike aspects thrown in.  But this was the first stage of evolution for this race in the heads of the concept artist.  Remember, there are several times a concept will be revised, and the revisions really paid off.

Earlier last week, we finally got to see the finished product, and boy, am I impressed.  The first thing I love about the design is the element of being plants is very strong, and without being too much like an Ent.  The Sylvari appear to have bodies that are created by several different leaf formations, as though they formed a husk that contains a life essence inside.  This design is very believable within a fantasy setting too, as the artists have based this on actual plants we see every day. They have different points that act as a center of growth, where the leaves all meet and grow out from, to create a husk body.

The most unique feature to the Sylvari’s design is their facial structure.  I love how the artists use leaf formations to give a great bit of detail to the face.  These small details are placed so that they guide your attention along the side of the face, turning into ears or shapes representing facial hair.  They also use these leaf formations to give a sense of eye brows above the eyes.  This gives the Sylvari a familiar yet unique look. And let’s not forget about their eyes as they are unique as well.  I remember watching the special features of the LoTR films and how they came up with the design for Treebeard.  They made his eyes to look like orbs of dried tree sap.  That was a neat look that worked for the character, but for the Sylvari, ArenaNet went with a different approach that fits their description better.  They used bright colors and filled in the entire eye in a way that makes them seem like you can see the magical essence that is held within their husks.

Using the leaf formations on their faces, your eyes attention is gently moved to their hair which is created using a variety of leaves and branches that have a much deeper texture.  These top leafs also grow in a shape that mimics the style of real hair.  They also used flowers to help add a decorative feel, much like a human would use ribbons to accessorize.  Some styles use a lot of branches to give sense of movement, giving them a great silhouette.

I was not sure exactly how armor would work on the Sylvari, since they are very plant like, but the ArenaNet team tackled that challenge by giving their armor a look that gives a sense that the Syvari and their armor are one.  The armor designs are created using the same principles as the ones for designing the Sylvari. They use growth points for leafs, branches and bark to grow from.   These plant aspects twist around the form of the Sylvari surrounding the husk with yet another layer, but this one is thicker and more decorative. It’s really amazing how complex the armor is, yet their overall silhouette seems familiar, like clothing and armor we see from other races.

It’s really is refreshing to see how the Sylvari turned out.  They don’t look like humans with long ears and a couple leaves in their hair.  They look like a sentient plant, a beings that are truly meant to live and wander around the great forest of Tyria.  And though I may not play a Sylvari character in-game, I am very excited about interacting with them, both NPCs and other players. They will bring a variety to Guild Wars that have not been experienced in a game for a long time.

Are you guys happy with how the Sylvari came out?  Will any of you be playing with this race in Guild Wars 2?  Leave some comments telling us what you think.

David North / All my life I've been a gamer, from side scrolling adventures to shooters, it was only a mater of time before the RPG genre would grab a hold of me. My love for games grew so much that I started to make them. It grew even more, and now I also write about them.
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