Feb 09, 2012 - 6:29 PM Posted By 38 Comments
When you think about Blade & Soul the first thing that comes to mind are the characters. The in-game graphics that take full advantage of Kim Hyung-Tae’s work is still a hot issue amongst many players and fans.
However, it is not just Kim Hyung-Tae that does all the work. In fact, the character that was popular with a lot of CBT1 testers, Nam So-Yoo, was created by Lee Wang-Soo, lead designer of the concept art team. He has been friends with Kim Hyung-Tae for ten years and has been working on Blade & Soul since 2006.
Lee Wang-Soo has been working on concept art for races, backgrounds and the world of Blade & Soul since the beginning. Right now he works on characters, items and outfits as a guide and mentor. He is the man who breathes life into Blade & Soul and we’ve had a little chat with him.
I made Nam So-Yoo, says NCSoft’s Character Artwork Leader, Lee Wang-Soo.
“I’ve made a unique character fitting the scenario.”
What are the special traits and design concepts behind Blade & Soul's character design?
The games that currently exist in an eastern fantasy setting all have similar lore. Blade & Soul tried to move away from the typical Chinese concept and attempted to incorporate Korean and other eastern cultures as well. It is why we’ve tried to make the characters match the scenario.
What was the hardest thing about designing the various characters for Blade & Soul?
The hardest thing about designing a character is meeting Kim Hyung-Tae’s standards. Creating a character that fits the story wasn’t too hard because the scenario already defined the character’s personality very well, so the real challenge came in designing outfits that were different from other games with an eastern fantasy setting.
For example, trying to make a character that would blend well in eastern fantasy while remaining unique. It was a difficult balance to maintain with all of the outfits, and we've had a hard time trying to produce things that players haven't seen in other games.
Original artwork for the Lyn race. It looks a lot different.
Many say the art style of Art Director(AD from now on) Kim Hyung-Tae is either like it or hate it. What is your favorite character that you’ve created?
It is true, his style is so distinct that there's definitely a divide between those who like it and those who don't. However, if you look at it from a commercial art perspective I have a lot to learn. The hardest part of designing a character for Blade & Soul was mimicking Kim Hyung-Tae's art style.
As of now we’ve created a little guide after analyzing the AD’s art style, and with this guide we can recruit new members and still have that new member work on the artwork. As for my favorite character, it is Nam So-Yoo.
Nam So-Yoo was a hot issue during CBT. Is there a deep meaning/some kind of real life episode that you’ve based this character on?
There were many complex things that went into designing Nam So-Yoo, and even though she doesn’t exist I’ve taken her personality from a popular Korean drama called Wife’s Seduction and its lead character Koo Eun-Jae. Nam So-Yoo will also be a big part of Blade & Soul’s scenario.
The character’s traits are as you can see from the name; (Nam means Other and So-Yoo means belonging) it means “Someone else’s”. When I first got the name and the character I designed her like a normal girl, but after having a talk with the AD we came to the conclusion that it wasn’t right and reworked it.
When I worked on it the second time I tried to make her look confined; the design didn’t show her inner wickedness, simply making her look like a rich girl instead. The current incarnation of Nam So-Yoo came from when I worked on her for the third time. We wanted to show that undeniable charm, like a femme fatale and we tried to reflect that with her.
Blade & Soul’s popular NPC, Nam So-Yoo, and her original character artwork (left) compared to her in-game 3D model (right).
“Character design, we’ve approached it with designer label concept.”
When you work with the AD, how is the work divided?
As he is the art director, he came up with the original concept for the character. The artwork team creates characters, monsters and weapons. We receive scenarios from the development team and we have a conference with the AD and make rough concept sketches.
Each character will get about 3 ~ 8 sketches and we pick the design that best fits the personality or one that just has an awesome design and work on it from there. During this process if the character is someone that comes up in the main storyline, the AD personally picks them out. Rough estimate time of working on one character is about 8 ~ 10 days but characters like Nam So-Yoo can take up to a month.
We’ve heard Blade & Soul went for a Pan-Asiatic concept unlike other eastern fantasy games. How do you define this with the characters?
The one concept we’ve put great care into was the “Designer Label” concept. We try to create the outfits as a whole and since it is not divided into parts we have no normal specs for the outfits. We were able to create outfits that never existed in MMORPGs.
It was also hard to show the grade of the item without the stats. Instead of making a complex outfit a high grade one, we’ve tried to make a simple yet quality material the higher grade.
The one challenge we ran into while designing an Eastern outfit was “How do we make this look luxurious?”. Even though we tried to make the Ancient Full Dress Attire look cool, it didn’t come out looking good. As a result we tried to keep the original 90% and the new 10%.
We tried not to obsess with the Eastern concept and say instead, let's put the Eastern in the 10% of the modern and the results are the characters you see today.
Hong-Moon School Dobok looks more modern than Eastern Fantasy.
The original artwork and the in-game 3D models are almost identical, how much do you keep the 3D models in mind when designing your characters?
We’ve had many talks about the artwork when we saw how they implemented the AD’s design in-game in the early stages of development. Since they were able to bring out the full potential of the artwork in 3D models we had to really up the quality of the artwork to have a quality 3D model.
As a result we now give our full attention to the texture and the edges, as well as colors and little things in the artwork. From this we somehow managed to make the artwork look like an illustration, and the in-game models are a better quality as a result.
What are some of the characters you personally designed? Also, what are some things you wish people would look at the most in the characters?
There aren’t too many NPCs I’ve designed myself. Some are Kan Myo-Woul one of the Eight Grand Masters, Poison Herb Master and Hong Suk-Geun... the big version. Of the outfits, I’ve also designed the Infernal Dobok, and with females we’ve tried to make the outfits show the natural curves of women. The polygon counts are higher around those parts as well (laugh).
With the Infernal Lord boss monster we designed the monster first and then tried to make the outfit around the per-existing boss. There were some things that were changed but we are happy people and proud of the outcome.
Kan Myo-Woul of the Eight Grand Masters’ and her detailed original artwork (left) was perfectly modeled in 3D (right).
Since the females are so well defined the males play an awkward role in this game.
Right now 90% of the main characters are female (laugh). Internally we are trying to work on more male characters and truthfully we are slowly raising the numbers on male NPC’s to try to fit the ratio of male and female. Our next 3rd CBT will be a lot better regarding this problem.
We’ll see how many unique male characters make an appearance during the upcoming CBT3.
“Nam So-Yoo’s story will carry on until the end.”
Was there ever a case where the concept changed from the artwork?
Actually Nam So-Yoo was supposed to be Do Chun-Poong’s son’s wife and only make a brief appearance.
As I said before, after the third artwork was finished and shown to the team, we had a talk with the scenario writer and the project director and decided to carry her all the way to the end to Blade & Soul’s story. Almost every scenario will have Nam So-Yoo appear sooner or later.
Have you ever based your characters on a famous celebrity or taken note of Buddhism or Taoism?
We have a few character based on celebrities, as well as NPC’s based on developers. (First Interview) When you look at the credit roll you can see the relationships between the characters and the developers. We try to make the faces look similar, and the game will have many parodies regarding Korean programs and comedians.
We're currently avoiding any religious approach. In the beginning we tried a divided faction based on the concept of Yin and Yang, but from the concept of 건곤감리 (Kun-Gon-Gam-Lee: which is what the Korean National Flag’s based on. Kun means Sky while Gon means Ground) we only kept Kun and Gon.
Each race is a different size and concept, what was the easiest and the hardest character to create?
The concepts of the races were already made with Bae Jae-Hyung & Kim Hyung-Tae before I even joined on this project. Early development had each race with something unique like the Lyn’s ears and tail. Jins had wings, Gons had horns coming out of their skin and Kuns had a flower stalk.
Many of them disappeared during the development process but there are still things like Destroyer’s Iron Wall, which is formed from the horns coming out of the Destroyer to defend.
The easiest race to design was the Jins, as they were most like humans. The hardest was the Kun, because in the early stages of development the Kun were an intersex race, meaning they had no gender. So that gave us a lot of trouble, not knowing if we should draw them like females or males.
Later many artwork team members decided to make them into a slender female race and made them look Eastern European. I think they are the most attractive race.
There are many sexy outfits like the see-through outfits.
We try to avoid anything too suggestive or obvious. Of course we leave it to the designers, but we try to avoid outfits that would bring us bad press. We try to keep the sexy things part of the undergarments.
The see-through outfit shown during the Art Conference last year won’t be implemented in live servers.
Lastly, would you like to say anything to those dreaming of getting in the artwork industry?
Back in my days when you were drawing it was a fight with yourself, but now there are many tools and systems there to help you. Drawing is making your imagination come true and you should be able to show what you imagine in full detail.
I say read and draw a lot to get the experience, and later have a vision of what you want to draw and do it. For example if you have a vision of yourself wanting to draw better than the person in front of you, I think it will help you become a better artist. Right now, I personally think of Kim Hyung-Tae as my rival and I'm constantly trying to be better than he is.
This is probably something that everyone says but the best way to become better is to constantly try and put effort into your art. Look back and see if what you drew today is better than what you drew yesterday and if so, in what way it is better? Go back and try to fix the errors.
Source: ThisIsGame. Article translated by Yuan and Nayami.