This interview is available in German and English — Dieses Interview ist in Deutsch und Englisch verfügbar!

Hello Wyndforge! Perhaps first you might like to introduce yourself, and tell us a little about your artistic work.

Hello and thanks for the opportunity to broadcast my work to all my friends in Europe! As you know my name is Wyndforge, but my friends call me “Wynd” 😀 Outside of Azeroth, I live in Los Angeles, California, right in the heart of Hollywood. I”ve lived here all my life, but have had the pleasure of visiting Europe during many of my travels, mainly Austria, Switzerland, England and France. By the way, there is probably no city in America that can match the beauty of Donnersbach Austria and Lucern Switzerland, two of my favorite European cities. I think it is largely because of my travels that has given me a real appreciation for history and art, and it sometimes guides me to do my artwork.

When and in which game did you get started with your custom character portrait creation? Your work reminds us of custom airbrush paintings on cars, and graffiti – was this perhaps a source of inspiration from the “real world”?


Wyndforge”s first image from EverQuest back in 1999

I started by pure chance on EverQuest back in 1999. Believe me, when I first started the portraits look nothing like they do now :) If you go to my “”About”” section on my website, you can see the very first portrait I made. Compare that with what you see now and you will see how it evolved so much, as I feel like I learn something new with each portrait I do.

Honestly my source of inspiration comes from pure “emotion” and not from a particular art technique. What I mean is, I will look at a player”s character on screen, and try to get a “feeling” from that character, and then try to tell a story about the player just by having him or her pose in a certain way. For example, “”Shoken”” is a Tauren warrior who means business, so his pose shows him stomping on the ground daring anyone to come near him. “”Grielva”” on the other hand will slowly and stealthily sneak up behind you to deliver one swift killing blow.

The quality of your works is remarkably good – did you visit an (traditional) art school or university, or did you teach everything yourself?

I actually do a lot of 3D graphics in real life, and I was self taught in that regard. Back in 1991 when I was in college, there were no classes available in 3D or computer art. I knew that is what I wanted to do in life, so I had to teach myself and build my first portfolio on my own. I first learned a 3D program on the Commodore Amiga, and later learned 3D Studio (today it is called 3DS Max), as well as Alias (now Maya). 3D software is great because you not only learn how to create 3D models, but you are also forced to learn Photoshop and other programs that require you to paint your own textures.

Can you make a living doing this these days, or is it still mainly a hobby?

Oh no, it”s just a hobby. The commissions help keep my computer running fast and my graphics card up-to-date :) I love MMORPG”s in general, and believe it or not, being “Wyndforge” is just part of the game for me. You can say I role-play as a real traveling artist who meets other heroes from all over Azeroth to paint their images!

For which games do you currently make, and for which additional games do you plan to make your custom portraits in the near future? Can we expect images for Blizzards upcoming blockbuster “StarCraft 2″, although it”s not an MMO with personal avatars?

I often get asked if I will do someone”s portrait for LOTRO (Lord of the Rings Online), or Guild Wars, etc. Who knows, maybe later I”ll feel inclined to venture to other games but right now my heart is in Azeroth. It”s simply amazing how Blizzard has brought real people from all over the planet, to live and adventure together for a few hours a night in a digital country with a population of 10 million :) And it doesn”t look like it”s slowing down either. As long as people keep playing WoW and as long as I keep getting requests, this is where I”ll stay.

Let”s talk a bit about the image creation process. Each picture is a custom character portrait – do you visit every player on their home servers, and make shots of different poses before you start your work, or do you have them send their own screenshots as templates to you (i.e. from server regions outside your home country)?

For the most part, yes I do try to meet people online to make that personal connection, even on the EU servers. The photo shoots are always a lot of fun, because it makes the player feel like a model :) For about 30 minutes I tell him or her to cast spells, emotes, duel a friend, etc. while I crouch and take screenshots in 1920×1200 with full antaliasing. One time, the player I was doing a portrait for brought me a gift – a full set of leather armor so I wouldn”t look like such a n00b when I took their photos. It was awesome.

On your website, there”s a detailed description how you put it all together, and you”re saying that you sometimes take body parts from many different – like 100 – shots until it all fits. Wouldn”t it be easier to use the popular WoW Model Viewer for your works? If not, is there a reason why?


Blood Elf Mage: Before – After

In fact, I sometimes do use WoW Model Viewer, and thank goodness for it! Sometimes it”s hard to meet people online, especially those in Europe, because of the time differences. So I sometimes switch to WoW Model Viewer, even if it is just to get a certain arm or weapon angle that I miss in person. The reason I don”t use WoW Model Viewer for ALL my portraits is because I still enjoy meeting people online and making that personal connection. I think it even carries over to the portrait in some way.

While you compose your images, do you already have a certain composition in mind, or do just try out different things – incl. parts or backgrounds from different games – until you think it looks good?

I almost never have the composition in mind until I meet the person. I have the player try a bunch of actions and then hone in on one or two that I really like. I “shoot from the hip” as we say in America. :) Sometimes, in the middle of the photo shoot, I”ll even open up Photoshop, copy the screenshot over, and then decide what arm/leg/weapon angle I need. I would then Alt-Tab back to WoW and have the player do more actions until I get that angle.

Sometimes though the player already has an idea of how he/she wants the pose to look like, so I do my best to accommodate their request. For example, there is one portrait I am doing right now where the player has some fantastic ideas about the shot. She wants her player”s back to be shown while she”s looking over her shoulder, as her pet stands protectively in front of her. I think this one is going to be a fantastic portrait – and it”s all due to the player”s amazing ideas.


Two portraits with backgrounds from Oblivion – Amrod and Teemull

One thing to note – when I did my EverQuest portraits, I never had a problem using other game backgrounds like from Morrowind or other RPG”s. But with WoW, I quickly learned that WoW players only want backgrounds from Azeroth :) The first few portraits in the galleries ( Amrod and Teemull) which use backgrounds from Oblivion will be the last you”ll ever see of that!

Once you have assembled the character from different shots, cleaned up the result from the remaining original backgrounds and composed it into the scenery of your choice, the work on the effects magic begins. Are these effects all hand-painted, or do you also use special f/x programs to generate them?

All the effects are done in Photoshop without the use of 3rd party filters and effects. I use a handful of techniques that quite honestly have evolved drastically over the years, and continue to evolve today. I will say this: Most of the effects begin with the airbrush tool. The rest? That is classified top secret Wyndforge material 😀

Since your work is all custom, can a customer make special wishes regarding the theme, or even details like the background and special f/x?

Yes, see the earlier question. As for backgrounds, I always ask the player if there is a particular background that is special or sentimental to them, and try to incorporate that. For the “”Shoken”” portrait, Shoken plays almost exclusively in the PvP arenas, so that background was at his request. As for effects, sometimes players will specifically tell me that they want something more fiery red or bluish purple.

Your work screams for computer desktop themes for gamers. Any plans to make a complete WoW theme for Windows and/or Mac in the future?

Wow, I never actually thought of that. But I think it would be great to have an automatically updating screensaver that loads the 10 newest portraits and circulates them as your wallpaper or screensaver. I”m just an artist though so I”d need someone to code that. If someone wants to write a theme-pack, I”ll gladly provide any custom images they would need. :)

Artistic work bases on inspiration – what are your sources? Do you have certain favorite artists, painters, filmmakers, musicians? Do you listen to music while you make the portraits, and if, which music/artists?

Great question. There are so many artists out there that inspire me it”s hard to keep track. I love visiting Deviantart and Conceptart.org to see what other artists are doing, and that gives me tons of inspiration – I really do think those artists help make the world a prettier place. If I were to pick one though, it would have to be Brom. Many times when I look at other fantasy art, the words “cool, nice and wow” come to mind. But when I look at Brom”s work, the words “BAD ASS” come to mind.

Music? Don”t get me started. When I really want to get in “The Zone,” I pop on my headphones and drift away to a lot of my favorites:

RB: Frankie Beverly | Donny Hathaway | Isley Brothers
Hip Hop: Notorious B.I.G. | Eric B. Rakim | Tribe Called Quest
Rock: Nirvana | The Killers | Rage Against the Machine
Soundtracks: 13th Warrior | Batman Begins | Morrowind: Elder Scrolls game soundtrack (it”s actually really good) :)

As the insider knows, the true magic of WoW lies between the two covers of the art books, which are filled with finest artworks and concept arts from Blizzards Samwise Didier, Peter Lee, Justin Thavirat, and others. Do you have any favorite images there, or a favorite artist?


The famous 3DS Max created crow from the WarCraft III E3 2000 teaser trailer

Oh there”s no way I could pick a favorite. They”re the real artists that”s for sure, and I”ve admired them deeply since day one. I think some of the other unsung heroes though are Blizzard”s Cinematics team that has given us all those amazing movies and 3D art. When those guys first released… no, unleashed the Warcraft III movies, many of us in the industry couldn”t believe they achieved that quality with 3DS Max*, as most of the really high-quality CG and animation work was all done in Maya* at that time. That backed by their amazing team of concept artists – it simply doesn”t get any better than that.

(* Note: Autodesk”s 3DS Max, formely known as 3D Studio Max, has been for a long time the de facto standard for game creation due to its ease of use. The more complex 3D program Maya, previously owned by Alias and now also Autodesk, is along with e.g. Softimage the de facto standard in the film special effects industry due to its refined architecture with excellent modeling, animation and rendering tools. Although 3DS Max never really made it into the A-class movies, Blizzard (and some other studios) have proven that you can create amazing cinematics with it, enough patience and additional tools provided.)

For the next expansion, “Wrath of the Lich King”, Blizzard has promised again an adventure of “epic scale” on a breathtaking continent. What would you personally like to see – from an artist”s point of view – in this add-on? What could be better than it is now? Imagine for a moment that you are the lead designer.

Well if I can be brutally honest for a moment, the first thing I would like to see is a texture upgrade. Let”s just get that out of the way right now :) I feel that too much of WoW”s art and design is lost in low-res “stretchy” texture maps. I understand that it”s because of this efficiency that we get the some of the best frame rates among all MMOG”s, but 256×256 texture maps on 1920×1200 screens, well you do the math. Players who have invested in fast computers and the best video cards should be able to get some of that love back from WoW.


A master at depicting an environment”s scale: Jean “”Moebius”” Giraud

Other than that, I really wouldn”t change much except maybe try to add to the world”s scale, as some of the environments feel a bit crowded. If you look at some of Jean “”Moebius”” Giraud”s work, you”ll see he”s a master at depicting an environment”s scale.

I just think it would be great to enter an area and instead of seeing a couple of trees and mountains in the distance, you could step in and have to pause a few moments because the landscape is so amazing and vast that you”re forced to catch your breath. For example: When you watch the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and the camera pans over Saruman”s tower, you almost get vertigo because of its enormous size with teeny tiny Saruman standing below. I”d like to see more of that in WoW!

Thanks very much for the interview, Wyndforge. We wish you the best in your future endeavors, and we”re looking forward to seeing more of your gorgeous pictures soon!

Thank you as well for this opportunity. A big and warm hello to all my friends in Europe – I hope you enjoy my portraits for years to come!

If you like to know more about Wyndforge and his art, don”t miss to visit his website!

Appendix

The following portrait shows the 1st prize image for the winner of our “”Death Knight”” – Fun-Screenshot Contest from February 2008. The warlock “Lýcia” of our reader Christian Dittrich has been immortalized on the digital canvas in a nightly “Northrendish” Winterspring scenery by screenshot maestro Wyndforge .

A touch of Northrend – Warlock “”Lycia”” in a nightly Winterspring scenery