The Art Of… Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance – “D&D art has so many different styles and artists that I did not feel trapped in one distinct style”

Just saying ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ brings to mind an avalanche of genre-defining fantasy art. So with Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance coming to consoles and PC last month, we reached out to Tuque Games art director Stefan LeBlanc to discuss his interpretation of the classic Forgotten Realms setting

What were your initial thoughts on the project?

My initial thought on art directing a Dungeons & Dragons game was, “This is going to be liberating!”. There wasn’t one particular set look or style, so I could truly make it my own.

With so much D&D art to draw from, how did you even begin to decide on your take?

D&D art has so many different styles and artists that I did not feel trapped in one distinct style and I knew that I was going to create a stylised look. One of my favourite fantasy artists is Paul Bonner; I like his high fantasy style, especially for characters, which I used for inspiration. My other artistic and stylistic inspirations for Dark Alliance came from European comic book artists like Frezzato, Civiello, Druillet, Moebius, Loisel and Enki Bilal.

Tell us how the art was created and by whom?

The art was created by our in-house artists. My assistant art director, Lincoln Hughes, who is also a very talented level artist, headed the environment team. With a few in-house concepts he produced the entire visual creative benchmark and, with the help of two or three other level artists and modellers, really nailed the environmental style.

I have one in house character concept artist, Vincent Gauthier who concepts most of the major characters and we had one character modeller, Nicolas Garilhe, at the beginning, so we did need to outsource some characters and concepts but eventually the art team grew during production and became completely self-sufficient.

We now have an art team of 16 talented artists, character and content modellers, concept, lighting and level artists.

What tools and techniques were used to create the game’s look?

We decided to use Megascans as well as a lot of custom textures. By using Megascans from the outset, it meant that we would have very realistic textures and so to achieve our high fantasy look, we went with a stylised approach in sculpting and exaggerating the size of things. Giants built most of our world, so it makes sense that our structures are massive. 

Another very important aspect in getting our world to feel high fantasy was the lighting and the colour palette, which is generally two complementary colours and a tertiary colour to add some punch.

How did the art evolve with the project?

A big challenge from the outset was building such a huge world. We were focussed on how much content we could actually build, so we worked with architecture kits. These architecture kits are kind of like building blocks which rely on the creativity and imagination of the level artist to craft environments that look and feel different from map to map. 

We chose a Giant architecture kit for Kelvin’s cairn and Icewind dale, a Dwarven architecture for the Dwarven valley, a Cultist architecture for the spine of the world and two kits to help dress the four biomes, a Duergar mining kit and a Goblin wooden fortification kit. Those were our basic building blocks.

Our art evolved by focusing on the enemies and making each mission’s tone and style reflect the enemy’s culture and beliefs. This helped us to have a distinct feel for every mission and make our world so much richer and authentic.

Icingdeath is covered in sharp ice-like scales. She is armed with a spiky tail to attack enemies behind her. Her breath is freezing flames. She is truly a creature of the frozen Dale.
The dwarven valley is lined with marble sculptures of past kings from which waterfalls flow.
The Gnoll are sacrificing barbarians to their god Yeenoghu in hopes of getting possessed by him.
This ritual is mentioned in the monster manual but not explained in detail, so we went for a drum and dance ritual mixed in with a bit of sacrificial magic.
Netherees technology is used by devils to bring sections of Icewind Dale to hell.
Kelvin’s tomb is lit by eternal flames. His spirit has been imprisoned within his sarcophagus for thousands of years. His helmet of power is locked inside, resting on the king’s corpse and secured by powerful magic.
The spirit of the forest is tied down by its own tree of life. The life-giving tree has been corrupted by necrotic forces taking over the land. The wraiths have come to suck the life magic from the spirit and feed it to their totems of corruption.
The Dwarven halls have been overrun and taken by the Duergar. The Duergar have erected idols of their god Laduguer and are mining the mithril from the temple’s decorated dwarven walls.
A devil sacrificial altar.  Here lie the soulless corpses of those who have not abided by their contract.
The Duergar bomber is equipped with a bomb carrier from which he can easily charge his catapult and rain an explosive assault on his enemies.
Kelvin the frost giant king. His helmet is made from the horns and lower jaw of a dragon and the skull of a Yeti. He wears the skull and bones of many victims as trophies. His boots are lined with jagged metal to inflict maximum pain on his smaller enemies.

About Chris Wallace

Chris is MCV/DEVELOP's staff writer, joining the team after graduating from Cardiff University with a Master's degree in Magazine Journalism. He can regrettably be found on Twitter at @wallacec42, where he mostly explores his obsession with the Life is Strange series, for which he refuses to apologise.

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