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The Visuals of Thedas

By Dragon Age concept artist Nick Thornborrow (@Nthornborrow)

“Let’s have Morrigan bringing the fire.”

That was the direction I got from my art director after he dug up a painting that I’d done years ago. When I’d done it, I wasn’t even on the Dragon Age team and had some downtime between projects to play around a bit with some illustrations. I was inspired by a description of magic in the DA universe being this dangerous and unwieldy thing, and I tried to capture that in a painting of a mage conducting fire with reckless power. Swirls of ash and flame threaten to engulf him even as the hem of his cloak ignites. It turned out pretty cool. But I moved on to a new project, and that painting got tucked away.

That is, tucked away until we started working on the lore book and we were planning cover ideas. When my art director found this old painting, it felt like the right fit for the cover—except that the mage wasn’t anyone in particular. We both knew we wanted Morrigan and Flemeth to be featured on the cover of the book, so that’s how this old painting I’d done just for kicks got recast and reincarnated as the cover illustration for Dragon Age: The World of Thedas – Volume 1.

Concept artists try to bring an entire world to life, expanding beyond the scope of any one game. A lot of the art we do never really sees the light of day. One of the cool things about working on The World of Thedas was getting to sift through the thousands of images that have been produced over the years, and to finally have a reason to showcase some locations that you’ve heard of but never actually seen.

You might recognize some of the frescoes that decorate the start of each chapter from the load screens and exposition sequences in Dragon Age II. The frescoes are cool because they’re an example of in-world artwork that help to make the cultures of Thedas feel vital and alive. They were also something nice to look at while the game loads. This one of Anders never actually showed up in-game, but we used it for the chapter about magic.

This was the final concept for the wyverns that appear in Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin. We strive for accurate anatomical detail in our creatures, consistent cultural flourishes in our costumes, and architecture and specificity of character in our followers and NPCs. In other words, we’re going for believability, even at the concept stage. The bestiary (along with the rest of the book) is illustrated with 2D concept art rather than using 3D screenshots, and this particular concept is a great example of the kind of research that goes into shaping the visuals of Dragon Age.

Dragon Age: The World of Thedas Volume 1 is available on April 17, 2013 from Dark Horse Comics and fine retailers.