Art in D&D

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Hussar

Legend
Actually, I agree with @Hussar on this one.

Well, I do in some ways. Firstly, I would prefer it if halflings did not have odd and frightening proportions, but, without a distinct culture of some sort, halflings really are absolutely pointless in that they are more 'human' than any other humanoid race (other than humans, but that's a given).

Large feet, covered in hair, and oversized facial features are fine, but xenomorph heads and spindly limbs are... in my humble opinion, a tad weird.

One of the best looks for halflings is (IMO) when they have well-proporioned bodies for their size, (just barely) oversized heads with distinct features (not like the bobble-headed halflings of MToF), and large feet.
Yeah, I gotta admit, I don't like the 5e art for halflings. Weird is the right word. But, I get why they went that way - at least it's an attempt to make them recognizable.

Sorry, but, no, for those saying putting a hat on an elf makes them look human. You really think putting a hat on



Will make her look human? And, yes, I know that's the 3e elf iconic. I'm in a hurry and that's the first pic I found.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
I can find a lot of pictures where if you put shoes on the halfling pictured, you still clearly know it's a halfling. That proves nothing. You often accuse others of cherry picking, and here you are doing the same thing.

Halflings have a few distinguishing universal features for a basic halfing. So does every other race. You're picking and choosing double standard criteria that applies to halflings but no ones else. Put a hat on a typical elf, and they look exactly like a Gen Xer from the 90s (a group of which I belonged to). An era where being androgynous, pale, and thin were all the fashion. So without seeing the ears, there is no difference between an elf and a 90s any male or female model.

And there are humans who are fat and have big beards. Just like a typical dwarf. Heck, half the movies Zach Galifianakis has been in, he looks just like a typical dwarf illustration.

So sorry, I don't follow your logic. Seems a clear double standard you're holding here, to apply restrictions to halflings but not the others.
 

Hussar

Legend
There’s more to the art for various races than purely physical traits. Elves are depicted wearing very specific kinds of clothes. Dwarves in 5e have wonky, angular weapons.

Halflings though lack a very distinct look. That’s why we got ugly 5e halflings. That’s the point I’ve been trying to make.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
There’s more to the art for various races than purely physical traits. Elves are depicted wearing very specific kinds of clothes. Dwarves in 5e have wonky, angular weapons.

Halflings though lack a very distinct look. That’s why we got ugly 5e halflings. That’s the point I’ve been trying to make.
this is not true across editions. Dwarves angular weapons, for instance, didn’t really start showing up until Peter Jackson made a movie with them.

Halflings do have a distinct look across editions by and large. That is, large hairy feet and larger facial features. Saying “just put shoes on” is disengenous not only because of what I already mentioned, but also because halflings don’t normally wear them. Might as well say “shave a dwarf”.

Halflings don’t have to look like dark sun in order to be distinct. They always have been since they were called hobbits.
 

Parmandur

Legend
SO I literally just stumbled across this tonight and am watching it.

I thought it was pretty apropo to this thread and discussion!

It's a fun watch and I recommend it, especially for those interested in this thread :)


Hadn't heard of it before. Different services to watch it at here
Yes, lots of interesting stuff in that film. Kinda demonstrates, more or less intentionally I suppose, how specifically obsessed Caldwell was with drawing cheesecake...kind squiggy.
 

Hussar

Legend
Meh, this got blown way, way out of proportion. My only point was that without background, it's very easy to mistake a halfling for a human. Which is kind of a shame seeing as how every other race in D&D has far more identity in the art. I mean, take 3e Lidda for example. You're telling me that this:



is instantly recognizable as a halfling?

Now this:



Sure, I can see that. But, that kinda speaks to my point. You need other stuff in the image to give perspective in order to actually know that what you're looking at is a halfling.

I mean sure, this is horribly ugly:



But, at least it's instantly recognizable.
 
I would love it if some of my favorite M:TG illustrators produced pieces for D&D. Imagine a Terese Nielsen cover for a sourcebook.
The more I think about it, the more bizarre it seems. I can only think that there's some kind of internal division, or perhaps even rivalry or hostility that prevents this. Even if it is a simple diktat that MtG artists shouldn't do D&D stuff, that's a terrible idea because sooner or later MtG drags in the majority of really great fantasy artists, so that would severely limit D&Ds pool.

Re Halflings I feel like the major issue is that no one quite knows what to do with them, visually. Post-3E, all we can really say is that it's clear D&D wants them to be something other than hobbit, despite their origin. But what? That's less evident. Even Gnomes seem to have more of an identity.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
The more I think about it, the more bizarre it seems. I can only think that there's some kind of internal division, or perhaps even rivalry or hostility that prevents this. Even if it is a simple diktat that MtG artists shouldn't do D&D stuff, that's a terrible idea because sooner or later MtG drags in the majority of really great fantasy artists, so that would severely limit D&Ds pool.
So, while I have no actual knowledge as to why this is, there is a sound reason for doing so.

Call it the "GM Paradox." Way back when, there was an auto manufacturer, we'll call it GM. And that company had so many divisions! Everything from Pontiac to Oldsmobile to Cadillac, oh my! A division to sell to every possible consumer.

And in order to save costs, they got really good at synergy. Using parts, and body frames, and designs ... between their divisions. They were so good at this synergy that it became hard to tell a Pontiac from a Cadillac. And this wasn't good, at all, because you wanted to make sure that there was a differentiation between brands- that it mattered.

That's an important lesson in the corporate world; you want to make sure that the visual branding; everything from the typeface, to the art, to the "feel" of your products, is differentiated- not just from competitors, but also from your own products that aren't in the same product line.

In other words, while you will see the occasional crossover (Ravnica) to leverage MtG and D&D, I would be shocked if they end up using too much of the graphic elements and images and artists; they want to ensure that these product lines remain visually distinct.

IMO.
 

Malrex

Explorer
But overall, I prefer a gritty, sword-and-sorcery approach to fantasy artwork that has fallen out of fashion in recent decades. Dave Trampier is still my favourite artist, and his work in 1E AD&D defines the tone I like my game to have. And D&D has moved far away from that aesthetic.
THIS.
 

GrahamWills

Adventurer
The more I think about it, the more bizarre it seems. I can only think that there's some kind of internal division, or perhaps even rivalry or hostility that prevents this. Even if it is a simple diktat that MtG artists shouldn't do D&D stuff, that's a terrible idea because sooner or later MtG drags in the majority of really great fantasy artists, so that would severely limit D&Ds pool.
Or it could simply be priorities. The MtG artists might be a limited resource, and so they are only going to work on small projects like D&D when they have spare time away from what will draw the most dollars.
 

Aebir-Toril

std::cout << "Hi" << '\n';
[snip]
And in order to save costs, they got really good at synergy. Using parts, and body frames, and designs ... between their divisions. They were so good at this synergy that it became hard to tell a Pontiac from a Cadillac. And this wasn't good, at all, because you wanted to make sure that there was a differentiation between brands- that it mattered.
[snip]
This would make sense if D&D and M:TG were both TCGs. However, this is not a car-to-car comparison, it is a car-to-airplane comparison, if you know what I mean. :)
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
One of the things I'm glad they decided to do with 5E was have at least some cases of humor in their art. Being deadly serious with everything really missed the whimsical side of D&D for me. The last couple of editions were too serious for their own good.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
This would make sense if D&D and M:TG were both TCGs. However, this is not a car-to-car comparison, it is a car-to-airplane comparison, if you know what I mean. :)
It's still an issue of brand differentiation.

If they want MTG to look similar to D&D, then that's certainly a choice. A synergistic choice. At some point, people would begin to think of MTG as the card game of D&D. That there would be overlap between the worlds and monsters of MTG and D&D. And perhaps that is something they want.

But as of now, it is better to keep a distinct stylistic difference between the two.

But hey- just another anonymous commenter on the internet. My opinions are worth what you pay for them.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
A quick search of halfings that seem to be pretty obvious they are halflings without other items for scale (in fact, the girl with the alligator, with it being small, makes her seem bigger, but it's still obvious it's a halfing). All without the giant head syndrome of 5e, and still recognizable even if you had them wear shoes (which many would never do anyway in art).












And literally dozens more. But I think you get the point. I think there was some serious cherry picking of halfling images going on above to argue they look just like humans without something to provide scale. I think it's pretty clear that you can have a depiction of a halfling in D&D, even with shoes, that's pretty distinguishable already without needing to have wonky 5e features.
 
Or it could simply be priorities. The MtG artists might be a limited resource, and so they are only going to work on small projects like D&D when they have spare time away from what will draw the most dollars.
If they were in-house or the like that would be very plausible. However, we're talking about a vast array of artists, none of whom, that I am aware of, work solely on MtG (in many cases it is a small part of their work), and I'm not sure any are even actual WotC employees.

D&D hasn't been a "small project" for a while. What might be relevant is cost vs return. It is possible WotC believe great art is irrelevant to D&D's success but is a key brand point for MtG, a differentiator with other TCG, CCGs and LCGs, but with limited direct competition, D&D doesn't need this. However I question this because I know some of the MtG artists are not particularly expensive and I suspect the D&D artists are not particularly cheap. WAR can't have been cheap to keep on in 3.XE as he was basically the visual branding for 3.XE (and poached by Paizo, surely very intentionally).
 
So, while I have no actual knowledge as to why this is, there is a sound reason for doing so.

Call it the "GM Paradox." Way back when, there was an auto manufacturer, we'll call it GM. And that company had so many divisions! Everything from Pontiac to Oldsmobile to Cadillac, oh my! A division to sell to every possible consumer.
This is definitely one of the more plausible takes. The issue I feel is that MtG uses so many artists and styles that if D&D is to be differentiated from it in this way, D&D is somewhat painted into a corner. Especially as so many of the most stunningly talented artists are immediately grabbed by MtG.

I feel like it's creating a situation (or something is) where the D&D art brand is of slightly vague, somewhat less brilliant, memorable and shocking art (even the original 2E PHB has pieces which manage to shock). Certainly as compared to MtG and to a lesser extent to some other TT RPGs (though it's clear most such have limited budgets).

I dunno. It's not a disaster. 5E does have some good pieces, but the overall vibe is a bit 7/10, where, even if I didn't like a lot of the 2E pieces, say, they were more memorable and distinctive relative to general fantasy art of the period.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
This is definitely one of the more plausible takes. The issue I feel is that MtG uses so many artists and styles that if D&D is to be differentiated from it in this way, D&D is somewhat painted into a corner. Especially as so many of the most stunningly talented artists are immediately grabbed by MtG.

I feel like it's creating a situation (or something is) where the D&D art brand is of slightly vague, somewhat less brilliant, memorable and shocking art (even the original 2E PHB has pieces which manage to shock). Certainly as compared to MtG and to a lesser extent to some other TT RPGs (though it's clear most such have limited budgets).

I dunno. It's not a disaster. 5E does have some good pieces, but the overall vibe is a bit 7/10, where, even if I didn't like a lot of the 2E pieces, say, they were more memorable and distinctive relative to general fantasy art of the period.
I agree with what you're saying. My opinion (earlier in the thread) was that I preferred the early D&D art, because while some of it was awful, some of it was transcendent.

Either on purpose, or by accident, I think 5e has settled on a house style of "Consistently good, but never great." There are worse things.
 
There are worse things.
There definitely are, but speaking totally personally, great bits of art really made D&D enchant me in a way other games did not, back in the day. I am an artist - much of my A-level art project was inspired by DiTerlizzi's Planescape work, so I get that this isn't broadly applicable, but it mattered to me that 2E employed some amazing and risk-taking artists, and I feel like Wotc has been on the safe but not amazing train with D&D and they can do better. They can take risks. They can shock. Being boring is a bigger sin, IMHO, than being controversial or even disliked. I don't like Jeff Easley's work, personally. It does not appeal. But I can see the artistry and style and I remember it. But 5E art? Pfffff. And it's not age or the like. I can envision some other contemporary TT RPGs far more easily (and contemporary MtG, even though I don't play that!).

Maybe that just me though!
 

Aebir-Toril

std::cout << "Hi" << '\n';
There definitely are, but speaking totally personally, great bits of art really made D&D enchant me in a way other games did not, back in the day. I am an artist - much of my A-level art project was inspired by DiTerlizzi's Planescape work, so I get that this isn't broadly applicable, but it mattered to me that 2E employed some amazing and risk-taking artists, and I feel like Wotc has been on the safe but not amazing train with D&D and they can do better. They can take risks. They can shock. Being boring is a bigger sin, IMHO, than being controversial or even disliked. I don't like Jeff Easley's work, personally. It does not appeal. But I can see the artistry and style and I remember it. But 5E art? Pfffff. And it's not age or the like. I can envision some other contemporary TT RPGs far more easily (and contemporary MtG, even though I don't play that!).

Maybe that just me though!
No, I agree, even as someone who can only draw what's necessary to work in Geometry, I have a great appreciation for art. However, I would even venture to say that 5E's art is not just consistently good/middling, it is hinged on a weird sort of strategy. I mean, consider this:

1. The cover art of 5E books is generally a bit more exciting than any art piece within the book itself. It also happens to be higher in definition. The quality of the covers has varied, but, generally, they're memorable. I have a pet peeve with the cover of the PHB, but that may just be me.

2. The art attached to monster stat blocks is generally rather sharp, which is something I like in D&D art. It usually has good definition, stylish artistry, and a nice look. This is probably an intentional investment, as monster art is used by DM's (and sometimes players) to visualize monsters.

3. The rest of the art, unless it's a character portrait, varies wildly, swinging from weirdly impressionistic and strangely proportioned to evocative. However, the splash art seems to be, overall, homogeneously forgettable. All of it is done in watery oil pastels, and there doesn't seem to be much in the way of planning in these pieces.

Am I right, am I wrong? It may be just me, but this is something which I have noticed.
 

Ulfgeir

Explorer
I do like the 5e art for being a relatively consistent style, and that most of the times they feature what one would expect professional adventurers to look like, and they are good for diversity.

That said, I also love the Larry Elmore / Clyde Caldwell / Keith Parkinsson stuff from 2e. Jeff Easley is very much hit-and-miss imo. He is good at monsters, but his humans/elfs what have you often look like they either are chaotic stupid or have rabies (or both)... But back then you would have lots of art that didn't neccesarily feel like they belonged to the same game.

For example, Elmore and Parkinsson is relatively similar in style. Both depicting worlds with lots of details, which makes their stuff feel like a living world. Caldwell sticks out being more "fashion-art", and Brom is for a totally different setting, which is much darker. Easley tries (and often failing) to put himself between Parkinsson and Brom.

My preference though is the old stuff. When it was good, it was really good. Now it is maybe not as good as the peaks of old, but the lower level is higher, thus making it more consistent.
 
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