Friday, October 21, 2011

Dragon Age: Redemption Episode 2 Part 2

Photo 1: Felicia Day called the wide reveal of the Dalish Camp her favorite shot of the whole series, and I have to agree. The designs BioWare created for the game were so refreshing and unique, and despite their resistance to the laws of physics, I think our reproductions in reality ended up being quite striking.

Photo 2: But not everything about the Dalish camp was beautiful. When our heroes find it, they discover they were too late, and Saarebas had already cast the camp in ruins. May of the surviving warriors were dismembered, battered, and bruised...

Photo 3: And they were the lucky ones! The twisted mage cast fiery spells that charred Elves to the bone. Here, Construction Leadman John Bell tends to one of many burial piles of burnt skeletons.

Photo 4: We started prepping Dragon Age: Redemption the day after Halloween last year, so one of Art Director Bryan Fulk's first orders of business was to hit up all of the local Halloween stores for sales. If you have a closet or garage to store stuff, the week after the holiday is always the best time to shop! We got these highly articulated skeletons for 75% off! They were pretty good quality, and way less expensive than the medical grade versions we usually use.

We removed any silly decorative elements from the skeletons so they were just bare bones, and then built up our own "flesh" with liquid latex, cotton, and paper towel.

Photo: The Kid used a heat gun to speed up the drying process, and coated the final layer of latex with dark brown house paint. You may notice the crutches on the edge of the table. The Kid broke his leg at Marissa's rolling skating birthday party a few weeks earlier, which prevented him from being a Dalish Elf! He was the first person Felicia picked to populate the camp, but he couldn't do it in a cast. Maybe for the sequel!

Photo 5: Here, Rikki layers up some leg bones with paper towel and latex. Rikki joined the art department through the Knights of Good call, but she really is a make-up artist. Special effects is were those two worlds meet, so she definitely had her hands full with DA:R creature projects! The finished skeletons pictured were "charred" simply using black spray paint to dust them.

Photo 6: Maerwynn (Iris Klein)is Felicia's acting teacher. She was kind enough to drop by the BarnYard for an ear casting to complete her look as the Dalish Keeper's wife. I specifically tried to sculpt each actor's ears in a unique way, so everyone didn't look like Christmas elves with ears purchased from a costume shop. Make-up artist Kim Graczyk created the tattoos using a simple prosaide transfer technique.

Photo 6: Originally, there were going to be very few survivors in the Dalish camp. But as the scope of the series grew, so did the cast. As the numbers increased, early talks had most of the background wearing hoods and scarves to avoid the need for creating and applying so many pairs of ears. But then the large number of Elves trying to hide their ears started feeling apparent. The compromise was that I had my Foam Tech, Mark Vinello, run multiple copies of all of the hero ears to be used on the extras. Mark is no stranger to Elf ears, he was the Lead Prosthetics foam runner for the Lord of the Rings trilogy!

The number of ears continued to grow, starting at around 6 background pairs, and ending with several dozen! May of which ended up on members of the art department, like Jason Swearingen, above center.

Photo 7: Josmael, however, got his own personal set of ears. The first thing I thought when meeting Masam Holden was that he had perfect Elvin hair! Very Hobbit like! What I didn't realize was how difficult it would be to tame that mane while casting his ears and applying the Elf prosthetics!

Photo 8: Luckily, I had Marissa Cuevas to help me on this one. Marissa is usually my assistant when it comes to head and body casting, and one of her main jobs is to explain to people exactly what they will experience. She has first hand experience, as I've turned her into zombies and aliens many times!

Photo 9: Usually, we apply latex bald caps to people's heads when doing castings. But the caps are expensive, and the process to apply them right takes a while. We had so many casts to do for DA:R that I decided to cut some corners for the ear casts and use plastic bags and tape. It's a little low-rent, and kind of embarrassing when I publicly post these pictures! But it gets the job done and saved us enough money to make a few extra pairs of ears!

The casting process uses alginate impression material, which starts as a powder, and turns to a paste when water is added. I coat the ear in the paste, which sets to a rubber material in minutes. Here, Marissa hands me a plaster bandage to create a rigid backing for the flexible rubber-like alginate cast.

Photo 10: Another of my favorite props is Josmael's staff. This was one of the few items in the script that had no real ties to the game, so I was able to create something from scratch. I don't even remember my reason (I'm certain I had one!) for going with a bird as the staff head, but it seemed like the right idea. I did a rough sculpt, with out the Celtic knot pattern, in Roma clay. The Kid made a garbage mold, and got me a single casting in feather weight urethane BJB-812. This material has very wood-like properties. I sketched the pattern onto the cast, and then during meeting and conference calls for the next week, I whittled away at it to create the finished bird.

Photo 11: Here's a little insight into the mind of a mad artist: I searched my property for multiple straight sticks to be used for Josmael's staff (There's a lot of trees on in my yard) and picked the one I liked the best to be the hero prop. Upon taking the chosen stick into the main room of the workshop, it wedged between the floor and ceiling. Perfectly. This random stick was the exact dimension of the height of my room. Which, I must point out, is not a standard sized room. It wasn't pressing tightly into the ceiling, just barely touching it, but enough to keep it from falling down. I was so fascinated by this random alignment of math, that I left the stick in that position for months!!! We even eventually hung lights off of it and called it the Christmas Pole. It celebrated several holidays with us before someone bumped it and knocked it over. At which point I no longer had interest and put it back in the yard. Don't judge!

Photo 12: Back to the story, Tallis meets Josmael, and he shows her the ransacked Keeper's wagon. Here, production decides not to remove the side of the wagon, but rather to shoot through the windows sans decorative red panels.

Photo 13: I really wanted the red panels on the main wagon, mostly because they were the main connection to the rest of the wagons. I felt the Keeper's wagon almost went too western without them. The happy middle ground was to have them in place, but torn and hanging on the camera side so they were part of frame, but not obscuring it.

Photo 14: Withing the wagon, Tallis finds a secret panel hiding a small storage area. The Dalish Clan's sack of gold coin is hidden in there. Art Department Pooja Sharma was in charge of making the many sacks for the series.

Photo 15: Felicia decides exactly how much gold is fair to steal in good conscious. Art director Bryan Fulk pockets the rest.

Photo 16: But this smile makes me think Felicia got the exact amount of gold she wanted!

Photo 17: The art department standing by. There were over 100 props and pieces of set dressing on the Dalish camp shoot. It was all hands on deck to move things as the camera changed angles, and keep track of the easily misplaced items, like these arrows, with hand threaded fletching by Mazin Dajani.

Photo 18: It is know in the lore of Dragon Age that the Dalish always keep a statue of Fen'Heral, the wolf god, out on the perimeter, facing away from camp, to protect them. In an early version of the script, Maerwynn finds this idol knocked over in the woods. The scene got cut prior to filming, but the prop still existed. Here, Bryan does some last minute painting in hopes of getting it into one of the wide shots. Alas, you will never see it because it never made it into the cut. Too bad, maybe fewer elves would have met their fiery death if the statue was there to protect them!

Photo 19: If you look closely, however, you will see The Guild Director Sean Becker as a Dalish warrior!

Photo 20: Tallis convinces Cairn that they should hunt the mage together, exposing that she has a valuable asset to their quest: A Qunari collar. This magical device can render the mage's power useless once it is snapped around his neck. In the BioWare artwork, the collars are huge, like wooden stockades that lock around the neck and hands. Story wise, we needed a version that Tallis could be carrying on her person. In that very tight costume...with no pockets...

Photo 21: We went with a ruin encrusted dog collar of sorts, something that can roll up and hid in the tiny pouch Tallis hangs from the back of her belt. I sculpted the ruins out of Magic Sculpt two part epoxy, and glued them to a strip of leather. The two "claps" at the end contain magnets, so a flick of the leather band, and the two ends snap together. I used Testor's enamel copper and brass for the base, and patinaed the whole thing with acrylics.

Photo 22: And since we are back to talking about the Templar in this scene, I thought I would show you something I couldn't fit in the earlier blogs. This is a CG model of the Templar sword.

Every artist has their go to medium, the one that just flows naturally and allows them to think and work out design problems without the actual medium getting in the way. For me, it's sculpture. I can work out a form so much faster in clay than I can in any other art form. For Mazin, it's CG. His background is in video games, ahving done character design and animation for games such as The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Leisure Suit Larry. As effortlessly as it was for him to create all of the amazing Dragon Age weapons out of metal, it helped him to have a plan of attack by building a quick virtual model. It helped me to understand exactly what the final result was before any building was even started. I'm most impresed with the consistancy, from BioWare art, to the Cg model, to the final, physical product.

Photo 22: So that's a wrap on the behind the scenes for episode 2: Cairn! But fear not, Felicia and I have many more artistic adventures planned for you in the world of Dragon Age: Redemption!

Two episodes in, what stands out the most to you about the live action version of Dragon Age? Let me know in the comments below!

And don't forget to like this page on Google +, and share it with others using the widgets below. Follow me on twitter, too @gregaronowitz for more behind the scenes!


  1. I just want to say, as a dragon age fan and art student, that I'm extremely impressed and excited about what your doing! I was a bit sceptic to a live action show in the dragon age universe before I watched the first episodes of DA:Redemption but it really has the right feel to it. There's something really honest and fresh about it that I love. Details like the templar armour, the dalish wagons and those amazing elven bows are just awesome to see "in reality". Thanks for doing such amazing work and I hope the project will continue to grow!

  2. Thanks, Liv. Glad you are enjoying both the show and the blog! FYI, that awesome Templar armor was created by Antonina Grib! Oh, and thanks for the follow :)

  3. Felicia Day is what stands out for me, of course!!

    Tremendously enjoying this project and the blog...and of course seeing the world of DA come to life...keep up the fantastic work!

  4. Thank you for creating this blog - what a fun look into all of the work and artistry that goes on behind the scenes in a production like this! Can't wait to see more.

  5. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this blog. I'm always fascinated by all the work that happens behind the scenes of any type of film.

    I have to wonder how those of you who work in props or set design come to terms with the fact that some of your hard work never gets seen by the audience (such as the Fen'Heral, statue) or is only visible for a brief second. I think I would become very discouraged by this. Do you?