Friday, 1 November 2013

The Art of Vampire Variations Volume II

It's that time again. The forces of Good are on the wane - and in the dark heart of Man lies a growing evil...

Castlevania has returned.

Or something like that. That's usually how it goes. Yes, indeed - Castlevania - Dracula's oh-so-charming abode has re-spawned in the mist and shown us the way once more. But this time to some oh-so-wicked tunes. Vampire Variations Volume II, the brain-child of Alexandre "Chernabogue" Mourey and his legion of fellow musicians is a tribute album to two specific Castlevania titles; Rondo of Blood, originally released only in Japan for the PC Engine in 1993, and Bloodlines, aka The New Generation from 1994 - the only Castlevania game to be released for the Sega Mega Drive.

The soundtracks to both of these games were released as a double album back in the day - and it is that very double album that has gotten the Vampire Variations tribute. And BOY is it a tribute. Within are tracks that cater for nearly all music tastes; be you a fan of metal, funk, electronic, orchestral, etc. VV2 is a remarkable musical achievement that should be admired by not only fans of Castlevania, but fans of video game music in general.

The album is out NOW and is available as a FREE download at the website right here. The album artwork I provided is included within the package and is also featured on the website.

So what the devil are you doing here? Well, I would bring ultimate shame to the blushing faces of bloggers worldwide if I didn't at least try something different for the artwork post. That 'something different' I have decided to be a little glimpse into the process of the whole illustrating-business of the album. I have included, as well as the main illustrations, a selection of sketches and studies that either helped, hindered or inspired the works that are now attached to the album that slowly grew and grew over just under a year. Hang on, a year!? My soul and body...

I refuse to bore/embarrass you (or myself) with further details, so let's get on with it, shall we? Are you sitting comfortably? No? Then I recommend a cushion or something...

The Concept

The first discussions Alex and myself had over the artwork side of VV2 was the 'feel' of it. It had to bring about a certain atmosphere, an evocation that would draw the line as to where the music should (and would) take you. Also, as a gimmick for this new album - Alex was keen to have multiple illustrations representing multiple covers. That way the audience could choose what cover they pleased - be it Rondo, Bloodlines, or something representing all aspects.

One thing I immediately noticed about the existing artwork for these games was their use of colour. Rondo of Blood had a very cool, blue feel to it - whilst Bloodlines had a hot, red feel to it. So it seemed obvious - carry this colour scheme over to our pieces - giving a clear distinction between the two 'discs'. For the overarching image that would represent the project as a whole - purple (red and blue combined, thank you Primary School Art lessons) seemed the logical choice for the dominant colour.

I went away and had a think. Eventually I did some drawing...

The initial stance was to have each image be a battle of some sort. For the Rondo cover (above) I chose the very 'blue' clash with Dracula at the end of the game. For the Bloodlines cover (below) I chose the red/orange colour of the Gargoyle enemy that the player battles atop the tower of Pisa in Italy.
For the 'purple' cover - I always liked the idea of the symbolic environments of the Castlevania games. The architecture of the castle; adorned with statues of angels and devils, gothic archways, church bells, and a Grand Organ or two lining the background. Alex seemed to share this opinion, so the concept for that particular cover was easy enough to nail down.

Such A Tease...

However well the concept stage seemed to be going - the fact of the matter was that Alex needed something 'final' to display either as a teaser website or within footage of a teaser trailer for the album in order to generate awareness/interest. We then decided to carry forward the 'environmental' approach that both represented the artwork for VV1 back in 2011. I added to this by incorporating elements of certain sculpture that appears in the games. These, I felt, would tie in nicely to the 'purple' cover.

I then produced a small series of illustrations that would serve as the 'teaser' images. For the Rondo image I decided to draw the statues that appear within the File Menu of the game. I thought these to be instantly recognisable to Rondo fans - as ANYONE who has played so much has 30 seconds of it will undoubtedly have seen them and their semi-nakedness peering at your save files.

The Bloodlines image would prove to be a little easier - considering it's based on a REAL statue, and not just a sprite. In Level 5 of Bloodlines, the player travels to France and the Palace of Versailles. At the Fountain outside the player notices it fill with blood and has to fend of the skeletons that rise from it. (Kool-Aid, anyone?) Anywho - atop the fountain is the (rather famous) sculpture by the Brothers Marsy of the Goddess Latona, protecting her children Apollo and Diana. Although seen immensely briefly in the game to those eagle-eyed enough to spot it - I thought it would be a good image for a Bloodlines teaser.

And for the project as a whole? Well...what better way to illustrate Castlevania than by illustrating....uh...Castlevania. Ahh, see? It's all starting to make sense now, isn't it?
These three images, along with some concept illustrations above, were coloured appropriately and eventually made their way into two separate teaser trailers for the album. The advert illustrations also adorn the physical disc artwork to those of you who have downloaded the package.
Study and Development
Whilst doing the advertising illustrations, there was still the matter of the main images to deal with. I still was going along with the idea of the 'duels' for each cover at this point, so it became necessary to acquaint myself with drawing the characters and monsters - which would ultimately decide the look we were hoping for.
Rondo of Blood is known for having a very anime style. The PSP remake back in 2007 changed this to the richer, darker style of Ayami Kojima to better suit the style of Symphony of the Night (its direct sequel) - however I wanted to illustrate something that was between these two approaches. I wanted to keep the anime look of Rondo, but apply a darker tone to the style that was better suited to me personally, AND to the look of the whole album.
So, sporadically over the peeling months, when I could, I drew and drew study after study of Richter, Maria, Dracula, etc. Note that I have excluded characters from Bloodlines. This was intentional - I thought it best to overcome the hurdle for Rondo first and then apply the solution to the next section. Unfortunately it didn't really work out that way... Following is a (very!) small selection from oodles of doodles/sketches/studies produced of the Rondo of Blood characters, for possible inclusion as disc/back cover art to that side of the album. A glimpse into what never was.


While some approaches worked and some didn't - in the end I was dissatisfied with how the characters would fit within the 'feel' of the album we were looking for. Monsters, such as Dracula's transformed state seemed to work fine, but humans didn't - in any style. My last bash at the 'duelling' approach to the illustrations was a more fleshed-out concept sketch of a possible Rondo cover, seen below:

While playing around with those ideas - I was also cracking on with ideas for the main cover. I liked the idea of some sort of statue - but it was a question of incorporating the 'purple-ness' within the illustration to differentiate it from the two other covers.
At the time I was experimenting with coloured inks - and, being water-soluble, when two colours are mixed; they blend. To achieve the purple I tried bleeding red and blue inks together - as some sort of sunset/sunrise that better illustrates the plight of the Belmonts. In the end I produced the illustration below; which, at the time, was to serve as the main cover.
I wasn't 100% happy with it, but time forbade me to mess around with it too much, so I carried on with the other two covers.
Less Is More
It was then that I decided to wipe the slate clean and go back to basics. The first VV album's art dealt with environments; such as the Chapel, or Dracula's chamber. For the VV2 ads we took that a stage further with statues from the environments. So too, then, shall be the main illustrations - Monsters were the way to be representational, but not TOO literal.
I suggested this idea to Alex, who agreed (and probably just wanted me to get on with them XD) and shared the idea that certain monsters could represent each game. I liked the transformed Dracula and the Gargoyle enough not to drop them, and proceeded to flesh them out with a slightly more symbolic approach in mind.
The result was as you may have already seen...

There was but one final hurdle. The main cover. I still was not happy with it, and looking at it, the purple bleed didn't come across as strongly as I wanted it to. Alex said that there was still time to have another go if I wanted to (as he was still waiting for music) and so I did.
For a while I toyed with the idea of producing Dracula's Crest as the main cover illustration - but that never really worked out either. Sorry folks, THOSE drawings are for perhaps another day. (Pfft. XP) I persisted with the statue idea, and after many drawings came up with a concept that seemed to work.
So - have the angel represent Good/Justice/Belmont Clan, etc. and have little goblins and devils pouring out from behind as the (purple!) darkness grows; enveloping the world in darkness as Dracula's resurrection is imminent. It always sounds so simple afterwards...
This had the effect I had hoped. So, the 'other' cover became the basis for the back cover illustration to the album. Below is how the final illustrations look as their respective covers within the download package.

So there you have it. The light of the breaking dawn filters through the windows of the crumbling castle. Dracula, and all his evil little pixies, are gone once more. But as long as there is evil in the heart of Mankind...

Until next time, Belmont!