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Q and A with Mike Rayhawk, LEGO Concept Designer

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Q and A with Mike Rayhawk, LEGO Concept Designer

Postby architect » Thu Dec 22, 2005 1:12 pm

Jake McKee and Steve Witt of the LEGO Community Team have set up a Question and Answer session with Mike Rayhawk. Mike is a concept designer and illustrator for LEGO who has worked on the Knight's Kingdom II line.

Check out the Knights section of his website www.mikerayhawk.com. These webpages explain much of the process that created the Knight's Kingdom II artwork including rarely seen concept sketches. Certain aspects of the set design process are also mentioned.

Submit your questions about the 2004 and 2005 storylines and image design process in this thread. Specific questions about design decisions for the sets will not be answered. And of course any discussion of future products is prohibited ;-)

Mike is registered with the name "Rayhawk." He is also planning to show the different steps of the artistic process to create our Christmas Rascus and Santis image.

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Postby Maedhros » Thu Dec 22, 2005 2:03 pm

First I want to thank you for doing this. *Bows deeply in respect*

These concept-sketches makes me feel a bit sad.... It would have been really nice if you would have been allowed to continue in THIS style. This pic is really beautiful.

The fact that your castle wasn´t produced is sad too... I have to say that I really like that idea and design. I at least think it looks better than the Castle of Morcia (and the minifig on the sketch has a classic broadsword ;) )

And now on to the questions: Were you involved in the minifig-designs? And if you were, why did you choose to replace the classic swords with the new ones? (Not trying to be rude or flame you here, I just want to know...)

I also wonder what were your plans in the beginning when you still thought of it as future fantasy? Would the soldiers have had blasters and flown in speeders instead of riding horses? I think that could have been pretty cool... it would also have fitted the new swords and garish colours better I think.

Thanks once again,

Jonas Lindbärg
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Postby Rayhawk » Thu Dec 22, 2005 2:12 pm

Hi everybody!

Rather than try to explain the design process for a Knights image in a post, I've just put up a quick webpage overviewing it, you can see it here:

http://www.mikerayhawk.com/christmas/

I hope you enjoy the Knights pictures I'm able to share, I was really excited to get permission to show some of these in my portfolio.
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Postby Rayhawk » Thu Dec 22, 2005 2:52 pm

Maedhros wrote:And now on to the questions: Were you involved in the minifig-designs? And if you were, why did you choose to replace the classic swords with the new ones? (Not trying to be rude or flame you here, I just want to know...)

I also wonder what were your plans in the beginning when you still thought of it as future fantasy? Would the soldiers have had blasters and flown in speeders instead of riding horses? I think that could have been pretty cool... it would also have fitted the new swords and garish colours better I think.


I can't talk very specifically about the product-design decisions, partly because I was only involved very briefly with the actual design of the toys themselves - I got moved over into focusing on story and illustration pretty quickly. And of course the other reason is that I'm not really allowed to; product concepts are kept pretty hush-hush.

And to tell the truth I don't really know why there are new swords, they came as a surprise to me as well - when I was on the toy design side of things, it was still pretty early on, so we hadn't gotten around to molding any new parts yet by the time I moved over to story illustration.

I didn't get to do any minifig design on Knights, although there were backup characters I concept-designed for the story that later got turned into minifigs by other guys on the team - King Mathias, the Guardian, and the Shadow Knights. I love the Shadow Knight minifigs, I wish I could take more credit for them.
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Postby Recluce » Thu Dec 22, 2005 3:15 pm

Mike;

Thanks for all the insight into the comics, cards, and illustrations. We often only look at these things to pick out details of what might be produced, and not fully appreciate them artistically.

As for the cards, I love the first series. Many of them, like the Shield of Ages, shadow knights, and Vladek pieces, are superb (I see you were able to return to a bit more sinister style befitting the older age group here). While keeping a lego form, you have added in so many effects and shading that they are very realistic, and look more modern comic bookish than traditional lego comics. Some of the other cards, mainly some action scenes, remain in the traditional lego category. Others are a blend, where a scene of Mathias unhorsing Vladek is done in lego form, while the background is a close-up and very human look at Mathias' face. Very nice work indeed!

I am amazed that you produced all of those cards so quickly in 2004.... I play a minor role in a comic book company, and while we're not slow by any means, I have a good understanding about how long it takes to go from the initial pencils, to inking, to colors, and even how much the thought the layout takes - you guys worked a real miracle! You're right about not letting the brass make change after change on little details like what kind of building material Santis is carrying; I'm glad that is a much smoother process now. And good call on the Rascus tavern scene, that card has appealed to me ever since the first time I saw it.

The insight into how you create scenes for Lego is a great write-up, I've learned something that will really help me out not only in seeing the Lego pictures differently, but in evaluating the comic images I do for work. I guess I have only one question about the Christmas image you made: why did you use the second version on the KK2 figs, and not the newly released versions? I know, this image was more for fun than actual production..... but it would have been great seeing how you're going to portray the third KK eveolution knights. They're darker.... much darker... and should suit your illustration style very well. Have any pictures of the newest figs you can share with us?

Thanks; ~Emily
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Postby Rayhawk » Thu Dec 22, 2005 4:00 pm

Recluce wrote:As for the cards, I love the first series. Many of them, like the Shield of Ages, shadow knights, and Vladek pieces, are superb (I see you were able to return to a bit more sinister style befitting the older age group here).

One of the nice things about a harsh deadline is that you can often sneak stuff through that you know they'd make you change if there were more time. I'd be lying if I said I didn't take advantage of that every now and then.


Recluce wrote:You're right about not letting the brass make change after change on little details like what kind of building material Santis is carrying; I'm glad that is a much smoother process now. And good call on the Rascus tavern scene, that card has appealed to me ever since the first time I saw it.

In the first year we were really flying by the seats of our pants; I don't think we'd ever tried anything quite like this before, so we were learning a lot real fast. In that particular case, all the people giving input were people whose input really was needed, we just hadn't taken the time to lay out who'd be responsible for which kind of input, so that (for instance) the legal guy would give input for legal issues and the story guy would give input for story issues. Fortunately that kind of problem was easy to identify and fix for the next time.


Recluce wrote:I guess I have only one question about the Christmas image you made: why did you use the second version on the KK2 figs, and not the newly released versions? I know, this image was more for fun than actual production..... but it would have been great seeing how you're going to portray the third KK eveolution knights. They're darker.... much darker... and should suit your illustration style very well. Have any pictures of the newest figs you can share with us?

I know some people have been able to buy the 2006 figures already, but as far as I know they're not "officially" released until January (I could be wrong?), so I thought I'd better play it safe. Also, if I show Rascus acting like a goofball, I don't have to explain it to anybody; everybody already knows Rascus acts like that. If I draw the new guys, nobody knows who they are or why they'd be doing whatever I'd have them doing.

I've got to say though, I am happy to get darker guys in 2006, I'm glad LEGO has been choosing to mature the Knights theme a little more with each passing year.

But most of all I love drawing that boat. You've all seen Sir Kohran's catalog scan, right? I could draw boats like that one all day long, that's fun to draw.
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Postby HenrytheV » Thu Dec 22, 2005 4:11 pm

First of all I want to say thank you for taking part of your valuable time and answering our questions.

Okay, this is my pet peeve, why do the figs always hold their swords in their left hands? The maxifigs were built this way and the minifigs mostly do this. Why?

HenrytheV

P.S. Your drawings rock :D
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Postby Rayhawk » Thu Dec 22, 2005 4:26 pm

HenrytheV wrote:Okay, this is my pet peeve, why do the figs always hold their swords in their left hands? The maxifigs were built this way and the minifigs mostly do this. Why?

I'm supposed to stay away from the product questions, but this one's no big secret.

Since most kids are right-handed, if they're holding the figure with their thumb operating the control wheel, their fingers wrap around the right side of the figure's body. If the figure held his sword in his right hand, he'd be giving the kid's fingers a painful whack every time he swung it.
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Postby Blueandwhite » Thu Dec 22, 2005 5:42 pm

Congrats on your work with KKII. Its unfortunate that we can't discuss the design process, as it is undoubtedly incredibly interesting. I suppose its ok to ask how you happened upon such an interesting career. Looking at your portfolio, it is apparent that you are quite an accomplished artist. I was wondering how you ended up working with LEGO?

As to the storyline, did you have a great deal of input on that as well, or was it developed by another mystery man? One other thing (although it may be somewhat of a grey area). KKII has a very unique aesthetic when compared to other LEGO products. Was this unique style something LEGO decided on at the outset, or did it come about gradually?

Again, great work and congrats on Toy of the Year.

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Postby Shadow » Thu Dec 22, 2005 8:13 pm

I'll add my thanks to your outstanding work. I always did wonder who did all the artwork, now I know :wink:

How long have you worked with TLG?

Have you ever considered writing a story with your own illustrations?

Is it just a coincedince that the colors for the knights happen to resemble those in Bionicle?
Respectfully submitted,

Shadow

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Postby Rayhawk » Thu Dec 22, 2005 10:11 pm

Blueandwhite wrote:Congrats on your work with KKII. Its unfortunate that we can't discuss the design process, as it is undoubtedly incredibly interesting.

It really is, and a million times more complex than most AFOLs would guess. Luckily I get to spend most of my time in concept design, where it's just about coming up with cool new ideas and making them look shiny, and very little time in product development, where they have to make those ideas fit in with the million other departments, plans, and considerations that anyone who hadn't spent time in that job would never even think of.

It is very very interesting, but it also takes a lot of energy to try and juggle so many completely different design requirements in your head at the same time. I'm always happy to go back to concept lab where our primary considerations are "wow, that looks awesome" and "a set like this would be unbelievably fun to play with."

Blueandwhite wrote:I suppose its ok to ask how you happened upon such an interesting career. Looking at your portfolio, it is apparent that you are quite an accomplished artist. I was wondering how you ended up working with LEGO?

I went to a school with a very, very strong product design department, at a time when LEGO was re-activating a dormant concept studio in town. The new manager came to the school to interview graduating product designers for positions. Meanwhile, by complete coincidence, I was hanging up an illustration exhibition of Lego paintings. One of my friends caught the manager and dragged him over to my show, and the rest was history. At the time it was considered a crazy experiment, hiring an illustrator to do product design work. Now, three years later, the large majority of the designers in our concept studio are illustration grads.

I wrote a longer version of the story on Lugnet shortly after word got out - you can still read it here. It's basically useless for helping you figure out how to get a LEGO job though.

If a LEGO job is something that you're interested in, you'll need a BFA in a design discipline, and a very strong design portfolio. At our specific studio, we tend to give preferential treatment to Art Center grads, and Otis makes a good showing as well because they have a solid program specifically for toy design. I think we're planning to cast a wide net for more designers over the next several months, so if you're in the L.A. area and have a strong design book, e-mail me and I'll make sure your name gets added to the hat.



Blueandwhite wrote:As to the storyline, did you have a great deal of input on that as well, or was it developed by another mystery man?

The primary guy originating the KK storylines is a fellow by the name of Resh Somauroo, and currently the guy in charge of further development and making sure everybody stays consistent is Daniel Lipkowitz.

Coming up with the story for a theme year is as complicated in some ways as designing a new theme, so it's not just one guy. Managers from all different departments go off and sequester themselves for a week or two to develop a new story fully. They have to make sure the story meets all of the departments' requirements, fits into the overall marketing plan, and matches the development of the existing Knights audience.

For instance, we couldn't do a second year of jellybean-colored heroes questing through a straightforward series of linear problem-solving events. That type of story appeals to a very specific children's developmental stage, and the kids who bought into the Knights theme in 2004 aren't in that stage anymore in 2005. So this year they got a story that highlights more complex choices, moral decision-making, and social role-playing of ideas like leadership and sacrifice, which weren't appropriate for 2004's kids' level of play. (And also the jellybean colors got toned down a little.) They still get help with story cues, but now we give examples of a half-dozen possible ways into Vladek's castle, rather than the One Right Way that the kids of a year earlier need.

As for my personal role, I don't have a whole lot of input into those decisions, my job is to take the broad strokes that come out of that meeting and figure out how to turn them into specific events that'll let me communicate the most important story features visually, and in a relatively small number of images. That takes some negotiation with Daniel and Resh to see where there's room to improvise and switch things around without damaging the overall integrity of the story.


Blueandwhite wrote:One other thing (although it may be somewhat of a grey area). KKII has a very unique aesthetic when compared to other LEGO products. Was this unique style something LEGO decided on at the outset, or did it come about gradually?

KKII was always meant to have a very distinctive look. When we were deciding exactly how far-out it was going to be, I was doing architecture concpets for the background world that would have looked ridiculous on even the cheapest pulp sci-fi novel - stuff out of the medieval Jetsons. Eventually we reined everything back in to a point where we could be sure people would at least recognize it as Castle.
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Postby Graynar » Thu Dec 22, 2005 10:40 pm

Hey Mike, I am very impressed with your artwork, being some what of an artist my self. I have been greatly inspired by your art work in the Knights Kingdom comics and cards and I think your design of the castle of Morcia was great! Too bad the final version wasn't as great as yours.

Just a small question: In the pictures of your castle of Morcia design you included soldiers of Morcia. Do you know why TLC didn't produce Morcia soldier minifigures? They produced Shadow knight soldiers for Vladek, but only rainbow knights for Mathias.

Thank you for your time.
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Postby Formendacil » Thu Dec 22, 2005 10:41 pm

Rayhawk wrote:KKII was always meant to have a very distinctive look. When we were deciding exactly how far-out it was going to be, I was doing architecture concpets for the background world that would have looked ridiculous on even the cheapest pulp sci-fi novel - stuff out of the medieval Jetsons. Eventually we reined everything back in to a point where we could be sure people would at least recognize it as Castle.


I find this interesting in light a thread we've got right now asking what the users define as "LEGO Castle", and a lot of people have, interestingly, said that they don't consider (together with Ninja, Vikings, and the Yellow Castle) KK2 to be true "LEGO Castle", citing a lack of compatible styles.

So, I'm curious as to whether you, a KK2 style designer and a LEGO fan, would use your more Classic Castle and KK2 themes together in play, or whether you would consider them too distinct to mix.
Because everyone needs another LEGO blog to follow:
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Postby Rayhawk » Thu Dec 22, 2005 10:52 pm

Shadow wrote:I'll add my thanks to your outstanding work. I always did wonder who did all the artwork, now I know :wink:

How long have you worked with TLG?

I hadn't stopped to think about it before, but I think my three-year anniversary was just a couple of days ago.

Shadow wrote:Have you ever considered writing a story with your own illustrations?

When I was younger, yeah - but now I already have more projects than I'll ever be finished with, and all of them are fun. Nowadays story-writing seems like it would only take time away from other projects that I'm a lot more excited about.

And if there's one big lesson I've learned at LEGO, it's that working with other people on projects is way more fun than working by yourself. I've definitely discussed working together with some of my writer friends on illustrating their stories, but nothing solid's come out of it yet.

Shadow wrote:Is it just a coincedince that the colors for the knights happen to resemble those in Bionicle?

I hope so, otherwise they'll be hunting us down. The Bionicle team is legendary for being fiercely territorial of their design ideas. Come to think of it, that may be the reason we made Danju purple - to reassure the Bionicle guys that we weren't trying to horn in on their turf. (I'm keeping my fingers crossed that there aren't any purple Bionicles that I'm forgetting about.)

All joking aside, what's most likely is that we tested a whole lot of colors with a whole lot of kids to see what colors they like best for hero characters. Bionicle probably chose their colors from the same test results that we did. And of course, LEGO only has so many main colors anyway, so there's always going to be some overlap.

Those are only guesses, I don't really know the reasons for the colors that got chosen.
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Postby Rayhawk » Thu Dec 22, 2005 11:05 pm

Graynar wrote:Just a small question: In the pictures of your castle of Morcia design you included soldiers of Morcia. Do you know why TLC didn't produce Morcia soldier minifigures? They produced Shadow knight soldiers for Vladek, but only rainbow knights for Mathias.

There's a real answer to this question, but I'm going to give my version instead: the soldiers of Morcia were just really silly looking; I think there were pictures of some of them in some of the early prototype photos that Jake posted here a long time ago. The thing is, their helmets were lavendar-colored. If you thought baby blue was a silly color for a knight's armor, lavendar is just a whole new level of silly.

We did get Talonjay soldiers in the chess set though. They're not lavendar, but they're almost as good.
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