Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Dungeons & Dragons (2019) - full transcript

A documentary that explores the history, influence, stories, and lasting impact behind the art. The film profiles D&D artists - both past and present and also features former company insiders, game designers, authors, and fans.

Dungeons & Dragons
is a game about imagination

but imagination
needs something to work off of.

Dungeons & Dragons
is a fantasy role playing game

and the artwork
is fantastical artwork.

The art and the
game, you can't separate it.

You have to look at both
components working together.

There is suddenly
a beholder in front of you.

"Well, what's a beholder?"
"It's a really angry onion

with eyes and teeth
and 'tentacle-y' stalks."

And then you show them
this picture.

You cannot have
Dungeons & Dragons

without the artwork
that supplements it.

The lack of defined border
to Dungeons & Dragons

and the art form that then
kind of goes along with it,

allows for
an incredible creative

outpouring and expression.

You're developing

and being part of
a whole 'nother world.

Heroines and villains

and dragons and all these

wild fantastic animals.

I know my mother looked at me
a couple of times like,

"You're doing what?"

D&Dwas a perfect fit for me.

I got to not only draw it,
but make stories about it

and scare my friends.

Monsters and fantasy
fused with gaming?

It's just--
How could you resist?

Why wouldn't anybody
be in love with this stuff.

D&Dart is cool.

It's stuff that takes you
into a different world

into a different idea
of, like, how to think.

It empowered my imagination.

All the modules,
all the adventures.

Everything was important,
but the art

was the reason
why I bought a book.

When TSR
and Dungeons & Dragons

came about, yeah,
you'd go to the mall--

or something like that,

and you'd go
into the gaming department

and, yeah, you'd just be like,
"Wow look at this new book.

This is--
The cover is awesome."

You know, that artwork
just filled part of that void

that wasn't getting filled
anywhere else.

It was just incredible.

Every time
I would pick something up,

I wanted to be a part
of the game

through the artwork.
What TSR and their artists

were able to do is epic.

You know, it's funny,
you walk into a bookstore now

or you walk into--
really any store now,

and you're gonna see
fantasy art.

You're gonna see a dragon
or a monster or something.

They're everywhere.
D&D art was kind of

the precursor
to all that stuff.

It laid the foundation
for that all to build on.

TheDungeons and
Dragon brand actually went on

to define an entire genre
when art should look like.

Here was this cohesive world

that was envisioned
by all these amazing artists

that creates a groundwork for

where we can
grow our stories from.

Where we can grow
our myths from.

Where we can
grow our heroes from.

These images are more
than just a product.

They're something beyond that.

When my brother Dave
was going to his gaming club

to play, you know,
the latest tank battles game,

Dungeons & Dragons showed up
and they started playing this

and he came back
and told me about it

and just the idea of it
thrilled me.

I can still remember
riding with my mom

in the car to go pick Dave up
from his gaming group

and walking into their game room
and seeing for the first time

a table with people
sitting around it

with sheets in front of them
with numbers on them

and funny dice
and a game master screen

and a guy sitting behind that
running the game.

Dungeons & Dragonswas maybe
six months old at the time.

In the beginning
we were asking miniaturists--

because that's what
this game was aimed at

and people with a sense
of playing with a figure

on the table etc,

We were asking them
to play in their minds.

Up until that point there was
absolutely nothing like it.

We had board games,
but there'd been nothing

that was all about
telling these stories,

these fantasy adventure stories
that we had in our heads.

It came first.
It was the first to tie

rules and interactive play
to dragons and sorcery.

Gary Gygax added magic and
something different happened.

It opened up windows
to creativity that previously,

you know, they weren't windows
waiting to be opened,

they were blank walls.
He knocked windows into them.

Playing role playing games is--
it's almost like

making a movie together.
Everybody's contributing,

whether it's the character
or what path they take.

So, I feel the art is just
one more component of that.

The artwork
forDungeons & Dragons

specifically in
theMonster Manual

and these types of things
offers a concise look

at what to expect
from your foe or your friend

and that unites players
in a way that, I think,

makes it a shared experience.

InD&D you're all
at a table together.

You really do have to
understand what you're seeing

because you're all
experiencing at the same time.

You have to be seeing
the same thing actually

to even communicate
about the game properly.

Having a center rail
so that everybody

at least begins
from the same point.

As a DM you can go on
for literally an hour

describing one,
like, epic monster

that you're about to fight
and yet seven people will

have seven different ideas
of what's going on.

And you can try
as hard as you can

to, like, put the exact idea
of what you're planning

to put in front of your players,

but sometimes it does take
just like holding something up

and showing,
like, the magnitude of it.

If the DM says,
"Well, you see a monster

and, uh, he's got, uh,
ten horns around his head."

"Well, do they go this way
or do they go this way?"

It might not matter,
but it might impact

your decision making
in which spell you choose

or which weapon
or which side of the beast

you want to attack him from.

Sure, there's the--
the technical aspect of it,

but for me, personally,
as somebody who's a gamer,

really good D&Dart sets a mood.

It gives you ideas
as a player

that you might not
have had otherwise.

It's important
because without it,

the narrative
is less interesting perhaps.

I think our imagination
is always going to be,

you know, compelling,

but this makes it
so much more rich.

You know,
none of the scenes that

any of the illustrators do

are necessarily the ones
that you're experiencing,

but they are giving you
the tools--

the mental tools,
the imaginative tools,

that you need to populate
your own experience

in your own world.

I have an idea
of the character

that I want to play,

but it's the art
that fine tunes it

and expounds my imagination

to make me go even deeper
into that character.

The artist can come in
and do that whole

one picture is worth
a thousand words

and show so much more

in a three-by-four-inch picture
on a page

then the designer can do
in two pages of description.

It shows you where you are.
It shows you what you're doing.

It shows you
who you're fighting,

where you're fighting,
what you're fighting.

The landscape,
the time of day,

the seasons where you're at,
the land.

You need visuals.
You need pictures

to be able to go,
"You open up the door

and this is what's inside.
Your friend has something

coating their armor and it's
dissolving their insides.

This is what it looks like."

My goal was always to have
art in the books

that people would grab
and flip up to go,

"And thisis where you are."

And people would go,
"Holy crap."

Great D&Dart is narrative.

And what that means is
it tells a story

all within a single frame.

It might be
to try and, uh...

give some narrative
about a character.

Like, for example,
a warrior who might have

trophy skulls hanging
from his belt or something.

So that there's something
that you can look at

that character and see
that there's a history there.

Then there's also ones
that hopefully are more

entertainment value.
That often you will find

on the cover of a module
where you see

the conflict in progress.

I wanted to show things
going good and bad

at the same time.
It's just how it goes

when you're playingD&D.

Someone might be having
a really hard time over here,

but your buddy's picking up
the slack.

You might win, you might lose.

They wanted this epic scene
of these adventurers

lowering themselves down
into this stone pit.

I think the art direction
for this didn't specify

too much other than
there's goblins at the bottom

and a fighter and a sorcerer.

Like they didn't say
to add these disgusting,

giant centipedes coming out
of the gargoyle mouths,

but I thought
that would just be fun.

Like, "Let's ratchet it up
just a little bit more."

It's not enough
that this is going on.

That's the core
of what we as fantasy artists,

I think, is... is so important

is that we give
the viewers these options.

These Choose-Your-Own-Adventure

The art, especially
in those, like, smaller scenes,

give you the sense
that there is something

bigger happening.

That this is a moment
in time that you're capturing

in the lives
of these characters,

but there's always
little bits and pieces

that show that there is stuff
that's going on

around them, before them,
after them.

That there is a bigger world
that you can find yourself in.

For me it's that moment before
things happen.

It's that moment of time when
things could go either way.

So everything
is like this boulder

sitting on the top of a hill
ready to be pushed off.

That's kind of what
Dungeons & Dragonsis about.

It's about reading into things

and figuring out
the story for yourself.

It's not relaying
a story that's already done

and telling you,
"Well, this happened

and then this happened
and then this happened.

Here's the scene
where it happened."

It's saying, "This happens...

now what are you
going to do about it?"

When there's action,
there's not much emotion

'cause action
is something that happens.

It's very spontaneous.
There's no time for thinking.

You got to react or die or win.
One or the other.

It's before an action or after
an action where emotion is.

And it's like--
there's a painting called

Avalyne the Life Giver.

In the foreground,
it's a snowy scene

and there's a tree,
and at the base of the tree

there is a fighter who's been
laid out, clubbed.

And there's a cleric
preparing to heal him

and then you see footprints
off over the hill

and in the distant treeline
there's a giant

towering above it with
his club over his shoulder.

And the storytelling
in that is so...

epic and intimate
at the same time.

My involvement in games
right now is with

the retro gaming community.
So we're talking with people

who are playing games as
they were played in 1978, 1979.

So they're looking to recreate
that first love experience.

And if you can go back
in time and find an image...

a good image,
that really tells that story

about that first love and
that is that Trampier piece.

When you go
First Edition Dungeons & Dragons

Players Handbook,
he showed you D&D.

I think the reason
why it's effective

is because
this is where I wanna go.

You know,
I want to see this.

I want to steal this jewel.

I think,
"What happened in that room?"

"What did those people kill?

What is that on the altar?
Why is that on the altar?

Where did they come from?
Where are they going?

What happens when
they take the eyeball out?"

I think that cover
has the most story

wrapped up
in that little picture.

I think that
D&Dart opened up a door

that wasn't
necessarily there before.

I mean, sure, you had
Frazetta, you had N.C. Wyeth,

you had a few notable standouts,
but, um...

you really didn't have
that full genre yet.

Obviously, you know,
imaginative imagery

has been prevalent in art
as long as there's been art.

There there's never
not been a time of fantasy.

It just have had a different--
a different face over the years.

The fantasy art
that we know of today,

as Contemporary Fantasy Art,
goes back to

the Medieval
Renaissance period.

The Baroque Era
of art where you have

visual representations
of good versus evil.

Where there's little demons
creeping out

under the bed next to the woman
who's giving birth

to a demon baby or, uh,
you know, a nobleman

who's slaying a dragon.

It's an illustrator
producing a product for a client

to exact an emotional response
from the audience.

It's all fantasy art.

When we talk about kind of
Contemporary Fantasy

or Imaginative Art
really we're kind of starting

late 1800's moving through
the 19th century

with things like the Romantics,
the Pre-Raphaelites,

some of the Victorian artists,
the Edwardians,

and then really you get
a real flowering

of illustration
right around and shortly after

the turn of the century
which is often known

as the Golden Age
of Illustration.

It's the artists like
Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac,

N.C. Wyeth.
World War I.

That's kind of the beginning
of the decline

of the Golden Age
of Illustration.

Particularly imaginative
illustration because

after World War I
the public largely lost

its appetite for light-hearted
fantasy sorts of things.

So at that point,
that tradition kind of stalls

and Frazetta
picks it back up again.

Frazetta's first Conancovers
came out and I saw those

and that was an epiphany moment.

I thought, "That's it.
That's what I'm trying to find."

giant snake coming in

from between his legs
looking at him.

on top of a mountain of skulls,

a woman in a slave dress
wrapped around his leg.

and friends,

in that big battle
with all of the dead people

underneath him
and he's got, I think,

a sword or axe or something

and he's raising it like this
and there's lightning.

Frank's greatest strength
is his ability to be dynamic.

To produce movement and energy
and suppressed energy

and potential energy.
It just put his paintings

on an entirely different
kind of category

from what people
were used to seeing.

And it had a huge impact
on the public,

on the marketplace,
on publishers,

and on all of the artists
who came after Frank.

Here is a piece of
mine that I did to get the job

at TSR basically
and it was my attempt

at doing a Frank Frazetta piece.

I thought I could draw
like Frank Frazetta at age 19.

- Eat your hearts out.
- Prior to Dungeons & Dragons,

fantasy was almost
a non-element.

The first fantasy
I was ever really introduced to

was when I bought
the Ballantine Edition

of The Hobbit
and it had the Tolkien art

in an oval on the cover
with this weird looking tree

and flamingos.
I was very underwhelmed.

I think in a lot of ways

we took what we considered
that birthplace of fantasy,

and brought it into D&D

and then created this art form

that took in all the archetypes.

That male thing
of just being the hero

and charging in and maybe
a woman that could kick butt

and take names
right there with you

and just as tough as you were,
it's like ultimate fantasy.

I think once D&Dcame out

and we started
painting the stuff,

it sparked the imaginations
of generations.

It was primed for this.

And suddenly it was this
entire new audience

that we could expose
not only our art,

but just the whole tradition
of fantastical illustration to.

As far as kind of
a market place

that the TSR artists
were coming into

when they're starting.

You know, they're really
kind of starting with--

with kind of a broad stroke.

There really isn't,
you know, an established thing

at that point that everybody
is expecting them to do.

And, "Oh, yes."

You know, "Fantasy art
should look like this."

At that point
there really wasn't

a "fantasy art
should look like this."

When TSR started
they did all their own artwork.

In the very early days,
they were just using people

like right out of high school
or whatever.

Just kids that they knew.
Tracy Lesch or Greg Bell.

I mean, these are people
that are people that--

they were young, young, young,
young high schoolers

or just out of high school,
you know?

I grew up in a little town
in Northern Illinois

in the far,
deep Chicago suburbs,

that was about
a one half-hour drive

south of Lake Geneva,

which is where the
Dungeon Hobby Shop was located.

In those days,
they were in a--

basically a converted house.
On the lower floor

was the Dungeon Hobby Shop
and the upper floor

was the offices of TSR.

My first
professionally published work

is in Dragon Magazinenumber six
'cause we used to go up,

say once a month,
to the Dungeon Hobby Shop

and see what was new and
I would show them my drawings

and they were interested.

There were no rules.
If we liked it we ran it.

If I thought he was good
and he sent me a bunch

of Homeric Greek stuff,
but I thought it was good

I might write him and say,
"Hey, how are you at medieval?"

And encourage him to send me
a few medieval-looking guys.

And I found a few guys that way.

So it was really
just for people

who love to do it
and wanted to make something

others could love
to do as well.

It feels like that, you know?
And I think, at the same time,

that's part of the charm.

We would, you know,
get these assignments

generally from Gary
and he'd say,

"I want you to
do this."

And he'd make a little sketch or
something on a piece of paper.

And then we would do whatever
it is he wanted done

to make the monster
whatever he did.

The work was raw.
The work was not really defined

and a lot of times you'd look
at the stuff and go,

"I'm not exactly sure
what I'm looking at."

So it left a lot of room
for the imagination.

"What is this rust monster?

What is this weird thing?"

Or, "What is that?"
You know, "A gelatinous cube?"

I think a gelatinous cube
is fantastic.

It's giving you information
about the world.

It's giving you permission
to use your imagination.

I was always
fascinated with

the black and white art
in theMonster's Manual

and the books.
They were so...

small and specific
and they communicated so much.

They fed so much of my
imagination in these

little, tiny drawings.

And especially now
with all these amazing, wicked,

full-color murals
ofDungeons & Dragons.

I prefer that really simple way
of communicating fantasy.

So I think they looked
at them like textbooks

versus this visual guide
to an imaginary world

created by. You know,
Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.

The manuscript
would just be type

and then it would stop
and there would be

blank space
and we'd be given that and say,

"Okay, here's a blank space.
Fill the hole."

Sometimes we'd want
the illustration to go between

two columns.
Sometimes it would be just

in the column
or we could get a half page

at the bottom or we'd split it
up into small one at the bottom,

small one at the top.
So we got to make that decision.

If there were descriptions
about something

you had to go according
to the description,

but mostly it was,
"Well, we need a picture

of someone holding a staff.
Make it fit."

What I liked to do is...
I didn't have a light table.

So I used paper
that I could see through

and after I'd drawn something
that I didn't quite like

I would then put
another sheet of paper over it

and redraw it
and make it the way I liked it.

The good artists
were just masters at that craft

of creating fantastic
black and white artwork.

To create depth and volume

with black and white.

On and off, there or not.

One piece
that I really remember

that amazed me was
Jim Roslof's full-page drawing

of Thor
fromDeities & Demigods.

He's like swinging his hammer
and there's like mist

or clouds or something
all around him.

And it has, you know,
his style which has always been

this sort of Celtic-influenced
detailed yet abstract

- kind of stuff.
- Jim's artwork was--

first it was unique because
he wasn't constricted

by normal proportions.

He liked to exaggerate.

So he was able to stylize it
more than just to make it

realistic which is, obviously,
what the fantasy was about.

And Jim was already
very good at being able

to do foreshortening
and make it impactful.

This is one of my original

Jim Rosloff's that I have.

Most of the other artists
that you kind of think about

as great painters,

Jim was a great
black and white artist.

I always felt that
he was one of the more

underrated artists,
underappreciated artists at TSR.

It's not like a super tight
drawing, you know?

It's very fluid.

A lot of movement
and feel through it.

That's why
he's one of my favorites.

Dave Trampier--
Tramp, my buddy.

I think he did
as much to fantasy art

as Frazetta did
for heroic fantasy art.

I think Tramp did
for the rest of us gaming art.

He said we get to have fun,
we get to stick

our tongue
in our cheek and still not

break the mold or the milieu.

The wizard galloping
down the street firing off

the magic missile, you know?

And it sort of sells you
something about

those sort of worlds.
Those sort of fantasy worlds.

They weren't Tolkien-esque
in the sense of being

really dark and grim, you know,
there was a lightness in them.

I would watch him
draw things and I would just...

"Oh, my God, he's so good
because, you know,

he'd, just miraculously, what
would look like a little lump,

suddenly turned
into this wonderful thing.

This is one of my
favorite pieces which is

The God of the Lizard Men.
I wanted to do a drawing

that was like
a Dave Trampier drawing.

That's who I was thinking of
at the time

and I think
I did a pretty good job

on doing something
that kind of looked like

something that
Trampier would do.

I think
Dave Sutherland was probably

actually the strongest
technical artist

in terms of being the best
draftsman among the bunch

from a kind of
a traditional perspective.

I'm thinking of things
like thePaladin In Hell.

That would be a perfectly fine
and effective

black and white
illustration in 2018.

You can read the
Paladin in Hellillustration

in lots of different ways.

Is he some sort of like
completely foolhardy,

reckless guy who--
it's like some sort of

suicide mission.
He's going in there.

It's a kamikaze attack.
So what?

He's gonna go down,
but he's gonna take

so many of these devils
and demons with him.

Or is there actually
something like,

"Wow, this guy must be
so awesomely hard

that he on his own could go
into this environment

and he's gonna
somehow come out?"

So when I got
to TSR's art department,

um, things had changed.

They had gotten
a lot more successful.

There was a place called
the Hotel Claire with a bar

on the main street
that I would go to

and occasionally have a beer.

The hotel was for sale
and TSR was doing well enough.

They bought
the whole darn hotel,

but then the place
that used to be the bar

on Main Street
was the new Dungeon Hobby Shop

and then upstairs,
where the hotel was,

were the TSR offices.

It was an old building
with like slanted floors

and I thought
it was really cool.

Literally rooms where--
that were sagging

that we didn't use
'cause we were afraid

- they were going to cave in.
- There was a false ceiling

and, uh, I can't remember
who it was,

I think it was maybe Erol Otus
was wandering around up there

and he stepped on something
he shouldn't have stepped on

and his feet came down
hanging out from the ceiling.

We were on the third floor.
It wasn't a very large office.

We each had a drawing table.

Um, and it was pretty spartan,
but in the months to come

we added several artists
and moved to the second floor

and that was
a much larger space.

It was never like
we were in this isolated group

or this isolated place.

Our place was always, always
had people coming through.

A woman from the PR department
comes by with this man

and his two boys and the PR lady
starts asking me questions

my educational background.

She said,
"So you finished high school

and everything right?"
I said,"Well, you know,

I got out after a year-and-half
'cause I wanted

to go to art school." She gave
me a little frown and just,

"Yeah, so you--you went
to art school

and you finished that right?"
"Well, it was

a three year course
and after a year-and-a-half

I got the job here."
And she kind of like

gave me a sneer and moved on.

I found out later
that what was happening is

this guy's kids
were not doing their schoolwork

because they were playing
too muchDungeons & Dragons.

And I was supposed
to be the voice

of the importance of education.

The culture at TSR
was--was incredible in that

it was very creative
because, again, a lot of this--

nothing had existed before
like this.

So we were creating it
all at the same time.

TSR was just
a wonderful place to be

because it wasn't like
a normal job

because we were all doing
something that we liked.

And everybody was my friend.

The only thing that was at all
kind of corporate about it

is there was a time clock.

So you had to punch in
and out and nobody liked that.

It was very liberating
to be in a position

of where you were basically
given carte blanche

to do what you want to do
if you got your work done.

So some of us would come in
and work regular business hours.

There were several people
that worked from home.

There were several people
that would go on these binges

and put in 10, 12,
uh, 14 hours in a row.

I used to go to work

and get there
before anybody else.

I used to jump on the dumpster,
get onto the fire escape,

and I would leave
my window open to my office

because I didn't have keys
to the place.

And I would let myself in
and I'd be drawing

before anybody else got there.

I can't think
of a better work environment

that I could have been in.

I had nothing to compare to it.
It just seemed like...

it was the only thing
I ever knew.

So it just seemed
totally natural to me.

We all talked amongst ourselves,
joked amongst ourselves.

We all got along even though
some personnel would change up

now and again, you know, most
personalities clicked.

So the artists
kind of fed off each other.

We were certainly pushing
each other to do better

and to do well and to come up
with crazy ideas.

That was a lot of fun hearing
their ideas for creatures.

I remember
The Lost Shrine of Tamoachan

when describing
the Gibbering Mouther

Jeff Leason would make
a strange sound

which was something like,
"Bleee bleee bleee."

So if we were doing
a module, we would get

a full understanding
of the story and the importance

of what illustrations
were the most critical.

And the subject matter
would sometimes be,

"We need
this specific thing from you."

But sometimes it would be
a group of illustrations

that needed to be done
and we would divide them up.

If it was like
the Monster Manual,

very often we were given,
"Okay, here is the next

ten monsters and it's in
under the letter B."

And then you'd finish them, and
by the time you got back in,

it was maybe some other
people had done 'em

and you now had collected
from D into F.

So, when you look
at the Monster Manual

you'll actually see
that there is a series

of illustrations that were done
and then some other artist

would pick them up
and then they would do a series

- and then the next person.
- Through most of the time there

I would just
do anything at all.

It was all great.

I think the one time
that I really, really

had a strong preference was for

the Cthulu mythos
in Deities & Demigods.

Deities & Demigods
included several mythos.

Some from fiction authors
including Lovecraft,

but as it turns out,
TSR didn't actually have

the rights to do some
of those copyrighted materials.

One of the genres
that was removed from

Deities & Demigods
was the Cthulu mythos

and, so, I was disappointed
that more people weren't able

to see it,
but in a way it created

a certain amount
of buzz around it

and so hopefully
some people have sought it out.

The assignments
that I disliked the most

were the maps.
And the maps were very technical

and they had to be very precise
and there were other people

that were better at it
than I was.

I said, "I don't care.
I'll--I'll do maps." You know?

That's the job.
I love coming here

and drawing anything,
you know?

I was starting to come up with
all this different symbology

for the maps.
So, you know, if we needed

a one-way secret door
I had to come up with

what a one-way secret door
was gonna to look like.

If I was gonna, you know,
do a barred window,

"Well, what's that
gonna look like on a map?

And then we had to start doing
different levels

and it's like, "Oh, well,
now we got to deal

with stairways going
up and down or,

what are you gonna
do with that?"

So a large part
of what you see today

is because, you know,
I developed a lot of that.

The Greyhawk Map.
Now that was something

to be reckoned with.
It was so large.

When that artwork was done,
they had to go to Madison

to find a camera big enough
to take a photograph.

And I almost had to fall
on it in order to work.

I mean it--
It was really unwieldy.

All of these colors were done

by pulling the color
off of these sheets.

Now they come apart
and they peel off.

It was a matter of laying down
one thing of color

and then taking
an X-ACTO knife and moving...

cutting it out
and then pulling out

what's not needed and then
laying down another one.

And these are the very ones
I used.

I had little tricks
to make it less cumbersome.

For instance--I can't believe
I'm admitting this...

I would write the names
of the mountains really big.

Can you see how I really
put the--the lettering in here?

Just think how many mountains
I didn't have to do.

Greyhawk really was, um,

something that...

changed my life.

When TSR made
their artistic shift

in the early '80s
and brought in

The Four Horsemen
so to speak,

in relatively short order
the artwork went

from being illustrative

the things in D&D,
the world of D&D,

what is D&D, you know?

To being
things in and of themselves.

A lot of the folks
in my generation,

this is what they grew up with.

This is, um, their, I guess,

- uh, Picasso you know?
- Those guys were my heroes.

Jeff Easley, Clyde Caldwell,

Larry Elmore, Keith Parkinson.

That's gonna be
'81 to about '88 is when you see

these guys just dominating
Dungeons & Dragonsartwork.

Well, I was, uh,
living in Massachusetts

and working
in a popcorn factory.

I had met Larry Elmore
through a mutual friend.

Basically, I did
a freelance piece for them

and they called me up
later and wanted...

to hire me.

I'd heard
of Dungeons & Dragons,

but I didn't know
very much about it.

So this guy said,
"Well I'm going to submit

some stuff to Dragon Magazine."

Uh, "Why don't you
submit some stuff too?"

My dad was working
in Chicago at a pinball company

doing pinball backings.
And he was a huge gamer.

He's playingDungeons & Dragons
First Edition

and so he'd be
flipping through and thinking,

"I could do better than this.
I can--I can do this.

I should be painting this."

Then he found out,
they're just up in Lake Geneva.

And to me that sounded like
moving to Alaska.

The first couple of times
they offered me a job

I turned it down and then...

I ended up, uh...

being flown out
for an interview and...

And I looked around
at the place.

It was like, "Look like a bunch
of kids running the place."

I only saw about three or four
people older

than me and Gary Gygax
was one of them.

So we just talked
and they were telling me

about TSR and, you know,
it sounded pretty good.

He drove up there and started
talking to the art director

and apparently missed a couple
of big hints

about coming on
full time and left.

Uh, and then when it clicked
months later,

uh, was fortunately able
to still get a position.

Finally the president
of the company at that time

was Kevin Bloom
and he flew down here.

Well, he finally said,
"What do you make?

How much money
do you make a year?"

I told him.
He said, "I'll double it."

I looked at him and said,

"I guess you bought yourself
an artist."

When I first got to TSR
they had just bought

a large, new building
over on Sheridan Springs Road

where they had
already moved all the execs

and so forth out there.
And we knew that they were

eventually going to move us
out there as soon as they

made space available.

We had a large room
all to ourselves

so it was a big bullpen-kind
of area.

And we stayed in
that kind of environment

for pretty much the rest
of... of the history of TSR.

Clyde Caldwell, Larry Elmore,

Jeff Easley, Keith Parkinson
each had a corner of the room.

I tried to kind of
make a barrier

so that it would be hard
for people to come

and walk into my area
and see what I was doing.

It didn't work because
they would just come around

and walk around anyway.

Then the floor was covered,
covered in paint.

And in fact Gail Gygax
took us to visit TSR,

the building,
when we were at Gary Con

a couple of years ago
and we got to go in there

and in the art room there's
still paint on the floor.

We'd be working
in that big room together

it'd be pretty quiet and then--

I know I did this
several times,

I'd break the silence and I'd
say, "Can you believe..."

You know I was 35 years old.
I said, "I am 35 years old.

I'm getting paid
really good money

to paint
monsters and dragons."

Everybody just sort of stops,
says, "I can't believe it.

This is unreal."
Here's a picture of all of us

back in TSR in the '80s
when were all young men.

I think they called themselves
the Art Dogs.

Uh, hard to beat that, right?

Yeah I don't want to say
it was like a big party

all the time because we did
have to sit down and do work,

but it was--they kind of
left us alone, you know?

We had these killer dart games
and the scary thing was

when you come through the door
to come into our department,

you were right in the path
of the dart board.

The board was on this wall,
we would stand over here

throwing and you had
to go through the doorway.

So if someone came through
really quick they could've

easily got a dart
in the side of their head.

It almost happened a few times.
So if anybody's got any...

original TSR art and you see
a little perfectly round hole,

that's a dart hole.

Well some people
made the mistake of, uh,

when they gave us
art supplies

they gave us this big box
of gigantic rubber bands.

I mean, they're like
pieces of inner tube almost.

So like you what do you do
with a rubber band that size?

You shoot it
at somebody of course.

I think it says so on the box.

One day we had our little fight

and Jeff Easley
was not there

and a rubber band
went skipping across

his oil painting
and it left nice little mark

across it, you know?

It's like, "Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh, no-- Jeff's painting!

Oh, no! We've got to fix it.
Somebody gotta fix it."

So somebody goes over there
and, you know,

tweaks it around,
and fixes Jeff's oil painting.

And, yeah...

I guess he never
even noticed it, you know?

So when Larry joins TSR,

that was probably
the next big step, right?

Here's a guy who's gonna be
doing big color pieces,

oils or, you know,
medium that they hadn't

necessarily had before.

And, so, to really scale up
to be a mass market product--

which is what was the goal
and what they ended up doing

fantastically as it turned out,
you needed to be able

to compete with everything else
on the shelves.

And so that's what they had
to do to get there.

My favorite thing about
Larry Elmore are his skies.

Even if it's a stormy sky,
it's just so--

like he went out
and took a photograph

of the most amazing sky
that you've seen

and he can just put that
in any painting.

Well, Larry Elmore just does
some fantastical environments.

His landscapes
are just beautiful.

The land,
the environment is important.

If it's snow,
if it's mountains,

if it's a desert, water.
This is important to the game.

And on top of that,
I love painting landscapes.

And he loves figure painting,
and he loves story.

When you look at his characters
and they're wearing

unique forms of armor
and interesting weapons

and tools that they're carrying
or the barding on their horse

is really fascinating.
And then in the background

is some landscape.
You know, a castle, ruins,

forest, but you see
the depth of the world.

I made these things.
They hook over there,

they hit this piece of wood here
and they float right above

your painting.
So I use it to brace

my hand on when I paint.
This is how wide that board was

when I got back in 1987.

I worked at TSR, okay?

So I've used this thing.
And what I do,

when I'm painting,
I'll be painting

and I'll clean off my brush
or when I mix my paint

I'll come up here and clean
a little bit of the brush off.

So all this paint here

is made of little dabs of paint
slowly built up.

So that's how every painting
I've done since '87

it's probably got
some of that paint in here.

Larry had this thing
that he would sometimes,

uh, sign under the name
Jack Fred

to some of his paintings
when he felt like

he didn't have time
to do a good job.

It was-- Came from a little
thing he had with his kids.

I would talk sorta funny
and real country

and I'd call myself Jack Fred.

And it's like
I wasn't very smart.

And the kids would laugh
and ask me questions.

I'd answer 'em and it was just a
game we'd play in the car a lot.

I did a painting.
It wasn't very good at all.

I said,
"I can't sign my name to this.

This is not a real painting.
It's, you know,

it's more like a practice piece
or something, a rough."

So I thought,
"I'm not signing my name to it."

So I thought of Jack Fred.

So some of the others of us--
Occasionally when we'd

have to do something that was
really kind of,

not of the best quality
would sign it Jack Fred.

So occasionally you'll find
a Jack Fred

attributed among the credits
in the TSR product line.

His thing is
always, "I didn't know

what I was doing.
I was just doing it

and hoping it turned out cool

and it was fun
and people enjoyed it."

And he never thought of it
as the idea of...

"I'm creating this image
and this is gonna be

the birth of something huge."

This is probably the most
highly-visible piece

I ever did in my life

and it's been seen
all over the world.

If I had known it was
gonna be what it was

when I painted it,
it'd probably scared me to death

and then I'd done something
a lot worse.

I sat down at my desk
and did a big drawing

it took me half a day probably.

The whole party
fighting a dragon

and that drawing
comes back rejected.

No explanation.
Just "No. We don't like it."

I went to go see Gary.
"You can't do that."

Only special people
can see him you know?

"Well, he wants his cover done
for his D&D?

Then I'm gonna have
to talk to him."

And I told him I said,
"What do you want?"

I said, "I've turned in
two or three things already

and you don't like it."
I said"So what are you

wanting out of this cover?"
He looked at me and sort of

bent over and he said,
"I want something

that will reach out and grab ya
like this."

So I was sitting there like,
"Well, okay, I get it.

I understand."
So I went back and drew

this drawing relatively fast.
And showed to him and he said

"That's exactly what I want."

It's not a horrible painting,
but it's not the best painting

I ever done.
I think for the time

and for the game
and to reflect the action

the young people wanted to see
in the game, it did its job.

I don't really remember
ever seeing Jeff paint.

Jeff was always looking
at his canvas...

And he'd rock like this,
and he'd study it...

and he'd study it...
and he'd study it.

You'd walk away
and you'd get a cup of coffee

and come back
and he'd still be studying it.

Then you'd go to work
on your own piece for an hour

and you'd come back
and he'd still be studying it.

You'd go, "What the he--."
You'd go to the bathroom

and you'd come back
and it's half done.

Jeff easily did not rely
on photographic reference

like Keith and Larry did.

So when you look at
a Jeff Easley piece

you feel the energy--
the gestural energy--behind it.

Out of all the artists--
staff artists that were

doing it,
Larry Elmore, Clyde Caldwell,

Jeff's artwork made me feel
like a kid again.

When I saw Jeff Easley's art
for the Monster Manual II,

fighter facing off
against a Hill Giant,

that rocked my world.

It kicked the stool
out from under me

and kicked me in the teeth.

All of a sudden here's real art

on the covers of theD&D books.

With Jeff Easley
it would be the dragons.

He's kind of one of those where
you can look at it

and you know that
it's a Jeff Easley dragon.

Jeff's dragons are just
friggin cool, man.

I mean, look here, you've got
one of Jeff Easley's

incredible paintings
of Verminaard and the dragon.

The scales,
the drooling, you know, mouth,

the teeth.
It's just, you know,

it's just so much life and
detail in it that it's amazing.

Yeah, my holy grail
I would say that, you know,

I still don't believe I have it,
is definitely Jeff Easley's

Big Red Dragon painting.

From what I understand
the art direction that Jeff

got is like, you know,
"We want a dragon

that's kind of in your face
and whatnot."

So you know that's kind of how
I got introduced intoD&D.

I think I have done one pen
and ink drawing of a dragon

before I got to TSR.
I think the first one

I ever painted was
the firstMonster Manual

of the dragon and the Pegasi.

Probably a little overkill
doing all the scales

like that tightly and so forth.

And then, you know,
there's no horns

or any kind of sweep back
on the head here like I would

certainly do nowadays.
Well, luckily, with dragons

being a mythological creature
that there's no--

there is no way to do it wrong.

It's, uh, you know,
there's no--no dragon police

that are gonna come in
and tell you did it incorrectly.

Well, as far as skeletons
and painting undead

and that sort of thing, that
harkens back to my, you know,

lifelong love of monsters
and fantasy.

I mean, I just--
I just I loved skulls

when I was a kid
much to my parents chagrin.

Jeff Easley's undead
are so cool

because there's so much
life in them.

Zombie-like, living,
they've got personality.

And you don't want to mess
with them.

They're pretty frickin bad ass

and, you know,
they scare the crap out of you.

They just have an intrinsic
power to them I think.

Jeff Easley's Magisterpainting
is such an awesome

Dungeons & Dragonspiece.

I mean, you've got
this wizard Magister

who's raising these undead,
you know?

And you're just drawn in
to the picture

and you want to know, "Why?
What's going on?"

Jeff was the best--
the best at doing magic.

Hands down, man.
You just look at an Easley.

When you see an Easley magician
going at it,

the magic,
he just knew how to do that.

And then Jim organized
a lunchtime D&Dgame.

I was playing a magic user.
An elven magic user

named Cragmar from the land
beyond the mountain.

One day after I just turned
sixth level,

we were in a situation where
I thought it would be a cool

thing to do to cast my new
fireball I just got.

Of course,
if you read the rules

you will find out
that if it is thrown

in a confined space
like a dungeon,

a small dungeon room,
that it has to have a certain

area to dissipate
for your fellow characters

can survive it.

Keith says, "Jeff,
are you sure you wanna do this?"

- "Yeah."
- He did everything

he could do to prevent me
from frying everybody,

but I-- I persisted and managed
to kill the entire party.

That kind of ended the game.

Clyde was definitely
a perfectionist

and very particular

about getting everything
exactly right.

I never was really comfortable

with people seeing my work
before it was finished.

I didn't mind showing it
to people after

it was finished,
but I didn't like people

seeing it in progress
since--especially if I was

having trouble with something

or something
didn't look good to me.

Clyde would take
how ever long it took to do

a painting no matter what.
If his world's come to an end

or they threatened to shoot him
he would just ignore them.

Clyde would paint
probably like a Flemish painter

where there's a tremendous
amount of precision and detail.

He knew how to bring out
the concrete shape of a form

describing a sword,
describing armor,

and making you really

the mechanics
and the structure.

His colors were so bright
and vibrant

Everything seemed
blended so well.

Clyde really just put together

a very saturated presentation
and I think that speaks to

the energy that was
the aesthetic that was desired

in art in the '80s.

Ravenloftwas one of my first
assignments when I came to TSR.

And I think it was just
intended to be a one shot.

Evidently it was
a popular module.

As time went on, they decided,

let's do a whole campaign."

You know,
Ravenloft the game setting.

I think what Clyde Caldwell
really added to the D&Dlexicon

is his sensuality
for the character.

Clyde painted all women sexy.

If he painted a nun,
if it was a module about a nun

she'd have been the sexiest nun
you ever saw.

The female characters
just always appealed to me

more than the male characters
even though I didn't mind

painting male characters,
either, but, actually, uh,

TSR was pretty conservative
about the female characters

and they thought,
you know, that their audience

was 14-year-old boys.

But for some reason
they didn't think

14 year-old boys
liked sexy women.

She's a smooth, muscular,

- but still weirdly...
- Feminized.

...bodaciously endowed.

Yeah, she's like
an other-worldly creature

because it doesn't make sense
that she could even stand.

I grew up with these artists
who would draw women

in these big-bosomed, like,
little bikinis

and I didn't think
anything was wrong with it

there's nothing wrong with it.

I would get a little criticism

for maybe not having someone
in full armor

and that sort of thing.

It didn't cover
a lot of vital areas.

Mostly nipples, I guess,
'cause, I mean--

I was painting for a game
that had magic.

You didn't need
armor for protection.

You could protect yourself
without it.

I don't want armor.
I want to have a wizard

in a bikini,
with, like, wrist cuffs

and, you know,
like a magical shield.

Like I don't need armor.
I have brain armor.

Each of the artists
did four paintings

in the Dragonlancecycle.

So when Clyde was doing,
like, Goldmoon,

I came into the art room
and I saw Clyde's drawing

and I burst into tears.

At some point I decided I wanted
to paint her with bare legs.

She cried a while.
She's looking at it and I said,

"Margaret is something wrong?"
She says, "Yes...

this is not Goldmoon.
Goldmoon is holy, she's not."

I don't know
what words she used.

"She's not this." You know?

After that, Goldmoon always
had pants on in paintings.

Of the group of artists
that TSR brought in

in the early '80s--
Easley, Elmore,

Caldwell, Parkinson,
I've had numerous people

and numerous artists tell me
that Keith Parkinson

was actually
the most influential.

And I have also had numerous
people argue with me

that Keith Parkinson was
the most accomplished painter

of those four artists.
And, in fact, I've had

some of those four artists
tell me that Keith Parkinson

was the most
accomplished painter.

He died way too young

um, and he was--
he was an amazing artist.

He just picked up
like gangbusters man.

I mean he went at it
and he had a voraciousness

to him that he just wanted
to learn, learn, learn,

learn, learn
and he did, man.

He just--
by leaps and bounds.

Everything he did looked better
than the thing he did before.

He got to learn from some--
I mean...

Elmore, Easley, Caldwell.

Like, getting to learn
from those guys?

That's pretty great.

I was showing Keith.
I said, "Look, if you

have a hard time drawing an arm
as a single, get a model.

You know, as long as your model
and you take a picture of it

and look at it and draw it,
I said, "It's yours."

So what we're looking at here
are a bunch of reference photos

mostly from the 1980s
that my dad and Larry Elmore

and a bunch of other,
kind of, TSR alum--

you'll see Diesel
in a few of them,

took to help prepare
for their paintings.

For this one we've got a paper
towel roll being a flute.

Over here we've got
an X-Wingbeing a laser gun.

Riding a park bench
like a horse.

Probably a lot
of confused onlookers

while they are doing this stuff.

I think it's a great
snapshot, literally,

into the history of this
that you don't really see

- this side of it.
- You could see that he obviously

studied classical painters
because he's able to bring

this incredible,
realistic world

to a convincing presentation.

He had
this innate color sense.

I don't think he could explain
what he was doing with color.

I kept thinking like,
"I got a box of crayons.

I only had eight crayons,
you know?"

Whereas Keith seemed like
he had a box of 182 crayons.

So my dad's take
on color was that

color isn't blue.
It isn't red. It isn't green.

It's a mixture of,
you know, everything.

So his palette,
if you looked at it,

would be, you know, glob of this
glob of that, glob of that.

And then just mush
of whatever this was.

It was referred to as the
Parkinson Shit Brown usually

because that's exactly
what it looked like,

but then when you put it up
on the canvas,

"Oh it's a tree.
That's the color of bark."

That is--I mean it worked.

I think Keith Parkinson

came from
a place of storytelling.

There was
always a sense of story

and narrative and everything
that Keith painted.

They're all action shots.
They're all events transpiring.

There is an action happening
and this is a freeze frame

of--of what's going on
in that moment.

And a great example
of that would be, uh,

What Do You Mean We're Lost?

That has three draconians
arguing in the snow

with trees behind them
and there's no road

to be found anywhere.
And they're all like--

It looks like a family pulled
over on the side of the road

during a car trip
all just yelling at each other.

It's popular with a lot
of people, myself included,

because I think it kind of
shows these terrific,

fantastical, fierce creatures
in a situation

that you wouldn't necessarily
picture them being in.

Which is lost
in the snow and cold,

uh, and just grumpy
and angry about it.

He had,
first and foremost,

probably a fantastic sense
of humor.

He loved
to play practical jokes.

I put all those paintings up
on the wall

and went home that night

and when I came back in
the next morning,

all my paintings
were turned upside down.

I was gonna start painting
and I looked over here,

well, my palette was gone...

my brushes were gone.

Everything was gone!

So I was totally exasperated
and I just slumped back

on my chair,.
I looked up...

All my stuff
was on the ceiling.

The phone was on there,
there's my brushes.

Everything was
all on the ceiling.

It's a pretty amazing feeling
knowing and seeing the impact

my dad has had on the industry,
but, more specifically,

individual artists.
Every kid wants to hear

his dad's awesome, right?

But I've a lot of people
coming up telling me,

you know, as a grown adult
that my dad was awesome

and he's been gone 12 years now.

And the fact that people
are still saying

that kind of stuff
when nothing new has come out

in over a decade,
uh, that's--that's fantastic.

And I think speaks to what
he was able to do

- with time that he had.
- I think what the worst thing

about it--
not only that he's missed,

but the paintings
he would have done...

we'll never see
because before he died

he was doing
some fantastic paintings

and he was only
going to get better.

By the time you get
into the mid-to-late '80s

you really start
to reach a point

where, to an ever increasing
number of people,

when they think of fantasy art,
fantasy imagery,

they start to think of TSR.

They start to think of D&D.

People that
don't even play D&D,

you know, when you ask them,

"What does fantasy art
look like?"

They'll point at
Lord Soth's Charge

even if they have no idea
who Lord Soth is

or anything about Dragonlance

or anything
about the world at all.

In the case ofDragonlance

I really had a sense that
that was gonna be a big thing,

you know,
right from the start.

The Art of the Dragonlance
that's one of my very first

art books I've got.
As you can see that covers off,

third page is almost coming off.

It was well-worn,
looked through

hundreds of times, you know.

I just loved studying
the paintings.

Here's Raistlin in his lab
with all the potions

and everything.
Just beautiful piece.

You got to know
the characters.

After a while you knew 'em.

They might look exactly alike
in each painting,

but you knew who they were.

So it gave you a familiarity.

When they're the one on
the book covers, module covers.

They didn't impose
hard deadlines on us.

You know, they really let us
paint on these

until, you know,
we were satisfied with them.

So we were just really put
everything we could into them.

was really the thing

that propelled specific style.

So you had Dragonlance
and Birthright and Dark Sun

and Planescape
and all that stuff.

That's when we were
really sitting down

and making, uh,
style guides or at least

a cohesive look to a world.

Normally what would happen
is once the designer

and the editor decide
on what they want

for their product,
and, hopefully, at that point

they have a storyboard
enough where they know

they need three
quarter-page illustrations

and two half-page illustrations
and one full-page.

They will come up with
an art order

or an art suggestion.

And it is important
that the art description

is clear, uh, that
it's-- creates a hierarchy

for the artist to latch onto
about what is important

versus what is not important
and to remember

that you're basically getting
one snapshot.

Oftentimes I think the editors
when they would describe

a scene they wanted to see
oftentimes I got the impression

they were sometimes describing
a five-minute movie trailer.

"We've got this thief
and they're jumping off

this roof
and they're bashing this guy

as they are falling down
to the thing and then

they're tumbling over."
And I'm like,"Guys, guys, guys.

It's a single frame."

I always actually liked it
when I got difficult,

and I still do like it
when I get

quite challenging briefs
because that's part of the fun

of being an illustrator really;
it's about problem solving.

Sometimes it was
even frustratingly simple.

Like, "I really wish
you would have given me

more information rather than
having to make me guess."

We had occasions where we didn't
even really have art directors.

You know, we were just kind of--
and we were kinda divvying.

And they would give us
a big batch of stuff

and we were divvying up
the jobs among ourselves.

Each one of us got the,
you know, we would roll dice

- to see who got to pick first.
- Clyde Caldwell wanted

all the ones
with chicks in them.

He was the--wanted to be
the woman painter.

So he would fight
over all those.

So I guess it depended on
how... how popular the piece--

the--the product line was,
what the elements

of the painting were,
and if it had chicks in it.

And then the stuff
that we couldn't handle in-house

we actually had to
call freelancers ourselves

and coordinate them
and use them on the job

and, you know, do all
the dirty work

that an art director
would do also.

And their Rolodex consisted

of a four-foot square section

of a top flat file
for art was all stored

and the top of that cabinet
was Post-it Notes

and three-by-five note cards
and scraps of paper

with artists names
and numbers on them.

I basically stood there
while they were all working

and just would call out
a name and say,

"Do we keep this guy?"
And they'd say, "Yes."

And then I'd make an index card
and we started

their actual Rolodex.

So I took an existing module

and pasted my artwork
into the module

and then made a print out.

This being a smaller version
of the actual print out

and sent this to TSR
back in September of 1992.

A lot of it I would look at
and send back

to the artist with a nice,
little letter saying,

you know,
"Thanks, but no thanks."

And she's like,
"We loved your stuff."

And I'm like,
"You loved my stuff?"

I'm like, "But you sent
a letter that said, you know,

you didn't like it."
And she's like

"Well, you know, all you sent
were like...

floating images
of monsters and people.

Like, they weren't
doing anything. They're just--

they were just standing there."

There's a Medusa
standing here doing nothing

and a couple of knolls looking
around also doing nothing."

They liked the way I drew,
but the artwork

was clearly I was--
I was doing nothing.

By the end of that year
I was given my first assignment

from TSR which was
a huge box set

called Dragon Mountain
which I remember because

Jennell Jaquays did this
amazing painting

of a red dragon on top
of a mountain top.

My most famous piece,
Dragon Mountain,

was done as a freelance piece.

Around 1990 I had a sea change
in the way I painted.

Suddenly I went from
painting in one manner

to something that was more
rich and colorful and vibrant

and people at TSR noticed that.

And suddenly I started getting
more cover work from them.

Both in the magazines and on,
eventually, the products.

they bring a vast amount

of difference
within the course of a product.

And you can see a lot
of really cool things

with people having cool, new
ideas about different things,

but you still need a cohesive
Art Direction in there

in a way that you're gonna
put the product forward.

And, I think, that's something
that Dungeons & Dragons

has always been able to do.

Make a product,
make a product line,

- and we identify it.
- In the role of an art director

on D&D,
our biggest joke is

we used to sit here and say
your subtitle was

"Art Director, Cat Wrangler"

in reality your whole job
was about trying to match up

all these different
opposing forces.

So you had the R&D guys
who had a vision of

what the art books
should be, look like

and then you've got
the brand guys

and the marketing guys
who all have this vision

of how it's got to fit
into the world

from a marketing
and business standpoint.

And then you've got all
the partners that you deal with

who have to be able
to communicate the art with

so that they can use it
for licensed products

and stuff like that.

And then you've got the artists
themselves where you're trying

to take the stuff
that the guys in R&D want

and meld that together with
the brand and marketing stuff

and create a piece of artwork
that fulfills on

all their needs, but is also
very useful for the book,

and, oh, yes by the way,
makes the fans very happy.

You went from
generic fantasy setting

to, uh, to suddenly having
this myriad of worlds--

of different realms.
You know, you had Greyhawk,

Forgotten Realms,
Dark Sun.

There's a distinct
definitive feeling

that's different
between all of those.

And that's all drawn from
that creative team.

From those creative forces
behind it

and that creative team
chose the correct artists

- to represent that.
- I love finding...

the perfect piece
to give to the perfect artist.

The first thing
you have to decide is

"What kind of worlds
do you want?"

Um... and define some goals

and then you start,

working with artists
that can execute

on that and bring
that vision to life.

WithDark Sun they wanted
to try something different.

They wanted a strong look
and feel to identify the world

and to do that they decided
to use one artist

to establish that.
Luckily, I had been spending

a lot of my extra time
doing my own paintings

and these I had brought
into TSR and put on the wall.

One of the paintings
I did was this

muscular woman
on a rock.

It was Neeva with the wings
and the mask and the top.

Uh, little did I know
that they were creating

a new world called Dark Sun
and they were looking for

a completely unique look.

They came in,
saw that painting,

and they just thought,
"This is perfect."

I don't think
it's an exaggeration to say that

Dark Sunis Brom, you know?

Without Brom there would be
no Dark Sunsetting.

It's interesting
'cause to this day

I have people come up
and say, "Dark Sun is why.

Your art is why
I bought this product.

It's what got me
into Dungeons & Dragons.

Brom as a person was a goofball.

I mean, he was always,
always funny.

Diesel, in particular,
would have a Halloween party

and all the creatives
would try to outdo each other

- with their costumes.
- Brom came dressed

as Jeff Easley.

Complete with
theTV Guide in his pocket.

He had on this,
you know, goofy, bald-head wig

with the hair sticking out
and glasses on.

I thought he was
like a clown or something.

And I show up at the party.

So he's as Satan
and I'm as Jeff

and it's kind of
a Good Jeff Bad Jeff.

I just wish
I had known beforehand

that he was going to do that
I probably would've...

uh, retaliated.

A lot of times,
because we did have,

like, a particular artist
for a particular world,

they were really involved
with the designer and the editor

in the beginning.
Especially for something

like Planescape.
When that came around, I mean,

you really remember
the artist being a big part

of all that design
right from the beginning.

Planescape was just
so different.

It was not
typical medieval fantasy.

It was not
a regular fantasy world.

It was interplanar.
The art was fresh.

I--At this point...

was more confident
than I'd ever been

with my illustration for TSR.

So it was a chance,
I felt, to really shine

and rise to the occasion
because the other thing

they told me was
"LikeDark Sun,

you will be
the only illustrator

on these books.
And at least for the first year

as we launch the series,
we want you to be

the only artist
for the core box set,

for the monster book,
and for the first couple

of modules"
I think that came out.

This is one of
the mercy killers.

This would've been from
the original campaign

box setting.
This is all designed

from Dana Knutson's concept art
that would have been

done early on for the game.

The lead game designer,
Zeb Cook, um, he was the one

who said, "Well, we want a kind
of a medieval world, but..."

He said, "We've got
to make it different."

And I was kind of like,
"Well, you know, what do I do,

you know, to make it different?"
And all he said

were the two words,
"Make it spiky and bumpy."

And that was it.

This is called The Mortuary
and these were portals

that actually went
to different planes.

Kind of hidden back there,
but they're there.

And then I just came up
with this creepy look

with some of the spears
and stuff sticking out.

When everybody saw this one,
this pretty much sold the line.

They really wanted to go
in this direction.

We needed to come up with
a logo for Planescape.

And so I came up with
this idea which is the gates

and the bat wings and the owner,
Lorraine Williams,

actually liked this logo
so much she thought it was

actually too good for,
uh, to be used on Planescape

so she wanted
it used on Ravenloft.

So we switched it over
to Ravenloftand I don't think

it ever was used, but we had
to come up with a new idea

and that's where we used
one of the faction symbols

which was The Lady of Pain.

I had done
some faction symbols.

These are these symbols
for different clan groups

and stuff and one of them
was this woman's head

with the blades coming out.
She has this dead smile,

the eyes are just, you know,
they stare back at you.

Very mysterious, very creepy.

When we got to Planescape,
there wasn't a lot

of those classic monsters
in Planescape.

There were some secondary
monsters that you might have

seen in laterMonster Manuals,
but none of the real, big,

core monsters were there
and I felt like I had

the freedom
to kind of go nuts.

Tony almost added
a level of aesthetic clutter

is almost what I call it.
You know, like little pouches,

little knickknacks
and things kind of like

squirreled away on figures
or on characters.

And before that, you know,
you'd get like... like a dwarf

in a tunic with pants
and with boots.

Tony comes along
and does his gnome

with a candelabra headset,
smoking a pipe

with a crazy pouch
and platform shoes

and, like,
all this bizarre,

crazy idiosyncrasies
that make those creatures

more than creatures; they make
them individuals and characters.

Everything just worked.

That's one of the most wonderful
feelings when you work on--

on a world and it--

it turns out the way
you wanted it to

only it turns out even better.

I always think back on those
years working on Planescape

and I always smile because
it was such a great time

in my life.
And those were great people.

During my time at TSR,

it was during Lorraine Williams'
reign, so to speak.

And she hired--or a lot
of people working for her

weren't gamers,
who weren't familiar

with industry, but they had
backgrounds as actual managers.

Sometimes they made decisions
that were not based on reality.

Jeff Easley was pegged to do
this very prominent cover

for a new product and
management wanted to make sure

it's the best it can be.
So they specified,

"Jeff, only use
your most expensive colors

on this painting."
Which is hilarious 'cause, like,

Rose Madder is
the most expensive paint tube

so I can imagine if his whole
painting was Rose Madder.

Another thing that happened
along the similar lines

is another important project
came along and they said,

"This project's important.
Make sure you use

all the colors."
So that just kind of gives you

an idea of the void
between the understanding

between management and creatives
especially the painters, at TSR.

we got to keep our art.

Then somewhere along the way,

I'd say right around...

maybe 1980 or so,

they decided that, "Well,
we should keep the art, TSR."

And those works
went into a vault

that was found and opened

when Wizards purchased TSR.

Some of the art
got back into the artists hands,

but some of it didn't.

In the generations that
we're talking about,

D&Dart wasn't
a digital piece on a computer.

It was a real piece of artwork

and those pieces
were everywhere

and we're here today
talking about them because

we love them and we know the
value that these things have.

But at the time, nobody knew.

I get this call
from somebody going,

"Hey, we were cleaning out
the shipping department

'cause they're getting ready
for some construction."

Or something
"We found this painting

behind a big filing cabinet

and we were thinking
about throwing it away,

but we figured since it's art,
we should call you up

and let you know and let--

you could tell us
what to do with it."

Then I went down there,
I was like, "Oh, my God,

this is the original
Trampier cover.

Oh, what is this doing...?
Why is this here?

Why is this behind a thing?"
And totally freaked out.

Realizing that we were, like,
literally moments away

from this thing
ending up in a dumpster

because nobody in shipping
had an understanding

of what it was
and what the importance was

- to this brand.
- For whatever reason

that boggles my mind,

original artwork
somehow was...

confused for trash.

They chucked it away in-- It--
At least three batches

that I know of
and I did not learn about it

until the last batch
that they were chucking away.

And I--I was out of my mind.

I couldn't believe
that they were doing this

so I grabbed a bunch of that.

And if it wasn't for the fact
that there were some people

who happened to be witnessing
at the time

that this was happening,
that artwork

never would have been rescued.

A really good villain,
a really complex, dynamic,

not purely evil villain
is so much more interesting

than a hero no matter
how well he's fleshed out.

I love fantasy art
because of the monsters.

D&Dwas the first niche
to fill the monster market

and give us visual evidence
of what creatures were

that we might have seen
or wanted to go against.

Now you can go on Google
and put in a name of something

and do an image search
and you can get

a million images
that'll come up,

but I bet you they're fromD&D.

WhatD&D did was,
just by the needs

of the game, demanded an image
for every monster.

It became sort of
a compendium or glossary

of every creature that had ever
populated any fiction

most of which may have never
been painted.

There was nothing out there

for what certain monsters
looked like

or certain other things,
so you had to go by

the description.

We were just making the shit up.

It's like being an explorer.

You're the first one
who's gone there

and you're reporting back
to everyone else

what that thing looks like.

So I had to paint a dragon, the
first dragon I ever painted

when I went to work at TSR.
I'm like,

I've gotta paint a dragon."

I get my encyclopedia out
and I look up dinosaurs

in one book.
Another book I had reptiles.

And a lot of people say,
"Well, why you put

front legs on a dragon?"

You know, you see a lot
of dragons with the wings

and the front legs
tied together.

It's like,
"Well, because TSR said in D&D,

dragons were very intelligent.

They could do things,
they could cast spells.

They need to use the front legs
almost like hands."

I was always a little
intimidated by dragons, though.

I hadn't done a lot of dragons
prior to coming to TSR

and then Dragonlancecame along

and we kind of changed
the look of the dragons.

I got to develop
the Black Dragon

and the Green Dragon.

You know, I think Larry did
the White Dragon

and the Blue Dragon
and Jeff did the Red Dragon.

My version of the dragon
has evolved a little

over the years and I think that
eventually got to the point

where physically a lot
of my dragons are kind of

almost human musculature
in the arms and so forth

and you can get really
kind of an expressive gesture.

The way I do the faces
I think oftentimes,

it's almost caricature approach
in some cases

with the eyes,
maybe a little bit of a grin

or just the way
the nose wrinkles up.

Yeah they're just--
of all the fantasy creatures

I think they're probably
the most iconic.

Lockwood really set the bar
recently for kind of

what's to be expected
of dragons I feel.

You can't have more fun
for money than designing

the dragons for D&D.

Todd just--he really had
a hankering

to, uh, just redesign them
to make them less humanoid

in their anatomy
and more feline,

more bestial
and really gave each one

its own
really distinct differences.

Seeing like the Green
Dragon look very different

from the Black Dragon
look very different from the,

you know, Blue Dragon
was really inspiring

because there was
taking into account

regions and where these dragons
could be found.

Sam Wood and I worked very,
very closely together

on the dragons
and traded pictures

back and forth
and built them up

from the inside out.
We drew skeletons,

we drew musculature diagrams
and then we fleshed them out.

Pulling in a lot
of different textures and colors

from real world objects
like, you know,

for this copper dragon he's got
a really nice patina on it,

but each, again, each dragon
has such a unique head crest

and look about it
that you can really start

to appreciate
the culture of each species.

Dragons have wings.
They don't swing

from tree limbs.
They don't need shoulders

that can brachiate.

A cat can't do this...

but a monkey can.

A dragon doesn't need
to swing from a tree.

So we gave them limbs
more appropriate to the things

it would use those limbs for.

For me
when I'm painting a dragon,

when I'm approaching
the design aspect of it

it's almost like
a personality that you have

to hit, less so than
a physical feature.

Like, for me,
I'm not aiming for scales

on my dragon,
that's not important.

I'm aiming for majesty.
I'm aiming for impact.

I'm aiming for this powerful
feel to them.

The Silver Dragon for
Fifth Edition

was a real treat for me
'cause they're one of my

favorite dragons inD&D.
I wanted it to be something

that sort of takes
your breath away a little bit

when you see
the beauty of this animal

rather than just a monster. You
know, something with just

a couple of hit points and
some loot on it to get later.

When I am designing creatures
I much more prefer

kind of Earth-bound creatures.

Like, if it looks more alien,
I actually--I don't like that.

Because nature looks cool
and really anything that you can

come up with,
nature's already done it.

One of the things that--
that is always in the forefront

of my mind, you know,
outside of the standard art

stuff of, you know,
"Where's the light source

coming from?"
And all that

is "How do
these creatures work?

Like, how do they interact
with their environments?

How do they interact
with each other

and how can I make
that look believable?"

I am every monster
in all of my work.

I use this medium in this forum

to do a series
of self-portraits.

Root the Goblin
was one of the assignments

that I had to do for
Halls of Undermountain

and it was one
of my favorite self portraits

that I've done
for Dungeons & Dragons

and I really wanted to get
a really nice piece of reference

that I was going to use
to help the piece along.

I just wanted to create
a really happy, excited

little goblin that wanted
to help the players out

and he's gonna carry
all their stuff.

As long as you have 90 %
of a truth with a monster

that ten percent can be
as crazy as weird

and as much of a lie
as you want and you will create

something that is believable.

So, you know, there's the--
the age old answer

of like,
"Well, how does that work?"

And it's like,
"Eh, a wizard did it."

You know, it's like,
"It's magic."

You can... you can delve
into the realm of magic.

That's what gets me excited
about making art

for Dungeons & Dragons
is that I get to create

something that has
never existed before.

It's an ogre slingshot

that's sling-shotting goblins.

There has to be some type
of guide who says,

"All right, sling it."
You know?

So we have one goblin
in there who's kind of like

the leader who's saying,
"Sling away!"

You know?
So then he can yank his chains

down and sling
this goblin covered in

spiky armor into an enemy.

I hope it inspires the gamer
to come up with a scenario

that he can put his people up
against, to fight this thing.

The best D&Dmonsters,
I think, are these...

the ones that have maintained
their uniqueness

over the years
and that's probably like

The Beholder and they're
wholly bizarre creatures.

The Beholder
was just sort of an accident.

I seem to have gotten
all sorts of credit

for The Beholder.
And even though I didn't

think of it.
I mean, Gary probably thought

the damn thing up,
he just described it to me.

You know, ten eye stalks
and a big eye

and it floats in the air.

If you look at the way
a Beholder looked

in the very first illustration
like on the cover of Greyhawk

that is one look
for that creature,

but if you look at the way
they're being depicted now,

they've got much bigger mouths
full of much sharper teeth.

And every place
where the artist feels

that they can make that
Beholder a little bit cooler

they're doing it.

Beholders were terrifying.

That was the monster that
if it didn't turn you to stone,

it could disintegrate you
or turn your magic off

or just kill you outright
with a glance.

So when I got a chance
to redesign The Beholder

forThird Edition,
I tried to make him more real

and more visceral and scary.

And, well, I suppose
maybe I pictured

a Trampier-like Beholder
or maybe I pictured

one of the things
that had been done

shortly before that which was
just kinda a beach ball

with penises coming out of it.

And so instead of penises,
they were like slug eyes

that would stretch out
like a slug's eye and retract.

There's nothing phallic
about the eye stalks

on The Beholder
I don't think.

Those are just eyes stalks.
It's kind of like little animals

with eye stalks that get up
and look at you.

He's just got a lot more of
them than most creatures have.

Uh, if anything was phallic
in anything I did,

it would have been Snits
because they're just

a penis and balls... with feet.

A writer of an adventure
can come up with

a great idea for a monster,
but if you make it look dumb

it's not gonna have
the reputation that it deserves

from the writing.
So it's, uh--

There's an awesome

- that comes with it.
- There's tons of fear

messing with those monsters.

Especially, like,
classic ones because

you don't want
to disappoint the fans.

I don't think the audience
forD&D has had any problem

with the fact
that some of the depictions

have changed over time.
It's like everything else

in a role-playing game.
Even the rules there,

uh, they're guidelines
only at a certain level.

I mean, the Game Master
is there so that any time

the rules fail to do the job,
the Game Master can step in

and make things work
the way it needs to.

Same thing goes with the art.

Here are all the monsters
for D&Dthat we wanna feature

in Fifth Edition.
These are all the ones

that are gonna be relevant.
And we went through each one

and said "Okay, Owlbear."
And then we grab every piece

of art we've ever shown
of an owl bear

of the different major styles,
threw 'em up on a board,

and then went through
this analytical list and said,

"Okay, this is what works.
This is what doesn't."

Through all this work
that I've done for the past

20 some odd years has been...

there's a certain level
of challenge.

Like, "How am I gonna
make this ridiculous-sounding

monster that's a cross between
a bear and an owl?

How am I gonna
make that look cool?"

After drawing
thousands of creatures,

it always comes back to
"They have to have a lot

of teeth and drool
and there should be some

spikes somewhere."
Like the easiest way to make

a creature meaner
is to add more horns or spikes.

The Carrion Crawler
was a bit of a challenge because

it's a huge
insectoid-like creature

that resides in dark places
and eats dead things

that have
kind of ended up there.

Of course it kind of
made sense at first

to maybe have it
have large eyes.

In my own understanding
of the creature,

I thought it would be
interesting for it to kind of

feelaround which the tentacles
that were traditionally drawn

on the Carrion Crawler
could totally do.

So that was nice
that those were there.

So in my final rendition
of the creature

I've made those tentacles
a lot more whip-like in a way,

so they're a lot more agile
and kind of able to sort of

feel around its environment.

Cool thing about
the Goblinoids

what was an interesting
challenge was to make them all

feel like they're kind of
from the same DNA pool.

They're all structurally
humanoid from the neck down,

but where their character is
gonna lie, is in their faces.

I mean,
they all have pointed ears,

but they're all varying shape.

For the most part
their noses kind of lock them in

as being--that's the--
the key the carryover

that came from that gene pool.

The character
of the Bugbear is furry,

animalistic, ferocious.
The Hobgoblin, again,

the same nose,
kind of the same jaw line,

but Hobgoblin had to be
more intelligent

and the Goblinoids--
Hey, look at him.

He just looks like
he's gonna steal all your stuff

when you're sleeping.
Probably cut your throat, too.

These characters,
these creatures,

these monsters,
these places are like

a fairy tale or, like,
folklore or mythology.

They can be reinterpreted
over and over again

for each generation.

And that is incredibly
exciting to see.

The evolution of
the art itself is interesting

and almost from edition
to edition you can kind of

find a little bit
of a different template,

a different flavor
of kind of how the art looks.

And I know withFifth Edition,
that seemed to go back

to a little bit of that
earlier--the earlier quality.

The direction
I'd given to the art directors

is I want everything
to look like

it's been done traditionally.

I want it to have love

and reverence
for the pages again.

As Dungeons & Dragons
has moved and evolved,

I feel like there has been
a conscious effort

for the game players
and the game designers

to become more aware
of the people playing

their games and very conscious
in including them

and depicting
people that look like them.

Fantasy in general
suffers from being

very European
and there are so many more

amazing cultures and stories
and worlds out there

that I think are starting
to kind of penetrate

into fantasy realms.

One of the things that the
Fifth Edition Players Handbook

has received a lot of positive
acclaim around

is this idea that
it's--it's kind of gotten away

from some of the design tropes.

A really good example
of this, I think, is this.

The entry for the human race.

We have a woman of color
in really effective armor.

People of all genders, races,

everything have always been
playingDungeons & Dragons.

It's who we start
to feature more.

When we got the descriptions,
they were very adamant.

They were like, "Try not to make
it like a white blonde guy."

"Please, we love 'em,

but there's, like,
500 million of them."

The diversity that the
characters need to have

needs to reflect
the gaming world now.

The mix of people
that are playing these games,

you know,
it's not the, you know,

13-year-old white boys
held up in their basements.

It's a very diverse crowd.

You know, males and females,
all nationalities.

So, you know,
this was a great opportunity

to mix that up a little bit.

Really thinking
about the people

that are reading these books

and, like,
understanding this media

and having them see themselves
portrayed in that,

gives a lot of hope
that fantasy can be

a genre for everyone.

Dungeons & Dragonsart
is important

because it has had
a tremendous impact

on both the imaginative art
consuming public

as well as the artists
who are producing it.

just eliminating that game,

eliminating all of that work,

the landscape would look
very, very different.

There would not be
the expectation

for this kind of art
and of this kind of art

that you see today in things
like video games orMagic.

I don't think
it's been everything,

but if you look
at who's creating these mediums

I bet you...

that a high percentage of them
areD&D players.

The artwork has solidified
a place in common culture

that somehow speaks
to the nature of adventure.

We've closed all our frontiers,
but not in Dungeons & Dragons.

At the time
I don't think any of us

really grasped

what a big deal this all was.

I was way too busy

feeling how lucky I was

to have the opportunity
to do the kinds of art

that I wanted to do.

That was what
I was thinking about,

not, "Hey, 40 years from now

there'll be people looking back
on this and thinking

- of it as historical.
- God, it is 40--No, it's 30.

No! It's 40 years!

I had to do the math.
That's crazy!

It's exciting
to be part of this

big universe
that everyone knows

and everyone's been enjoying
for 40 years.

It's not kind of exciting,
it's really exciting.

It's a dream come true.

It's something that I never
thought I would be here.

It was
a springboard for my career

when what I really was looking
for was a lifeline.

It turned out to be
so much more.

I certainly do realize
how lucky I am to have been

in the right place
at the right time

and, you know,
forge a little bit of

the history of the TSR
roleplaying universe.

I think it's a legacy
and it's humbling.

Seeing the work that was done
way back with TSR

and then work that's being done
now and in the future,

it's only gonna get better
and better and better.

Being able to contribute

to so many people's experience.

You know,
you're contributing not just

to a book that's going to sit
on the bookshelf.

For me,
I'm contributing to somebody's

imaginative experience.

Dungeons & Dragons
is about imagination.

It's about storytelling.

It's about
creating something together.

And these depictions,
these drawings of characters

that someone draws
on their player character sheet

or that aMonster Manual shows
us what we're going to fight

or a module shows us
the room we're about to enter.

These are all parts
of that narrative.

They're all pieces that fuel
our collective imagination.

And I'm very,
very honored and thankful

that I got to be
a part of that.

I'm happy that my art

got to pull people
into a game or a book

that made them happy.
I don't feel famous.

I don't feel anything.
I just feel lucky.

I'm still learning
and I'm still trying to get...

one painting right, you know?