BETWEEN THE PANELS (Eye of the World: The Art of Chase Conley)by Chase Conley
Chase Conley, the penciller and inker for The Eye of the World graphic novel, shares his approach to designing the beloved and well-known lead characters of Robert Jordan’s New York Times bestselling epic fantasy series, the Wheel of Time.
When starting the character design phase of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time: Eye of the World, I wanted to establish a unique visual that was a mixture many traditional fantasy worlds and combine them in a way that had not been achieved before. One could simply look at the covers of the novels and see that Robert Jordan was trying to create an original visual approach to his world.
For this story, it was essential to get the main characters correct because we follow them throughout the majority of the story. Rand al’Thor and his friends Mat Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, and Egwene al’Vere will be seen almost the entire volume. They are from Emonds Field, a small village where fashion isn’t the first thing on people’s minds. They are simple farmers and sheepherders who dress in more neutral colors, and they would be outfitted similarly since there’s only one dressmaker and one cobbler and they would probably only make a few select styles.
Rand al’Thor was a little tricky to get down at first. There are a lot of subtle visual qualities that help suggest personality. Rand is nineteen. He is a head taller than his father. His eyes look blue or gray depending on the light. (Women in these books can get quite lyrical about Rand’s eyes!) His hair is unruly, with a reddish tint. His skin is lighter than the other Emond’s Field folk, but his farmer’s tan covers it. He is about six foot five inches and roughly 235 pounds with broad shoulders, a deep chest, and a narrow waist. He is a very good looking man; a good many female characters think him either pretty or beautiful. Now, at first glance I thought, “this guy is very attractive and has the build of a superhero, how am I going to make him look timid and unimposing?” What makes Rand difficult is the fact that he’s just the son of a farmer. He hasn’t seen much in his life and he’s pretty naive when it comes to the outside world. His character and posture must reflect that.
Here’s my first pass at Rand. I went for the country boy look, but I believe it was a little too country. Also, his proportions and stature did not reflect those traits given to me in the description. I went back to the drawing board.
The second time, I kept thinking of the superhero-like build, and I suddenly thought of Superman. Clark Kent is from Smallville and grew up on a farm—very similar to Rand’s background. With that in mind, I had my direction. There’s no way to hide that Rand is huge, but that’s the important aspect. There is no need to hide it; he should look entirely out of place. I realized at that point that the key would be in Rand’s facial expressions. I looked at some of Glen Keane’s work (one of the best character designers and animators living today) and finally established a nice range of emotions. Rand would have to walk around everywhere looking somewhat confused and frightened at all times, which in the story he pretty much is most of the time.
I went through a similar process with the rest of the main characters. They were pretty easy to design. Egwene would be wearing a plain dress. Mat and Perrin would be dressed very similar to Rand, only with slight variations. I think I even nailed these three on the first pass.
After the main characters were approved, I moved to the supporting characters. There were a ton of cool characters, but there were a few I focused on primarily. Lan Mandragoran and Moiraine Damodred were the next two that I wanted to tackle. Lady Moiraine must reflect the opposite aesthetic of the Emond’s Field folk. She’s elegant, powerful, and extremely beautiful. She’s also outfitted in a vibrant blue dress, and cloak. I decided to style her hair slightly, just for the contrast while she’s in Emond’s Field. She has natural curls, but I took some artistic liberty made them a little more uniform. Lan is a strong, skilled, and seasoned warrior who has the gaze of a wolf. He has to look stern and ready for action at all times. He wears a cloak that helps him blend into the environment around him, but I wasn’t sure how to handle that at first. The Jordan estate suggested I reference the “Predator” movies for a better idea. Then it dawned on me that I could allow the colorist to simply paint whatever’s in the background in a given scene in the colors of the cloak. I didn’t draw any lines for the objects behind Lan, so that when you see the objects painted on the cloak they look blurry—this way, Lan’s cloak is perfectly in line with its description in the book.
Some other very cool characters in this massive world are the Trollocs. There are many different kinds of these half-man half-beast creatures. According to the books, they should look like a failed science experiment, not seamlessly blended together. They could have human eyes and brows, but the muzzle of a wolf, ram, goat or eagle. Some may have hooves for feet and some may not. They are built like eight-foot tall NFL linemen in scale and proportion. It was difficult finding the correct approach. In the early stages I made them too animalistic. I was told to make sure the eyes were human, so I softened them more than I otherwise would have, so they would contrast with the vicious-looking muzzles.
My favorite design was the one I did for the Myrddraal. These guys have long, greasy, oily hair. They sport jet black armor and swords, and they have no eyes. Initially I wanted to have the hair pulled back, so we could see the creepy face, but according to the books, they don’t even have eye sockets—it’s just a smooth surface. I didn’t know how to accomplish that with it looking to alien, so I opted to have that creepy hair fall in their faces. I wanted the feeling you get when Brandon Lee peers through the part in his hair as it falls in his face in the movie “The Crow.” I also initially designed them with these curvy looking blades to suggest their sinuous nature, but that didn’t get approved. Afterwards, I just inked the blade in completely and made it long and narrow. I also, added some more belts and things to the armor and clothing just to break up the design some.
There are so many characters and creatures in this huge world created by Robert Jordan. I could spend years simply designing them all.