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Valdihr of Classic Journey Interview + Unique Icy Veins Art Piece

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We were all extremely impressed by Vlad "Valdihr" Harabagiu's Classic Journey series and the way it perfectly transports Classic WoW into the animated series medium, without even having to be animated! And so we just had to have a chat with the man and find out how he does it all, where he gets his inspiration from, how he started and much more. He was also kind enough to create a unique piece for us, featuring a certain firelord and his quest to get certain people to stop waking him too soon.

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A very cozy Rag reading up on his strategy.


We’ve all come to know you from your Classic Journey series, but when did your own artistic journey begin?

It’s funny because the most vivid memory I have from kindergarten is my mom leaving me in on the first day. After she sat me at a table, I just grabbed some crayons and started drawing a Parasaurolophus dinosaur. Of course, it probably looked derpy af, but it’s odd to me that I actually remember that, haha. So yeah, since I was a little runt I terrorized my parents with drawings.
 

What made you start this classic art journey of yours?

I started playing Horde on Classic and I reached The Crossroads. After completing the quest “Lost in Battle” I was like “Hey, it would be so cool, and likely heartbreaking, to see Mankrik’s reaction to hearing the news of his beloved’s demise”. And seeing that I freshly started doing some pieces in that style (with letterbox and subtitles) a week before, it was the perfect format to represent that moment in. So I did. And I loved it. After that I said to myself that I have to give this treatment to all moments that stayed with me while playing so I went back and retraced my steps with “Sarkoth”, “Slaying the Beast” and “Echeyakee”.

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One of the pieces from the series that inspired the style.
 

You have a very unique art style that really hasn’t been used for WoW fanart in the past, is this just your personal style or did you pick it because it fit WoW so well?

This style really stuck with me after starting an Anime watchlist and, of course, watching a lot of anime. The style itself was pretty far from my usual “wannabe-Hearthstone” style (link), so it was so refreshing and out of the comfort zone for me. Especially the simple, thin line.


The instant I saw your first Classic Journey image I felt it was taken straight out of a WoW animated series - how do you do that? Do you envision the pieces themselves as animated at first while you’re making them?

Yesss! It’s funny because sometimes after I just finish a piece, I feel like it doesn’t really look right, because when tunnel vision takes its toll, I see it just as a static illustration. After I take a break and come back to it, and just imagine the animated shot it would be taken from, that’s when I get to really love it. “Lost in Battle” is such an example. It’s just a character bust. But when I imagine the cloth of the tent flapping in the wind, covering his face in shade and leaving only the glitters of a few tears to be seen, oh boy, that’s then the magic kicks in. Also his voice line “I understand. Thank you, friend” breaking juuust a little bit in the end.

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The one that started it all.


Do you think an actual WoW animated series would do well ? What would be your choice for a starting point and storyline, both from a narrative perspective and a visual one?

Haha, I guess that’s the million dollar question. Do you take important lore moments and transpose them in animation from the point of view of those characters? Like Arthas, Illidan, Thrall and so on? Or do you put the viewer in the shoes of some no-name characters and let them experience the WoW journey as adventurers all over again? I, for one, think that the second answer is the correct one. And yes, I really think that WoW has precious material for an animated series and actually would do really good, if not even blowing up. Also, taking the route of the main characters discovering the world (of Warcraft) just like we did while playing, solves the everlasting problem of choosing between fans and casual audience, in my opinion.


How do you choose which quests/moments to make into a picture? Is it based on what would look best as an art piece or is it more your own personal favorites in your WoW journey?

I’d say both, but more the latter than the former. I’m not really that interested in creating mind blowing illustrations that look good as static shots, but more to create something that would look like a screenshot from the animated series. And that medium is really versatile. Ultimately, it’s based on my own experiences and which ones stayed with me after going through them.


The quotes you choose for your pieces are very much a part of their impact, they immediately evoke the feeling of the quest much better than the actual event in-game (the Mankirk and quillboar ones in particular). Do the quotes/moments come first or the images?

I decide on the shot and then read the quest text or the characters’ quotes all over again and see which one works best and would make sense for the given shot.

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One of the more striking pieces from the Classic Journey.


The scope of the moments you choose for your pieces is pretty small compared to the huge events of the game nowadays (or even the bigger ones in classic). Was that something you decided to do on purpose, or was it simply due to the fact that you were going chronologically through the quests?

Well, after all, it is a chronology driven series. But I am in love with low-key fantasy. A gargantuan titan stabbing a planet is cool and all but I kinda feel more at home with the small, dramatic stories. This is probably why Classic got me creating these series while Retail didn’t. Also, Retail has its cinematics and cut scenes. Classic has text.


Are you looking forward to getting to the “big” events in Classic with your art? Is something like a Ragnaros or Onyxia raid appealing to you or do you prefer these smaller moments from earlier in the game?

Although Classic goes into higher fantasy as well towards the end, besting a dragon or an elemental lord still feels like the old school fantasy to me. Yes, I can’t wait for us to get to see Onyxia in the series. But we have a plethora of beautiful stories on the way which will form the main body of the whole. It’s about the journey, not the destination. Hence the name of the series.


You’ve recently received a lot of attention, opened up a patreon and generally really pushed your art to the forefront. How has this impacted you?

The feedback astonished me. I expected to get a Thumbs Up and a “Uhm, that’s cool.” after posting. But when the pieces exploded on Reddit, I felt fueled and energetic. Although this is a personal passion project, the fact that so many players look forward to the next piece gives me drive to keep going. I think it's a dream for every artist to have an audience for their passion projects. The Patreon page was also incredible because it kinda gave me the feeling that, in the future, I might fully commit to this series and more ambitious projects. Like the goal I have now of starting a web comic series based on WoW Classic. Although most of the people, including myself, would want an animated series, I think that a comic book is the next best thing that I could tackle on my own, haha.
 

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"Olfgrim" - a comissioned piece for redditor kenshin138.


What would your proposed web comic series entail?

At the moment, I have the general background for the comic. Durotar is being tainted by dark forces, Elwynn & Westfall are being raided by gangs wearing red scarfs. The POV characters, six in total (three horde, three alliance) have their own backgrounds, flaws and future arcs that will push them through the plot. It would be tempting to just make a comic book with unnamed characters just for the sake of transposing the quests and dungeons into that medium but I want something more. Therefore I have an overarching plot and subplots in the form of the quests that players know and love. When it comes to original material, I don’t want to muddle the already existing game lore but I would go as far as to meddle with subplot characters if it serves the greater plot in a good way. Also, the comic starts from ground zero: Horde from Valley of Trials, Alliance from Northshire.


What are your plans for the future of your artistic endeavours?

Right now, I’m using the little free time I have after work to continue the series and creating rewards for my patrons. If the sun will shine brighter, I dream about dedicating myself fully to the series, both the individual shots as well as the web comic, without the need of a life-sucking, corporate full time job.


When you start over as Alliance and do their series, do you plan on shifting the style a little, so that Horde/Alliance pieces immediately feel different? Or will the subject matter do that for you (not so many “get me 30 human skulls” quests on Alliance side)?

I don’t want to intentionally change the style, but I won’t guarantee that the style won’t gradually evolve by then. I want to think that with each piece I’m getting just a little bit better at it and maybe that will show when comparing Horde Part I with Alliance Part I. As with the subject matter, Alliance has their fair share of darkness. Can’t wait to get to Duskwood (cough cough Morgan Ladimore cough cough).

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An older and unfinished piece from 3 years ago, set in Stormwind.


And here’s the big question I’m sure everyone is wondering about: after you finish your Classic journey, will you be continuing to take us on this amazing trip through the WoW timeline? Can we look forward to you chronicling the entirety of the WoW lore through small quest moments?

YESSS! I just want to keep on going indefinitely. I want to finish the Horde series with a raid and start over with the Alliance. When Alliance is done, we’ll surely have patches of Vanilla content for me to tackle. I’d love to get to “A Classic Journey: Naxxramas”, “A Classic Journey: Dire Maul” and so on. And after all that is said and done, maybe we’ll get to go on a new journey. One titled “An Outlandish Journey”...


What tools do you use currently to make these?

I draw them using a Wacom tablet and Adobe Photoshop. I also use WoW Model Viewer & JustSketch.me for reference and FotoSketcher for help with backgrounds (I’m really bad at painting backgrounds).


You’ve talked on reddit about how to get into working as an artist and pushing through the initial stages, would you go into it in a little more detail here?

Haha, you have no idea how many people I met, younger than me just starting up with drawing that were sooo confused by this. Well, the gist of it is that developing a drawing style is basically stealing. Every artist steals. But you steal bits and pieces. You steal this particular brush stroke from this artist, you steal the way the eye is drawn from this artist, you steal the way a hand is exaggerated from that artist, and so on. After stealing from many, many artists, what results is called “your style”. Besides that, of course, learning from nature is just as important. Figure drawing, anatomy studies, textures, lighting, etc. I, for one, drooled all over Laurel Austin’s work, Tyson Murphy’s, Ryan Metcalf’s, Garrett Hanna’s and many, many more.


And now on to some game questions! Is Classic your first Vanilla experience? How did you get started with WoW originally?

Yes, sadly I didn’t get to experience the original Vanilla. I started playing on “those kinds of servers that must not be named” in the second half of The Burning Crusade because I got a PC kinda late in my teenage years. After I moved to Bucharest for university, I was able to spend money without my parents’ knowledge, lol, so I finally joined Retail at the very start of Cataclysm.

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It seems Valdihr takes his time to choose a hair style at character creation even when drawing!


Not to spoil anything, but what are some of your favorite WoW moments you'd pick to do a piece on (both from Classic and later)?
From the top of my head, it would be finding Mankrik’s wife (I love it. Fight me), Lillian Vosses storyline in Tirisfal Glades and, probably most of all, the conclusion to Runas the Shamed storyline in Azsuna. I don’t usually get very emotional with stuff but when that moment came it just crushed me. It absolutely broke my heart. The following days I kept showing videos of the final moment to all my friends, but they didn’t play WoW so I just annoyed them. I’m not crying, you’re crying !!!


What’s your favorite WoW activity? Both for Classic and the rest?

Leveling. Always leveling. The journey is the best.


What's your favorite raid/dungeon/expansion/event?

Karazhan - Awesome & diverse encounters. Eerie fantasy. Beautiful organ music.

The Deadmines, Shadowfang Keep and Scholomance are practically interchangeable. Please don’t ask me to choose just one xD

Wrath of the Lich King - Loved the entire leveling experience. Also Howling Fjord. Need I say more?

Not really one for world events. Would’ve loved to be a part of the Pre-WotLK event. Also, can’t wait for the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj event.

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Another commission from kenshin138.


Any final words for the WoW community?

ZUG ZUG and a heartfelt thank you!



A big thanks for the interview and here's more way to contact and follow Vlad:

https://www.patreon.com/valdihr

https://www.artstation.com/paradidlle

https://twitter.com/VladHarabagiu

https://www.instagram.com/valdihr_art/

https://www.facebook.com/vharabagiu

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Since we started with the firelord, let's end in Molten Core as well. Commision by redditor Kurp.

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