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The Man of a Hundred Armor Sets: the Handclaw Interview

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As teased yesterday, it's time we had a chat with Arthur "Handclaw" Lorenz, the artist behind literally hundreds of race-themed class armor sets (and a whole lot more). After his massive 2-year long project recently got a whole lot of attention, we sat down with the man and found out everything we could about his process, inspiration, how on earth he came up with that many different armor looks, whether he's available/interested in working with Blizzard, his personal favorite sets, and the frankly staggering fact that he considers all of the sets he made just a "starting point", and his focus was actually on quantity! Then there's the big Southern Barrens Warfront project he's working on, as well as hints at future projects and more. Plus, we even got him to make us a unique Icy Veins Ogre DK armor set, so it's safe to say the interview went great!

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So, this must be a pretty crazy time for you, as many, MANY people have now seen your work, with most WoW fansites writing about it. 3 months after actually having completed your concept project for the racial class armors and over 2 years after having started it, how do you feel with so many people having nothing but great things to say about it?

It does feel a bit surreal to me, as it came out of nowhere. I was suddenly notified about my armor being on Asmongold's stream, and then the news articles on them followed quickly. I didn't anticipate all the positive and supporting messages I got afterwards. It's great to see so many people enjoy my work!

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We managed to catch your Vulpera and Mechagnome sets when they were released, but somehow missed the rest - did you get much attention on the sets prior to this recent boom?

There were actually various surges of attention but this is the biggest one yet. One of the first times was shortly after posting the first 6 races on my artstation right before making my way to BlizzCon. I was on a 10 hour flight so I was off the grid for quite a bit, and after landing I was bombarded with messages and I found out how the armor blew up on reddit.

It also isn't the first time that MMO-champion reported on it. About a year ago the Dark Iron set release caught their attention. Outside of that, there were German fansites which reported regularly on my progress.

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Every other comment on twitter, facebook and all the articles on your armor sets is something along the lines of “Blizzard, hire this man”. First off, are you even available? ? And second, would that be something you’d be interested in?

Currently I do work as a graphics designer in Germany, but my long term desire was always to do concept art in the games industry.
 

Let’s take a step back, tell us a little about yourself.

Well, I am just  a self-taught artist working on art in my spare time. I was drawn into the franchise with Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness, with its manual featuring various artworks catching my eye in particular. And with the third installment of the series I became a real fan.

Over the years, I dabbled in modding Warcraft 3. My own mod never came to fruition as I was too ambitious, but it taught me important lessons and allowed me to explore doing concept art of my own. And so I kept drawing, experimenting, brainstorming ideas over the years and tried to improve my skills.

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On to the actual art itself. There are a staggering 189 sets of armor, and while we initially assumed you just made as many as you wanted/found inspiration for in each particular race, you actually did ALL the possible race/class combinations. Did you really think you’d do all of them when you started the project over 2 years ago?

When I started off the project my initial plan was to create armor only for the core races and leaving the door open to do the allied races afterwards. But despite a small break, I started with the allied races sooner than expected.

Speaking of ALL the race/class combos, Shadowlands has created a problem for you, as now all races can be Death Knights. Any plans to complete/update the collection? It’s “only” 10 additional sets after all ?

Yes, I do plan to complete them. I did put them off for a bit to focus on some other projects first, but I do want to finish them for sure. After all, I included Deathknights already with the Vulpera and Mechagnomes, so I can't leave the rest hanging.

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Unfortunately for Handclaw, this one doesn't count, as ogres aren't playable (yet).

It seems like the vast majority of the armors really encapsulate the feel of the particular race well. With so many different sets, where did you draw inspiration from? How did you come up with so many different approaches and styles (aside from just “I’m really really talented, duh!”) ?

It really varied race by race and class by class. There was a fine balance I had to find between what Blizzard established, what I felt was desired in the community, and of course exploring my own takes.
Sometimes there was armor for a combination that worked well already so I'd try to explore design elements that weren't used yet. Other times Blizzard has already made a great design, but they ended up NPC only despite being perfect for a class choice.

Nonetheless, I looked into as much concept art on a given race as possible and explored other media as well. Of course, there was also inspiration to be drawn from the lore or just a race's theme as well.
The designing process was as much piecing together what Blizzard already gave us, as coming up with designs of my own. The monks especially were more difficult to do as the class is primarily pandaren themed and is rather foreign on most races.


The actual number of sets is even higher than 189, as you have quite a few alternates/unused prototypes/different ideas for sets. What was your criteria for deciding what would make the cut?

It's really difficult to say as it depended on the armor. Sometimes it was just the shape or silhouette that didn't work for me, sometimes it was just the basic idea that was a factor for the cut, and sometimes it was due to something similar already existing.

For example, The first version for the blood elf warrior was based on Spellbreakers, but around that time Blizzard revealed their take on the heritage armor. As it was based on the same idea, I went ahead and moved to another direction. But other times that wasn't a factor as it was either unavailable for players or was made when the systems were more limited, allowing less detail. And sometimes, I just wanted to try something else. In the end, I went with whatever was feeling right to me.

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On to a question specific to me only, my favorites were the worgen priest and warrior sets, Kul Tiran warr, human hunter and Dark Iron shaman, anything special about those/stories on them? Also, which would be your favorites if you had to pick?

For the worgen priest, it was all about the lamps. In the concept art for Gilneas, the  lamps were iconic, they were even including in their racial crest. And I noticed that I didn't use that element in all my sets.
For the worgen warrior, I wanted to create a design that could serve as a footman for Gilneans. The armor is meant to use wolf imagery so there is a wolf presence no matter if it is in human or worgen form. This is meant to represent the acceptance of the worgen side of the nation and so signaling its unity.

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The Kul Tiran warrior is based on Sergeant Bainbridge from the Siege of Boralus dungeon seen in the horde version. He is one of those cases where Blizzard established a perfect design for a class which I couldn't ignore.
The human hunter was a callback to one of my favorite concepts by Samwise Didier for the World of Warcraft RPG, the Marksman. It's a look I wish that was possible ingame.
On the Dark Iron shaman. Well, initially I didn't plan to give him a fire beard, but when the thought crossed my mind I was unable to resist.

As for my favorites, while I love many designs across all races, I'd say I enjoy the Tinkers the most which I made as a bonus for goblins and (mecha-)gnomes.

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Which ones would you like to take another shot at? Whether it’s small details or even a complete overhaul?

If I may be honest, I feel all sets would be worth to take another shot at. My work was more about establishing a first draft on how a race/class direction COULD look like, a more quantity over quality approach. They are not meant to be final pieces, they are more of a starting point. In normal development you'd create dozens of variants just for one race/class combo alone, so I barely scratched the surface there. Even if the general idea of a design wouldn't change, there are likely things one could fine tune.

Alas, doing it all over again would be too much work for me alone. Still, on top of my head, I feel the demon hunters ended up as the weakest designs, though there are also others. Another set that would deserve an overhaul would be the dwarven shaman. My concept centered around the idea of playable dwarves being Bronzebeards, so it would be a Bronzebeard take on how the armor would look like. This way I wanted to leave the door open for a Wildhammer allied race. But with Blizzard adding Wildhammer customization options in Shadowlands, my argument is moot.


Your most recent piece was Necrolord Zul’jin in the Shadowlands, and you’ve been sharing a lot of weapons for your Barrens Warfront Project, but what are you up to now?

Necrolord Zul'jin was a quick piece inspired by all the Shadowlands news we received with the alpha so I had a bit of fun. Right now I'm working on my own take of a warfront set in the Southern Barrens featuring tauren versus dwarves. The project covers various aspects like armor, weapons and even including a loading screen artwork.

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I liked how the warfronts allowed the devs to explore some races and it brought out some of my favorite sets as well. I was curious to see what blizzard might have done with other races.
As for afterwards, I'm not sure. I do want to try to focus on diversifying my portfolio and perhaps work on some non-warcraft pieces as well, but who knows what idea crosses my mind by then.

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In closing, do you have any shoutouts?

Well, I thank my family and friends for supporting my endeavours.
The community was also very supportive of me, sharing my work on reddit, the forums and other sites as well as sharing their thoughts. Especially Asmongold got the ball rolling recently.
But finally, I would like to send a shoutout to the artists of Blizzard, whose work I highly respect. I enjoy their work and it inspired me a lot over the years. And unlike me they have to deal with restrictions of the game, deadlines, implementation and so much more as well. So I wish to send them as much positivity as possible.

 

It was a really great interviewing Handclaw, and we certainly hope he does big things in the future as well (and we'll definitely be checking in on him to see what new awesome pieces come up), whether he ends up getting the Blizzard call or not (but, seriously Blizz, call)! Here's all the places you can check him out:

 

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Other Icy Veins interviews:

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