Saturday, June 27, 2015

Codex Dark Angels: A look at the Artwork

Proof that if GW wants evocative artwork, they can find artists to create it.

As a long time Deathwing player, I was extremely excited to see a new Dark Angels codex release, and purchased the digital version immediately.  Although I was excited to see the new rules, what I was most looking forward to was seeing the new artwork.  Codex releases have always been one of my favorite aspects of the hobby because they are the primary means that Games Workshop release new artwork to further the grim imagery the whole universe is founded upon.  Unfortunately, in recent years, the artwork has taken somewhat of a back seat. Games Workshop no longer credits the artists, and they often resort to coloring older artwork (often times rather poorly) rather than commissioning new material.  Despite this, I was still excited to see what new art would be in the new Dark Angels codex.  All of my hopes were shattered upon looking at the new book.  I dare say the book may contain some of the worst pieces of artwork that Games Workshop has ever released. Instead of writing too much about how the art has changed, I decided to show a few images comparing some of the old and new artwork. After all, a picture is worth a thousands words, right?



A battle scene created for the last codex (2013) and one for the new book (2015). I do not think there is really any question about which is more dynamic and exciting.
First we see a fantastic piece of Dainton art, reminding me why I love Space Marines, then we see some new artwork (2015) and I question my lifetime love.
The art that accompanies the Deathwing entries from the 4th edition codex (2006) and the new book (2015). Although the new one is not bad, it looks simply like a copy of one of the models, rather then an imaginative look at a member of the Inner Circle.

I think many of us got into this hobby after seeing the Space Marine dreadnought.  The first (2006) image conveys the visceral awesomeness of such a warmachine.  The second (2015) looks rushed and lifeless, something that would have not have brought me into the hobby if I started today. 

The amount of care and imagination that went into the Chapter Master on the left (recolored version of 2006 art) is far superior to the Deathwing Knight from the new book (2015). 

A progression over the years, starting with an excellent Paul Dainton piece (2006), moving to a needless and sloppy photoshop edit of the first (2013), to  a current Ravenwing piece which is very one-dimensional and ill proportioned (2015). 

Interrogator Chaplains over the years: the first (2006) a grim testament to the character, the second (2013), while still great, looks looks like the color was an after thought, the last (2015) is probably the best new artwork in the new book, but it if far too cartoony for my tastes.

I think the images above illustrate the general decline in quality in the artwork that populates Games Workshop’s newer books.  And while not all of the new pieces are terrible, they tend to be ill-proportioned, flat, and generally lifeless.  I suspect the rapid book release schedule in the last year has had a lot to do with the decrease in artwork quality.  With a new book being released every month (sometimes two), there cannot be much time to commission new material, something which is certain to put further stress on the artists that they do employ.  It wasn’t my goal to be overly negative with this post, but I realize that is basically what happened.  I suppose it is just the crushing realization of how much less Games Workshop values the art inside of their books.  The artwork had been one of my favorite aspects of the hobby, and now the best one can hope for is that older pieces are used instead of getting new material created. Oh how things have changed…

-Eric Wier

23 comments:

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    1. The new interrogator chaplain actually looks like it's done by Paul Bonner. I'm the first to admit this particular piece isn't exactly his best work, but if they're going back to luminaries like him the future might be brighter...

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    2. You could be right about that. I agree that the chaplain is not the best, but it is still better then a lot of the other new artwork on display.

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    1. Agreed. There really is not that much more that can be said...

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  3. This is just sad. That dreadnought picture in particular looks like the cover of a bargain-bin sci fi novel.

    None of the old Kopinski/(Boyd?) artwork you featured made it into the codex then?

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    1. Yeah, the dreadnought is one of the worse looking pieces of 40k art I have ever seen.

      Sorry I did not make it very clear in the post, but fortunately they did include a bunch of the colored Kopinski/Boyd stuff. I just wanted to show the stark contrast between some of it and the actual new material.

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  4. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks these things. On one hand the quality of the books has stepped forward - in some case many hundreds of pages, hard cover, colour etc v the old sub 50 pages, black and white in the main, soft cover ; but then on the other hand, content quality has dropped.

    Gone are the lavish miniature showcases (excepting those on the interactive e-editions which I understand come with a broader miniature showcase that mirrors in the main the woeful web store), replaced with minimal static shots and poor, 3rd ed era stock mannequin silhouettes with new colours applied to differentiate chapters/squads etc.

    And gone are the expansive and emotive, black and white (and to a lessor extent colour) portraits, landscapes, battle scenes; replaced with fanfic-deviant art, the poorest collectable card game (thing some of the really bad imagery from the Horus Heresy Collected Visions set) and Fantasy Flight RPG books quality art.

    Add in rules updates (formations/data slates etc) which don't sit with what I want from the game (I live in the past where Apocalypse was an iffy proposition at best, and flyers were constrained to Thunderhawks from FW that only the die hard hobbyist/collector owned but was never seen on the tabletop) and I struggle in that I want to applaud GW for making the product bigger and better with each release, but then sigh really hard when I look at that bigger and better product and think back fondly on my 3rd ed soft cover Space Marine codex, or the glory that was the 4th and to a smaller extent 5th ed versions.

    I'm reading through the FW Horus Heresy Book 5 Tempest now, and really like what I see there - though their artwork is also not up to par with some of the past GW classics - FW has never tried to replicate that, but has succeeded with its own style, to which it has held true across its full range of books.

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    1. Yeah I do not really know what to think about current GW. The physical properties of the books are really nice (print quality, formatting), but the content seems rushed. They add a few pieces of older artwork that someone sloppily colored in with photoshop, and then fill the rest with "fanart" that honestly looks worse then the FFG/HH ccg stuff (which is saying something). The rules I feel are a bit better, but even they tend to just be reprinting the previous book with formations, often times stripping out some of the more interesting elements. For example, I thought it was neat in the previous edition all the Deathwing models had a special rule called Inner Circle (which is the group the DA enter when being inducted into the Deathwing), which gave them fearless and preferred enemy chaos space marines. In the new book they dumbed it down and just call the rule Deathwing, and it only gives fearless and Hatred Chaos Space Marines. It is a small thing, but I really appreciated how it had incorporated the background into the game, but now they stripped all the subtly out.

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  5. Seeing some of these artwork pieces left me staring in disbelieve... they really are out of a Codex book? Especially the Dreadnought is shockingly bad.

    I have been rummaging through some older books in my collection over the past couple months (stuff from 10-15 years ago), and the constrast in quality is stark. Also, the strength and originality of the background stories and colour texts falls short (way, way short) when compared to publications and even stories printed in WD back in these days.

    One cannot help but get the impression that content has firmly been relegated to the back seat in the past couple years...

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    1. A lot of it is amazingly bad, and pretty much laughable. I agree that the stories and background stuff is not as good as it had been either. It seems like they are only really focusing on the rules and upped the printing quality and layout to make it appear that they had not started to cut corners.

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  6. Kopinski > not Kopinski

    As for this current codex, ugh. I have not bought a codex for a while, and seeing this level of art, I am not likely to either.

    My favorite codex of all time is the tiny little 3rd edition IG codex, because all the tiny little art pieces are just so amazingly evocative.

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    1. That was a great codex. All the little illustrations of different soldiers from renown regiments, the Chem-dogs and a bunch more. Those sorts of things breathed life into the game and the universe surrounding it. The new stuff in the recent codices only cheapens it.

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  7. Oh boy, that stuff is kinda awful -- I remember being carefully skeptical when you first pointed this out a while ago, but there's no ignoring the devolution of artwork in this latest book. The mind really boggles -- I remember loving the 6th edition big rulebook as a pretty much perfect synthesis between the old and the new -- and now, just where did it all go so horribly wrong?

    Schedule and the relentless barrage of releases may have something to do with it, but if I should point out one thing I am particularly unhappy with, it's the paradigm shift towards only featuring art that closely mirrors existing models -- the crazy characters loitering around in the background were always the best part of 40k lore, and making sure the artwork only ever shows models (going so far as to cheaply paint over photographs in some especially horrible cases) just takes so much fun out of it all...

    Seriously, where do we sign to get the old art direction back...?

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    1. It is hard to deny how far the art has fallen at this point. I think you hit the nail on the head saying that they simply illustrate the models. That is probably the element I hate the most about the new art. Before the art was actually the artist's own interpretation of the army and universe, which resulted in all sort of awesome and characterful creations. It also served as a wonderful source of inspiration for conversions. Now it is just a poor rendition of the models you can buy. Such a missed opportunity...

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  8. Hey mate, that Ravenwing piece(s) is by Paul Dainton, not Kopinski :-)

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    1. Thanks for letting me know! Their art style is pretty similar, that sometimes I find it difficult to determine who's work is who's. I wish GW would just credit their artists...

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    2. I think it's because the artist pool is a lot larger these days, with all the freelancers working for GW now. But even then... I don't quite understand the thinking behind that move.

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  9. Oh dear I didn't realize how pressing this issue is before this was shared to me on facebook..
    I guess I should thank you for raising your voice. I truly hope a decision maker at GW reads this and understands how utterly critical strong and original imagery is for them. Anyone can mold plastic and print a set of rules. The evocative stories and artistic quality is what has been keeping me and countless others interested the 40k universe for over a decade. One of the triumphs in recent years is the Horus Heresy range of novels and their Forgeworld miniature counterparts. They represent --artistically- possibly the best 40k value proposition ever. I believe the sales figures echo that.

    Please please please take your imagery seriously GW. It's all you have (well, that and the retail network).

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    1. Yeah I am amazed it has gotten so bad, considering it had been one of their strongest attributes. It has certainly been what has driven my interest in the hobby over all these years.

      Interestingly, the artwork in the newer Age of Sigmar is far better then most of the recent 40k stuff. Possibly they have put most of their talent there in hopes of selling the new IP? Regardless I hope things improve...

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  10. Nice piece. There has been a steady decline in art over the years. First with the sloppily tacked on coloured versions, and now with the influx of new talent who seem ill-suited to this franchise.

    One point of correction though - there isn't a single Karl Kopinski piece amongst the ones you showed. They were all made by Paul Dainton. It's a common mistake since both artists have a very similar style.

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    1. Thanks for the correction, their art styles are very similar, and can be difficult to be certain who illustrated what. This gets to another point that GW is terrible with crediting any of their artists, which is a disservice to them.

      Out of curiosity, how do you know that all of the pieces in question here are Dainton ones? I have long tried to find a good way to confirm the artists behind much of GW's art, particularly Kopinski and Dainton, since they are probably my favorite of GW's artists.

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  11. It really is a mirror of what Games Workshop is doing in every aspect, dropping the quality and raising the prices. 2003 had better artwork, better rules, better miniatures and lower prices. Don't know where Games Workshop is going but I really feel there is no chance they will get back to the 'Gold era'.

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