[PROCESS] MINING, PT.1
Bomb Squad Priests
I'm always surprised by how much design work goes into creating a science fiction universe. A single scene can become an entire project with multiple characters, vehicles and locations all needing to be designed. The most recent script Mike Del Mundo and I worked on was one of those - a five page story that needed priests, pirates, guards, divers, religious rites, vehicles, floating cities, etc. So a ton of work, but I think some of the most fun and collaborative work Mike and I have done yet. I'll have more of that collaboration to show in the next post.
In this post I'll be showing how I designed a khor priesthood, an inductee to this religious order and the ritual around it.
The script describes a religious rite in which a priest uses khor to mark a young man entering the priesthood, seemingly a final rite of passage. My first thought on reading this was, "Khor is a volatile and unstable material, if a culture is using it in their religious rites, how many people have accidentally blown themselves up??"
This led to the "bomb squad priest" idea. The idea is yes, khor is dangerous but it's crucial to the beliefs of this culture, so the priests who regularly handle this material wear a layer of explosion/ fire resistant armor. The large decorative headpiece doubles as a helmet, and beneath the chestplate of khor colored jewels is armor made from the same material as the shoulder pads, shin guards and ceremonial gauntlet. That concept was fun enough that I wanted to design the undersuit- which you'll probably never see (but it's there just in case it sparks an idea for the writer).
Designing something like a priest for a sci-fi/ fantasy story is a balancing act. From thousands of previous stories there's a certain visual archetype that we recognize as a cleric, wizard, mystic, or priest, and you don't want to stray very far out of that range, but your job is to create something interesting and specific to this universe.
Once I had settled on the "bomb squad priest" idea my sketches kept coming back to a very traditional "wizard in robes" silhouette. Which is fine, then it's just a matter of what you can add or take away. The only real innovation I added to a traditional wizard look is the large "T" bar at the top of the helmet. I thought it would break up the expected wizard "pointed hat" shape, and could be a place for additional ornamentation.
A necklace hangs from the points of that "T" with sheer material straps hanging over that bar, changing the silhouette even more. I liked the look of those flat straps so I thought I should continue that look in the rest of the costume by making the arms and dress have large flat pleats. The rest was just adding layers, details and fringe to make sure it felt properly ornate.
A detail in this story is that the priest uses a protective glove of some kind to administer the khor. I'm now thinking of the glove as having two uses, protection and ritual, so I designed an armored gauntlet. The gauntlet is simple in that it has a small reservoir on the back of the hand that holds khor and feeds it through a tube to the thumb. The thumb is used to place the khor on the inductee's forehead.
As the thumb is being used to ritually scar, I thought we could visually abstract it's function as a large talon or claw. So now the armored gauntlet has a large ceremonial claw for it's thumb, which is hopefully just another layer of visual interest in this design.
If we ever develop the mythology of this culture perhaps a clawed entity is central to their enlightenment narrative. Who knows? But again just trying to suggest narratives with the visuals.
The inductee. The script doesn't go into specifics about this young character, so I sketched out a boy of about 10-11 years old. The main work on this character was that I wanted his clothing to coordinate with the priest's, hopefully indicating that this is a ritual where both of their parts are codified. There are specific clothes, behavior and words required from each of these participants.
Using the same color scheme and fringe details on the sleeves hopefully ties these two together visually. I also added a large khor colored circle over the heart of the inductee to symbolize what happens in this ritual.
The ritual as described in the script is just the placing of khor on the forehead and it leaving a scar. When I think of religious ceremonies, what makes the biggest impression on me as a designer is the level of symbolism used, so I thought we were missing an opportunity here. Thinking of this as a rite of passage, and especially one into a priesthood, I thought we could lean into the "once I was blind but now I see" theme and have the khor burn through a literal veil that falls away from the inductee's eyes.
So I drew a simple cord headband, with a fringe veil to cover the inductee's eyes, and two metal pieces that form the halves of a crescent indicating where the scar will be placed.
Hopefully that addition enriches the scene, and helps visually communicate the concepts involved.
And that's it- my designs for the first two pages of a short story. There are a bunch more designs from Mike Del Mundo and I for the rest of this story that I'll have next time in [MINING] PROCESS, Pt. 2. Let me know below if you have any questions or comments.