Mike Rayahwk LEGO Playthemes
King Mathias
King Mathias
Character Sketch
Copyright LEGO ©2003
The Kingdom of Morcia
The Kingdom of Morcia
Knights Kingdom™ and associated images and characters Copyright LEGO ©2003-2006

 

One of my big jobs on the Knights Kingdom™ team in 2004 was developing the look and feel of the Knights universe, to give direction to the teams handling promotional materials (like the Knights website) and licensed products (like the storybooks and video games). Everybody had different ideas about what Knights was going to be, and it took a lot of work (and hundreds of sketches) to come to a unified world style. The most important factors were that the world have a LEGO "feel," which took the form of bulky and simplified geometries, broad patches of flat color shapes, and an ubiquitous spirit of optimism. It also had to be strongly medieval but with a fantasy modernist twist, in the spirit of solid eighties cartoons like He-Man and the Thundercats. And lastly it was important that the land be untamed and mysterious, so thick mists and jagged landscape formations that can only be described as "extremely improbable" became the order of the day.

The image of Morcia, above, is unquestionably the most frequently re-used of all the early development sketchwork, in one form or another, although the original version used the Lion-headed Castle of Morcia - the set was still being designed. This scene was repainted dark and red to show Morcia under Vladek's rule, it's been squeezed into sphere shape for viewing by crystal ball, it's been overrun by waves of dark magic in the magazine comics, and pasted into the trading cards, comics, website, storybooks, and who knows where else. Not bad for a simple development piece!

Architecture Sketches
Architecture Sketches
Form Development
Copyright LEGO ©2003
The Grand Tournament Arena
Detail: the Grand Tournament Arena
Copyright LEGO ©2003

The real driving factor behind Morcian architecture design is that it had to look like it could be built out of Lego, and that it hinted at enough cool Lego-type functions that kids might actually want to try. The Grand Tournament Arena, as pictured here and shown in more detail later in the LEGO comics, had a number of moving and turning sections that allowed it to be configured for the different tournament events.

If you look at the buildings surrounding the Arena, you can see the skewed geometric forms of Morcian-style architecture as practiced in the kingdom's capital.

Sketches: The Citadel

The Guardian
The Guardian
Copyright LEGO ©2003
The Citadel
The Citadel
Copyright LEGO ©2003

The Guardian waits at the Citadel of Orlan to test the heroes before giving them the Heart of the Shield. The Guardian hearkens from an earlier age, kept alive by the magic of the Citadel to defend the Heart from the unworthy, so I got to make his armor much more traditional and old-fashioned, although still with visible precursors to the style of the hero knights' armor that was developed decades or centuries later. The Heart of the Shield is a circular casing with a five-pointed spiral opening; that's the motif you see everywhere on the Guardian's outfit.

Sketches: The Quest

The Grand Tournament Arena
The Shadow Knight
Copyright LEGO ©2003
The Border Tower
Border Ambush
Copyright LEGO ©2003

One of the high points of the heroes' quest is the crossing of the rickety rope bridge that gives access over the cliffs surrounding the Citadel. This is the site of LEGO's set 8778: Border Ambush, in which an evil Shadow Knight lies in wait to attack when the heroes attempt to cross.

The Shadow Knight as shown in this character sketch was originally created as Vladek's solitary evil henchman, a fallen knight who resorted to sabotage and guile to defeat his more honorable foes. Although the helmet and axe were kept mostly the same, the Shadow Knight character was changed drastically for the final version of the story - now the Shadow Knights were Vladek's mass-produced and mind-controlled army. Interestingly enough, the Shadow Knight's original character and story did finally make it into the Knights story in 2006, but as a Rogue Knight instead: Karzon, Knight of the Serpent.

Animal Castle Development: Santis's Bear Castle

Bear Castle Sketches
Bear Castle Sketches
Architecture Style / Environment
Copyright LEGO ©2003
Bear Castle Sketches
Bear Castle Sketches
Bear characterization
Copyright LEGO ©2003
Bear Castle
Bear Castle Sketch
Color Rendering
Copyright LEGO ©2003

The original plan for Knights' Kingdom was that all of the knights lived in castles shaped like the animals of their heraldry, although we shifted away from that idea by the time the products came out (see the Castle of Morcia Concept page to see the difference between the early animal-based style and the style of the final product). We hadn't yet made revised images for the heroes' castles when the Knights website went live, so these development images ended up being released as the heroes' official castles for the first couple of months of 2004. The website images were replaced later when we painted new versions of the castles for the 2004 trading cards. The new castles are no longer animal-themed, although you can still see tiny miniature versions of the animal castles on the map in the Book of Morcia if you look closely.

Bear Castle Painting
Bear Castle Environment Mockup 1
Frigid Alpine Environment
Copyright LEGO ©2003
Bear Castle Painting
Bear Castle Environment Mockup 2
Rugged Rocky Environment
Copyright LEGO ©2003

Work on the story world, visual design, and products were all underway at the same time, so the different development teams were always affecting each other and building off of each other's ideas. As a side effect, it meant that I was making lots of changes to the visual guides in a hurry. The castle environment shots were photoshop hacks made from chopped-up bits of photo stock, stitched together and painted over in a hurry every time we needed to try out a different feel.

Bear Castle Painting
Bear Castle Environment Mockup 3
Rugged Grassy Environment
Copyright LEGO ©2003
Bear Castle Painting Detail
Bear Castle Environment Mockup detail
Copyright LEGO ©2003

Santis' bear-themed castle originally sat high up in the frigid moutains that separated Morcia from the dangerous Wastelands. Then it was decided that the mountains weren't so much frozen as barren and rugged, and that the castle defended the only narrow pass into the Wastelands. Then the story shifted a little further, and the lands were still rugged but no longer barren, and Santis himself had switched to red armor instead of gray, so the castle needed to be repainted to match.

This was the final version of this painting. By the time we painted the new version for the trading cards, the story had changed again, and now Santis's Orkosan province was a farmland region of fertile lowland valleys. We kept the design of the squat Orkosan houses the same, however, and they seemed to fit just as well in the farmland setting as in this chillier one.


Animal Castle Development: The Other Heroes

Wolf Castle Sketches
Wolf Castle Sketches
Wolf characterization
Copyright LEGO ©2003
Wolf Castle Sketch
Wolf Castle Sketch
Color Rendering
Copyright LEGO ©2003
Wolf Castle Painting
Wolf Castle Environment Mockup
Copyright LEGO ©2003
Hawk Castle Sketches
Hawk Castle Sketches
Architecture Style / Environment
Copyright LEGO ©2003
Hawk Castle Sketches
Hawk Castle Sketches
Hawk characterization
Copyright LEGO ©2003
Hawk Castle Painting
Hawk Castle Environment Mockup
Copyright LEGO ©2003
Ape Castle Sketches
Ape Castle Sketches
Architecture Style / Environment
Copyright LEGO ©2003
Ape Castle Sketches
Ape Castle Sketches
Ape characterization
Copyright LEGO ©2003
Ape Castle Painting
Ape Castle Environment Mockup
Copyright LEGO ©2003
Mike Rayahwk
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