Bigchild Creatives is a new creative studio based in Madrid. They used to make miniatures for third parties, but in 2014 they started a crowdfunding campaign to release their own first product: a collection miniature line called Black Sailors, depicting a crew of pirate orcs. After its huge success, they contacted me to design the packaging, and I ended up delving a little bit deeper, making some mistakes and learning a couple of lessons. This is a story about good men, bad orcs, optimist planning and some pretty cool graphics.
00. The briefing
First of all, this is a miniature collection. It’s not a game -not yet anyway- so there’s not many restrictions apart from it having to look as cool as possible. Also the target audience for this line is not quite the typical teenager who plays wargames but a bit of an older audience who likes highly detailed figures and want to collect and paint them just for the fun of it. These are a lot bigger figurines than the usual wargame product (60mm scale instead of 28) and Bigchild and I really believe in the quality of the artwork and the sculpt as the big selling points.
I went to the crowdfunding campaign and started reading through all the flavor texts. I found out a bunch of things:
·They’re pirates, of course,
·They’re cruel, totally merciless,
·They’re funny, but in a black humour kind of way,
·Most of them are dumb, but some are actually very smart,
·They’re not as primary as the orcs depicted in regular fantasy,
·They’re wearing in a navy/pirate fashion.
·Most of them are wearing old clothes, but not necessarily rags.
·They’re a crew, not a tribe. In fact they’re using unnecessarily decorous complements, intended as a pun (the cook fights with a chef’s hat and the cartographer has little glasses, for instance).
Before starting with the packaging itself, I wanted to make a visual representation of the Black Sailors brand, separate from Bigchild. I had to respect the groundwork that was already made because the Kickstarter was already funded, but it needed a more distilled and clear personality.
01. Research and inspiration
I went through some game and miniature stores and found out that there’s almost no pirate-themed products on sale! This is quite an opportunity to seize since the market clearly likes pirates (the kickstarter was funded at a 1110% after all). The only exception would be just a few miniatures in other collections and Rum and Bones, which is already coming back to the market, but they’re going for a very colorful look. There is not a black pirate flag in stores right now and that was something I intended to solve.
(Black is quite overused on packaging in those stores though, but I’d solve that later on).
Then I got immersed. I started watching pirate movies and TV shows, grew a beard, signed up to a pirate-themed LARP weekend and gathered as many images of pirates, orcs and skulls as I could find.
On the other hand, Bigchild is a fresh new company and wants to do things differently; and after all this is a figure collection and not a game so I also wanted to get a little bit of inspiration from vinyl toys, which is a very simmilar product marketed for a totally different audience, but which actually has a lot in common with this one.
02. Early sketches
I started sketching skulls, anchors and pirate flags in general, but I also wanted to try and figure out what an orc, troll, ogre and goblin skull looked like, drawing it on the concept arts.
Unused idea: This was starting to look great, and it would have made a great brand and really stand out in the miniature store. I ended up reusing that skull later on, but just not for this because it’s not thematically adequate. It looks more like a sports club of some sort. Design is also, as designer and painter Alberto Corazón says, about knowing which paths not to follow.
03. Playing with letters
I got myself a typographic pen, which ended up being a lot of fun. I had never tried one before. My reasoning was: if the orcs are going to be unnecessarily decorous in a funny way, it’s only coherent that the letters are too. I wanted to make a late blackletter kind of thing, only a bit more spiky and aggressive. I experimented a lot until I ended up with something I liked.
04. The flag
At the same time I started working on skulls. It had to be both orc and pirate, believable as a flag and very scary. It had to be more of a raw emotion thing. I tested many skulls but ended up with this bad boy:
It definitely looks quite mean and brutal. The skull seems more black orc/ogre than an orc, but that makes sense since it’s what these orcs might be afraid of and it certainly looks more simmilar to what an orc skull would look like in other fantasy settings. I took the crossed swords from Jack Rackam’s flag instead of crossbones because it’s a more aggressive idea and it’s quite accepted by the general audience as a classic pirate flag too because it has been featured in other movies and shows lately. I drew an eyepatch on the skull just to emphasize and celebrate the pirate theme.
05. Client feedback
At this point I showed everything to the client. I should have talked to them earlier and made a budget before even I started drawing which is how I usually work, but I had never done anything this ambitious and couldn’t tell then how long the work would take me (I failed anyway, the whole thing took me more than twice what I expected). It turned out allright though: they liked my concept and my ideas for the packaging and we went on with the project together, although we decided to make some adjustments.
The first was the text. The blackletter looks nice, but it’s not as readable and also using a font makes it a lot easier to write the name of each character and give the whole thing a unified style. Not that I couldn’t write the character names by hand too, but a font does save up a lot of work. So this is what they looked like afterwards:
On hindsight, the aggressiveness of the font (which is Quahog BB Bold, by the way) is going to work great in stores. The miniature names look like this:
You’ll notice I updated the skull too. I also traced some brush strokes on Illustrator so I could make a vector version of the logo. Which ended up being in vane because we decided that the concept artist Adrián Prado should redraw the whole thing just to make it visually more simmilar to the character portraits and give the whole brand a more unified look, but at least I got to reuse the strokes later on too. So this is what the Black Sailors logo is looking like right now:
The packaging is already designed too, and that’s a whole new process with some whole new lessons learned...
I really hope you like my case study! If you want to contact me to ask me anything or want me to do any work for you, please do write me at Hey@IAmTheLion.com