Elune: Design Process

Elune: Design Process

Elune is the first fully original design I’ve entered into a costume contest. Getting third place at BlizzCon with it in what is largely a Blizzard game replica costume contest was beyond my wildest dreams!

When I started designing Elune, I had a lot of design space to work within — because there WAS no design to base her off of.

I was creating a tangible concept of an idea in a fantasy universe. I wanted to create a vision of how night elves may imagine Elune could appear in a night elf form.

With the Legion expansion for World of Warcraft just around the corner, I had many concerns about Elune possibly being revealed, described, or otherwise fully explained during the making of this costume. She’s been believed to be one of many things throughout the evolution of the Warcraft universe, ranging from loa to naaru, but she’s never been shown to players before. Fortunately, she was never visually revealed.

My initial concepts worked within the loa toolkit. I was never really satisfied with the result of these sketches. They ended up looking very trollish and campy, even downright Native American in influence with feathers and fringe all over the place.

I started considering other options that were a bit more distant from the hints given within the canon: What is Elune herself looked more like a naga? What if the cursed Highborne were actually blessed to look closer to godliness? Isn’t that basically what Azshara wanted all along — to become a god?

I worked through a few designs here with different degrees of fins and spines. I went with a subtle scale skin texture in patches on her face, neck, shoulders, and sides of torso and limbs. The color palette ranged from deep ocean greens with seaweed to more of a mollusk/abalone look with various pearls and opalescent paint finishes.

The closest that I got to accepting this design was an armored look that I sketched out on my Note 5 cellphone. It incorporated some of the male naga spine features along with heavier druid-style shoulder and chest armor. I’m not a fan of armor bikinis, so I gave her more of an armored belt and hip panel design with a skirt over more leg armor.

At this stage I was debating using a filigree design similar to the vanilla WoW cinematic night elf on the armor pieces, but something still didn’t feel right about it.

I always believed that a humanoid Elune should be dressed more like a cleric: battle-ready support. If she is the chief deity of night elves who tend toward druid and priest archetypes and is believed to be a spirit of healing and the Light, why wouldn’t she encompass the appearance of those classes?

I started looking at different items that already exist in WoW, focusing on nostalgic vanilla WoW gear and staying away from already noteworthy tier items. The idea was to take things that already exist and morph them together into something new, not reskin something that has already been seen.

My first toon was a priest, so I started looking at cloth chest armor like Robes of Insight and Mooncloth Robe. I wanted to avoid using Mooncloth Robe too heavily since the old Tyrande model wears the same dress.

I decided on some sort of cap sleeve or shoulder armor element, a fitted cropped bodice with decorative elements, a strong central panel with heavy decor, a belt with metalwork, a drapey high-low skirt, and a long front panel in the center of the skirt. All of these elements seems to be repeated in many of the classic robe designs, even if the skirt layers were just ripples of fabric from draping on the in-game models. I like layering things, so I try to separate layers and build more onto them to enhance the overall esthetic.

I then looked more at what Elune could be. I was already in the “Elune is probably a naaru” camp, so I ran with celestial colors and textures. Furthermore, remember this nerd from Ulduar?

I punched Algalon and stole his starry twinkle lights for the skirt. I also took a couple of minor elements from his robe and hair — notably the neatness and coils it has. I decided to make the skirt layer for the stars dark and shimmery so that the lights would stand out against it.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the design of this boss encounter. It’s still one of my favorites in the game.

I referenced naaru by chilling in central Shattrath and flying around A’dal for a bit. The naaru design influence is actually in the positive (white) and negative (black) areas of my final design. Notice how my limbs are white and I used a dark color for the center torso? That was to fragment my body and create a bit of negative space, like a naaru. The space between the dark skirt layer and white center panel does something similar by elongating and distorting my thighs. The heavily sequined sleeves that go from light to dark are meant to seem like trailing starlight.

That was probably the least noticed parallel in my design work, but it’s there!

The final Elune concept sketch ended up looking like this:

You’ll see that I ended up changing a few things, like the hairstyle. The shoulders mimic basic druid armor with hard bases and furry trim. I also wasn’t sure exactly what I would put in for the design work on the different dress panels. Surprisingly, I worked out every individual design as I worked on the panels, influenced by the materials I could find in local artisan craft stores. All of the scenes depict nature and celestial scenes, some involving life, death, and rebirth. The purple lotus used all over the dress is something I wanted from early concepts since it’s fairly iconic from vanilla WoW and water lilies are used in night elf temples and reliefs. (I later noticed after Legion launched that the Temple of Elune in Val’sharah seems to have purple lotuses in the inner sanctum! I was definitely on the right track.) I only sketched out the sheer sleeve and legging designs before working on them, and only immediately before I started the work on stream.

I then went ahead and shopped for fabrics, sticking with my silvery, cold celestial palette. I got insanely lucky on a few brand new fall fabrics that had just been put out. I found a sparkly silver-black crinkle knit for the space skirt, a silver sequin fabric that looked like chainmaille, different sheers, lace trims, and a really awesome fully sequined sheer that would become the sleeves.

At this exact moment, I was already two months into the design phase of Elune. I was actively sketching ideas on breaks at work, on weekends with family, and between grinding away on other insanely difficult costumes, like my leather Nightingale Armor from Skyrim. I started fabrication in early July of 2016, immediately following Anime Expo.

The staff was designed about one month before BlizzCon, right in the middle of costume fabrication. I initially looked at classic priest weapons, but I didn’t find anything close to what I had envisioned. Then I started looking at the Legion artifacts and noticed this beauty for Balance Druids, a model for Scythe of Elune:

But a lawful good healer surely wouldn’t wield a scythe. It would feel weird to recolor something used in the game by players. A godly item should be unique. And, perhaps, the in-game item could be modeled after Elune’s own weapon.

I redesigned the scythe into a staff with more metallic and organic elements. I added a second, smaller moon to mirror Azeroth’s twin moons. (Elune herself is nicknamed “Mother Moon,” with the larger of the two moons symbolizing her.) I ended up dropping the flowers-and-wood look of the swirly bits and opted for metallic pieces to mirror the metal armor elements on the dress. The large box the crescent sits on serves both as a sturdy base for the extremely heavy resin moon and a storage compartment for the power and adafruit board for the staff.

White leather was used against black on the shaft of the staff, and I went with a Chinese sword wrap pattern with a wider strap so that the wrap would look like vertebrae.

Designing Elune was a creatively exhausting process. I was constantly questioning my own decisions and wondering if I was putting too much detail and thought into what I was doing. I had to keep telling myself that if nothing else, it would still be a pretty dress with a level of detail seldom seen in costume contests.

I had no idea that I would actually make top five, let alone podium with a fully original design at BlizzCon.