Interview: Battle for Azeroth's lead character artist tells us who the expansion's biggest hero really is

On the eve of World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, we caught up with Blizzard’s own Dusty Nolting, lead character artist on the game, to talk about what they brought to the MMORPG’s eighth expansion.

Perhaps more than any expansion pack before it, the larger-plot of Battle for Azeroth is ultimately one being driven by the actions and decisions of the series’ many heroes and villains in World of Warcraft as it is the players.

Dusty first started at Blizzard in 2006 creating character and prop art for World of Warcraft and has stuck with Blizzard’s acclaimed massively multiplayer online role-playing game ever since.

You’re the lead character artist on Battle for Azeroth. Who, to you, is the lead character of Battle for Azeroth?

Dusty Nolting:  “Ooh, that's a good question. You might see my allegiances come out on this one. So far, I'm a pretty big fan of Saurfang. I've been following him.”

“I love Orcs. I love the way he looks. He's such a dynamic character to me and I'm really excited to see how his story plays out and definitely the fan reaction, especially with the recent Old Soldier video we put out. That was a really awesome. We got a really good fan reaction out of that.”

You're bringing in allied races with the new expansion. From your perspective, how is working on them different to working on the traditional new races you've added in previous expansions.

Dusty Nolting: “A little bit of both. We have some that are very similar. Take the mag'har orcs. They’re very similar to the orcs you saw in Draenor, but we'll take a race like orcs and draenei, and we want to make a cool new version of what a draenei is. So we get to add a few different features like the whole gold flashy tattoos, some new horns, some new facial features and stuff like that. So sometimes it's largely dependent on what we envision this race to be.”

Credit: Blizzard Entertainment

“There's different features of each race. They all kind-of special snowflakes in that aspect and sometimes that's when I will lean on Darren [Williams] for some features. I might say, "Hey I want this cool new thing for this cool new race, what do you have? How do you think you can get that to work?" And that's normally where I'll bounce off Darren for some cool things that he can get working. But they're all really interesting things to figure out, like, what do we do for one race versus another?”

I read a really interesting piece the other day on VentureBeat, which compared the larger arc of World of Warcraft to that of a TV series, with the Battle for Azeroth being the eighth season of such a series. Do you think that that's a comparison that has merit or a basis in how you approach building on the game?

Dusty Nolting: “I don't think we necessarily go by episodic storytelling. It's more we have come up with this grandiose, huge story and we're given opportunities with expansion packs to further that story.”

“We look for really well-timed releases of this expansion to get our cool ideas and stories and epic content into players' hands. I’m not sure I would draw direct comparisons to content, but it's just we're trying to tell an epic story, and we do it the best way we know how to.”

Credit: Blizzard Entertainment

You work on lots of different parts of the art side of things. What has been the most creative fulfilling part of Battle for Azeroth for you?

Dusty Nolting: “I think the most fulfilling thing is exploring all these new cultures that we've never seen before. We really get to sink our teeth into"Oh, what do Zandalari look like?" Or "what does Kul Tiras look like?" Or "what does this death-witch zone in Drustvar look like?" Or "where are all these cool Zandalari Dinosaurs? It's super fun to sit down and just figure all that stuff out. I get a pretty big kick out of some of the things that come our way.”

Credit: Blizzard Entertainment

“It's a really collaborative and fantastic way to go about making WoW look as good as we can.”

How long have you been playing World of Warcraft? Do you still play it regularly?

Dusty Nolting: “Yeah, I've been playing since the beginning. I've been playing Blizzard games my whole life, but definitely always play WoW. [I’ve] always loved WoW. It's why I'm here. I love making art for a game that I've been so involved in since the very beginning. I've only been working on WoW for about eight years now, but I've always been a huge fan. Love orcs and dragons and wizards and all that stuff. So it's definitely something fun to work on, for sure.”

“I think I just love the fantasy environment and being so involved in it, and seeing it from the other side of the curtain and where characters and creatures and everything, where they're all going. And coming up with cool ideas that I think will resonate with fans, and getting the visions of designers, getting to express that in our own way. It's just one of the funnest things to do.”

World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth launches on August 14th.

Credit: Blizzard Entertainment