by Patrick Scalisi
Willian Murai Artworks
To say that Willian Murai has had an interesting journey to get where he is today is an understatement. The son of Japanese immigrants living in Brazil, Will was a fan of anime, manga and comic books growing up. While studying graphic design in college, he had the opportunity to work as a colorist for an American comic book publisher. That set him on the path toward illustration, and he has worked with publishing, advertising, Internet and gaming clients ever since.
Will began doing commissions for Wizards of the Coast during the Return to Ravnica block and quickly worked his way up toward several high-profile assignments.
With the release of Magic: Origins, the final MtG core set, Will was asked to do his first planeswalker: the young thief Kytheon who eventually becomes the planeswalker hero Gideon.
Art of MtG corresponded with Will via email to learn more about his new art for Magic: Origins and his other work for Wizards of the Coast.
Art of MtG: First of all, congratulations on getting your first Planeswalker assignment! Can you tell us a little about how the art for Kytheon/Gideon came about?
Will: Thank you! It was a very gratifying experience to work on this assignment! Wizards pitched me the whole idea behind this new card, and I got really excited! It would overlap with some other MTG commissions, but I did everything I could to fit this extra work into my schedule. I would never, in a thousand years, let the opportunity to be part of this project pass!
Art of MtG: You also recently provided new artwork for the Modern Masters 2015 version of Vendilion Clique. What was the process like for creating this particular illustration?
Will: It was amazing to receive this commission, but I was a little nervous to revisit one of the most iconic and beloved cards in Magic history. I did a bunch of preliminary sketches with different poses and compositions, exploring varied ideas before deciding which one would be the best. I ended up coming to the conclusion that I wanted to pay homage to the original card, to be respectful to the legacy and let my personality as an artist shine through.
By keeping a similar composition and overall visual elements, I used my painting style to reconstruct the scene, focusing my attention on the characters’ redesign. Also, I wanted to emphasize their insect-like features using strong colors, a feature that I am known for.
I was really happy with the feedback I got at GP Las Vegas 2015! The tournament organizer used the illustration on the event playmat, and I got a lot of love and support from the crowd (which, by the way, endured very long lines to get their playmats signed! Seriously, thanks everybody who came by — you guys are awesome!)
By the way, the “selfie stick” reference was totally unintentional. Back when I was painting the card, selfie sticks weren’t even a thing!
Art of MtG: During your time with Wizards of the Coast, you’ve actually been asked to re-imagine a number of cards: Brainstorm, Divination, Negate and Wrath of God among them. What are some of the challenges and opportunities in designing new art for a reprint?
Will: I like when Wizards decides to add flavor to the redesign description, like in Brainstorm, where we put an Izzet mage as the central character, or Divination and Wrath of God, which are placed in Theros. This makes the creative process much more fun.
Another advantage in revisiting cards is that I have the game mechanics available as an input during the conception process. In normal cases, the artists don’t know how the card will work in the game beforehand, so having the chance to know the mechanics definitely helps the creative process.
And, of course, I can count on the awesome direction given from the creative team and the art directors. They put the artist on the path without constraining too much.
Each case is different. As an artist and also an admirer of the product, I always consider the legacy of the cards to help guide my decisions when I am on the drawing board.
Art of MtG: In going through your portfolio, a lot of your female characters are very va-va-voom sexy. But many are also very strong. I’m thinking about Boros Elite, Banisher Priest, even Aspect of Gorgon. How do you balance those two characteristics?
Will: Everyone can see in my body of work that I have been hugely influenced by mid-20th century pin-up artists like Gil Elvgren, George Petty and Alberto Vargas. I like portraying sexy women, but when I am asked to paint badass women, I want to make sure that they are perceived this way. As an illustrator, one of my goals is to tell a story with imagery, which most of the time consists of prioritizing the elements that will enable the storytelling and eliminating everything that will create noise.
Art of MtG: You’ve worked with some of the biggest brands in both your native Brazil and elsewhere. What advice do you have for artists who are just starting to build their portfolios?
Will: I’d say: Find your passion and specialize in it. Be the best at it, and make sure everybody knows that you are creating amazing stuff! I believe that having a multi-disciplinary portfolio helps a lot, but there must be something clearly outstanding in your art. It could be creating monsters, human warriors, landscapes, cute bunnies or whatever!
Although I’ve been working on different projects and in different fields, one thing that never changed was my obsession in creating compelling characters. I’ve been investing a lot of my time in this craft and still enjoy the journey.
Art of MtG: What projects are you working on in the future?
Will: Mostly Magic of the Gathering and a really cool game project I’m working on that should be debuting soon! Stay tuned!
Art of Mtg: That sounds exciting! Where can people watch for news about the game?
Will: My website (willmurai.com) and Facebook page are the best places to check in.
Art of MtG: Finally, would you care to name 5-10 of your favorite Magic cards, either ones you’ve done or ones you admire?
Will: I have a bunch of cards that I like. No specific order of preference:
Time Walk and Ajani Steadfast, both by Chris Rahn. (I mean, who doesn’t?)
Teysa, Envoy of Ghost, by Karla Ortiz. (She nailed everything in this one!)
Ephara’s Enlighment, by Wesley Burt
Thassa, God of the Sea, by Jason Chan
Quickling, by Clint Cearley
And everything that Jim Murray, Paul Bonner and Jesper Ejsing paints!
And if I had to pick the favorites I’ve painted, those would be:
I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to talk about my work here on Art of MtG.
Patrick Scalisi is a contributing writer to Art of MtG. After playing Magic: The Gathering as a child during the Fourth Edition era, he resumed again in the summer of 2012. He currently prefers red and white decks.