In her final year at FX Animation Barcelona Film School, Sara Zurera, created a project featuring her skills studying Concept Art. This article chronicles the process of conceptualising, designing, and pixelating a magical world where a simple concept evolved into a vibrant and engaging game project.
Fillory and Further is a project I’ve been working on during my last year studying Concept Art at FX Animation Barcelona Film School. I got really inspired because we could choose the topic and the artstyle for the project. We only had less than three months, so I mixed one of my favourite series with one of my favourite games.
There is a TV show called The Magicians (based on a book trilogy). In the books, there is a saga of books where the plot unfolds. I based my project on this inside-the-story saga.
For the visual style I chose a game called Children of Mana (from the World of Mana series) to reference. It's an RPG game for Nintendo DS. The game uses Pixel Art style and elaborate drawings for cinematics and character talks.
Merging the plot elements from The Magicians and visual style from Children of Mana was quite simple. The game I chose as a reference is a dungeon crawler, and the majority of the gameplay takes place in selected locations rather than on an open world map. The player selects these areas on the world map to reach them, in my case Fillory would be the world map. The primary objective in each location is to clear the dungeon of monsters with a little help. In addition to weapons, the player can select from one of eight Elementals, which provide different magical attacks and magical enhancements to weapon attacks. These Elementals gave me the opportunity to introduce the Questing Beasts from The Magicians as little companions for the main character, each one with their own power to fight.
This way I created my own game project, with a cohesive and engaging narrative for Fillory and Further. Where the plot was about a cute girl entering a magical world called Fillory through a grandfather clock. Once there, she is told to be the rightful governor. She must find the sacred sword to free the people, with the help of magical beings, and defeat evil in every location represented on the world map.
From that point onward, the real work kicked in. Designing the characters became my focus—I started by looking at references from the TV series and the game, experimenting with styles and tweaking versions to add my personal touch. Essentially, I took the TV series designs and infused them with a dose of fantasy and magic. More ornaments, jewelry, complements, ribbons, and, of course, more glitter.
Playing with the anatomy was a challenge. I typically stick to realistic proportions, but this time, I embraced the excitement and amusement of exaggeration, diving into a new art style. The head, hands, and legs became roughly the same size, with the body sporting exaggerated curves but overall smaller. It's like a chibi style but with more intricate details.
While creating the main character was a breeze, picking colours for the villain and gods proved to be challenging. The main character hails from the real world, often deemed boring and sad. Hence, her colour palette leans towards simplicity—earthy tones and natural hair.
But then, when she enters the magic world, everything turns vibrant and colourful. The Gods of this world need to be impressive, flashy, even the villain needs catchy colours too. The challenge was to avoid repeating palettes and distinguish good from evil, assigning the gods more pastel colours and the villain brighter and darker ones. Anyway, designing the villain was one of my favorite parts, her dress was totally an adventure!
The next phase marked the start of my Pixel Art adventure. I always loved Pixel art games, I'd played my fair share but never took the plunge into creating one—until now. It was finally my moment. I dived into Google, soaking up information about programs, tutorials, canvas sizes, pixel ratios, and proportions.
The canvas size, particularly the pixel size, became my main concern. Ensuring uniformity across all pixels once the character blended into the background was important to avoid an odd look. So, I looked for the best size for a beginner that struck the right balance—detailed but not overly complex.
I have to admit I was worried about the process. The first attempts left me thinking, 'I can't do this; everything looks horrible.' Yet, with persistent overpainting and dedication, the main character came to light and surprisingly very cute. That fueled my determination, and I pressed on, refusing to give up.
Backgrounds and Locations
For the backgrounds I chose two of the most magical places shown in the series: the castle, and a magical forest. It was totally an adventure creating them because I wanted people to feel the magic at first sight. The Castle Whitespire is very shiny and has a lot of floating towers that don’t stop spinning. All the environments are full of colours and everywhere you look, you can find all kinds of flowers, as if it is perpetually Spring. The atmosphere of the forest is darker but with a lot of glitter and glowing mushrooms, and hidden spots where magical creatures can hide.
Then, I thought that I should make a map (just as in the game I used for reference) to represent this entire world of fantasy, to make the player feel like they already know it. There you could see all the locations that the character would visit and where you can find the dungeons. There I would also place the two locations of which I have made the background.
This experience made me passionate about creating a game and universe where people can relax, meet characters, and enjoy a great story. Creating this world was a lot of fun. I enjoyed every step: designing the characters, connecting the story to make sense, thinking about what powers could each beast have, etc.
Completing this project has made me even more motivated to pursue my dream of becoming a professional Concept Artist. I am determined to continue improving and make my dreams come true. Now I know that this is what I want to do: design and create a game that leaves its mark on its players.
While reflecting on this project, I do harbor a regret—I wish I had more time to add animations or in-game screenshots. A few extra frames for background movement or subtle details like the Pixel Art characters 'breathing' could have elevated the project to a more polished, lifelike level. Nevertheless, even as a student project, it has been one of the most enjoyable experiences, and I sincerely hope those who encounter it share in that enjoyment.
This undertaking has been an invaluable learning experience, as every decision rested in my hands. While this responsibility brought its challenges, it provided a comprehensive understanding of the entire creative process. It has left me with an insatiable desire to continue learning and, eventually, create something truly amazing for the audience!
You can see more of Sara's student work and contact her via her Rookies profile here.