Fantasy Worldbuilding

1. HOW TO BEGIN BUILDING YOUR OWN FICTIONAL WORLD

Artwork: Concept Artist & Passage Guest Speaker, Wesley Burt

Artwork: Concept Artist & Passage Guest Speaker, Wesley Burt

It seems like a daunting task, but with the help of a good outline and brainstorming, you will be on the path towards creating your own world. Worldbuilding is all about creating.

Focus on general topics first! Start with the geography of your fictional world. Is it like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth? Filled with hobbits, magic, and creatures? Or is it more like Star Wars? Brimming with epic battles, and out-of-this-world wars?

The backstory is just as important as what might currently be happening in the world. What major historical events helped shape the population of your world? What types of transportation do they use? Where can you find their leader(s)? What characteristics does it share with your real life? Where does your main character live? What does daily life look like?

One of our favorite strategies is looking at fantasy novels and pulling out keywords that define the world the author has created. Let’s look at Tolkien’s imaginary worlds as an example. With the help of a rough outline, start to break down the geography and natural resources of Middle Earth. The Lord of the Rings contains craggy mountains, icy rivers, magical forests, and burning volcanoes. It shares a lot of traits that define fantasy fiction.

It’s very different from the magical world of witchcraft and wizardry that J.K. Rowling conjured through worldbuilding in the Harry Potter series. Harry Potter features stapes of British history with an added magic touch: mossy castles nestled deep in forests, raging fireplaces with feasts and merriment, and classic magical creatures featured on family crests brought to life: unicorns, mermaids, dragons, and snakes.

2. IS YOUR WORLD BUILT AROUND FANTASY AND SCIENCE-FICTION, OR BASED ON REAL-LIFE?

Hue Teodor

Hue Teodor

Imaginary worlds can contain any number of locations, but it is easier to start with a “home base.” Creating the center of your fantasy world will make the rest of your worldbuilding easier. J.K. Rowling had two distinct worlds that seamlessly blended together. The real world, or “Muggle” world, and the magical world worked together without feeling like you were being pulled out of her story. Harry Potter’s fictional world feels authentic because of the depth in which the magical world is built into the real world. The main character binds the two worlds together by being born into both.

Rowling’s worldbuilding in Harry Potter is quite different from another thriving fantasy novel: The Chronicles of Narnia. C.S. Lewis focused on a family of siblings instead of one main character to blend real-world and fantasy worlds together. Historical events shape the real world and allow an epic fantasy to unfold, which mirrors the world war and strife happening to the main characters outside of the wild world beyond their wardrobe.

Remember that using the structure of historical events is a great way to unfold the imaginary worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are the perfect tools to retell historical events and blend real life into your worldbuilding process.

Artwork: Concept Artist & Instructor, Jon Neimeister

Artwork: Concept Artist & Instructor, Jon Neimeister

3. HOW TO START BUILDING A SCI-FI WORLD

Artwork: Concept Artist & Passage Instructor, Lake Hurwitz

Artwork: Concept Artist & Passage Instructor, Lake Hurwitz

Throughout the Science-Fiction genre, inspiration can come from thinking of your future. Ask yourself these questions about your sci-fi world: Will society do if space travel is possible? How will we live and breathe somewhere that does not look like Earth? What animals live in another planet’s seas of carbon dioxide? What are some of your greatest fears for the future? Is your worldbuilding happening after an apocalyptic event?

No matter what genre you decide to start worldbuilding, it is crucial to root it in something authentic to you. Your imaginary worlds can contain intricate magic systems, rely on fantastical natural resources, and still be authentic! It is up to you to find a balance between fantasy and reality.

4. FIND INSPIRATION EVERYWHERE!

Artwork: Hi-Rez Studios Concept Artist & Passage Instructor, Viviane Kosty

Artwork: Hi-Rez Studios Concept Artist & Passage Instructor, Viviane Kosty

Like fiction writers Lewis, Tolkien, Rowling, and more blend their own life experiences into fantastic worlds, so can you! Take it a step further by world building your own life.

What experiences shaped you and also will develop your characters? Harry Potter is not just a character, he is full of childhood experiences of loss and triumph. A Hobbit’s innocence and determination reflect some of our own most valued traits. George R.R. Martin highlights the inequalities and viciousness prevalent throughout history through his fictional world, Game of Thrones. There are inspirational opportunities all around you, no matter what direction you want your world to be built.

5. Defining your main character helps create your world

Artwork by Visual Arts Passage student, Ta’Neal Chandl

Artwork by Visual Arts Passage student, Ta’Neal Chandl

Creating the main character for your world is one of the most essential steps to the worldbuilding process. Your main character’s backstory should be a reflection of the world you are creating. Making sure your main characters interact with your world is an important step!

Start by listing the characteristics you value most for your character. How does your character speak? What languages does your character know? What type of shelter does your character live in? What clothing does your character wear? What is your character’s family unit like? These worldbuilding questions define who your character is, and sets up a fictional world full of details that you might not usually think about. Now it is time to start creating the environment!

Let’s think about some of our previous examples of fantasy and science fiction. The imaginary worlds throughout Game of Thrones are defined by the people who live there. Tolkien’s hobbits live in a world built for their size and demeanor. An idyllic rolling countryside is a perfect place for a carefree farmer. At the same time, an unreasonably tall and menacing tower makes perfect sense for a power-hungry wizard.

Artwork: Director of Visual Development at Marvel Studios & Passage Guest Speaker, Andy Park

Artwork: Director of Visual Development at Marvel Studios & Passage Guest Speaker, Andy Park

6. WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO TO BEGIN YOUR OWN WORLDBUILDING ADVENTURE?

There will always be more questions about how to start your own worldbuilding adventure. That’s why we created a whole Concept Art course centered around worldbuilding! Join us for an intensive eleven-week online class with mentors that are concept art pros and seasoned world-builders. Visual Arts Passage’s Worldbuilding class is all about accomplishing your goals through real-world assignments.

As an essential concept art skill, we know how important it is to hone your skills. We help create a plan of action to take you one step at a time through building your own fantasy world, sci-fi world, or the fictional world! Start with the basics of concept design, and then expand your skills through weekly assignments, lectures, and guest speakers.

Take a look at our intensive Concept Art program >>

You will learn from professionals who work all across the entertainment and gaming world. From LucasFilm, Pixar, HBO, Industrial Light and Magic, Marvel, Magic the Gathering, Dark Horse Comics, and many more.

We have an ever-rotating roster of guest speakers and artists to help you on your own worldbuilding journey. Each weekly class focuses on one assignment driven by your own research, interest, and passions. As you progress through the program, you build your world with the help of a tight-knit group of fellow classmates and instructors.

When you are attending our online courses, it is never about getting the highest grade. Visual Arts Passage is all about what you want to do to accomplish your goals. This is the perfect opportunity to combine your fiction writing skills to create your own fantasy story or sci-fi imaginary world come to life.

Learn more about Worldbuilding at Visual Arts Passage here >>

Mentorship Courses

Experimental Mixed Media Techniques
Digital oil painting of Blade Runner character by artist, Raymond Bonilla
Color Theory for Illustrators

Principles of Character Design

Concept art is the latest frontier in the evolution of visual arts. With the rapid advancement of digital technology, it's never been easier to create imaginary worlds that feel stunningly real.
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