Box of Mystery Challenge: Prop Design Winners Interview

The Lightbox Expo: Box of Mystery Challenge brought together thousands of artists from around the world to compete in the spirit of community where you could push your boundaries and have fun.  Hundreds joined the Prop category of the challenge, hosted by Marina Ortega Lorente. It called for 3 fantastical or mysterious props that each told their own story.

Browse all Prop Design entries from the Box of Mystery Challenge.

In this interview, the artists who created the winning entries, Tae Un Ryu, Jenny Brozek, and Alex Gill share how they did it, their advice for future challengers, and more.

Entry by Tae Un Ryu

Where did you get your inspiration for your submission?

Tae Un: My goal was to see if I could convey a sense of mystery in a modern setup. We’ve already seen a lot of steampunk and dieselpunk fictions, but how about dieselpunk engineers making use of some alien source of energy?

After pursuing every opportunity to amplify element of mystery, I decided to send a levitating dreadnought battleship, carrying a mixed crew of WW2 nations, who have decided not to wage war simply because of this curious scientific opportunity, into another dimension to find the source of a strange energy cube and conquer new land.

Jenny: My theme was Postowls. Right before the Challenge started, I was reading Harry Potter and watching the series “His dark materials”, and the stories kind of merged together but in a bit more fun and cute way.

Alex: I spent the first part of the project reading about classic myths and mysteries. Stories of Heroes collecting magical objects were particularly inspiring, like Perseus from Greek mythology who used various magical items including a magic sword, a reflective shield, and winged sandals to accomplish feats. The idea of collecting various tools to gain new abilities was something I thought would work well as a concept for RPG prop design.

Entry by Jenny Brozek

What was your strategy for completing your submission on time?

Tae Un: This is actually my first time completing this challenge. I have entered the challenge several times before, during my school days, but all the other busy life elements gave me good excuses to not see it to the end. This time, my goal was simply to complete the challenge.

I cut down all the greed and ambition to make this the best prop design ever, and instead focused on making sure that I could deliver the products that met all the requirements. I set aside enough time to build the story, around 4 days, and then assigned about 10 days to each of the three props, from thumbnail to coloring the linework, with a spare room of last 10 days or so to polish things up and adding elements of a presentation.

Jenny: I tried to draw every day after work on the submission, even if it was just for 10 minutes. I didn’t want to rush anything because this time, the challenge was to make 3 props instead of 5, in even more time. So I started with sketches having this rough idea in mind, following up with 3D blockouts – which really helped me save a lot of time with the orthographic views. The last few days before the deadline, I took some days off from work, to complete the rendering and the layout.

Alex: After developing my story and basic outline for what I wanted to accomplish, I spent a fair amount of time planning each stage of the project, giving myself hard deadlines for when I had to move on to the next stage. This helped a lot with staying on task and not spending too much time on one prop or stage of the design.

Entry by Alex Gill

Which part of your submission did you struggle with the most and why?

Tae Un: The absence of thematic restriction was the absolutely lovely part of the challenge, while also presenting the biggest headache. I had to read over and over and scanned every corner of the thumbnail artworks that came under each category to get the idea of what the hosts and judges expect to see as the results. But then I thought, why bother thinking about what others expect? I will just do what I like, and give them a box and an element of mystery, as that is all they demanded.

After I cleared my head on that, I could easily proceed with the rest of the design process, though there has constantly been a slight residue of doubt in the corner of my heart if I am doing the right thing? At the end of the day, I believe this decent amount of troubling thoughts kept pushing me to consider all aspects of design and produce something better regarded.

Jenny: Currently, I’ve been trying to get more into Environment and Prop Design, as I mostly stuck to characters for the past year. The last ArtStation Challenge where I also participated in Prop Design was really helpful and a great learning experience, so I figured I try it again. For me, the most difficult part was the fact that I wanted to make 3 large props that could almost count as environments, with lots of detail and storytelling. This was quite time consuming and I was worried if I could get all 3 props rendered in time.

Alex: The most challenging aspect other than time management was coming up with an interesting story. I knew with so many other challengers, it was going to be difficult to create something unique and interesting. I ended up spending a large amount of time looking through references and researching in order to create an idea that I was satisfied with.

Entry by Tae Un Ryu

What advice do you have for future challengers?

Tae Un: Fear not what others may think of your entry. You can produce the best work when you do what you like. Never fall into the trap of achieving a grandiose dream! It will only hold your leg back and make you suffer unnecessary guilt of not getting anywhere.

Jenny: I think with Prop Design or even Environment Design, it is very useful to create some quick 3D blockouts. They really pay off in the long run and can save a lot of time. Also engaging with other participants is super important and a lot of fun!

Alex: Just do it! I’ve watched so many ArtStation challenges go by wishing I had joined, but not getting involved because I felt I wasn’t good enough. Don’t worry about placement. Just focus on creating something that excites and challenges you. The best part of this challenge was the feedback and engagement with other challengers. Don’t hesitate to leave feedback or drop a compliment.

Entry by Jenny Brozek

See more Prop Design entries from the Box of Mystery Challenge >

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About the author

Sierra is the Editor of ArtStation Magazine.