After he came up with the main idea for the series, Mitko (Dimitar Petrov) started developing the visual style for the show. First, he gathered a lot of visual research materials on different styles of drawing and painting, including styles in architecture, design, art movements and other visual media.
The style of the backgrounds was developed gradually with the story and the style of the characters. Some of the first paintings of the show were quite different from what we have now, as this very early painting with one of the Kuker characters in it shows:
After trying out a lot of different designs and styles, the final style of the show was decided. It would combine traditional Eastern European ornaments and architecture, a hint of Art Deco and Art Nouveau, depending on the location in the series, and a strong influence from the style of the brilliant painter Eyvind Earle. The idea behind this was to combine a rather well known style (Eyvind Earle) with a new influence (Eastern European architecture and ornamentation).
After deciding on the style, our first job was to develop some key locations as guidelines.
For example, the town of Kuker-ovo, home of the legendary Kuker warriors, was already in development and a lot of the visual research about it was complete. The architecture style of the town combines elements from the Bulgarian cities of Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo and Balchik.
Mitko has a big interest in architecture so he made a few research trips to historical towns in Bulgaria. He was trying different approaches for representing Eastern European renaissance architecture in such a style, as to our knowledge, it has never been used in an animated series before.
The final background for the town was based on two very early sketches from the early development of the show. As Mitko would later finish his own layouts, he didn’t spent too much time cleaning them up and just marked the main composition and elements before starting to paint.
At this point, the style of the buildings was yet to be decided, so the design of the town in the sketches varies quite a lot from the final background.
Part of the job of the background artist is also to tell a story with the design – for example, the trees surrounding Kuker-ovo have a lot of hard edges and look scary and intimidating. The town has grown in height ratner than width, for easier protection. The gate is surrounded by huge bells (chans) to scare off evil spirits if needed, and the houses on the outer part of town form a wall like structure. (In the original sketch, it was actually a wall, but later it was decided that it would be more of a natural border for the town and not a physical wall, as some spirits can pass trough physical obstacles). There are no windows close to the ground, and several other bell towers are also visible around the town.
Besides doing the key location development, the background artist also creates guidelines for the style of the show. These guidelines determine how stylised the world of the series would be, and it was decided that the further into the mountains our main characters venture, the more stylised the forests will become. These guideliness are meant to be used by the other background artists working on the series, as usually there are a lot of people drawing each individual background, and they should all look like they fit in the same world.
The same approach as Kuker-ovo was also used in these drawing of the Golden Apple itself (or at least, how one of the characters in the show imagines it ;-) ), made for an art exhibition in Sofia. However, in this painting, the golden apple tree has a lot more influence from the art noveu style, and looks a lot more decorative.