I had a blast working on last year’s Coindesk’s Most Influential in Crypto 2017 series. It was a real turning point for Cryptopop’s overall creative direction, and so I was thrilled to be invited to work on it again in 2018. Creating portraits for the industry’s most influential personalities — everyone from Amber Baldet to Jihan Wu to Peter Wuille — became one of my obsessions, and I’ve produced a couple dozen of them since then, with more in the pipeline.
The twist, of course, was that this year I wasn’t being called on to directly illustrate any of the portraits, but to instead work with several art teams to produce one-of-a-kind illustrations as NFTs (non-fungible tokens) on the Ethereum blockchain.
Non-Fungible Tokens are digital assets that refer to a unique item on a blockchain. It’s the opposite of a “fungible token” which is used to describe items that are not unique, like units of currency. NFTs can be used as a fingerprint for everything from a physical piece of land to a digital piece of artwork, and it was the latter that Coindesk was interested in using the technology for.
So I grabbed my creative-director hat and proceeded to work with 4 teams across 3 timezones to build 10 NFTs in just under 4 weeks time. Coordinating the artwork was one challenge, but we also needed to tie the whole thing together conceptually in a way that Coindesk readers could appreciate … both from an entertainment and an educational perspective.
The final design solution turned out to be something very dear to my heart: collectible trading cards. Anyone who grew up around Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, or modern digital classics like Hearthstone will immediately get what’s going on when presented with something like this early concept:
Even if all you ever saw was the image above on Instagram, you would know that it was Glen Weyl, a crypto-influencer, who was super-smart, but not much of a fighter. It allowed us to make the graphic shareable on social media in a way that still maintained a connection to its original context, something which my portraits from the 2017 series couldn’t do.
Even with the 10-page creative brief I put together, it wasn’t the cleanest process ever. Coordinating with multiple teams and timezones (all of whom I was interacting with for the first time) was a real challenge. With few exceptions, everyone was really into the project though, and eager to have their work featured so prominently on Coindesk. The overall result is something that the participating artists, the Coindesk team, and Cryptopop can all really be proud of.
Designing the Cards
Since most of the artwork isn’t mine, I wanted to highlight some of my favorites from the series here.
I’ve been tracking the work of Diego Rodriguez ever since I noticed @NeonDistrictRPG on @coin_artist‘s Twitter stream. There’s not much I can say about the guy that hasn’t already been said a thousand times, both in and outside the crypto community. The dude’s a god, and we were lucky to get two contributions out of him. This wonderful Jed McCaleb rocket-bear is my favorite in the whole collection.
How can you not love a cute little Nouriel Roubini dragon? With all the fire and brimstone that crypto’s second most infamous economist (top medal still goes to Krugman) has rained down on the industry this year, commemorating him this way just felt right. The concept was quite simply perfect for the HyperDragons team.
Brenna Sparks‘s adult industry background made her a challenging portrait, since striking a tactful balance can often be tricky. We went back and forth with Kiwi on this one, looking for a treatment that was cute but also didn’t shy away from Brenna’s bombastic persona. Eventually we arrived at the Princess-Leia-in-a-love-motel visual above, which will undoubtedly strike a chord with many 80’s-born geeks.
True to its subject, the XRP Army trading card was the most controversial piece we handled. Because of the community’s scale, it’s often hard to tell how they’re going to react to something, and even harder to gauge how strong that reaction is going to be. For that reason, the artists were hesitant to take on this particular assignment, and I had to take it over.
I bounced several different ideas back and forth with the Coindesk team before settling on the one above. We were looking for a visual that maintained the “collectible” theme, and maybe alluded to something more familiar or tangible. I’m admittedly not the biggest fan of the XRP Army, but everyone loves the little green claw-worshipping aliens from Toy Story, so we were all really happy with how this one turned out.
The only other Cryptopop piece in the collection was the Elizabeth Stark‘s card. Some millennials may recognize the lightning lizard from Neopets, another massively popular collectible game from the 90s.
I’ve missed drawing crypto animals a lot in 2018 so I was glad to be able to give this one a try.
Creating the Actual NFTs
With all the cards ready to go, we then needed to develop the digital tokens that would represent this artwork on the Ethereum blockchain. Anyone who wanted to own an official copy of these cards could buy them with Ether, and once they had done so, the token would appear in their Ethereum wallet alongside any other ERC-based assets they may own.
For this, we enlisted the help of Alto.io, a Filipino blockchain company that specializes in creating NFT games. Describing each card on the Ethereum blockchain (in a process called “minting”) meant they would become openly tradeable on online NFT marketplaces, of which the most well-known one is OpenSea.
The final collection of digital trading cards can be viewed (and traded!) here.
Coindesk has an official acknowledgements section that name-checks all the people that contributed to this project already, so I’ll just repeat it here along with some of my personal comments. These consummate professionals faced a challenging deadline and still turned over awesome content, and I’m so happy that I got to work with them all.
- Dapper Labs – The makers of CryptoKitties, who designed the cards for Changpeng Zhao and Jeremy Allaire.
- Chibi Fighters – A brutally fun and addicting blockchain game. They created the cards for Brenna Sparks and Glen Weyl.
- MixMarvel – The makers of HyperDragons. Their cards were Nouriel Roubini and Tom Jessop.
- PlasmaBears – A collectible crafting game from the makers of Neon District, who created the cards for Jed McCaleb and Hester Peirce.
- Alto.io – Blockchain-based game development platform. They built the smart contracts for all our NFT trading cards in record time.
Till next year!