Preparation


Preparation

Having done the research, we now have all the information we could possibly handle, right? Now do we start to draw? Nope, we move on to the next stage: preparation. We need to gather reference material and compile a style sheet.

At this point, we know what the character will look like and we have a pretty good idea of where to start. What I like to do next is compile a style sheet to hold all the relevant images I find while collecting my reference material. The Internet, with its unlimited image resources, is an excellent source for the gathering of material. Other great sources are magazines and even DVDsyou can get references from anywhere, really.

Looking at the information on our characters so far, we can see that Kila is a casual, average-looking girl in ripped jeans and a T-shirt. So to start, we can go to one of the many Internet search engines that have the option to search for images, and do a search for "ripped jeans" or simply "jeans." After quickly scanning the results for anything relevant and grabbing it, we move on to the next item of clothing we want to design, and so on and so forth. Maybe we even add a belt of some sort. After we have enough references for her clothing, we can move on to her hairstyle, makeup, and other elements. The earlier bio table specifies a large, gothic tattoo, so we look for references on tattoos. The main idea of a style sheet is to gather every image you will need into one location, and you then only need to refer to this when you begin to sketch. The style sheet is also useful for showing to others, to give them a feel for the style of the character.

TIP

Good Web sites for clothing images are online catalogs and shopping sites. These contain images of people in various poses wearing entire outfits; these pictures can also be useful references for your concept drawings.


Once you have all the images you need, you can simply load them all into Photoshop and compile them into one large image, usually an 8.5" by 11" sheet at a resolution of 300 dpi. Then print it, and it's ready for you to use. Don't be afraid to compile a number of style sheets if you feel you need them. Or, if you are lucky and have access to a larger-format printer, produce one to that size.

Figure 1.1 shows an example of a style sheet layout. (Unfortunately, due to copyright restrictions, I cannot show the actual images I compiled for Kila and Grae but this should give you a general idea.)

Figure 1.1. Sample layout for a style sheet



    Design

    We are now at the final stage, designyou are now ready to begin drawing. Although the first two stages of research and preparation may seem like a lot of work, believe meit is worth it. Without the proper preparation, you could end up stumbling ahead blindly, but having help at hand early on will keep you from falling later. It's trite, but true: "If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail!"

    Let's have a look at some of the key points to consider when fleshing out the design of your character.

    • A Good, Fresh Style A strong visual style is important and must remain consistent throughout the whole design. Coming up with an original style can be difficult; don't be surprised if, whatever your character looks like, someone in the approval list will comment on how "it looks like such-and-such." Try not to directly copy an existing style, and instead use a mixture of different influences to come up with something original.

    • Contrast Among Characters When designing a series of characters, it is important to have contrast among them. Try not to make any two characters too much alike. A good way to check the success of your concept in terms of contrast is to line up your characters and switch off the lights so the characters are only visible in silhouette. Can you tell who is who?

    • Asymmetry To make your design more interesting, make sure the character is not completely symmetrical. Variation is the key, just as it is in the real people all around you. No one's features are completely symmetrical.

    • Appeal Your character has to be appealing to its target audience. If the game is aimed at young children, reflect this in your design by including bright colors and outrageous proportions. Make the characters fun to look at as well as play with.

    • Color The colors of your character can say a lot about them. Darker colors tend to represent evil or a rebellious nature; brighter colors are usually associated with a good, pure person.

    • Proportions The size and scale of your character can add greatly to the desired style. As a rule of thumb, a realistic humanoid character tends to be around eight heads high. Looking at the comparison in Figure 1.2, you can see the proportions of a more heroic, stylized male character. He would have a slightly smaller head but much larger shoulders than the average figure. The legs would be longer, but in contrast his torso would be shortened and his waist smaller.

      Figure 1.2. Male character style comparison


      Figure 1.3 illustrates the difference between a realistic and stylized female. The more stylized version has longer legs, a smaller waist, andyep, you guessed it, a larger chest. In the face she has more pronounced cheekbones, larger eyes and eyelashes, plus more voluptuous lips than the realistic version.

      Figure 1.3. Female character style comparison


      With cartoon characters, you can play around with the numbers, changing them drastically to achieve exaggerated proportions. But a good starting point is to have the overall size of your character around three heads high. This will give them a larger head in proportion to the body, so add to this contrast by increasing the size of the hands and feet (Figure 1.4). If they are meant to be cute, you can give them large eyes, too.

      Figure 1.4. Example of cartoon character proportions


    • Anatomy A good knowledge of anatomy is essential when creating characters. Understanding the basics of muscle and bone structure will help you shape your figures, making them more realistic and correctly proportioned. Having a good selection of anatomy books to refer to is always a good idea.

    Your Early Sketches

    Using your style sheets, you can now begin to roughly sketch out some ideas. Take your time if you have it, and spend a few days playing around with ideas. Figure 1.5 shows a few early sketches I produced for Kila; you can probably see the progression of her design and the deep contrast between the first idea and her eventual look.

    Figure 1 5. Brainstorm sheet for Kila


    While designing Kila, I tried to make her look normal but with subtle differences. Early on, I gave her wild hair and extravagant clothing, but this all looked over the top. I also tried to tone down the amount of symmetry she originally had. Notice that her hair is now longer on one side, and across her waist the belt and sash cross from opposite directions.

    Figure 1.6 shows the sketches I produced while creating the concept for Grae. My initial idea was to have Kila visible inside his chest, with all the tendrils wrapped around her. I eventually dropped this idea, first because of polygon restrictions, and secondly because it could have caused problems when animating.

    Figure 1.6. Brainstorm sheet for Grae


    Once you feel confident and comfortable with an idea, you can create a cleaner piece, which you then show to your lead artist and game designer. Again, this should be a quick image to give an idea of the design. It's likely your collaborators will want it revised; you can pretty much be sure your first idea will not be the one they like.

    If you have the time and are given the freedom to do so, why not render some nice color pieces like the ones in Figures 1.7 and 1.8. Some companies encourage this step. They also like you to present the characters in a well-arranged sheet showing the final render along with a few sketches. These summary sheets look professional and impressive, and at the end of the day you will end up with a nice piece of artwork to go in your portfolio.

    Figure 1.7. Kila renders


    Figure 1.8. A complete render for Grae


    Creating the Model Sheets

    Great! They love your idea and give you the go ahead! But before you or someone else starts to model, you need to create a few model sheets to work from. These sheets show the character in many different ways; they are the blueprints for building the character.

    Imagine someone else is going to be building Kila, and plan out everything for that person.

    First of all, you should produce a turnaround view (Figure 1.9). The basic images included in this are a front view, side view, and rear view. You can also include a three-quarter view if you have time. If there are any design areas about which you can already be specific, or if you feel something needs more explanation, include these specifics in this turnaround sheet.

    Figure 1.9. Kila model sheet, turnaround view


    Notice that the silhouettes for the front and back views are the same. You may be able to make out faint lines across the image; these are important because you need the proportions to be the same for each angle.

    To help the person who is going to model your character, you can produce a head sheet like the one in Figure 1.10. This is like the turnaround view sheet but focuses on the head's front and side views along with any additional information needed.

    Figure 1.10. Kila head sheet


    Whew! With concepting complete, you should have a well thought out and great looking character to work with. So put your crayons away and boot up your computerit's time to build your creation in glorious 3D.