Characters serve as the foundation of any story, whether it’s a game, novel, or movie. They are the starting point around which an entire world is created. Lidiia Shyshkina (pictured), Character Concept Artist at Room 8 Studio, unveils the process of character development and offers her tips on creating visually captivating heroes that resonate with audiences.
Character creation begins with a concept. It represents an idea rather than a detailed picture or illustration, and therefore, it doesn’t require excessive rendering or explicit shading and lighting. Character design concepts can vary in delivery based on the specifics of each project. In some cases, it goes as a series of rough sketches, with a few received final touches, while in others, it is a full-fledged linear design presented with turnarounds and cloth elements.
Regarding the design itself, the project requirements can cover a range of aspects, such as colour restrictions, the necessity for style combinations, a specific in-game interface to fit in, a hint of a story time period, or even ensuring accurate historical authenticity.
The approach also varies depending on the studio or customer you are working with. Some offer complete creative freedom with just a few reference points, while others require strict adherence to guidelines. Therefore, concept artists need to be flexible and adapt their ideas to align with the project’s needs and workflow.
The final assessment, however, rests with the viewer. It’s the audience who ultimately decides whether the characters are a hit or a miss. So, put yourself in their shoes and consider what would resonate with them the most.
If the project’s target audience consists of Saturday morning cartoon kids, then opting for a simple, colourful, and even eccentric-looking character is the way to go. However, if you’re designing a character for the next big comic book movie targeting adults in their 20s and 30s, a more realistic approach is likely to fit better.
The character begins as a blank canvas, lacking any features or narrative. It’s the details that bring the concept to life, allowing a completely different image to emerge with a single change.
For example, adding a skull and a flask suggests an alchemist with dark magic vibes. The combination of a flask and a book brings to mind potions and mystical witchcraft. Introducing a flask with herbs like cornflower and chamomile gives the impression of an apothecary or herbalist doctor.
Aside from the characters, each virtual world encompasses histories, politics, policies, economies, conflicts, and diverse environmental factors. This complexity creates a system where multiple components interact and rely on one another. When working on design, it’s crucial to ensure it aligns with the overall world.
Let’s take weapons as an example. They not only reflect the owner’s personality but also reveal the history of the character’s community, their political affiliations, and the evolution of armed conflict in their world. The better you grasp the world’s cultural and political history, the more realistic and believable your characters will be.
It’s common for artists to fall in love with their artworks, given the considerable amount of time and effort they invest in perfecting their designs. In a production environment, it’s important to keep in mind that not everyone may love your work as much as you do. But their approval is key to moving forward. That’s where feedback comes in.
The customer can ask you to change a detail of the clothes, redraw the weapon completely, or even replace your character with a snake (no joke, this happened to me). But don’t let it discourage you. Remember, character creation is not just about the final result but also the process. Embrace each step, and don’t allow revisions to diminish the value of this creative journey.