Nowadays, AI is doing the bulk of the work in an increasing number of creative fields.
It’s gotten to the point where it seems that making new characters for a game from scratch is going the way of the Dodo any moment now.
That said, unlike the unfortunate Mauritian bird, the art of good ole sketching is still very much alive and well.
Mercifully, there’s a strong incentive out there in the art community to keep this crucial initial step in the creative process afloat and relevant.
Now, you’ll struggle nowadays to find a game studio that will make their artists draw 24-frames-per-second game animations by hand.
That said, many of the same principles of character creation still remain the way they were before.
Drawing by hand, whether on a tablet or on paper, is still the preferred way of making a character come to life for most artists.
In this article, we’re going to explain why.
As you will see, there’s much more to hand-drawing than just a fleeting daydream of being one of those old-timey cartoonists wearing anti-stain white sleeves and working for Walt Disney 70 years ago.
Here’s the deal.
… or making pretty much anything visual and remotely creative.
If you’re trying to make a character that fends off wave upon wave of crab-like evil creeps, giving him or her a sword might be a good idea.
Or a machine gun.
Or that blue squishy tomato-looking thing that you can throw at an enemy to make them your ally (and also berserk), like you can do in Bioshock.
The point is – the concept art of a game character comprises much more than just the visuals.
It, in a way, showcases their personality, identity, and can even give a hint to what their storyline might be like.
A game character will have to work well within the game environment.
Their size and body shape have to match the dynamics of the surrounding objects and respect the game’s physics.
For this reason, one of the most crucial tasks of concept artists is to create a character within proportions that are unique and attractive.
Also, these features have to fit well with the rest of the game.
Picking a theme for a character, in a visual sense, means choosing the dominant colors, the intensity of the contrast, and other details of the sketch.
The catch, however, is that in doing so, you are also, to a large extent, determining the character’s personality and whole vibe.
So, if you pick a darker theme with black, deep purple, and perhaps some splashes of lighter purple as the dominant hues, you’ll get a mysterious and even ominous character.
On the other hand, if you go with vibrant, clear-cut colors and simple round shapes – you’ll get something visually along the lines of Super Mario bros.
… towards his or her environment, other characters, and even life, in general, can be read off of their face.
Just like in real life, facial expression plays a major role in how we perceive a cartoon or a computer game character.
A determined, almost-frowning face will tell a story of a rugged past, perhaps present, of a bounty hunter, assassin, or villain.
A cheeky, smiley face with a glimmer in the eye will, on the other hand, tell a story of an Aladdin-like trickster, a funny person, or a likable thug.
Of course, the way a character interacts with the world and their body language will also give the player an idea of what this avatar is like.
Maybe the character has a gentle giant kind of vibe.
Or, we’re talking about a short and nimble character that’s nevertheless as aggressive as a mink.
The way the body of a character is portrayed is crucial for their later development.
For a player to want to play a game, the central character they’re controlling has to look interesting and do fun stuff.
This can be achieved in a wide variety of ways.
Think of this principle as the peacock mantis shrimp of game development.
Does a peacock mantis shrimp look interesting? – ‘Yes.’
Does a peacock mantis shrimp do cool stuff? – It has the fastest punch in the animal kingdom and can break aquarium glass with ease – so, another emphatic ‘Yes.’
Maybe your character has a barcode on the back of his bald head, dual-wields two silenced desert eagles, and kills people for money.
Or maybe he’s sporting a 1960’s retro-futuristic heavy-duty diving suit like the protagonist in Bioshock 2. (Oh, and everyone calls him ‘Big Daddy’, for good measure.)
Whatever the physical and occupational peculiarities of the game avatar, a good starting sketch will lay out the foundation to make a potential player fall for the finished version of it.
A well-thought-out 3D drawing of a person can affect the atmosphere within the game.
Of course, when we say ‘a person,’ we also count on the various anthropomorphic creatures that have roughly a human frame and human-like facial features.
Adding a wink to a character’s facial expression and pairing it up with a slightly quizzical smile can make the atmosphere more sensually charged, so to speak.
Having your cowboy character postured up, ready to fire his gun in a duel, reveals that they live in a rough and unforgiving, possibly Old West-style game universe.
Also, it suggests that some stuff is going down any time now.
Possibly at 12, as well.
… or it could be a 2D drawing in the beginning stages of the character development – it’s the same principle.
Conjuring up a new game character is not just a matter of coming up with a 3D drawing of a person and strapping a gun or two to the poor drawing’s belt.
Hoping they’ll have the stomach to use it once the blood-thirsty crab creeps come marching in won’t help the character much against a team of angry and dissatisfied game execs and storyboard guys.
The thing is, in the beginning stages of character development, it’s not so much the in-game villains the artist needs to fend off.
It’s not selling the idea of the character convincingly enough to the game producers and the other bosses upstairs involved, that needs to be worried about.
If we take just mobile gaming into consideration, we can see a massive increase in revenue in the last couple of years. It’s no wonder that game creators nowadays have high expectations of their team members.
Anyway, in this section, we will describe what a 3D drawing of a person can bring to the table in terms of character development.
These 3D (or 2D) drawings can truly be instrumental in driving home the idea of a character to whoever is in charge of making the game.
The same applies to the players, too, by the way.
Some well-presented concept art is sometimes all it takes to kick-start a funding campaign for a game.
After all, the players are the ultimate critics of any game, so impressing them should be the ultimate goal of a game avatar creator.
Also, taking one brief glance at a gargantuan just-shy-of-200-billion-US-dollars-a-year global gaming industry revenue will give you another idea of why making good games matters to producers.
Here are some of the hallmarks of the game avatar creation process.
Representing possibly the most bitter-sweet fact about making a new game character is – there’s no distinct recipe of how to do it.
A good starting point that many artists justifiably resort to, though, would be making a 2D or 3D drawing of a person or some other entity.
What a concept artist has in the beginning is typically a bullet point list of features that the game’s creator came up with.
This will usually inform the artist of the general appearance and the attitudes of the character, but not much else.
Often, these instructions are terse and lack detail.
It is at such times that the artist is expected to step up and grab the creative bull by the horns.
This is where a 3D drawing of a person truly shines.
It allows the artist to meet the requirements set by the commissioner, or the game creator, and to infuse the avatar with uniqueness and charm that only the visual artist can give it.
Once the artists have their brainwaves and the character is slowly but surely moving past its starting stage, there are all kinds of creative pitfalls to watch out for.
It’s easy to get caught up in all the cool ways a character can be improved.
Yeah, a sewer rat with a bad attitude and an arbalest shooting poisoned darts – a cool enough concept by the game creator.
But what about – a sewer rat riding a raccoon, and they’re both shootin’ darts and are up to no good, and the raccoon is also riding a turtle?
To prevent accidentally re-creating the sewer version of Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten out of what was supposed to be a simple mean rodent, an artist must show restraint.
In a way, the restrictions imposed by the game creator are a blessing in disguise.
It allows the artist to focus on the basics and gradually add detail without the peril of veering off too much to the side.
If you were to draw a TF2-style soldier and add it to a Counter Strike game – the results could be briefly humorous.
That said, the poor TF2 Americana-style G.I. Joe soldier would probably get instantly smoked the second he rears his comically large head beyond the safety of the Dust II Mercedes-Benz.
It’s because his character design would stick out too much.
For this reason, a well-made hand sketch will be a great reference point for how the character will look toward the end stages of game development.
All in all, whether you’re developing a character that’s an anthropomorphic fox, or a sword-wielding human-like elf with pointy ears – a hand-drawn sketch will be a great place to start.
A couple of oval shapes that represent the body, the head, and the hands can be all it takes to inspire you to create the outline of an awesome avatar. If you do the rest well, you’ll be rewarded with a faithful player base that will look at your creation for years to come.
Travis Dillard is a business consultant and an organizational psychologist based in Arlington, Texas. Passionate about marketing, social networks, and business in general. In his spare time, he writes a lot about new business strategies and digital marketing for Seo Turnover.