Course overview Course overview
Develop what makes a quality character
This course will teach you basic as well as advanced techniques in character creation. Students will explore the essence of a character by developing that character’s attitude and digging deep into what makes the character feel real and grounded. Visual storytelling is key in the video game and cinematic worlds, and students will learn how to portray all aspects of a character in their attire as well as the small details, such as pose, attitude, and flavor. Students will learn how to execute a powerful character from start to finish, with focus on details, lighting, communication, and clarity.
Character Design for Film and Games WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
The more you know, the better.
Real heroes don't wear capes they teach
Marco Nelor is from a small town called Shreveport, Louisiana. After attending college for 2d studio art, he furthered his art education at the Massive Black Safehouse Atelier. Shortly after, he was recruited to Ensemble studios where he worked on his first video game, Halo Wars. Upon closure of Ensemble studios, he fled to Netherrealm studios, where he would work on his dream game, Mortal Kombat. During the weekends, Marco freelances for Magic the Gathering, creating card art, and is an avid foodie and gym goer.
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May 4, 2020 - Jul 20, 2020
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Interview with Samantha Combaluzier
VFX artist Samantha Combaluzier branches out into character design, taking us through the process of how she crafted her spell-slinging Warlock over 8 weeks in Marco Nelor's Character Design for Film & Games course.
Good day everyone! I’m Samantha Combaluzier. I grew up in the South of France near the Mediterranean sea. I have worked in the VFX industry for around 10 years and I had the privilege to work on various films and TV series (Fantastic Beast, Game Of Thrones, etc.). My artistic background comes from graphic design, illustration, conception, and 3D. Creativity is a fuel that needs some guidance and CGMA has helped me improve my artistic skills and techniques. I chose the Character Design for Film & Games course with Marco Nelor because I wanted to achieve a more realistic look in my art and speed-up my process.
Research & Development
The first pass of research and development is important to familiarize yourself with your subject. Marco acted as an Art Director and gave us quite a few character descriptions to pick from. I selected the “Warlock” as I wanted to depict a magical male character with the power of lightning (or something else) in his hands. As an imaginative backstory, he is a Warlock who worships the Thunder Wolf as his deity. His prop is inspired by the Vajra: a weapon of the Indian Vedic rain and thunder-deity Indra. The research helped me to figure out the character’s essence.
Developing some silhouettes was key to help visualize the his iconic figure and presence. I was inspired by werewolves, shaman designs, medieval armours, and magicians. The goal is to create something that feels right for you. The first sketches and doodles were just to work the materials altogether (from the research) as well as experiment with variations. Thinking of the story behind your character will ground him in some sort of reality. And the research phase is extremely important to nurture your designs and find the right shapes.
Narrowing Down the Selection
Afterwards, we narrowed down with Marco the silhouettes, focusing only on the costume design this time. There was still space for development and detailing; it was really a matter of selecting the most interesting sketch, and I totally agreed with Marco’s insightful comments, as we were evaluating the potential of each silhouette. The development of shapes was quite promising and it was easier to imagine the character this way. Then, we selected three possibilities to create a gesture from.
As we continued to work on the Warlock, another pass of research was done only for his Head. I wanted his face to resemble and share some facial properties of a wolf. With this approach, he was going to wear those distinctive attributes : long hair, big ears, a well furnished beard (fur) and clever eyes. Among all the references, five actors were the most influential in the design development.
Playing with different facial features was very interesting and fun. The idea was not to copy an existing character face, but to use it as inspiration to reach a design which felt right. I started with a serious expression and then softened it, and gave it more definition.
With Marco, we selected three versions and placed each face over a rough sketch of the shoulder pads. I finally chose version B with the eyes of C and polished a final version. The salt and pepper hair look was a design choice because it reminded me of a wolf bicolour fur.
Character Through Gesture and colour
Finding a gesture for him was a challenge, so I had to pose in order to feel what kind of presence he should portrait. Drawing him with this physical awareness made him more realistic. In his action pose, he is not wasting any movement or energy since he is like an older wolf that knows what he is doing and waiting for the right moment to pounce.
Then, it was time to test a few colour palettes over the black and white sketch. I used overlays and colour layer effect in Photoshop to test some colour palettes over the detailed black and white render.
Final Glamour Shot
For the final design, it was a journey to paint and to push the final rendering as far as possible. Most of the modifications were painted in black and white before applying colours. It was a very dynamic back and forth with Marco to make sure I learned from my mistakes and improve on that. I followed and re-painted all the design elements that were off, and I used a few photos for texture and detailing.
The biggest challenge for me was the armour and cape, but Marco gave me detailed advice to help me finalize the look. In general, I had to redefine some of the key elements of the character to give him more readability. The armour was implemented with the “Thunder wolf” theme as you can see from the shoulders pads. From the original designs until the last steps, the improvement was huge, Thank you Marco.
The piece ended up very well for the Warlock and I’m very pleased with the result. The dynamic and flow of the character works because he seems alive. I learned a lot by exploring various possibilities, by sketching, rendering, and how to push the quality up into the final work. I want to thank CGMA for being such a wonderful resource for artists and teaching us how to improve. I had the chance to learn from their fantastic teachers and I enjoyed their wisdom. Thank you CGMA!
Interview with Omar Gamal
Omar Gamal is a passionate character artist who takes us through his thoughtful variations and deliberate details, capturing the indomitable Ersa in Marco Nelor’s Character Design for Film and Games.
My name is Omar Gamal. I was born in Cairo, Egypt, on the 24 th of September 1992. I majored in Architecture when I was in college, but right after graduation, I realized that my heart lies in graphic and character design. I worked in Media and Advertising for 5 complete years and when the right time came along, in 2018 to be more exact, I decided to leave my job and get a fresh dive into concept art, and that was when I signed up for the CGMA character design course for film and games with the remarkable Marco Nelor. I can’t come to describe how captivating this course was; it made me realize that no matter what, I’ll always still have a lot to acquire and learn, and the cherry on top of the cake was how Nelor challenged everyone onboard to always push their limits. To me, this was not just a course; it was rather a fresh and an exhilarating start to a different aspect of my career.
RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT
When I first started off the project, picking the brief wasn’t the easiest thing, which eventually led me to start a research on scouts. I started reading about war scouts throughout history and the kind of equipment they carried around throughout battles. I envisioned my character to be a female scout, more of a survivor than a tanker or a frontline warrior. When I imagined what kind of equipment she would have, I thought if she can survive in extreme conditions, then she needs to also have a way of communication with the mother base to teleport the news. There were a lot of keywords running through my head at that time; like agility, stealth, slyness, elegance, beauty, and I also wanted to add a touch of masculinity that the character must have acquired throughout her service.
My first stop for inspiration was Pinterest. I started with gathering anything that my eyes could lay on, be it a word, a bracelet, or even an artistic woven rug. At that point, I didn’t have a clear idea of what my character would look like or how her attire will turn out to be, I was just gathering ideas and inspirations. I still remember Marco telling us to clear our minds, and just search for things that may inspire us, and that was the key to everything that was created from this point onwards.
SKETCHES FOR CLIENT
By the time I approached the second week, I was starting to have a rough idea about the outlines that define my character, especially when it comes to attire. After narrowing down my research to 4 main ideas, each idea would be translated into a sketch that carries characteristics and manners of the character. I wasn’t yet thinking about the materials in which her attire would be made of, especially that at this stage, she was still wearing only weapons and gadgets. One of the main attire ideas of the 4 sketches was to dress in a military prestigious way, influenced by how Renaissance warriors looked like, with a bit of a mystical depth to the character. I wanted my character to look both firm yet gypsy; to serve the idea of her being a scout, and I wanted to show this in the way she styles her hair and in her attire, which had to be lightly armored to help her movements, with bits of heavy ornamented pieces to give the needed depth to her cultural background.
NARROWING DOWN THE SELECTION
After discussing the rough sketches of the character with Marco, we mainly agreed that the character should be more agile, light armored, and should not be wearing multiple items in terms of attire or equipment, to make her movement easier. I took that conclusion as the main variable that I used to narrow my sketches down. It was then clear in my head that the main shape of the character will be controlled by her values and traits and how the environment surrounding her will be reflected on her attire.
I refined my sketches once again, I had two main ideas at that time; gypsy archer and high rank military scout. I started researching the very fine details that would make her notable; like her emblem. I had to do some close-ups on fabrics, ranking design, weapons and clothing details, starting with the cape or the heavy layered jacket, all the way to the belt buckles and arm pads.
By the time Week 4 approached us, I had almost everything figured out the attitude of my character. I had to go through a lot of inspiration to grasp what I want as a facial expression, and that was my next challenge. My character is a high military rank scout, she is not just firm and sharp; she is also a sneaky roamer. Being a gypsy nomad, she may not see her lands for months; she spends most of the time in solitary. If I’m being frank, I wasn’t very lucky at this week with my 1st trial for the facial expression. The face is always the hardest part when it comes to character design, because you always need to tell the story of a character only by its face. I had to sketch a lot of facial expressions and dig more through my character to see which features and values should illustrate her face.
Her attire, her identity, her weapons, all of that was put together forming the true essence of my character at this stage. What was left was to finetune all those elements along with adjusting her pose. I pictured the stand to be more of a firm static military-type pose, yet I still had to add some dynamic elements to make the pose more intriguing; like the lifted-up knees and the way she holds her sword over her shoulder -which needs to subtly give the impression of how heavy the sword is.
I also wanted to show why she carries such a heavy sword through her journey, which also adds up to her backstory that the sword is some sort of an inherited family weapon. I also had to design some elements in particular; for instance, I used some Zbrush rough outs to make the sword, and then had it photobashed in my final piece. I don’t usually tend to go for photobashing, but in this particular scenario it saved me a lot of time in some pattern detailing; like her jacket, some cloth cuts on her pants and some fabric detailing as well.
PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER
The final week was all about focusing more on materials and colors. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out some details that may appear as minor, but it makes all the difference, like her boots material or her shoulder armor piece. I made a lot of research on fabrics and how they would look like on a jacket or on a pair of pants. Once I had some ideas, I spent the time remaining trying to fit this materials on my wall piece. I’ve always been fascinated with material studies, and those weeks were full of various kinds of materials, whether hard and soft. I got to try them out on the costume attire that I created, and I got to study how rough or reflective they can get; to give meaning to the whole outfit.
Character designers always tend to make their design full of details, which is not always idealistic if it doesn’t serve the big idea. There had been many challenges that I’ve faced during these weeks; some of the biggest challenges were how to portray my character through everything that is happening around her, what should her environment be, how much light should she be exposed to, all those questions
OVERALL VIEW ON THE CHARACTER
Ersa stands shorter than the regular female. She has a petite physique but every strand of muscle carries explosive energy within. She carries a rapier by her side and a longbow on her back. The rapier has been enchanted by destructive runes so that although she doesn’t usually use it, but when she does she only has to use it once. As for the longbow, it was carved from a single piece of elvish wood. The wood has elastic properties which gives the bow twice the range and almost four times the power of a regular longbow. As she needs to camp for days at a time, she uses a holding bag which was found in an ancient ruin. The bag has a storage capacity of a meter square although the bag itself is only a handful. She places the bag in front of her rapier so it wouldn’t hinder her draw On the other side of the rapier, she has a small wooden pouch containing her wasp familiars. They are a breed of wasps engraved with magical runes which gives her the ability to see through they eyes and lets them do her bidding.
It’s never a piece of cake to be satisfied with the art piece that you are creating, especially if you spend so much time furnishing it. At a certain point, you end up seeing only the flaws; but this art piece was different for me, I felt that I was satisfied with the outcome at the end of the course, because for the first time ever I felt that I was approaching a new level of detailing that I was never challenged enough to acquire before. It’s safe to say that I didn’t just learn new painting skills, I’ve learned a new way of thinking; a methodology to crack any brief, and not just in relation to character design, which is a gem that I must owe to Marco.
Omar would like to thank Marwa El Beheiry for helping him with reviewing and translating his interview.
Interview with Hugo Araujo
Hugo Araujo is a freelance illustrator who shows us how his cleric came to stand tall in Character Design for Film and Games.
My name is Hugo Araujo, I am from Brazil and work as a freelance illustrator. Most of my work is done for didactic books of several publishers. I drew two authorial comics in the beginning of my career and made some small independent comic projects abroad. I like the conceptual aspect of illustration and have always been curious about the creation process behind the characters of films and games. My intention is to focus on concept art for this industry.
Research & Development
I am usually more interested in fantasy rather than science-fiction (but I also like sci-fi). So I picked the cleric description to work on. I was inspired by real religious cultural elements, that are already a rich source of reference -from Christianity to Shamanism. And the armor design came from the old anime series Shurato, inspired by Hinduism, was also an influence for me.
I tried to take my references from real clerical costumes and designs. I could not get away from the idea that the character belongs to a medieval fantasy word, someone made for a game. Since I didn’t want to give him weapons, I felt that he needed at least a knife in the belt to protect himself if he was living in this word.
Sketches for a Client & Narrowing Down the Selection
I wanted his silhouette to remind me of a church cleric more than a warrior, like a monk. So the long tunic skirt and rounded helmet became essential.
My first design was kind of disastrous. Marco Nelor pointed out its crooked posture, and when he said he liked the accessories in the other sketches, I knew that I should follow that design path.
Exploring the Character
My character, he is a cleric from a kingdom that has a big connection with nature and uses flora and fauna to produce curative spells. His armor protects his body from external menaces when he goes to the battlefield to help warriors. He is sort of stern monk.
For his gesture, it shows that his curative function needs an active and courageous posture during war. A cleric is not a very dynamic character, so I used the light and smoke to add more of an impact.
The accessories were essential to make this character interesting, they reveal his interest in sorcery and skill with daggers. I adjusted the design of the rod and added a sacred book to his belt for the final.
Final Glamour Shot
I thought about the colors and how they could be used to show the important parts of the design. The red helmet distinguished from the armor was my intention since the first sketches. The head is a defining part of a cleric costume since is the closest part of the body to heaven, and put together with the red painted face, somewhat shamanic, gives him a darker look and contrast with the eyes.
My biggest challenge was about the style of illustration. I wanted to give him more cartoonish or caricature features but I ended up making him with real proportions – I found it boring because it is not what I really wanted. It is still a challenge for me.
Certainly, I think I improved my rendering skills from taking this course. I never before tried the process of adding colors after the rendering – this is a good choice when you want to focus on the shapes and values.
The steps of gathering references before starting sketching and the use of photos to create textures are the two main things I am applying in my work now.
Now, I am satisfied with the design, colors, texture of my art piece. But it also has to have a personality.
See more of his work at hugoaraujo.artstation.com
Interview with Max Kennedy
Artist Max Kennedy talks to us about how he created his firece female rogue in Marco Nelor's Character Design for Film and Games
Hello! My name is Max Kennedy. I started to draw in my childhood and then it became my hobby and then my regular work. I have some special education in traditional art but now I want to learn more about digital drawing, especially about characters design. Usually my work is digital illustrations with different themes and styles, both fanart and original characters. I decided to take this course because it seemed interesting and very useful to learn how to create original characters. In my future, I hope to find more interesting projects based on what I've learned here.
Research & Development
There are many different things, from novels and movies to videogames and original comics. In addition, it was some random research in blogs with photo and images. Usually I start my work with research to find interesting ideas, details and inspiration for each new project. And this time it was really exciting to research references for Rogue.
Narrowing Down the Selection
I chose some sketches from Week 1 to make clearer, added more details and special things to make the images more expressive. There were a couple different variants to choose the one to work with it. My imageboard was very helpful to me during this week. In addition, I found some more references for the new details. I really appreciated each of the instructor’s feedback. There were many useful tips and it usually was encouraged me to continue my drawing process. Step by step Marco helped me to make more interesting outfits and fix my mistakes in human anatomy.
I chose a fantasy Rogue/Scout character and I tried to make it a little different than I was used to seeing them. I decided to refuse from such things as hooded cloaks and make my character looks more like some wild Amazon warrior, more powerful, a fury, and more heavy than the stealthy and trickster ones. I chose a warlike, confident pose, with a weapon in the foreground to remind us that we are dealing with a cold-blooded killer. She can remain calm until she needs to rush into battle if it is necessary. I made a few different sketches to choose the one I'd prefer for my character.
It was very interesting to make various head sketches to find emotions that can tell more about my character. During the sketching, I thought a lot about my character's story and background. She is a rogue assassin with a piercing gaze that hides her dark past. She lost her family in the fire of the war and left on her own. That is why she’s a pretty introverted person and can be really ruthless to enemies. However, for someone she trusts she can be very sincere and faithful.
Final Glamour Shot
The final rendering was both interesting and difficult to me. It was a new experience to work with the character, minding all the elements, balancing lights and shadows, anatomy and expression. I think the biggest challenge was adding more details while finding the right balance of lights and shadows to give form to the character. During the process, I was trying to create clear shadows like in my previous sketches. In the future I plan to work more on this skill. In addition, I guess it was a good for me.
My character’s design changed a lot to from the beginning. It was not only the number of details, but also the character's story, which I try to tell through the drawing. Each accessory is important to show her background. The weapon can tell us about fighting style. Other small details such as the ethnic fashion reflects the character's life and habits. Her style included things such as feathers woven into hair, beaded necklaces, metal claw rings and a "war-paint" make-up style. Light leather armor makes her pretty fast in fighting, and large metal shoulder armor, decorated with horns, signifies her belonging to a specific clan of assassins.
I think I'm really satisfied with my art piece because I can say that there's not only technical problems I solved, but something more personal, emotional, that can be found in it. I've gained a lot of new skills, such as developing special details and textures for each character. Also lots of new digital drawing and rendering techniques and of course working with light and shadows. After this course, I really started to look at my work differently and remember the helpful tips, which Marco told and showed us in the video lectures, and am using them in my work now.
The Step by Step of Sindriira
Interview with Brendan Milos
Concept Artist Brendan Milos gives us the breakdown on the course Character Design for Film and Games and uses all the tools he can to render his D&D inspired character.
Hello! My name is Brendan Milos and I’ve been working as a game artist in the San Francisco bay area for the past 10 years. I have professional experience doing almost anything in the art and design pipeline, but my passion is in character design. I decided to take Character Design for Films and Games taught by Marco Nelor because this is the area that I am most interested in honing my skills. Marco is incredibly talented and has been an excellent mentor in how to design compelling characters.
This article outlines my character design process for an original character, Sindriira Sh’laar, the dark elf death cleric. Hope you enjoy!
Research & Development
It’s important to start with a character write up. This narrative describes who the character is and what they look like. Marco created six character write ups in science fiction and fantasy as starting points. I started with the Cleric/Warlock template and refined it by researching this character class in Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). Pen and paper RPGs have rich world building and easy character creation steps that assist in refining the design.
Sindriira Sh’laar is a dark elf born into nobility, raised on the value of tradition, and trained in the arcane arts. The dark elves revere vampires and so Sindriira received what is known as the Kiss of Lilith as part of the final ritual in her training. With the merest gaze she can freeze the viewer into a state of awe, bending them to her will. Her goal in life is to become the house matriarch as a way to continue her society’s values and influence many future generations.
For gathering reference, I usually go to Pinterest first. I like to gather reference for every aspect of the character including outfit and accessories, personality, and some figure model reference. My personal taste as an artist is inspired by Castlevania, The Matrix, Vampire: The Masquerade, Magic: The Gathering, H.R. Giger, and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, so that influences how I mold the reference into my own designs.
All of my digital painting is done in Photoshop. For the thumbnail sketching, I explore as widely as possible. Each subsequent step in the design process is about narrowing the list of potential outcomes so the first step should be about idea generation and not editing. Set a few broad design stakes in the ground (i.e. vampire, female, royalty, mage) and then sketch as broadly as possible with those constraints. Thumbnails are about ideas over anatomy. Don’t sweat the details, just focus on initial read through silhouette and shapes communicated through solid blocks of value.
Sketches for a Client
For this particular project, the better designs were created in the back half of the sketching process. This usually happens for me because I get all the obvious ideas out of my head first then explore designs that I wouldn’t normally. Contrast between large and small silhouettes create balance, while accessories like crowns and capes convey regal status. I like to send out options to other artist friends as a way to get feedback from several people. When I hear a pattern of feedback, that helps me to objectively view the pros and cons of each design.
The work done for week 1 helped the selection and refinement process. When it comes to making art, any process I can follow that breaks down into granular parts helps me achieve consistent results, even if I’m having an off day. Week 1 was about establishing design constraints and sketching as wide as possible within them, and week 2 was about analyzing and selecting what’s working and what’s not. Just like writing and editing are broken into different phases, breaking those steps into separate weeks is important.
Narrowing Down the Selection
Marco pointed out a few helpful aspects that helped me choose my final design. First, the proportions of my characters weren’t heroic enough. Most figures in real life are about 7 heads tall, but a heroic character is about 9 heads tall. I extended the legs and arms, especially the thighs, in order to make my character’s pose read more realistically. Practicality needs to be considered when designing costumes. Some of the designs in week 2, especially B, have more of a costumed look rather than like a person wearing their natural, functional clothing.
The last big piece of advice that Marco conveyed was to fully develop the designs. Don’t leave big gaps in the uniform that could use a bit more design. For example, design C from week 2 had a lot of good aspects, but the torso was completely blank. Refining the design is about exploring a higher level of intentional detail after the main blocks of form have been figured out. This idea is a balancing act as there will be a point where a costume needs some larger areas of less detail.
Sindriira is arrogant, capable, confrontational, and shrewd. Conveying this personality through the proportions in her face was the main challenge of this week. I explored the narrow, angular features found in a lot of Elven characters as well as large or piercing eye shapes. Features like the drawn up eyebrows, pursed lips, and swept back hairstyle were also important to convey nobility and conscension. Doing a turnaround of the final portrait helps me figure out the form in 3D space.
Character Through Gesture
I wanted this character to look powerful and in control through her body language. The camera is at a low angle looking up at Sindriira to make her look strong. She uses her magic to levitate while bringing her whip chain around to attack in a twisting fashion. Making the character pose dynamic was a process in this class. I started with small thumbnails focusing on the gesture or energy of the pose. The figure should have contrasting angles and twists to make the pose interesting. Over the next few weeks I redrew so many aspects of the character to bring the energy of the thumbnail into the final piece. Posing is definitely something that I could improve on and is essential to communicating what a character is about.
Pushing the Pose
At this phase in class the design was headed in the right direction, but the pose was still feeling stiff. The initial method I used to pose the character involved cutting out and free transforming pieces of the standing pose like a puppet. While this method can save time in some scenarios, this meant the figure didn’t twist in perspective in the way my gesture did. I had to redraw entire sections of the character from scratch to make the pose more dynamic.
Make sure your perspective, angles, proportion, and lighting are drawn well before rendering too much. Rendering is like icing on the cake, so don’t render too soon otherwise you will end up erasing, re-drawing, and re-rendering if you don’t get these foundational aspects drawn accurately. That can waste a lot of time.
The shoulder armor was really tough for me to draw in perspective accurately. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I used Blender to 3D model the main forms in perspective. Blender is a free 3D modeling and animation program with plenty of online tutorials on YouTube. I spent an afternoon learning the basic hotkeys and making this model, taking a screenshot, and drawing on top of it back in Photoshop. Modeling software can be helpful for drawing hard surface materials in perspective.
Polishing and Rendering Techniques
#1 Take your own reference photos
Rendering is about lots of time. The more time spent rendering, the better the render. Accurate anatomical details are an important part of reaching a final, polished render. I always have better luck with rendering hands and other specific anatomical details of a pose when I take my own reference photos.
#2 Use gradient maps to color a grayscale image
For this project, we built up the forms in grayscale first before applying color. The benefit of painting this way is that it is easier to see lighting and form without the distraction of color palette. In order to give myself a jump start on transitioning to the color version, I used Gradient Maps in Photoshop. Gradient Maps are an adjustment layer where one can specify a color to replace a value. The example above shows how a first pass on the skin looks with a gradient map. This is only a first step and there was a lot of painting on top of this to get the final look of the color painting.
#3 Photobash to add detail or realism
One last technique I used was photobashing. This is a technique where an artist places stock photography or photo textures in the image as a means to save time or to get a sense of realism. The trick is getting the photo to blend in with the hand painted parts. This involves making sure that the overall color and lighting matches as well as making sure the level of detail is consistent between the photo and hand painted areas. One trick is to use a Surface Blur to reduce the noise or grain in a photo to help it blend.
#4 Listen to feedback and be persistent
Out of all the challenges I had on this project, rendering the face was the most difficult. The face and head are especially important to spend time on in order to sell the design. The face and head are the viewer’s gateway to appreciating your character. There were a few things that made the portrait difficult for me. First, the angle looking up at the face is one of the toughest to draw. Second, the character is a humanoid fantasy race, so finding that line between fantasy and anatomical realism was a difficult balancing act. Third, female faces often come with the expectation from viewers that they need to be conventionally attractive or else the design feels distracting.
I shared the work in progress with a lot of different people online and had several weeks of negative feedback regarding the face ranging from “cartoony” to “lumpy” to “ugly”. Part of being an artist means listening to feedback, even when it’s not easy, and constructively applying it.
Spending multiple weeks on one character design meant I had the opportunity to keep revising the design. Each week, Marco gave me the direction I needed to continue improving on the prior week’s efforts. The additional feedback from other artists was also invaluable. The end result is much more realized than the initial week’s design, including the use of a background to communicate the kind of world this character inhabits.
I always imagined this scene as some sort of vampire ritual. The heroine is raising her magical chalice in a toasting gesture while levitating above human livestock, draining these tortured souls of their life force. The chalice in her hand is her magical artifact. Clerics need to hold or display their magical artifact as a way to use their powers in D&D lore. The chalice was chosen as a symbol of vampires drinking blood like royalty would drink wine. The whip chain, her weapon of choice, lacerates her enemies. The more blood she consumes as a vampire, the stronger she gets. Her crown, a large cloth hairpin like two batwings, keeps her hair back out of her face. As her subjugates become weak, their remains become part of the boney spires that dot this landscape.
There’s an old saying that we never finish our projects, we only run out of time. I believe this statement to be true when it comes to being satisfied with any given art piece. That’s why I continued to work and improve the illustration after class ended. That being said, I also have to recognize when it’s good enough, let it go, and then move on to the next one. This is the best way I know to stay productive as an artist. Not perfect, but it’s finished :)
The main skills I improved on in this course are patience and persistence. Patience is number one. Be diligent in separating the phases of design, from thumbnail to render, and don’t rush the process. The more steps you split the process into, the more refined the result. Persistence is about not giving up and revising until I’m happy with the results. This class taught me that finishing projects is about being disciplined enough to work on a painting until all of it meets a certain threshold of quality.
How to design a Warlock in 8 weeks
Interview with Martin Cabrea Pavez
Martin Cabrea Pavez tell us how he took his warlock idea and transformed it into a dynamic force of nature in Character Design for Film and Games.
Hi, I am Martin Cabrea Pavez, from Paraguay. I finished my studies in Santiago de Chile and obtained my degree in Digital Animation & Special Effects. For four years, I worked as an art director and generalist artist in the development of the mobile videogames at Fhacktions, alongside a talented team of developers. The game won the Indie Price in San Francisco, and was also presented in the 2017 edition of the GDC (Game Developers Conference), in which we were amongst the best multi-player games at the Indie Price in Singapore. The game was then promoted by Apple & Google in their stores.
After this, I started working as a free-lancer creating various works in 2D & 3D for customers abroad. I find this to be somewhat complicated since both North American and European customers tend to look for people who are more specialized in one field. It is for this reason that I looked for further training in one of my favourite branches and taking up a character design course with Marco Nelor in CG Master Academy. The project I present next is a product of the course I took.
Research & Sketches
It is important to have or create a story for the character one is about to create. This helps us understand what the character is like, what the world that surrounds it is like, as well as what its backstory and objective are. I decided to bring a Warlock to life writing a short story that helped me understand how the character would be like and feel like.
The Warlock’s story
For thousands of years in the forest of Northon, horrific battles have been fought. Mother Nature has been covered in the blood of countless warriors and creatures. Polluting the landscape and leaving behind a sad and desolate spectacle. The time to fight back has come, nature has used the knowledge of the dead to create its own warrior. A deadly warlock with the sole objective of bringing havoc to those who come to harm Northon's Forest.
Searching for references is the key. Along with the step-by-step guide provided by Marco, I was able to develop my character with greater accuracy. The search for references became crucial in my work process.
With these references I started to work on the Sketches. This part is rather fast, you do not aim to have something polished but to find the essence of your character. All the same I do try to keep a definite and legible silhouette so that the result is appealing and balanced. Overall, I managed to do thirty-six thumbnails for my character.
Narrowing Down the Selection
Out of all these options I chose four to further work on and follow up the progress with the adjustments provided by Marco. Within these selections two characters remained which better adjusted to the references from the story and seemed more alluring.
The chosen Characters were number 2 & 4. Both similar, creature-like and humanoid hybrids.
Number 2’s idea was that the character was armed with different parts/limbs from warriors, animals and other creatures, which lay long dead in the forest all mixed up with fragments of nature. Something of a Frankenstein of the woods if you would. This sorceress would be more of a force of nature. Pure force and chaos lashed out violently against the enemy.
Number 4’s had an approach to that of a forest elf and creature with feline traits. A sorceress who would be able to control nature’s elements that surround it in order to defend nature itself. A fearsome foe when faced in her environment. Half-witch half-shaman, she was intended as a master of medicine potions and controller of the elements.
In the end, I decided to go with option number 2, due to the variety that I felt I could achieve with the character. Also, being able to define the role of the character in the story helped me choose it.
Since the character wears a mask, I had to base my explorations on the mask and face. This implied more work but it also led me to better define other aspects which I hadn’t thought of. For instance, if it would finally be a creature, a humanoid, an elf and so forth and so on.
After making different options I opted for Number 7; with which I could play around a darker character who, at the same time, had a human-like face. With it, I would be able to generate empathy if needed.
I presented some variations of the face so that I could better tell what she was like behind the mask. Trying, in turn, to accomplish a sombre and lost stare that at the same time would work as a feminine and delicate but demonic countenance. Which is why I chose option Number 1 at this point.
Character Through Gesture
Once I better understood how my character was like throughout the process, I realized that the initial pose did not reflect what I was trying to convey. So, in order to solve this doubt, I worked on several poses as sketches.
I chose to go with pose Number 5 because it had an interesting and clear silhouette. In addition, the pose was threatening, as I thought the character should be.
Final Glamour Shot
In this last stage, I used all I had been doing in order to get to my final result. Aiming to define the pose, the details, the colours of the character. In spite of finding myself in the final stage, I continued to use references such as fabric that would help me define the folds of the clothes and the way light would affect the material. I used bat wings as a reference for the demonic wings. As for the boots, I found old Spanish Armada leather boots. I let imagination soar with the ogre head and the Sorceress’s mask.
From start to end, the character went through many changes that aided me to simplify it and make it more consistent with what I wanted it to communicate.
My main problem was finding the right colours. After trying various tones and combinations, I chose to go with the gloomy green clothing thus relating it better with its environment. I did not want to use saturated colours so that it didn’t have a lively or joyful aspect.
Throughout the course I was able to see progress in both the development of the character and in my working method. Incorporating steps and previous investigation that allowed me to properly define what I had in mind. Still, there is much to be improved, with the difference being that now I have the theoretical tools I need in order to be able to create characters in a faster and safer way, being sure of what I want to accomplish.
To me the most important aspect of this course is the methodology and step-by-step procedures provided by Marco. With them I was able to understand the techniques behind character development and will apply them to future projects.
Currently, I use the reference and investigation steps in all my works, which enables me to enhance my imagination, justifying what produce and comprehend what lies behind each element that is to be created. I reckon it is a long process in which it is important to draw daily and research constantly.
You can see more from Martin at his sites below:
Dark Knight: what it takes to level up your skills
Interview with Tanya Podolskaia
My name is Tanya Podolskaia. I’m a 2D concept artist and illustrator based in Stuttgart, Germany. I changed my office job for an art career 3 years ago. For a couple of years I’d been doing watercolour illustrations, until I discovered the world of amazing game art. That was a game changer. Since then I devoted all my time to digital art. It was a hard period of studying new skills but it was worth it! Currently I am a concept artist in a Klasgame studio where I work on a new MMORPG game. When I was studying concept art I realized that I couldn’t push my skills further. However, a good mentor could. Marco Nelor was a great one. I remember looking at his concepts and telling myself “Yeah, I want to learn how he does it” and I really did during this course.
Research & Development
At the very beginning of the course we were given a list with character profiles. I picked a paladin/knight just because I didn’t have one in my portfolio yet. However, the more I worked on this concept the more it flashed out with its unique story. One of the most crucial lessons we were taught during the course was the importance of research. Who is your character? What kind of clothes does he wear? Every detail is important and should be thought out. I realised that previously I didn’t spend enough time on this step.
While scrolling through tons of garments, belts and some architectural details I imagined a cursed knight. He is trapped in a fairy realm and for ages was a servant of their queen. When I come up with a narrative like this, it makes design choices much easier.
Sketches for a client
The second week was all about sketching our ideas. I’ve made 10 thumbnails to figure out body proportions and the general silhouette of the character. He is supposed to be a massive guy with a huge weapon. I tried different options such as hammer, sword, mace or halberd. A lot of inspiration for the armour came from Celtic knots.
After the first round of sketching I took the best four thumbnails and started more precise drawings. Previously I really struggled on this step because I didn’t know how to achieve a good level of clarity but the week 2 demo really helped me with that. I realised that when I don’t know how something looks I start doing scribbles. That’s why week 1 research is so important. Marco also advised me to watch videos about medieval armour to get a better idea of how it functions, which really improved my designs. Finally, I completed 2 sketches for a client.
Our attention is naturally drawn to faces. As Marco told us “a good face can save mediocre concept, but a mediocre face can easily ruin everything”. We were advised to spend at least ¼ of the whole project time on the face exclusively. As I described above, my character is a cursed knight who has served the Fairy Queen for ages and become an undead. He still remembers his human life, but can’t resist the evil magic that makes him obey the Queen’s orders.
At first I quickly sketched a few faces figuring out age, hair style and the depth of decay. I wanted to achieve a good balance between undead and human looks. The great example which inspired me a lot was Shrike from “Mortal Engines”. I really like that they make this character more complex than just a stupid zombie. When I came up with a general idea of the face I did a few detailed paintings. I started with a wilder look and then added a more complex beard and hair style. Zombies don't care about themselves and these small details show that he doesn’t lose his humanity. And of course a few aggressive looks. Despite all the story behind this character he is definitely about to kick a player’s ass.
Final glamour shot
During our finals weeks we were focusing on the composition of our final piece and rendering. My personal challenge was to draw a believable pose. You always have to take into account how heavy are a weapon and armour. The best way to find the right pose is to make your own references and act like your character. For me personally these final weeks were about challenging my patience, because I had to redraw things several times, render details and push the picture to the maximum of my skill level.
If you look at my week 2 sketches you will see that the character has changed drastically. In the final picture the pose is more dynamic and the overall look more consistent. The devil's always in the details. On the first drawings his garment and belt looked too fresh, as if he bought it a few days ago. I realized that it ruins the undead feeling. I added torn edges, mud and holes to his armour which supported the look I wanted to convey. I’ve also refined my sketches from previous weeks to include them in my portfolio.
Final Dark Knight
I was really happy with my final piece. There is a big gap between what I did before the course and what I can do now. So, I’ve definitely levelled up. Have a look at my before and after I did for an old character.
In my current job I use almost everything we were taught during this course. From small tips like “number your sketches before sending them to client” to the overall pipeline. I strongly recommend this course to anyone who wants to break into the industry.
To see more from Tanya check out her websites below:
Rendering the details
Interview with Giorgia Vincenzi
Hello my name is Giorgia and I come from Modena, Italy. I have always been working in the fashion industry, but now I’m trying to follow my real passion which is drawing concepts for imaginary worlds, characters in particular. I attended the International Comics school in Florence to improve my drawing, then I found CGMA and I could not resist trying the online course Character Design for Film and Games with Marco Nelor. I chose to take this course because I was searching for a professional method of creating characters from start to finish. I thought this was a complete course with a good mentor, Marco. I really wanted to reach his artistic level in rendering characters, but I still have a long way to go!
Research & Development
I really enjoyed this first phase of the course, because many people think that concepting a character is easy and should be fast, but there’s a huge research of images and materials behind it. This helps give you the right mood and right style to the character depending on his description and narrative. Marco gave me some characters write ups in science fiction and fantasy genres and I had to choose one. I chose the Warlock template and started searching for references that could help me create my idea of a warlock. It’s important to search for references for all parts of the body in order to clarify the character and not neglect anything (for example, I did not pay attention to the feet in my moodboard).
Once I was satisfied with the creation of the moodboard, I started drawing some rough silhouettes that could convey the idea of warlock: an elegant, sharp man corrupted by darkness. I even wrote some materials that I could use. and some notes.
Sketches for a Client
As a starting point, I chose three silhouettes that satisfied me the most and I refined their concepts with readable lineart and more details. I wanted to show the client three characters with the same features, but giving very different sensations.
I enjoyed thinking of wood as armour and branches as decoration or crowns. That combined with long, tattered clothes, could give the character a decadent, royal aspect. Tiny details of bones, rocks, teeth and claws would remind of evil rituals while blind white eyes are a symbol of corruption. I just wanted to use natural materials (leather, porcupine thorns, skulls and feathers) in his costume, as if he’s a hermit in a deep, dark forest.
Moodboards and rough sketches really helped make the design easier. You may think what you have in mind at first is the best design, but then you discover you missed a lot of cooler forms and details just because you did not search for more and different visual experiences. It helps you understand your sketches: what is good and what is not, what kind of material or anatomy proportion you would like to use.
Narrowing down the selection
Marco analyzed my sketches and really helped me choose one. He made me realize some anatomical errors (for example figure A shoulders) and told me that sketch C stood out the most due to his materials, skull and design. He taught me I should never add a feature without thinking what it’s about. The skull on the shoulder is simply a giant bird skull that I used as decorative shoulder armour and Marco told me that I should have thought about how it would have been with real life anatomical proportions.
I ended up studying some skull forms inspired by creature design and I chose the longest and the sharpest one thinking it was the best for the general design. Marco continued telling me to clarify the belts’ material and to be aware about the legs anatomy under the clothes. I needed to consider some larger details to improve the character's armor. He suggested armour on the arm, to study better the skull lacing and to add a bag attached on the belt that may perhaps contain some ritual stuff, because every feature on the character should tell something about his story. The viewer should understand immediately who he is, what he does. I have always had difficulties in representing shadows, Marco gave me some advice that helped me become much better. Below is the improvement after the instructor feedback.
Final Glamour Shot
Rendering the image was the longest and most complex process because it was the first time for me. At the beginning of the course Marco gave me a common exercise among digital painting artists which consisted of creating some material spheres in Photoshop. I had to be as realistic as I could in copying some references without the help of textures.
This exercise made me realize that I was able to render materials by myself, with no “copy and paste” of photos. It was a matter of opacity, dimension and brush control. Many beginners make the mistake of using a texture image for painting their design and the final result is a picture with a high contrast between realistic and cartoon looking parts. I recommend using photos to help you in your process of rendering, but remember to paint on it in order to unify the textures with your painting style. I searched many references for every material I had , I turned it into grayscale images and I tried to replicate how the light reflected on it. I also added more texture on the dress which was too uniform. It really took me many hours to reach this final result and I know there’s still so much to learn and improve.
I’m never completely satisfied with my art pieces. I always think of ways to improve my design and after some days I would totally change it. From taking this course I mainly learnt the professional method to develop a character concept and I’m really feeling much more confident with rendering. I’m having so much fun in the creation of new characters by using the steps I learned in this course and I hope to become good enough to be noticed by some professional team.
You can see more from Giorgia here:
Developing the character you want
Interview with Charles Ge
Hi, my name is Charles Chen Ge and I come from Vancouver Canada and I'm the lead illustrator at Kabam Vancouver Studio and I used to work at EA Vancouver as a 3D character artist for 3 years. There are a few projects that I've worked on, the FIFA series from 2016 to 2019, and currently I'm working on the Marvel Contest of Champions mobile game. For artistic background, I graduated from Vancouver Film School and received my diploma in the 3D modeling and visual effect program, I also graduated from Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts and my major was traditional printmaking.
I've always been interested in character design and artistic storytelling techniques. So when I heard about this course I was excited and knew it was what I wanted to learn.
Research & Development
The inspiration for my designs is from the traditional African voodoo culture, and iconic fantasy illustrations of the old masters. Research is very important to me. It helps me to nail down the main part of the visual target/keywords for my characters. It also gives me more ideas about how I could build my characters backstory/culture and characteristics based on my inspirations.
Sketches for a Client
I created a lot of initial sketches in the first week and picked 5 of them and developed them during week 2, there was a lot of back and forth for sure before I presented to the “Client”, Marco, and I wanted my client to understand the design from the visual directly. In these sketches I gave myself about 3 directions for my
initial approach for my characters. Sketch A and B are based on traditional designs for a Druid, I put claws on her hands to make the character look more dangerous and aggressive and use horns to add the culture to her faith or religion of nature, and I put some armor plates on the chest and shoulders in design B, also giving her a magical sword to make her silhouette look more aggressive and fantasy-ish.
For sketch C, I used some traditional African culture references, so you could see a lot of decorations, for example the metal bracelets and stripes with patterns. The whole character's silhouette is more rounded, and I wanted to give her a more subtle and grounded feeling based on her culture and origin.
I put a few skulls and the tribal sword hanging on her waist to tell people her occupation or what she was capable of as a warlock. Sketch D and E, are the tryouts that I did from my imagination of the traditional/typical warlock character. In sketch D, I wanted to give her a totem to represent her origin, and I used a wolf's head and put some fur on the other side of her shoulder. And bull skull and bat skull for her accessories to give her more dangerous feelings. I added a very sharp and spiky metal helmet with magical smoke from the top and full armored arms and claws making her look tough, like a warrior. Sketch E is more mysterious and deadly with the hood and the giant skull on the top of the staff to show her ability for killing much bigger and powerful opponents.
Also the swords around her waist tells people that she has the skills for engaging in close combats. Research helped a lot for nailing down the character backstory and their culture/beliefs. Also making the whole process much clearer and straight forward.
Narrowing Down the Selection
I made a few changes to design C and D which were picked by Marco from the week 2 character sketches. In the second pass I got rid of the fur and the magical smoke from design D to make the silhouette clearer and sharper. I also put more details on the armor of her, adding a kind of magic spell symbol on the top of the bull skull to make her look more like a warlock. For design C, I changed her pose so that her sword would be showing more and changed her hairstyle to make her look sharper. and change a bit on her clothing style and added more pattern on it. In week 4, Marco and I decided to go with design C which is based on African culture.
Nessa is a powerful and famous warlock. Power runs in her family and her special bloodline gives her strong mental abilities. In her town she is respected for facing many dangers and always caring for the people. With strong determination you can see in her eyes she will face any evil and not fail to protect others.
I tried to transform my understanding of the character and her background story into some expression, to make her look more vivid. I made her eyes more bright and look toward the horizon to give her a strong and calm face. Adding a subtle smile gave her more confidence and a kind feeling balanced her strong/tough look. I gave her braids for a hairstyle in order to make her look more professional and traditional.
From these explorations Marco picked 7,8 and 9 which are the same ones that liked the most as well. Then I developed the picked ones further as the final submission we see now.
Character Through Gesture
I tried a few poses and found the one that best fit her character. As we see in the week 5 submission, the pose of the character is more dynamic. I used a ‘5’ or a thunder shape/curve to tell my audience that she is very strong, active and energetic. From this pose you should also feel that she is very dexterous and ready to do a magical spell any time.
I made her kind of jump off the ground and seem to be ready for a fight. Also I bent her head and upper torso a bit to give a feeling of her being threatened. But at the same time on her face what we see is her calm and confident expression. So in this phase her pose is in a balance of dynamic and elegant from the pose curve/silhouette.
Final Glamour Shot
There were a few changes from the feedback that I got from Marco. He liked my work very much and figured out some real good points for me to enhance my design for the final glamour shot. First was the proportion of the character. Second was that her outfit could be more thoughtful and practical for fighting. Third was her arms and hands gestures; before the arms and hands were a bit stiff/ uncomfortable and simple. After I changed the arms to be more open, and in the hands I gave her a sort of magic spelling gesture on the right hand which is more interesting. Her outfit tells the audience that she is a warlock and by the end I got rid of the background and added depth to it as well, now she stands out even more.
Then I asked Marco for more feedback and approval. After a few fixing passes from week 6-7, I finished the black and white version of the glamour shot, then I saved out a new PSD file and merged all the layers, put a top layer and set its blending mode to overlay. After a few hours I'd finished the final color version of it. I noticed those small changes could make big differences when I compared the first one and the final submission between week 6 and 8.
I think the biggest challenge for me is to understand less is more through the whole process. Trying to understand the purpose of the design instead of just continuing to add more unnecessary details to the design. The second challenge is to submit the work on time while I'm working full-time at the studio. For this I have to sacrifice my sleep in order to have the final submission on time and have great quality as well. You have to remember that the deadline is the most important thing in this industry.
When I compared my designs from week 1 and 2 with week 8, I noticed the big shape and the silhouette hadn't changed a lot. But the details of the outfit style, material, decorations and accessories had changed a lot. Also for the head as well. She looks more like a warlock with strong characteristics now.
I added a lot of accessories for the purpose of storytelling. The magic staff which has a boar skull on top of it with a lot of metal nails on it. Also I put a lot of red stripes/ropes on the staff to give it more ritual/voodoo looking. Her earrings, necklaces and bracelets are telling us that she is wealthy and well respected where she lives. The small wood head on her necklace gives more information about her religion/beliefs. It also tells us that she has the ability of performing voodoo or any type of ritual activities. The big giant skull shows us that she could take down a giant by herself and use his skull as a souvenir. The sword hanging on the back of her waist also shows us she is also capable of close combat, since she is a badass warlock after all.
I'm satisfied when my art piece tells a good story or a vivid character through the balanced composition while expressing the correct feeling using color. After all, there must be a sort of “Chi” on the piece which could be a joy for the audiences when they are looking at it.
What I learned and improved on is to know when to stop my pen to take an overall look at my work and judge using the industry standard. Thinking more about how to use poses to tell a good story for the characters and how to design a better character by using different materials efficiently. And also to revisit my anatomy studies.
My current project is to illustrate Marvel superheroes and villains. So from this course I learned to push the poses more which helps to tell more about the character and their backstory. Rendering the material better by using the process that our instructor showed us. I'd like to practice more from what I learned and saw from the class demos and apply the process as a standard whenever a project needs it in the future.
You can see more from Charles on his site here: charlesgeart.com