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My name is Tim Moreels, I’m 21 and come from Belgium. I’ve drawn all of my life and I’ve always been into games. So when I got out of highschool, I decided I would try and see if I could combine those two into a job. I started studying Digital Arts & Entertainment, of which I just graduated a few weeks ago. I’ve done my internship for school at Elite3d in Spain, where I am now working.
Important Staples of Character Design
There’s a lot of things that are important and not only for Blizzard’s artstyle. Interesting silhouettes – a bright color palette (specifically Blizzard) – working well with archetypes – etc…
A thing I love about Blizzard’s characters is that a lot of them don’t take themselves very seriously. Ofcourse there are some that are serious, but for instance in Heroes of the Storm, they all give them this crazy twist, which I think is great. I love quirky, crazy characters like for instance Hogger or Gallywix. They were one of the first to make on my list, just because of that. I think my love for these kind of characters came from Crash Bandicoot, which was one of my first games as a kid. They all look really cool, but they are kind of crazy and look funny at the same time.
What stands out the most for me, is how story driven Blizzard’s characters are. All of them tell a story at first glance, just by looking at them! And that is something very important for me personally, which Blizzard executes extremely well and which always inspires me.
The most recent piece of personal work I did was in collaboration with Mario Manzanares . Mario already had two keywords: Indian and Overwatch. This gave me the idea to make him a snake charmer, which gave Mario the idea to make a holographic snake and the ball kept rolling. We thought out the whole story of what the character should be about and that was a key part of our collaboration. Mario made some incredible concept art, based on our ideas and I executed the 3D part of the character.
Overwatch has an amazing style and it took me some time to analyze it. What really helped, was putting my character next to some of the existing characters and comparing them. This wasn’t just useful for the character, but also to analyze their style more in depth.
Here’s Mario’s concept and the final result next to it. A few things were changed from the concept, like some of the colors, in order to fit along with the in-game characters from Overwatch.
To make a character, what works the best for me is to think of the story FIRST. What do I want to tell with this character? What’s his personality like? Is he funny? Is he trying too hard to look cool? Would he steal your lunch money in school? I try to get a perfect grasp of what the character should feel like in my head and then I can start working on the actual looks of the character. That way, I know if he would wear a certain piece of clothing or not, or if the piece of clothing would be filthy or not.
The pirate frog I made is a good example. The catchphrase of the character was this: A snarky pirate frog merchant, who travels all around the world, selling rusty, overpriced weapons. I had this in my head before I sketched out the character. Because of this, I could already see in my head what he would be like. At first, people were even telling me they liked the idea and catch phrase more than the initial sketch. Here is that initial sketch and the final result next to it. He went through quite a few changes as you might notice. But the theme and catch line of the character was always there.
After I have the idea or concept for a character, I usually make a rough sketch of what I want to achieve if that isn’t already there. If I’m designing a character myself, I will make the biggest part of the concept in digital and traditional 2D. That’s just personal preference and I’d advise anyone to do this part with whatever medium you feel most comfortable. (2D paper, 3D, photobashing,etc..)
After that, I just start sculpting and playing with the proportions. For the types of characters I make, the proportions are always really important. For a super long time, the main feedback I would get from anyone was to push the proportions more and I still get this feedback from time to time.
Definitely when I was starting out with characters, it was very easy to do some details and get lost in them. Please don’t. The proportions are super important and will make or break your character, so spend some time to make sure they are right in the beginning.
I always try to make sure everything is perfect or as close to perfect as possible, but with the face, I like to go the extra mile because it is such an important part of the character. It’s the part of the character where people look at most. But of course, it is important to make sure the rest of the character is up to par with the face.
It’s definitely important to have a lot of reference. Even if your character is a fantasy character or super stylized. For instance with Gallywix, he has a lot of wrinkles and fat, so this was a very important part.
Stylizing the character usually helps me to portray the character better. You can make the character a bit more threatening for example, with just the silhouette. It’s great to be able to exaggerate features. This can go anywhere from muscles, to even props.
There are also a lot of different styles you can choose. There isn’t just one ‘stylized’. So try to stay consistent with the style you are going for.
Textures and materials are incredibly important. A good sculpt alone with some lazy textures will never look nearly as good as one with great textures. It’s definitely important to spend a good amount of time on them. What you can do however, is make a base texture, from the bakes of your sculpt.
I usually combine multiple maps and put some flat colors underneath, to then start working on. In this case, it was a combination of the OS normal map, curvature map, AO and a black and white gradient from top to bottom.
Let me start off by saying that colors are really, really hard. Hats off to the concept artists out there who are nailing the color palettes in their designs. There’s a lot to be said about color theory and I would recommend anyone to do some research on this topic. Even if you plan on never making any concepts yourself. If you’re having trouble finding a good palette for your character, I can recommend things like Adobe Kuler, so you can choose a base palette to start with.
Apart from the diffuse, there’s also the other maps spec-gloss, metal-rough, etc… These are definitely not less important than the diffuse of your character. Material definition is something very important and for this, reference is once again very important.
Those are the basics, but what makes a character stand out is when you go beyond those maps. Things like sub surface scattering and anisotropic maps make your character look that much better. For the final presentation, I like to use Marmoset Toolbag. They have an awesome tutorial on setting up characters which you can find over here.
I really don’t have a spectacular way of retopping my characters, but there’s two main pointers I try to keep in mind. Silhouette and animation. If something doesn’t contribute to either the silhouette of the character or is not there for animation, then you can probably optimize the topology there. In the end, the normal maps will do a lot more than you think.
Another thing you can try to keep in mind is how you are gonna see the character. Is it a gun for a first person shooter? Then you might want to make sure the cilinder that is right in front of your face has enough edges. What about the hands? Those probably also need a bit more geo than the rest of the character.
I don’t really have a super interesting way to go about it, other than trying to think logically about what you are doing.
Lastly, I’d like to thank you for reading and the people at 80 lvl for coming up with these awesome questions. If you’re interested in seeing more of my work, you can check it out over here. Most of my pieces also have polycount threads linked in the description, where you can find more WIPs of the process. Cheers!