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Building Character: An Analysis of Character Creation
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Building Character: An Analysis of Character Creation


November 19, 2001 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next
 

Concept Art: Initial Design

Unless your character is a first-person POV character, or unless you've decided to eschew any hope of profitability and write a text adventure, a big part of characterization will be creating the character's physical appearance. And that means working with a concept artist.

Maybe you're thinking that your modeling artists are good enough to create without benefit of concept art. Maybe you're thinking that you don't have time in the schedule or dollars in the budget to afford concept art. Well if you're thinking that, think again. Concept art will save you time and money, big time. It's a lot faster, easier, and more painless to work out everything at the concept art stage. It doesn't mean that you'll never end up creating finished art that you have to throw away or redo, but it'll happen a lot less. And a good concept artist will bring a unique vision to the realization of the character that will, in many cases, be far more interesting and exciting than what you were picturing in your own mind and trying to articulate to the rest of the team.

Here's how this phase of concept art might go. This sequence is from a game that my development company, Boffo Games, was working on for Time-Warner Interactive about 5 years ago, a game that was never completed after TWI was reorganized out of existence. The working title was Reverse Alien, about a human who lands on a planet where the natural objects, the building materials, and the native race are all so fragile, that the human is to them as the monster in the Alien movies is to humans. The native race were called the Feebies, and I started by drawing this sketch:

As you can see, some of us need a concept artist more than others do. I'm like the ancient Egyptians — I never discovered perspective. This sketch, along with supporting text documents, went to the concept artist for the game, Les Nelken, who's currently an artist at Turbine Games.

Les produced a whole batch of sketches, variations on this theme. From those, I selected the head (right) and the body (left) that I thought worked the best:

Les took that and produced a new generation of sketches:

These then went to the art house that was doing the final art, a very talented company in San Jose called Dub Media. And here's a still from one of the few animations of a Feebie that was created before the project was consigned to that big hard disk in the sky:

Right after the Reverse Alien disappointment, I entered Concept Art heaven. The next project that we did at Boffo was an adventure game called The Space Bar, funded by Rocket Science. The concept art for the game was done by Ron Cobb, who was a founder of Rocket Science, and who had done art direction for numerous games and movies. Working with him still ranks as one of the big thrills of my career. The Space Bar was set in a spaceport bar filled with all kinds of pretty wild alien races, so we weren't just creating new characters every week, but entirely new races. One such race was a race of mobile plants, called the Vedj. Again, we started with one of my superb sketches:

Ron then produced this piece of concept art, which we decided wasn't "plant-like enough". A round or two later, he came back with a second image, which was perfect:

Ron's first piece of concept art of a Vedj (left), and the final draft (right).

As you can see, with each go-round, the sketches get more and more detailed as you realize you're getting closer to the final form of the character. And here's an image from the game itself of a Vedj, named Seedrot, seated at a table by the dance floor in the bar:

Now, sometimes the evolution of a character isn't dictated by creative reasons but marketing reasons. Here's an example from a platform game, for the Playstation 2, that we started working on for THQ when I worked at a THQ-owned developer called GameFX:

Spartacus

The game, with a working title of Smartacus, was about a 12-year old super-genius with an evil bent, his 6-year-old tomboyish sister and their adventures through space and time. The concept artists for Smartacus, was Richard Sullivan.

With each generation of concept art, we made her older, and turned her from Smartacus' little sister (left) into a classmate (right) of his.

THQ decided that the target users of PS2s, at least during its first year, wouldn't be interested in a 6-year-old girl, even if she was only a secondary character, and even if she could beat up grizzly bears without breaking a sweat.

By the final generation of concept art, she was even taller than Smartacus.

But to no avail; THQ killed the project at this point.

Now, just to show that the initial design phase of concept art is not necessarily a long process, here's one of many examples of getting it right the first time. Again, I turn to The Space Bar and the art of Ron Cobb. In the bar, serving as a fairly minor humorous diversion, was a race called the Fruufnids. They were less than a foot tall, stood on a table in the bar, and strongly resembled Polynesian drinks, when in fact they were high-level ambassadors from a very powerful planet. They were constantly being picked up by patrons, mistaking them for drinks, and were completely clueless why it was happening, and wildly indignant about it.

The first concept sketch from Ron (left), and an image of the two Fruufnids from the final game (right).


Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

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