Designing the Rough Version Character
Published on March 16, 2005 By ScottTykoski In

For anyone that doesn't know me, my name is Scott Tykoski, and I've been an artist at Stardock Entertainment for about 4 years now.

One of the great things about Stardock is that, on average, it's a 40 hour job. Unlike some of the horror stories getting leaked about the game industry, I get in early, work 8-9 hours day, and get to go home for a bit of "me" time, still meeting my deadlines while maintaining a healthy level of sanity.

The ironic twist is that, when you have extra time, and your job happens to also be your hobby, you end up doing very similar activities both on and off the clock.

My co-worker pal Paul Boyer, for example, spends most of his making Game UI and doing various icons for Stardock products. Then when he goes home for the day, he works on his icon-of-the-day tutorials for aspiring GUI artists.

I, on the other hand, lack the raw "User Interface" art talents of my friend, so I've adopted another past-time that keeps me quite busy: creating a web cartoon series!

Well, granted, it's in it's very VERY early stages, and it's not just myself...several friends are participating in the creation process in their own fashion. But with a few months (aka a year and a half) worth of hard work, I think we'll have something pretty entertaining to show off!

Of course, I didn't start this article to tout a 'nowhere-near-complete' web cartoon.

Instead, I want to give you a up close look at the process of character design (by someone that's still learning himself)!

The next few months on our work schedule for the cartoon are devoted to character creation. The basic plot of the series requires TONS of characters...some major, some minor, but quantity (I beleive) is the key to it's success.

This week I'm working on a sidekick for THIS guy....

Who, for the time being, is named 'Zolar' (a evil space monkey with a big ol' sword), and is a major character in the series. The character we're coming up with now, on the other hand, is a very minor character. This doesn't mean he should be given any less love in the design department so lets get cracking.

First, we want to flesh out this guys personality. Zoltar is very deliberate, commanding, and serious. Our new character, to strike some nice contrast, should be a bit more twitchy, more out of control, more wild. He should also be fairly menacing, since he's a villain, but not too scary (since he's kinda a third-tier bad guy).

I always start with the head, since that's the part that displays the most emotion. If it's not solid, the rest won't come together properly.

The first guy was going to be a lizard or bull type guy (or something). Needless to say, I didn't like the direction. Instead, I tried to take a different approach...opposed to taking a generally tough animal, lets take a 'cute' animal and make it tough. Thus, I chose a bunny for my next attempt. I liked the direction the next two were heading (mostly the top one with the spikes on the end of his ears), and was able to get a fairly solid head in the fourth try (sans nose ring and with ridiculously floppy ears).

It's at this point that I like to name the character...or at least get that part of the process rolling. I ended up naming him "Attila the Bun", but may end up changing his name up to 5 times throughout the process

Next step in this phase of the process is to design a decent body for the character. Since this will be animated in flash, I try to make sure the design will be easy to break apart into smaller "animate-able" chunks.

Looking back, The first attempt was actually pretty close to what I ended up with. At the time, however, I was thinking of going with a more "campy, 60's spacesuit" feel for the outfit. As you can see in image 1, however, this idea was stupid, mostly trying to push his floppy ears to hang behind him. I did start to realize the appeal of little wimpy arms with big armor and gloves, which I tried to push even more in the 3rd image.

After the 4th try I thought I pretty much had it. Simplified chest armor that lets the floppy ears stand out, nice sharp robotic gloves for easy kill'n. However, I realized that perhaps I had gone too crazy with the Small Arms / Big Gloves contrast. To counter this, I added some pneumatic tubing to help the space bunny if he ever wants to lift his forearm

The only problem was the legs...I thought a nice 3 jointed, jumping-leg system would be cool, but once on paper I thought it looked a bit goofy. Plus the 3 lointed walk would be a pain to animate for a such minor character.

I ended up liking the leg from the 5th image...It just fits with the rest of the design IMHO.

So, going in "lazy mode", I decided to Photoshop to legs from image 5 onto image 4.

From a rough design I think we're pretty much done, though I did also whip-up a version without the extra tubing to see how the armor looks without it. I can't decide which I like more at the moment - the tubes are cool, but I think no-tubes makes for a better silhouette.

Since this is part of an larger project that will be viewed by the masses (hopefully), now is the time where I get some constructive feedback. What works, what doesn't? Is there anything that doesn't read, or something that I added clutters the design?

If there's a time to go back to the drawing board, this is it!

Otherwise, this will wrap up the first phase of the character design process. We roughed out a character's personality, came up with a interesting looking head, and gave that head an appealing body that shouldn't be too hard to animate.

Next comes Phase 2: "Finalizing the Design", where we take this rough design and come up with a more solid design that we'll later color and shade to come up with our final character shot!

Stay tuned!

on Mar 16, 2005
Interesting indeed. This is just a suggestion, but maybe you might explain how you do your line-work, and get the basic shapes to assemble the head and body. Sometimes it's easy to see it in your head, but hard to put to paper.

Your rabbit is Uber-awesome. Love the mohawk.


on Mar 16, 2005
Looks great. I have never seen this type of work in process so i'll stay tuned for phase two. You're in my bookmarks. Keep up the good work.