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Hey guys. I know some of these Developer Diary entries have been a little on the long side, so I’m going to try keeping them to about half the length they were before. This should make them easier to read in a single sitting! Something interesting to see is where things started out and where they eventually end up. So Adam thought it’d be fun to show some of the little advancements we’ve made with the main character’s design and how small things add up.

Let’s start off with the oldest of the old, a really horrible sketch of mine that I’m really embarrassed to post. Horrible sketches are where a lot of things start out. Some people are such fantastic artists that even their bad designs look great, but I have to suffer through some incredibly amateur stick figure scribbles like these:

You can see I scribbled “Not In Proportion!” as a disclaimer to myself. Part of this is my own background not as a traditional artist or animator, but as a 3D animator where motion was a lot more of my focus, and I essentially only had to “draw it” nicely once.

Quick sketches that lead to a slightly more polished one give you an idea about where you want to go with a design.  Part of this is just having good design principles. Brevity is the soul of wit (something my posts apparently lack) and simplicity is often the soul of art. My first question was how to make him look like an ancient Chinese badass while keeping his design simple, interesting, and readable on a small screen.  Here, you can see me experimenting with head shapes, proportions, and even mocking out a concept of what the game frame might look like.

It’s also nice if the design suits a quick hand motion–that helps you breathe some life into them. These are all boxy shapes so there’s no character or life in these, but you need to experiment to discover what works. One thing I figured out is that I wasn’t getting a strong Chinese feel, so I wanted to make his head rounder, more like Jackie Chan or Jet Li, and less of a northern European block head like I’ve got.

So with a general idea in mind it was off to the Tablet, and I got ahold of Adam via IM to start sending him pictures. Digital sketches are a good way to experiment with the tools and colors, things you can’t do with a pencil, which can help bring up issues you hadn’t thought of before.  Like, it was pretty obvious that even on a phone screen he looked a little flat and cardboardy. Don’t mind the horrifyingly ugly background, I was attempting to figure out if my tablet’s colors were off. They are!The pose looks okay for an “at the ready” Kung Fu stance similar to Wing Chun, but the face is too bland and there’s no delineation between the neck and the head, so that was the first thing to fix. It also looked a little stereotypical, so instead of keeping with the same Old Man Bun hair that you see a lot, I grabbed a longer hair style from Five Deadly Venoms that I’d seen a few times in Shaw Brothers movies of the era.

The result was a fuller face with room for more expression, but Adam and I agreed that it didn’t go quite far enough, so I gave him a bigger set of hair and fired this off:I also made his ear more visible. But the skin tone was nagging at us. Even though it was a skin color taken directly from a famous Chinese actor’s face, without the highlights and other features it looked too dark, even for South China. We were forced to make an artistic choice that wasn’t based in reality and invent a more caramel colored skin for him that got his ethnicity across without looking strange.

You can see a pile of little color blobs on the left side, that was me experimenting with skin tones to find one that worked visually. Adam had also said that he’d like if there was a bit more Funk going on, and I was in full agreement. I grabbed a lavender purple from a Funk album cover, and it adds a nice bit of visual flair for the player to focus on, and gives me an interesting opportunity for secondary motion.

The lapels had to get fixed and I wanted to give off a more Chinese-style look, even if it wasn’t entirely accurate for the robes, so I gave it a sweeping shape instead and rounded the edges at the shoulders. Snipping the black off the bottom of his robe gave some information about where his feet would be, while also showing that this was a layered garment. There was also more highlighting on the clothes, hair and eyebrows that give him depth. Depth isn’t hugely important but when it is simplistic to add, it’s nice. In this case, it also was a convenient time to add some cuffs to his sleeves. There was no reason for this change except that it highlighted his fists better.

Barring any major problems, this is how he’s going to look when Touch of Death comes out to a handheld device near you! Tell me what you think in the comment section below.

The How and Why

How: Refinement is a process. The best way to refine an image is to draw it over and over. Recreating a little visual quirk is nearly impossible, sometimes you just have that one perfect design–and that’s what you look for. Find what works for you and what works for your hand. It’s hard to explain, but certain styles just flow easier, and practice helps. And of course, show it to your buddies. Lots of times, the artist knows best, but when your art is going to be handled and consumed by lots of people from lots of backgrounds, you really need to refine your pieces with them in mind. So go ahead and ask what they like, what they don’t like, and what stands out about a design.

Why: When Adam said “Can we add some funk?” it had never occurred to me to have a purple belt, and it helped the design a lot. When you do something, the first way you do it is nearly never the best way. I find that nearly every time I need to go back and “fix” or change something, the resulting fix is better than it was originally. Adversity improves design because it makes you think and fire up all those creative centers of the brain. Even if you decide you liked it better your first way, you were forced to think it out more entirely. You almost always improve something though, so it’s worth all the time it consumes. Pre-production time is costly, but you can’t make a good product without it.

SpaceLab Signing Out

I hope you like this shorter Diary, and I hope you leave a comment below saying how much you like this dude I drew! Or how much he sucks, or something I should consider. Next Saturday we’ll end our Game Analysis trip through X-COM on a high note, so have a great time until then!