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How to make your characters stand out - MCV

How to make your characters stand out

Developers and artists share their experience of creating iconic characters
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Rex Crowle, Creative Lead, Media Molecule

  • Firstly, the character needs to be bold, and have a recognisable silhouette. They’ll be seen at all different angles and scales, so they need to be readable no matter what situation they are in. And that extends to when the character starts being used on promotional stickers, billboards and lunch boxes.
  • It’s good if their mere appearance tells a story or intrigues the player in some way. A classic is to give them a scar, because then we all wonder: how did they get that scar? Was it earned in a heroic knife-fight or did they fall over in the bath?
  • That said, when every character has got a scar that ceases to be as interesting, so it’s good to think of things other than scars. Iota and Atoi from Tearaway were designed to be made from sealed envelopes, so that players wonder what’s sealed inside the envelopes. And I still wonder what we’d see if Sackboy undid his zip.
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Nick Miles, Principal Concept Artist, Radiant Worlds

  • Consider the broad relationships. Narrative and background will help to give the character purpose and influence design, as well as determine material and palette choices. Has this character come from a lush world, or somewhere more austere? Are they a joker or a warrior? Knowing this will help you to create an engaging design.
  • Consider the equilibrium between character and environment; both should complement each other with shared design cues. The character design should then seek to evolve those rules to further enrich the world. SkySaga, for example, is a voxel world so the character design reflects that but also adds subtle curves and tapering forms to further expand the visual library.
  • Materials can propel a character design from mundane to memorable. Sometimes making your character wholly out of a novel material such as wool or jelly may be enough to give them a unique look if applicable to the world. Otherwise, seeking a good mix of fabrics and metals in a design gives surface variety and adds interest.

Dan Crossland, Lead Character Artist, Ninja Theory

  • One of the most important considerations when starting out a new character is understanding the attitude behind the character. From there, you can build rhythms running through the body that support and build upon the gesture of the character. You can immediately see when a character has this inner strength.
  • If this is in place, the character will be more appealing to look at because of these flow lines. This starts right from the concept sculpt phase – by posing characters in Zbrush early inthe development it enables us to be confident that the T-pose can hit those key hero poses when animated.
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Andy Green, Senior Technical Artist, Bossa Studios

  • Design your character’s proportions, mesh topology, and textures based upon your game’s camera angle and zoom. Characters that will permanently be far from the camera need to be chunky and clear. Don’t pile detail into areas of the character the player will seldom see.

Jack Good, Senior Artist, Bossa Studios

  • Get to a point where you think you’re happy with the design, then see what you can remove or simplify without changing the essence of the character. I often see artists plastering stuff onto characters in the hope that they’ll create something original, but this just confuses the design.

Dan Lish, Senior Concept Artist, Bossa Studios

  • Listen to the direction from the lead artist or art director. Create thumbnail sketches – digitally or traditionally, whatever you find easier – to get you ideas down fast and fluid. Then go through an approval process, tighten the roughs to a more polished standard, considering asymmetry, composition, good silhouettes, originality of style and so on.


Jack Couvela, Art Director, Reflections

  • Form should follow function. With Grow Home, we had a physics-driven character with momentum, resulting in a lot of stumbling steps and wobbling about. We designed BUD’s personality around that movement by making him childlike: large babyish head, wide innocent eyes and a big goofy grin.

The Oliver Twins, Radiant Worlds

  • When designing a character for a child-friendly game we would ensure it used a selected handful of bright colours and had a bold silhouette. It would have key iconic poses and exaggerated animations that would reflect its attitude and actions. It would need to be unique, memorable and fit within its universe.

Got more tips? Share them in the comments below!

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