Sunday, February 10, 2013

From imagination to conception - character concept art.

Hey there, internet people. So I wanted to write a quick blog (which means this will turn into eight pages) of how we're handling character concept art for "The Phoenix Project."

When a character (or group) has been written and vetted and finalized by the Lore team it is considered ready for the concepting phase.

Our Lead Character Artist and myself meet with the Lore Lead and the relative writers, and we have a meeting to go over the character. We quickly get a gist of who the character is, key details of their appearance (do they have an armguard? a specific hat? are they missing a leg?, etc.,) and we eventually come to an idea of what the overall look should be.

Sometimes before this meeting the writers might ask for a quick character to look to help them visualize the character and better help them write. For example:

An early concept image created to help the writing team
We'll use that early concept piece as a starting point for the character look but most of the look will be discarded or revised.

After our first meeting one of our character concept artists will produce a battery of looks on a character sheet. Usually I'll give the artist an idea of the look we want but I'll also ask them to go in the opposite direction of that too. I believe sometimes you have to get an idea of what you DON'T want to really understand what is you DO want. 

A series of looks covering a wide range of styles.

Once the character sheet is turned in, the Lead Character Artist, the relevant writers, and myself will go over it. Sometimes we find one look that is really exciting or we find a few of the looks have elements that we want to incorporate into the final look. At this point we begin to really firm up the visual we want for the character and how that look is going to work in game.

In some situations there are technical limitations - as you can see in the earliest concept art the character had a long flowing ponytail but we realized it was going to be hard to get that to work and behave realistically within the game. We discussed adding a skeletal system or cloth/hair dynamics - but ultimately we realized it wasn't feasible to do convincingly so we looked at shorter hair styles.

After narrowing down the elements we liked from the wider range of looks our Lead Character Artist produces another character sheet that focuses on the elements we liked - looking something like this:

A character concept sheet of looks narrowed down from a wider selection. These looks cover the different outfits this character might be seen in - from combat to casual to formal events.

During this phase we also produce additional costumes for the character - their out of combat attire, maybe they have a more formalized uniform they wear for special events, and their "average" look. Some characters won't have these additional looks but for some characters we do plan for them to be seen "out of uniform."

We'll go over this character sheet again and narrow down the looks. In most cases we'll find a look we like and agree on and tweak it a bit more - like this:

Adjusting one of the concept looks after review.

Our goal is to find a look that represents the character best and what will work in the game. In the case of the character art shown in these examples we were looking for a combat appropriate costume. The original early concept piece was a very classic comic book super heroine but as we developed the character visually we looked to current movies and explored a more tactical look for her costume.

After the character goes through a few more final iterations we produce a final character piece:

A final rendering of a character look.

When we reach this phase the character look gets reviewed by the development team and any minor adjustments are made. From here the character goes off to be turned into orthographic reference art which is used by our modelers and texture artists to produce the final model.

In some cases we have to go back to the drawing board when we are not satisfied with the character look or we feel it doesn't embody the character that was originally written.

The positive part about this is it helps to really get the look we want for a character and in some cases produce looks that might fit other characters or enemy groups better.

And that is the quick and dirty version of the character concepting art phase. In the future I'm hoping (with permission) to do in depth blogs on specific characters.

Art Team Leader
The Phoenix Project 


  1. hello ...

    really nice blog, and gives us an insight of the job that has to be done. I wonder how long it will take for the thousands of characters you will have to create for the game. Thank you for keeping us informed.


  2. Thanks Richy. A little while, I'm sure, but the population is beginning to come together.

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  4. I love this whole post. All of those possible looks were amazing. Just for the possible customization... I hope most of it ends up in costume possibilities! And the hair is just plain fantastic. I'd use every one of those so I hope they stick around too.

  5. This was really encouraging because it does a great job of conveying how many styles and choices that you are working with. You're a fantastic artist and I'm really glad you're giving them plenty of options. Seeing the amount of work going into a single character is really inspiring. It's really the first thing I've been able to actually show my old CoH friends at this early stage. I'm really excited to see anything you're approved to share in the coming months.