Before I had any concept art to reference, I played around a bit with some possible styles to use that varied in scale, colour and outfit designs. I experimented with referencing some classic outfits of the old voyageurs as some more modern outdoor clothing to get a range of designs. I liked the designs in the top left the best as I felt that they had the most versatility in terms of animation as well as keeping the overall pixel scale of the game down. The colours are possibly too bright but the shape was heading in the right direction. The other designs we either too small or too complex so that none of them would be ideal for the types of animations that would be required for our game.
Once I had some concept art based on our clothing research, I went ahead and recreated some of the designs in pixel art to get a feel for how the character in the game might look. My process involved importing the designs done by our concept artist into the software I was using (Aseprite), scaling the image down to get an idea for size, drawing over it to get the general shape/proportions and then touching it up with detail to get a final design.
These first set of four designs were based on the initial concepts that I was given.
- The first design is based off the blue hoodie outfit. We liked the colours but didn’t think the outfit was appropriate.
- The second was based on the green coat design. We didn’t want to use green as it might blend into the forest environment.
- The third used the preferred blue colour with the more appropriate coat design.
- The fourth design used another possible mustard colour.
I was happy with these as a first attempt but felt that we didn’t have the right outfit yet and that the scale was probably too large.
I wanted to draw up the dog companion that will feature in the game since we had decided that it would be an Australian Shepard breed. After some quick picture referencing, I came up with this initial design.
While not perfect for its detailing, this design certainly captures the charm that we need for this character and also looks like the right type of dog which is nice.
Using the dogs size as a reference for a scale, I drew up another character design based on some more concept art. Since this breed of dog is about 50 cm and a typical male is about 150 cm, the character needed to be about 3 times the size of the dog.
This was my attempt that used a simple 3 tone per colour scheme to for shading. At this size I could get plenty of shape and detailing in but my worry was that it would be too large and create too much work when making all of the assets. We were somewhat satisfied with the outfit at this point so I decided to try to scale the character down.
This scale was almost twice as small and obvious has much less detail. However, I think that you could get away with having the character at this size if required. I did get some comments saying that the dog now looks like a puppy rather than a grown dog and, while I can see this, I think this is partly from seeing the two sizes next to each other. The next move would be to find a middle ground for the scale and see if that happens to look the best.
This design was initially looking like the safest bet as it has a decent amount of detail and wasn’t too large. I think, however, at this point I was starting to lose favour on the overall design of the character and especially the pose that he was in as it didn’t accurately represent what he would look like in the game. I have to say though that I like this design for the dog the best because I put more effort into the colours and shading. I think this design was the preference but I still had worries that the scale was too big.
The reason that I am so concerned with keeping the scale down is that big assets such as trees, which are very important in our game, grow exponentially in size as the character gets bigger. For example a spruce tree can be 15 to 100 times larger than a human so if our character is only 40 pixels tall the tree will be 600 to 4000 pixels, but if he is nearer 80 then the tree will be 1200 to 8000 pixels in size. With this in mind, I tried to draw up a character design that better resembles how they might appear in the game. To do this I got Bill to stand in some generic poses at different angles so that I could scale them down and use them as a reference.
The above image shows my previous design and the image of Bill scaled down which gave me the design on the right. This only got as far as a rough shape because I wasn’t too keen on it but it was going somewhere in the right direction.
This time I added some 2 tone shading to create a front view of the character. The reason there is to versions is because I first made the design on the left but didn’t like that it was an even number wide as I think that odd numbers work a lot better most of the time. The design on the right isn’t perfect but certainly an improvement. Now that I had a design that look alright and was a relatively small scale, I wanted to try and redraw him looking in different directions since our game will likely allow for this types of movement.
It was quite a challenge to work out how to translate a design onto different orientations but after a lot of tweaking I came to these first few angles. I made sure that all parts of the design lined up such as the bag straps, hand height, shoe size etc. Now I needed to do the back views.
These also turned out surprisingly well since I was using such a limited colour scheme. The whole process was made a lot simpler since I had could use the reference images of Bill. Now that I had all 8 directions I could put them together into a spinning animation that looks like this:
I am overall very satisfied with this considering I had never attempted anything like this before. There are some things that maybe aren’t quite right in terms of the shading or positioning but that’s what first attempts are for. I think this was definitely worth doing to get a better idea for an actual character model and now I can go forward and iterate on other designs in a similar way.