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Project one Characters and concepts

Adobe Photoshop

Jonny Duddle reveals how to create a turnaround sheet for a computer game character
For the last 10 years Ive designed vehicles, environments and characters for all sorts of games, but what I enjoy most is designing characters. In this project, I show you how to create a character turnaround for an imaginary cartoon game for children, based on one of my own creations, the King of Space. I start off with very rough sketches, develop a more finished design, and then create a sheet that provides all the information a games 3D character modeller might need. A long time ago, a best-selling computer game would be made by one bespectacled computer geek, sitting in his bedroom tapping away on his Commodore 64. He would do everything: hed design the game, write the code, and do all the artwork himself. Then hed test it (with a mate), have a few-thousand cassettes manufactured, and even do the box art himself. Twenty-five years later, that same computer geek is probably sitting in a swanky office, wearing more-expensive glasses, contemplating the logistics of his latest title, and just how many hundred staff will be required to get the game to market in three years time. And amongst the project managers, producers, assistant producers, programmers, game designers, 3D artists, texture artists, sound technicians and game testers, two or three concept artists and turnaround sheets will probably be required.

Character design: the Warbot MkIV!

Jonny Duddle Duddle has worked as a 3D artist and concept artist for clients including Aardman Features, and SCEE. As an illustrator, he has produced work for big names such as Random House.

On your disc Youll find the resources you need to work along with this project, including sketches of the Warbot, on your cover disc, in the Resources section

Skills Develop character designs Draw alternate views of the same character Create a turnaround sheet for a 3D artist

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Character design: the Warbot MkIV


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Every young boy who dreams of intergalactic conquest needs some big robots, so I start by developing character ideas, mixing old sketches with more contemporary robot aesthetics. Robots lie somewhere between characters and objects, but I want to inject as much personality as possible into this design.

If this character was being produced for a real game, the development process would be heavily influenced by the art director. At this stage, sketches are produced quickly in search of a design that both fulfils the brief and is economical in terms of poly and bone count. I normally present all my development sketches to a client, because details that I might have overlooked, or discarded, could be just what the art director would like to see.


The King of Space, Rex, is a kid, and because this is a cartoon game thats primarily aimed at children, I decide that the earlier sketches are too menacing. The final rough is heavily influenced by Japanese tin robots of the 50s and 60s. This fits nicely within the imagination of the four-year-old Rex, and gives a great basis for the general art direction.


A lot of 3D artists like to work with multiple drawings, showing a character from various angles. The complexity and range of concept sketches are often dictated by the time available, and the games development schedule. A turnaround sheet can be produced fairly quickly, and should provide a 3D artist with all the information they need. Create a new file, and drag your rough sketch across.

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Project one Characters and concepts


When you produce turnarounds, its a good idea to include height lines. Create a series of guides at 4cm intervals, by dragging from the rulers in Photoshop. Make sure that View>Snap to>Guides is ticked, and use the Line tool to make a series of lines to cover four metres, which is just about the height I think the Warbot should be.

Sometimes I work in metres, and sometimes I work in feet and inches. Ive used metres here because most 3D modellers (in Europe) will set the units to metres in their 3D software. Most development teams set their units at the outset, so that everybody in the team will create assets to the correct scale. Characters are regularly put against each other to keep their relative sizes consistent. The Rex character is sat in the Warbots cockpit, so use him to scale the sketch (Edit>Free Transform) against your height lines.


To create the front view, reduce the opacity of the sketch layer, create a new layer, and begin a neater drawing adding detail and refining the design as you go along. Throughout this whole process it will help to refer to images of tin robots; I found some in a couple of books and a folder of JPGs that I unearthed online. Use Photoshops 5-pixel Conte pencil for drawing, to achieve a pencil look.


Mask out the height lines with a Layer Mask so that youre not actually deleting the lines, and can easily alter the mask with changes to the drawing. Once you get the drawing to the stage where the silhouette is resolved, you can use it as a template for the back view.


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Character design: the Warbot MkIV


Poly count
Concept artists cant just draw what they want. They need to fulfil a brief and, along with making a character look great, it is important to consider the economy of the design in a games context. The number of polygons is still an important consideration. I used to build characters with a few hundred polygons for PS1 games, while the latest consoles can handle characters with 10,000 or 20,000 polys but even the fastest processors would struggle with a horde of octopus monsters waving their tentacles in the air.


To make the back view, duplicate the front view, move the new layer across to the opposite side of the canvas, reduce the opacity to about 20%, and use Edit>Transform>Flip Horizontal. The silhouette of the back view is the mirror image of the front view, so this template saves time in developing the rear of the Warbot.

Begin drawing the back view by tracing the silhouette of the template, and picking out the main shapes. Most robots and even organic characters are made up of a series of simple shapes. Its important to think in 3D, and once these shapes are defined, it is much easier to add detail.


The detail around joints can make or break a robot design, so its important to make all aspects look like they might really work. When rendering detail, collecting reference of robots and other mechanical devices will help. The Warbot doesnt have to work in the real world, which gives some room for artistic licence, but the various elements must be able to move as a 3D model without fouling each other, or unnecessarily restricting movement.


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Project one Characters and concepts

The back view requires new design features, so for anything particularly complex create a new layer with a low opacity, and sketch the new elements first, before attempting to add them to the neat version.


The side view is often the most difficult of the three. In this case its fairly straightforward, because the Warbot is a simple shape. Use the low-opacity copy of the front view as a template again, and tweak it with Photoshops Transform tools. This will help keep the proportions correct.


Every game character is rigged with a skeleton. The complexity of this skeleton is often even more important than a characters poly count, because the processor has to think about moving every bone, for every active character, for each of the 24 frames in a second. So while the Warbots bendy arms might not be particularly popular with the coders, his rigid back and limited fingers should go down well.

Create lots of temporary guides when youre doing the back and side views to help keep everything in line, but make sure the Snap To guides are turned off (View>Snap To>Guides), otherwise the pencil line will keep snapping across to the guides!


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Character design: the Warbot MkIV

If all you want to draw are cartoon robots, youre unlikely to make a decent living as a concept artist. Most concept artists can work in a range of styles. Over the past 10 years Ive worked on all sorts, from cartoon platformers to realistic first-person shooters. If you want to work as a concept artist in the games industry, make every effort to continuously develop your skills and make yourself more attractive and employable to potential clients.


The final detail to add to the line art is the Warbots pilot. Rex operates everything from a glass dome, so I tried a few variations with his controls such as log levers and a games console joypad. Keep your experimental elements on a separate layer until youre happy, and then merge them down to form a front line art layer. Try and keep all your layers organised with layer groups.


There isnt always time to add colour to a turnaround, but fortunately for this project there is. Block in some basic colours to try and push the tin toy look, by creating a new layer below the line drawings, and painting in some flat colours with an Opaque brush. I painted almost everything a brown-ish grey first, before creating a second colour layer and trying out different colour schemes.


With all the flat colours in place, the design doesnt look very three-dimensional, so create another layer to paint in some shadows. These will hopefully help establish the form and give a sense of volume. Set the Blend mode to Vivid Light, drop the opacity to 30%, and paint in some shadows with a deep grey/blue.


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Project one Characters and concepts

Sketch digitally

I do most of my sketching directly in Photoshop, and this is becoming increasingly common in the games industry. I work on a Wacom Cintiq 21UX, which gives me the direct feel of working on paper, plus all the flexibility of working digitally. Changes to roughs can be made without starting a whole new drawing, proportions can be tweaked easily at the request of a client, and each drawing can evolve from the last without having to re-draw elements that remain the same.

The page would benefit from some surface texture, so I rooted through some scanned textures and found a creased folder one. Drag your texture over the entire concept sheet, setting its Blend mode to Overlay, and fiddle about with the opacity until it looks right. To enable the overall effect to fit with the retro robot design, add a second texture to give some yellowing and staining.


As with the use of colour, spending time buffing up a concept sheet is somewhat of a luxury, but decent presentation can also suggest new ideas that a games designer or art director may like, such as these inter-changeable arms. So have some fun developing the retro theme.


Save a second version with just the line art and height lines on a white background, so that you can use it as a template in a 3D package, and review the final colour sheet. This turnaround sheet would provide ample information for a 3D artist to build a game-ready model a couple of years down the line youd be able to zap enemy tanks and conquer the galaxy from the comfort of your sofa!


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