Workshop 1: Character Design

I’m not a massive fan of ‘How To’s’ coz generally when you follow them, your finished work still doesn’t turn out right, so instead of telling you “You’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that”, I’ll simply explain the process I go through in creating something.

There won’t be any “Set Opacity level to 75%” type of nonsense, really the only thing I will say is you should just play around as much as you can, try things out to see if they’ll work, don’t be afraid to use weird textures or patterns, you might stumble across a few Happy Accidents. If your designs don’t come out the way you want them, don’t despair, it takes a while to get good at something, I’ve had my share of failures too! Please note this is done in Photoshop using a Intuos 3 Wacom Tablet (which I’ll discuss in a latter workshop), but most of this can be done in software like GIMP as well, however I won’t be going into any great details about the software so if you don’t know anything about Photoshop (or similar programs), things may get confusing. Here I’ll detail a very basic set up for doing a character using a recent Wonder Woman creation I posted, even though it’s only 12 steps, it’s an abbreviated version on the process and thus isn’t as easy as it may seem. The original goal was to create a more grounded version of the costume, something that looked a lot more credible than her usual outfit. This workshop contains tasteful nudity, anybody offended needs to either skip this or learn to grow up.

Part 1 – Main Image

What you need first is your model image, the image that your design is going to be based around. Here I’ve chosen an image (courtesy of Marcus Ranum stock gallery) that has a nice body position to it, the sheet is in the way but that can be dealt with later, and the right arm probably needs fixing, but that can be done latter too.

Part 2 – References

The design I’m going for is a more grounded interpretation to Wonder Woman, a mix of her comic costume and traditional ancient Greek armour, as a result I get references for as many varied Greek and ancient armour photos as I can, this will be my guide. On top of that I find a few Wonder Woman images with costumes along the lines of where I want to take the design.

Part 3 – Celebrity Head

Taking notice of the lighting direction I’ve roughly cut out an image of my chosen actress that I wish to use as my casting choice onto a new Layer, making sure the lighting source is coming from the same direction otherwise the design will look off. To get the head roughly the same size as the model’s, I turn the transparency down on my actress, overlay it with the model’s and match it’s size as best I can.

Part 4 – Rough sketch

Now that I’ve got the main body positioned the way I want it, I want a basic layout. Using images roughly cut from the various references I’ve found I build a basic foundation for the design. This won’t look anything like the finished product, it’s just a rough guide to get you started. With the basic guide down I now start to add rough colours and rough cut outs of various textures and patterns to give me a sense of where this is going. I flip the canvas horizontally to give me a fresh perspective and fix any nagging positioning issues (this is actually a tip I recommend, you’d be surprised how easy it is to not notice errors until you look at the image in a different way).

Part 5 – Detailing

Now comes the time consuming part. Remember, each piece you copy and paste in Photoshop will automatically create a new Layer, if using Photoshop I recommend taking advantage of the Layers Sets option to group things together in a more orderly fashion, I like to categorize my layer sets into section like Head, Torso, Body, etc. Also remember the more Layers you have, the larger the file size is, so I recommend Merging Layers as much as possible. Using bits and pieces of various images and textures, I slowly build up each section of the design. I start first on the torso, I want a mix of armour and fabric for this, so I use a hard surface image for the breast section to give it a look of hard armour and use the Burn/Dodge and Paint Brush tools to give it shape, For the abs section I and use images of leather, taking notice of the position of the body and the lighting and using the Burn/Dodge and Paint Brush tools to help with any lighting issues.

Part 6 – Move on

I start doing the Eagle crest but begin getting frustrated with it, if something isn’t working, move on to another section and come back latter. I move on to the skirt, I create a new Layer Set called Skirt, again I want a leathery look to it as well, on top of that, I use references of battle skirt I found to guide me not just in terms of ideas, but to help me understand how they function. Copying and pasting various leather pieces I gradually build up the skirt. Wonder Woman traditionally has white stars patterns on her, I opt instead to go for silver star-shaped rivets.

Part 7 – All things Gold

In a new Layer Set called Belt, I use a shiny metal image to cut out the basic shape of the girdle, again taking notice of the light source. I find a part of a piece of Greek armour that I think would work well for the belt, adjust the colour using the Colour Adjustment option, and clone it to make it a fit better on her waist.

Next the tiara, I use the same star pattern from the skirt here, and adjust the colour with the Colour Adjustment options. All this is finished by using the Burn/Dodge and Paint Brush tools to help with any lighting and colour issues.

Part 8 – Body Issues

The right arm is now annoying me, it feels like it should be doing something else, as a result I go through my body stock images and find something that looks better, upon find the right image I get the idea of adding Wonder Woman’s lasso into the mix, which I’ll do latter. As well as that, I change her left hand into a fist as it will be holding the Lasso later on.

Next is that sheet covering the lower part of the leg, being almost transparent is helpful and really it’s only the top section that needs any serious changes. Working of a duplicate of the original body stock image, I copy and paste pieces over the sheet, keeping track of the lighting, until all the sheet is removed. Once done, I merge all these layers together.

Part 9 – Breastplate

I’ve put off doing the Eagle crest for too long. Using an image of female metal armour I cut and paste various pieces and arrange them in the shape I want, again taking into account the lighting source. With the base done, I go in and start doing the fine details, adding texture and patterns until I’m satisfied with the outcome. I then merge those layers down and alter the Colours and Levels to suit.

Part 10 – Footwear and hands

Time for the bracers, I find a stock image of some medieval gauntlets and wrap them around her wrists, again taking notice of the light direction, to add some interest I apply a textured overlay to the bracers.

Next footwear, whilst searching for Greek armour earlier I stumble across a costume image with footware that is exactly the kind I’m looking for, using that as a guide I create similar styled footware but more in line with the comic outfit design.

Part 11 – Lasso

I search for a while to get some decent rope images but to no avail, as a result I’ve got no option but to create the lasso from scratch, using the Pen Tool I create the shape for the lasso until it fits right. Then using what decent rope imagery I had, slowly (and very painfully) copied and pasted the rope pattern all away around the created shape. I then merge all those layers together and adjust the Colouring and Levels until it looks more like gold.

Part 12 – Final touches

All I have to do now is some final detailing. Again, it’s a good idea to flip it horizontally to make sure things are looking OK. I straighten the head slightly, add some thicker and fuller hair and change the direction of the eyes. I add some rivets, gold detailing, scratches and further patterns to the torso, and add some Greek patterns to the tails of the skirt. Using the Liquify tool I subtly alter the body to give her a bit more muscle definition, in conjunction with the Burn and Dodge tool to help with the tones. To the girdle I add symbols of Greek Goddess from images of jewelry and refine the shadowing, and to the bracers I add reflective colouring. The last thing is adding the shadow for the lasso, erase any loose fragments that you may have missed and use the Burn/Dodge and Paint Brush tools to fix any final lighting problems and presto, she’s done!

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Posted in Manips, workshop
7 comments on “Workshop 1: Character Design
  1. streetkid says:

    you are a god thanks alot will u do one for superman

  2. joshmc says:

    Probably not for the same workshop, but might use it for another one.

  3. Derrick9592 says:

    great tutorial, dude. you are a miracle :D

  4. Brandan says:

    You definitely are talented man. I know you’re probably not taking request so I won’t bother to ask. But thanks for the tutorial and the awesome pics to look at. Love your posters.

  5. TheRsign says:

    could you give some pointers on how you organize your stock gallery?

  6. josh says:

    I don’t actually have a stock gallery.

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Ever wanted to see yourself as your favourite pop culture character? Want to turn a friend into a superhero for a really unique birthday gift? Maybe you just want some non comic or movie related artwork done. Illustrations, Manipulations, Logo Designs, Typography - if you think I can be of service to you please feel free to hit me up on the email below.

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