2020 | Winter Registration now Open!

Registration for our 2020 Winter Term is now open!

Character Design for Film and Games

An 8-week course structured like a studio and freelance workflow focusing on character design

Course overview Course overview

Course Overview

Develop what makes a quality character

This course will teach you basic as well as advanced techniques in character creation. Students will explore the essence of a character by developing that character’s attitude and digging deep into what makes the character feel real and grounded. Visual storytelling is key in the video game and cinematic worlds, and students will learn how to portray all aspects of a character in their attire as well as the small details, such as pose, attitude, and flavor. Students will learn how to execute a powerful character from start to finish, with focus on details, lighting, communication, and clarity.


Course Format:   Standard
Lecture Type:   Pre-recorded
Feedback:   Individual recordings
Duration:   8 weeks
Assignment:   Deadlines each week
Q&A:   Once a week
Materials:   Photoshop (or equivalent), Wacom Tablet (or equivalent)
Skills level:   Advanced
Prerequisites:   Analytical Figure Drawing, Head Drawing & Construction and Costume Design classes or a strong understanding of human anatomy and gesture

Character Design for Film and Games WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

What you'll learn

The more you know, the better.

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Working from a character description, students will begin collecting references as well as creating their first page of sketches. To get ready for the later weeks, students will be practicing rendering forms, lighting, and materials.
How to make a legitimate page of sketches for a client, whether on paper or on screen | How to use lighting and basic rendering techniques to create a readable and concise thumbnail image
Students will learn about the process between client and artist and learn how choices will be made about narrowing the selection to one or two sketches. Students will take two of their chosen selections and use the information given about rendering, choosing a light source, and making their sketches believable.
What makes a character have character? Here we will go over the basics of head and face construction, and how the head of the character can adequately describe the mood of the character.
Students will take their chosen characters and begin working on a pose that shows what the character is about, as well as create the base sketch for the final render of their character. They will learn how to add items to their character to tell an adequate story.
Students will learn how to go from a thumbnail sketch to the first pass of a glamour shot of their characters. They will be working on a larger version of their images and implement different materials and facets to the character’s silhouette to make the design adequate for handing to a 3D modeler and refine the character’s face.
Students will keep refining their image and begin implementing the head from previous weeks. They will also work on making the face pretty through polish and attitude.
Students will learn to submit their finals (in color or black & white) to the client. They will add notes and clarify ideas for their client, by neatly attaching reference images, texture swatches, and call-outs.

Real heroes don't wear capes they teach

Marco Nelor is from a small town called Shreveport, Louisiana. After attending college for 2d studio art, he furthered his art education at the Massive Black Safehouse Atelier. Shortly after, he was recruited to Ensemble studios where he worked on his first video game, Halo Wars. Upon closure of Ensemble studios, he fled to Netherrealm studios, where he would work on his dream game, Mortal Kombat. During the weekends, Marco freelances for Magic the Gathering, creating card art, and is an avid foodie and gym goer.

Student interviews


January 25th!

winter TERM Registration

Oct 21, 2019 - Feb 3, 2020




January 25th!

Pricing & Schedule

Even though our courses are the most affordable for the quality of education.

These Finance Options allow you to focus on your goals instead of the barriers that keep you from reaching them.

Employer Reimbursement

Animation Guild CSATTF

Payment Plan

Companies that hire our students

  • Naughty Dog
  • Luma Pictures
  • Google
  • EA Games
  • DreamWorks Animation
  • Blizzard Entertainment

environment design Benefits


What makes this learning experience unique?

Personal Feedback

Receive personal individual feedback on all submitted assignments from the industries best artist.

1+ Year Access

Enjoy over 365 days of full course access. This includes all lectures, feedback, and Live Q&A recordings.

Certificate of Completion

Earn a Certificate of Completion when you complete and turn in 80% of course assignments.

Flexible Learning

Learn anywhere, anytime, and at your own pace with our online courses.

Speak to an advisor

Need guidance or course recommendations? Let us help!

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Show us your skills

Not sure if you have the skills, or are you proving you do? Show us.

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The Warlock

Interview with Samantha Combaluzier

VFX artist Samantha Combaluzier branches out into character design, taking us through the process of how she crafted her spell-slinging Warlock over 8 weeks in Marco Nelor's Character Design for Film & Games course.

The Warlock



Good day everyone! I’m Samantha Combaluzier. I grew up in the South of France near the Mediterranean sea. I have worked in the VFX industry for around 10 years and I had the privilege to work on various films and TV series (Fantastic Beast, Game Of Thrones, etc.). My artistic background comes from graphic design, illustration, conception, and 3D. Creativity is a fuel that needs some guidance and CGMA has helped me improve my artistic skills and techniques. I chose the Character Design for Film & Games course with Marco Nelor because I wanted to achieve a more realistic look in my art and speed-up my process.



Research & Development


The first pass of research and development is important to familiarize yourself with your subject. Marco acted as an Art Director and gave us quite a few character descriptions to pick from. I selected the “Warlock” as I wanted to depict a magical male character with the power of lightning (or something else) in his hands. As an imaginative backstory, he is a Warlock who worships the Thunder Wolf as his deity. His prop is inspired by the Vajra: a weapon of the Indian Vedic rain and thunder-deity Indra. The research helped me to figure out the character’s essence.




Developing some silhouettes was key to help visualize the his iconic figure and presence. I was inspired by werewolves, shaman designs, medieval armours, and magicians. The goal is to create something that feels right for you. The first sketches and doodles were just to work the materials altogether (from the research) as well as experiment with variations. Thinking of the story behind your character will ground him in some sort of reality. And the research phase is extremely important to nurture your designs and find the right shapes.


Narrowing Down the Selection


Afterwards, we narrowed down with Marco the silhouettes, focusing only on the costume design this time. There was still space for development and detailing; it was really a matter of selecting the most interesting sketch, and I totally agreed with Marco’s insightful comments, as we were evaluating the potential of each silhouette. The development of shapes was quite promising and it was easier to imagine the character this way. Then, we selected three possibilities to create a gesture from.


Head Explorations


As we continued to work on the Warlock, another pass of research was done only for his Head. I wanted his face to resemble and share some facial properties of a wolf. With this approach, he was going to wear those distinctive attributes : long hair, big ears, a well furnished beard (fur) and clever eyes. Among all the references, five actors were the most influential in the design development.



Playing with different facial features was very interesting and fun. The idea was not to copy an existing character face, but to use it as inspiration to reach a design which felt right. I started with a serious expression and then softened it, and gave it more definition.



With Marco, we selected three versions and placed each face over a rough sketch of the shoulder pads. I finally chose version B with the eyes of C and polished a final version. The salt and pepper hair look was a design choice because it reminded me of a wolf bicolour fur.




Character Through Gesture and colour


Finding a gesture for him was a challenge, so I had to pose in order to feel what kind of presence he should portrait. Drawing him with this physical awareness made him more realistic. In his action pose, he is not wasting any movement or energy since he is like an older wolf that knows what he is doing and waiting for the right moment to pounce.


Then, it was time to test a few colour palettes over the black and white sketch. I used overlays and colour layer effect in Photoshop to test some colour palettes over the detailed black and white render.



Final Glamour Shot


For the final design, it was a journey to paint and to push the final rendering as far as possible. Most of the modifications were painted in black and white before applying colours. It was a very dynamic back and forth with Marco to make sure I learned from my mistakes and improve on that. I followed and re-painted all the design elements that were off, and I used a few photos for texture and detailing.



The biggest challenge for me was the armour and cape, but Marco gave me detailed advice to help me finalize the look. In general, I had to redefine some of the key elements of the character to give him more readability. The armour was implemented with the “Thunder wolf” theme as you can see from the shoulders pads. From the original designs until the last steps, the improvement was huge, Thank you Marco.






The piece ended up very well for the Warlock and I’m very pleased with the result. The dynamic and flow of the character works because he seems alive. I learned a lot by exploring various possibilities, by sketching, rendering, and how to push the quality up into the final work. I want to thank CGMA for being such a wonderful resource for artists and teaching us how to improve. I had the chance to learn from their fantastic teachers and I enjoyed their wisdom. Thank you CGMA!


Codename: Fatboar

Interview with Omar Gamal

Omar Gamal is a passionate character artist who takes us through his thoughtful variations and deliberate details, capturing the indomitable Ersa in Marco Nelor’s Character Design for Film and Games.

Codename: Fatboar


My name is Omar Gamal. I was born in Cairo, Egypt, on the 24 th of September 1992. I majored in Architecture when I was in college, but right after graduation, I realized that my heart lies in graphic and character design. I worked in Media and Advertising for 5 complete years and when the right time came along, in 2018 to be more exact, I decided to leave my job and get a fresh dive into concept art, and that was when I signed up for the CGMA character design course for film and games with the remarkable Marco Nelor. I can’t come to describe how captivating this course was; it made me realize that no matter what, I’ll always still have a lot to acquire and learn, and the cherry on top of the cake was how Nelor challenged everyone onboard to always push their limits. To me, this was not just a course; it was rather a fresh and an exhilarating start to a different aspect of my career. 



When I first started off the project, picking the brief wasn’t the easiest thing, which eventually led me to start a research on scouts. I started reading about war scouts throughout history and the kind of equipment they carried around throughout battles. I envisioned my character to be a female scout, more of a survivor than a tanker or a frontline warrior. When I imagined what kind of equipment she would have, I thought if she can survive in extreme conditions, then she needs to also have a way of communication with the mother base to teleport the news. There were a lot of keywords running through my head at that time; like agility, stealth, slyness, elegance, beauty, and I also wanted to add a touch of masculinity that the character must have acquired throughout her service. 


My first stop for inspiration was Pinterest. I started with gathering anything that my eyes could lay on, be it a word, a bracelet, or even an artistic woven rug. At that point, I didn’t have a clear idea of what my character would look like or how her attire will turn out to be, I was just gathering ideas and inspirations. I still remember Marco telling us to clear our minds, and just search for things that may inspire us, and that was the key to everything that was created from this point onwards. 




By the time I approached the second week, I was starting to have a rough idea about the outlines that define my character, especially when it comes to attire. After narrowing down my research to 4 main ideas, each idea would be translated into a sketch that carries characteristics and manners of the character. I wasn’t yet thinking about the materials in which her attire would be made of, especially that at this stage, she was still wearing only weapons and gadgets. One of the main attire ideas of the 4 sketches was to dress in a military prestigious way, influenced by how Renaissance warriors looked like, with a bit of a mystical depth to the character. I wanted my character to look both firm yet gypsy; to serve the idea of her being a scout, and I wanted to show this in the way she styles her hair and in her attire, which had to be lightly armored to help her movements, with bits of heavy ornamented pieces to give the needed depth to her cultural background. 



After discussing the rough sketches of the character with Marco, we mainly agreed that the character should be more agile, light armored, and should not be wearing multiple items in terms of attire or equipment, to make her movement easier. I took that conclusion as the main variable that I used to narrow my sketches down. It was then clear in my head that the main shape of the character will be controlled by her values and traits and how the environment surrounding her will be reflected on her attire.



 I refined my sketches once again, I had two main ideas at that time; gypsy archer and high rank military scout. I started researching the very fine details that would make her notable; like her emblem. I had to do some close-ups on fabrics, ranking design, weapons and clothing details, starting with the cape or the heavy layered jacket, all the way to the belt buckles and arm pads.





By the time Week 4 approached us, I had almost everything figured out the attitude of my character. I had to go through a lot of inspiration to grasp what I want as a facial expression, and that was my next challenge. My character is a high military rank scout, she is not just firm and sharp; she is also a sneaky roamer. Being a gypsy nomad, she may not see her lands for months; she spends most of the time in solitary. If I’m being frank, I wasn’t very lucky at this week with my 1st trial for the facial expression. The face is always the hardest part when it comes to character design, because you always need to tell the story of a character only by its face. I had to sketch a lot of facial expressions and dig more through my character to see which features and values should illustrate her face. 




Her attire, her identity, her weapons, all of that was put together forming the true essence of my character at this stage. What was left was to finetune all those elements along with adjusting her pose. I pictured the stand to be more of a firm static military-type pose, yet I still had to add some dynamic elements to make the pose more intriguing; like the lifted-up knees and the way she holds her sword over her shoulder -which needs to subtly give the impression of how heavy the sword is.




 I also wanted to show why she carries such a heavy sword through her journey, which also adds up to her backstory that the sword is some sort of an inherited family weapon. I also had to design some elements in particular; for instance, I used some Zbrush rough outs to make the sword, and then had it photobashed in my final piece. I don’t usually tend to go for photobashing, but in this particular scenario it saved me a lot of time in some pattern detailing; like her jacket, some cloth cuts on her pants and some fabric detailing as well. 





The final week was all about focusing more on materials and colors. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out some details that may appear as minor, but it makes all the difference, like her boots material or her shoulder armor piece. I made a lot of research on fabrics and how they would look like on a jacket or on a pair of pants. Once I had some ideas, I spent the time remaining trying to fit this materials on my wall piece. I’ve always been fascinated with material studies, and those weeks were full of various kinds of materials, whether hard and soft. I got to try them out on the costume attire that I created, and I got to study how rough or reflective they can get; to give meaning to the whole outfit. 

Character designers always tend to make their design full of details, which is not always idealistic if it doesn’t serve the big idea. There had been many challenges that I’ve faced during these weeks; some of the biggest challenges were how to portray my character through everything that is happening around her, what should her environment be, how much light should she be exposed to, all those questions 




Ersa stands shorter than the regular female. She has a petite physique but every strand of muscle carries explosive energy within. She carries a rapier by her side and a longbow on her back. The rapier has been enchanted by destructive runes so that although she doesn’t usually use it, but when she does she only has to use it once. As for the longbow, it was carved from a single piece of elvish wood. The wood has elastic properties which gives the bow twice the range and almost four times the power of a regular longbow. As she needs to camp for days at a time, she uses a holding bag which was found in an ancient ruin. The bag has a storage capacity of a meter square although the bag itself is only a handful. She places the bag in front of her rapier so it wouldn’t hinder her draw On the other side of the rapier, she has a small wooden pouch containing her wasp familiars. They are a breed of wasps engraved with magical runes which gives her the ability to see through they eyes and lets them do her bidding.




It’s never a piece of cake to be satisfied with the art piece that you are creating, especially if you spend so much time furnishing it. At a certain point, you end up seeing only the flaws; but this art piece was different for me, I felt that I was satisfied with the outcome at the end of the course, because for the first time ever I felt that I was approaching a new level of detailing that I was never challenged enough to acquire before. It’s safe to say that I didn’t just learn new painting skills, I’ve learned a new way of thinking; a methodology to crack any brief, and not just in relation to character design, which is a gem that I must owe to Marco. 


Omar would like to thank Marwa El Beheiry for helping him with reviewing and translating his interview.

The Cleric

Interview with Hugo Araujo

Hugo Araujo is a freelance illustrator who shows us how his cleric came to stand tall in Character Design for Film and Games. 

The Cleric


My name is Hugo Araujo, I am from Brazil and work as a freelance illustrator. Most of my work is done for didactic books of several publishers. I drew two authorial comics in the beginning of my career and made some small independent comic projects abroad. I like the conceptual aspect of illustration and have always been curious about the creation process behind the characters of films and games. My intention is to focus on concept art for this industry.


Research & Development


I am usually more interested in fantasy rather than science-fiction (but I also like sci-fi). So I picked the cleric description to work on. I was inspired by real religious cultural elements, that are already a rich source of reference -from Christianity to Shamanism. And the armor design came from the old anime series Shurato, inspired by Hinduism, was also an influence for me. 




I tried to take my references from real clerical costumes and designs.  I could not get away from the idea that the character belongs to a medieval fantasy word, someone made for a game. Since I didn’t want to give him weapons, I felt that he needed at least a knife in the belt to protect himself if he was living in this word.


Sketches for a Client & Narrowing Down the Selection


I wanted his silhouette to remind me of a church cleric more than a warrior, like a monk. So the long tunic skirt and rounded helmet became essential.

My first design was kind of disastrous. Marco Nelor pointed out its crooked posture, and when he said he liked the accessories in the other sketches, I knew that I should follow that design path.


Exploring the Character


My character, he is a cleric from a kingdom that has a big connection with nature and uses flora and fauna to produce curative spells. His armor protects his body from external menaces when he goes to the battlefield to help warriors. He is sort of stern monk.



For his gesture, it shows that his curative function needs an active and courageous posture during war. A cleric is not a very dynamic character, so I used the light and smoke to add more of an impact.  
The accessories were essential to make this character interesting, they reveal his interest in sorcery and skill with daggers. I adjusted the design of the rod and added a sacred book to his belt for the final.



Final Glamour Shot


I thought about the colors and how they could be used to show the important parts of the design. The red helmet distinguished from the armor was my intention since the first sketches. The head is a defining part of a cleric costume since is the closest part of the body to heaven, and put together with the red painted face, somewhat shamanic, gives him a darker look and contrast with the eyes.

My biggest challenge was about the style of illustration. I wanted to give him more cartoonish or caricature features but I ended up making him with real proportions – I found it boring because it is not what I really wanted. It is still a challenge for me.




Certainly, I think I improved my rendering skills from taking this course. I never before tried the process of adding colors after the rendering – this is a good choice when you want to focus on the shapes and values.
The steps of gathering references before starting sketching and the use of photos to create textures are the two main things I am applying in my work now. 
Now, I am satisfied with the design, colors, texture of my art piece. But it also has to have a personality.

See more of his work at hugoaraujo.artstation.com

Rogue Warrior

Interview with Max Kennedy

Artist Max Kennedy talks to us about how he created his firece female rogue in Marco Nelor's Character Design for Film and Games

Rogue Warrior


Hello! My name is Max Kennedy. I started to draw in my childhood and then it became my hobby and then my regular work. I have some special education in traditional art but now I want to learn more about digital drawing, especially about characters design. Usually my work is digital illustrations with different themes and styles, both fanart and original characters. I decided to take this course because it seemed interesting and very useful to learn how to create original characters. In my future, I hope to find more interesting projects based on what I've learned here. 



Research & Development 


There are many different things, from novels and movies to videogames and original comics. In addition, it was some random research in blogs with photo and images. Usually I start my work with research to find interesting ideas, details and inspiration for each new project. And this time it was really exciting to research references for Rogue. 




Narrowing Down the Selection 



I chose some sketches from Week 1 to make clearer, added more details and special things to make the images more expressive. There were a couple different variants to choose the one to work with it. My imageboard was very helpful to me during this week. In addition, I found some more references for the new details. I really appreciated each of the instructor’s feedback. There were many useful tips and it usually was encouraged me to continue my drawing process. Step by step Marco helped me to make more interesting outfits and fix my mistakes in human anatomy. 



 Character Explorations



I chose a fantasy Rogue/Scout character and I tried to make it a little different than I was used to seeing them. I decided to refuse from such things as hooded cloaks and make my character looks more like some wild Amazon warrior, more powerful, a fury, and more heavy than the stealthy and trickster ones. I chose a warlike, confident pose, with a weapon in the foreground to remind us that we are dealing with a cold-blooded killer. She can remain calm until she needs to rush into battle if it is necessary. I made a few different sketches to choose the one I'd prefer for my character. 
It was very interesting to make various head sketches to find emotions that can tell more about my character. During the sketching, I thought a lot about my character's story and background. She is a rogue assassin with a piercing gaze that hides her dark past. She lost her family in the fire of the war and left on her own. That is why she’s a pretty introverted person and can be really ruthless to enemies. However, for someone she trusts she can be very sincere and faithful. 



Final Glamour Shot 


The final rendering was both interesting and difficult to me. It was a new experience to work with the character, minding all the elements, balancing lights and shadows, anatomy and expression. I think the biggest challenge was adding more details while finding the right balance of lights and shadows to give form to the character. During the process, I was trying to create clear shadows like in my previous sketches. In the future I plan to work more on this skill. In addition, I guess it was a good for me. 
My character’s design changed a lot to from the beginning. It was not only the number of details, but also the character's story, which I try to tell through the drawing. Each accessory is important to show her background. The weapon can tell us about fighting style. Other small details such as the ethnic fashion reflects the character's life and habits. Her style included things such as feathers woven into hair, beaded necklaces, metal claw rings and a "war-paint" make-up style. Light leather armor makes her pretty fast in fighting, and large metal shoulder armor, decorated with horns, signifies her belonging to a specific clan of assassins. 


Final Thoughts

I think I'm really satisfied with my art piece because I can say that there's not only technical problems I solved, but something more personal, emotional, that can be found in it. I've gained a lot of new skills, such as developing special details and textures for each character. Also lots of new digital drawing and rendering techniques and of course working with light and shadows. After this course, I really started to look at my work differently and remember the helpful tips, which Marco told and showed us in the video lectures, and am using them in my work now. 



The Step by Step of Sindriira

Interview with Brendan Milos

Concept Artist Brendan Milos gives us the breakdown on the course Character Design for Film and Games and uses all the tools he can to render his D&D inspired character. 

The Step by Step of Sindriira


Hello! My name is Brendan Milos and I’ve been working as a game artist in the San Francisco bay area for the past 10 years. I have professional experience doing almost anything in the art and design pipeline, but my passion is in character design. I decided to take Character Design for Films and Games taught by Marco Nelor because this is the area that I am most interested in honing my skills.  Marco is incredibly talented and has been an excellent mentor in how to design compelling characters.  

This article outlines my character design process for an original character, Sindriira Sh’laar, the dark elf death cleric. Hope you enjoy!


Research & Development


It’s important to start with a character write up. This narrative describes who the character is and what they look like.  Marco created six character write ups in science fiction and fantasy as starting points.  I started with the Cleric/Warlock template and refined it by researching this character class in Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).  Pen and paper RPGs have rich world building and easy character creation steps that assist in refining the design. 

Sindriira Sh’laar is a dark elf born into nobility, raised on the value of tradition, and trained in the arcane arts. The dark elves revere vampires and so Sindriira received what is known as the Kiss of Lilith as part of the final ritual in her training. With the merest gaze she can freeze the viewer into a state of awe, bending them to her will. Her goal in life is to become the house matriarch as a way to continue her society’s values and influence many future generations.

For gathering reference, I usually go to Pinterest first. I like to gather reference for every aspect of the character including outfit and accessories, personality, and some figure model reference.  My personal taste as an artist is inspired by Castlevania, The Matrix, Vampire: The Masquerade, Magic: The Gathering, H.R. Giger, and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, so that influences how I mold the reference into my own designs.



All of my digital painting is done in Photoshop.  For the thumbnail sketching, I explore as widely as possible.  Each subsequent step in the design process is about narrowing the list of potential outcomes so the first step should be about idea generation and not editing. Set a few broad design stakes in the ground (i.e. vampire, female, royalty, mage) and then sketch as broadly as possible with those constraints. Thumbnails are about ideas over anatomy.  Don’t sweat the details, just focus on initial read through silhouette and shapes communicated through solid blocks of value.



Sketches for a Client


For this particular project, the better designs were created in the back half of the sketching process. This usually happens for me because I get all the obvious ideas out of my head first then explore designs that I wouldn’t normally. Contrast between large and small silhouettes create balance, while accessories like crowns and capes convey regal status. I like to send out options to other artist friends as a way to get feedback from several people.  When I hear a pattern of feedback, that helps me to objectively view the pros and cons of each design.

The work done for week 1 helped the selection and refinement process.  When it comes to making art, any process I can follow that breaks down into granular parts helps me achieve consistent results, even if I’m having an off day. Week 1 was about establishing design constraints and sketching as wide as possible within them, and week 2 was about analyzing and selecting what’s working and what’s not.  Just like writing and editing are broken into different phases, breaking those steps into separate weeks is important.



Narrowing Down the Selection

Marco pointed out a few helpful aspects that helped me choose my final design. First, the proportions of my characters weren’t heroic enough. Most figures in real life are about 7 heads tall, but a heroic character is about 9 heads tall.  I extended the legs and arms, especially the thighs, in order to make my character’s pose read more realistically. Practicality needs to be considered when designing costumes.  Some of the designs in week 2, especially B, have more of a costumed look rather than like a person wearing their natural, functional clothing.

The last big piece of advice that Marco conveyed was to fully develop the designs.  Don’t leave big gaps in the uniform that could use a bit more design.  For example, design C from week 2 had a lot of good aspects, but the torso was completely blank.  Refining the design is about exploring a higher level of intentional detail after the main blocks of form have been figured out.  This idea is a balancing act as there will be a point where a costume needs some larger areas of less detail.



Head Explorations

Sindriira is arrogant, capable, confrontational, and shrewd. Conveying this personality through the proportions in her face was the main challenge of this week.  I explored the narrow, angular features found in a lot of Elven characters as well as large or piercing eye shapes. Features like the drawn up eyebrows, pursed lips, and swept back hairstyle were also important to convey nobility and conscension.  Doing a turnaround of the final portrait helps me figure out the form in 3D space.



Character Through Gesture


I wanted this character to look powerful and in control through her body language.  The camera is at a low angle looking up at Sindriira to make her look strong.  She uses her magic to levitate while bringing her whip chain around to attack in a twisting fashion. Making the character pose dynamic was a process in this class.  I started with small thumbnails focusing on the gesture or energy of the pose.  The figure should have contrasting angles and twists to make the pose interesting. Over the next few weeks I redrew so many aspects of the character to bring the energy of the thumbnail into the final piece.  Posing is definitely something that I could improve on and is essential to communicating what a character is about.



Pushing the Pose



At this phase in class the design was headed in the right direction, but the pose was still feeling stiff.  The initial method I used to pose the character involved cutting out and free transforming pieces of the standing pose like a puppet.  While this method can save time in some scenarios, this meant the figure didn’t twist in perspective in the way my gesture did.  I had to redraw entire sections of the character from scratch to make the pose more dynamic.

Make sure your perspective, angles, proportion, and lighting are drawn well before rendering too much. Rendering is like icing on the cake, so don’t render too soon otherwise you will end up erasing, re-drawing, and re-rendering if you don’t get these foundational aspects drawn accurately.  That can waste a lot of time.



The shoulder armor was really tough for me to draw in perspective accurately.  After a few unsuccessful attempts, I used Blender to 3D model the main forms in perspective. Blender is a free 3D modeling and animation program with plenty of online tutorials on YouTube.  I spent an afternoon learning the basic hotkeys and making this model, taking a screenshot, and drawing on top of it back in Photoshop. Modeling software can be helpful for drawing hard surface materials in perspective.  



Polishing and Rendering Techniques

#1 Take your own reference photos

Rendering is about lots of time.  The more time spent rendering, the better the render. Accurate anatomical details are an important part of reaching a final, polished render. I always have better luck with rendering hands and other specific anatomical details of a pose when I take my own reference photos.


#2 Use gradient maps to color a grayscale image


For this project, we built up the forms in grayscale first before applying color.  The benefit of painting this way is that it is easier to see lighting and form without the distraction of color palette. In order to give myself a jump start on transitioning to the color version, I used Gradient Maps in Photoshop.  Gradient Maps are an adjustment layer where one can specify a color to replace a value.  The example above shows how a first pass on the skin looks with a gradient map.  This is only a first step and there was a lot of painting on top of this to get the final look of the color painting.


#3 Photobash to add detail or realism


One last technique I used was photobashing.  This is a technique where an artist places stock photography or photo textures in the image as a means to save time or to get a sense of realism.  The trick is getting the photo to blend in with the hand painted parts.  This involves making sure that the overall color and lighting matches as well as making sure the level of detail is consistent between the photo and hand painted areas.  One trick is to use a Surface Blur to reduce the noise or grain in a photo to help it blend.


#4 Listen to feedback and be persistent

Out of all the challenges I had on this project, rendering the face was the most difficult. The face and head are especially important to spend time on in order to sell the design. The face and head are the viewer’s gateway to appreciating your character. There were a few things that made the portrait difficult for me.  First, the angle looking up at the face is one of the toughest to draw.  Second, the character is a humanoid fantasy race, so finding that line between fantasy and anatomical realism was a difficult balancing act.  Third, female faces often come with the expectation from viewers that they need to be conventionally attractive or else the design feels distracting.

I shared the work in progress with a lot of different people online and had several weeks of negative feedback regarding the face ranging from “cartoony” to “lumpy” to “ugly”. Part of being an artist means listening to feedback, even when it’s not easy, and constructively applying it.



Glamour Shot



Spending multiple weeks on one character design meant I had the opportunity to keep revising the design. Each week, Marco gave me the direction I needed to continue improving on the prior week’s efforts. The additional feedback from other artists was also invaluable. The end result is much more realized than the initial week’s design, including the use of a background to communicate the kind of world this character inhabits.

I always imagined this scene as some sort of vampire ritual. The heroine is raising her magical chalice in a toasting gesture while levitating above human livestock, draining these tortured souls of their life force. The chalice in her hand is her magical artifact.  Clerics need to hold or display their magical artifact as a way to use their powers in D&D lore. The chalice was chosen as a symbol of vampires drinking blood like royalty would drink wine. The whip chain, her weapon of choice, lacerates her enemies.  The more blood she consumes as a vampire, the stronger she gets.  Her crown, a large cloth hairpin like two batwings, keeps her hair back out of her face.  As her subjugates become weak, their remains become part of the boney spires that dot this landscape.



Moving Forward

There’s an old saying that we never finish our projects, we only run out of time. I believe this statement to be true when it comes to being satisfied with any given art piece. That’s why I continued to work and improve the illustration after class ended. That being said, I also have to recognize when it’s good enough, let it go, and then move on to the next one. This is the best way I know to stay productive as an artist.  Not perfect, but it’s finished :)

The main skills I improved on in this course are patience and persistence. Patience is number one. Be diligent in separating the phases of design, from thumbnail to render, and don’t rush the process. The more steps you split the process into, the more refined the result. Persistence is about not giving up and revising until I’m happy with the results. This class taught me that finishing projects is about being disciplined enough to work on a painting until all of it meets a certain threshold of quality.


You can see more from Brendan here:
Portfolio: www.brendanmilosart.com
ArtStation: https://www.artstation.com/brendanmilos
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/brendanmilos/