My name is Giulio and I am an art student from Italy. My education is in Industrial Design and I obtained a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Design and Engineering at the Politecnico di Milano. I’m currently working as a Product Designer at an international company based in Milan.
Since I was a child, drawing has been my passion and I have always been studying comic book Illustration and concept art in my free time, only recently joining the courses at CGMA. I am very passionate about character art and design and with this course, my objective was to deepen my knowledge of how to properly set up and design a good costume under the guidance of a professional instructor.
Taking a Character From Text to Sketch
First and foremost, I started out planning the story of my character: who she is, where she lives, what is the theme of her story and so on.
I strongly believe that a good character, and in general good design, should be based on a strong story. It must communicate to the audience who the character is as efficiently and interestingly as possible.
With this in mind, I started creating a board that helped me plan the broad strokes of my design. I decided to design a female character because I took lots of inspiration from the stories of magical girls I knew from my childhood. In my mind, I had an urban fantasy theme tied to African American Folklore. I wanted my character to be a magical fighter in a contemporary setting, with a deep connection to the Yoruba god Iroko, who represents the world tree and is said to live in the canopy of the woods.
Before starting, I already knew that I wanted her final costume to be the result of a transformation from her everyday attire to mystical clothes. When facing a challenge, like in a fight, she would call upon herself the powers of her god and “ascend”, so her everyday clothes would blend with mystical elements to prepare her to the challenges ahead. This meant that I actually had to plan both stages of her costume, the simpler one before and the complete one after the transformation.
I continued by defining her age, where she lives, how her power works and how her theme could influence her appearance, then translated all of this into a simple shape and line language. I decided that vertical, tall lines can best communicate her mystical qualities and swirling shapes would give her a mischievous and unpredictable look.
I then proceeded to create an image board of references to guide the initial exploration phase. I kept this collection of images with me for all the design phases and kept referring to it to make sure I was sticking with the visual language. One of the main real life visual inspirations was the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria and its traditional clothing, as well as modern fashion tied to African culture and visual motifs. I proceeded to sketch some thumbnails to visually experiment ideas. I kept them very small, quick and gestural as this allowed me to see immediately which shapes worked or didn’t and what generally looked inspiring and in tune with the theme.
During this exploration I always focused on trying to communicate her main qualities. Since she is supposed to be an urban magician, her costume should be a blend of traditional and modern clothing. The overall shapes should suggest that she is a “spellcaster” type character and that she draws her powers mainly from nature. After this, I took the three most promising thumbnails and turned them into a complete rough drawing to better assess details, shapes and see how well they worked together.
I ended up with three very different rough drawings in terms of detail and clothing composition, but felt that all of them respected the initial idea. This was convenient and gave me a lot of freedom to experiment in the next phases. I kept the pose and face pretty generic, giving her a look of empowerment and confidence.
Making the Final Cut
For my first iteration on the final design, I decided to develop the more sporty-looking character from the three rough drawings I produced. The shape and overall silhouette were the best of the three and I felt it allowed for the most interesting opportunities to blend magical and traditional elements with everyday clothes within the costume.
That said, I needed to make some adjustments. I wanted my character to project an idea of being more interested in “looking cool” rather than being pragmatic, so I changed the main articles of clothing while paying attention to keep the general shape language and rhythms that I had previously established. I actually generated two final designs in an additive approach. I developed the everyday clothing which acted as the first phase of her transformation and then added the magical elements of the final costume. This ensured that the two phases worked well together and didn’t conflict. I started to insert the tribal African patterns that I would elaborate on later in the design process and to nail down the details of every article, as well as the connection and the support of every piece of clothing. I had to address how the clothes were draped on her body, how they were connected to each other and in some cases supported to not fall off.
Color and Texture
For textures and color swatches, I needed to plan before starting the research. I knew that this character needed to communicate her bonds to the elements of earth and nature, so I picked mainly natural and grimy textures, such as wood, straw, woven cotton and leather. To counterbalance this gritty look, I added some specular elements, that could work as accents and catch the eye, in the form of metal jewelry. I also added the waist beads, an important folkloristic and cultural reference to this character’s ethnic group, that helped to break up the earthy pattern of textures. It was interesting to design and plan out in advance how they would intersect and connect around the character’s waist.
For colors, I decided to experiment a little bit more. I aimed to try out some schemes inspired by nature, always trying to echo my theme, as well as some other independent combinations. For some of them, I tried to let loose with at least one saturated, unexpected color. To keep everything together I first tried using a complementary, two-color scheme but in the end, found out that a split-complementary scheme worked much better. The keystone for the color scheme, around which everything needed to work, was her skin color, constant from iteration to iteration, so I made sure everything worked.
In the end, I selected four color schemes coming from the experimentations that I felt best blended with the overall costume and contributed to making the character feel more real and grounded. Phil’s advice was key to this, as he pushed us into trying and experimenting with some wild combinations that we would not have tried out otherwise.
The Final Pass
Nearing the realization of the final drawing, I went back to my research to make sure I nailed down every detail of the costume.
As I mentioned before the most important thing I had in mind was the story and believability of the character, so I wanted to make sure that every detail made sense and was grounded in reality from some background information that fit the cultural origins of my character.
I swapped out the leather straps around her waist in favor of a traditional Yoruba attire called Adire, whose traditional color fit the chosen color schemes. I added a magical staff with the traditional piece of white cloth tied on its shaft like those you can see on sacred trees in Africa.
I also changed the leaf crown around her shoulders to better reflect the Iroko’s leaves, the god-tree to whom the majority of her powers are tied, adding handlike branches coming out of them to represent the leafy trees the god hides in.
This was also the moment I decided to change the posture of the character. I needed to break up the functional, static A-pose in favor of something that could better communicate her personality. Having to re-draw the character multiple times helped me get more in touch with who she is and how she behaves. I designed a more open and dynamic pose that could communicate confidence but still be functional to showcasing her full costume. To enhance the connection with the viewer, I also changed her facial expression into a slight smirk, which was very effective in bringing her to life.
Finally, I decided to name her. I did some research on traditional Yoruba names and finally came up with “Ireoluwe”, which means “goodness of God”, as represent her ties to the divinity.
I think this naming phase is an important but often overlooked one, as it strengthens the relationship and the identity of the character we are drawing, and also makes it easier to come up with the right acting to represent her.
With Ireoluwe’s pose, colors, and textures in place, I moved on to the final piece. I kept the line art, which helped to clearly communicate all the pieces of the costume, rendered and added textures to each and every article to communicate their forms and material qualities. Between colors and textures, I decided that colors were the most important part and so I made sure that surface details would not overpower the hues I selected for the costume. I also added a back view which was needed for clarity and helped me design how things would connect and hang from the backside.
During this course I have realized how well executed research can really empower the overall design. Choosing a topic very far from your everyday experience is exciting because it allows you to continuously discover new things and meanings previously unknown to you. This continuous research adds to your wealth of knowledge and visual library, making your present designs more effective; It empowers every future design you will work on. It helped me in coming up with new ideas and new ways to interpret what I already knew. In my opinion, it’s immediately apparent the difference between a research-backed design and one cobbled together.
Understanding the basics of anatomy and clothing are really helpful to realize a good costume, as well as a character wearing it. The stronger your technical basics are the more freely you can explore, come out with ideas and manipulate shapes and lines to suit your needs.
Phil was a wonderful instructor. He always encouraged us into grounding our designs with research and basing it on reality, but also telling us to try and experiment more. For every review he asked us to try something wild, or to see how a very extreme detail or new idea could blend with what we already had been working on. I think this kind of encouragement from him was really successful in me and my classmates come up with fresh solutions that we would not have explored otherwise.
The class was very nice and the interaction with other students was really constructive. We constantly kept in touch out of class to discuss our designs so that we could critic our work before we got the final critique from the instructor.
With regard to this class, I would advise to go in with an open-minded and really take this opportunity to try out something bizarre, out of your comfort zone. Since there is a lot of research, this could be the perfect occasion to discover something new and that we usually shy away from and finalize it to a successful degree.