My name is Omar Gamal. I was born in Cairo, Egypt, on the 24th 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 exhilarating start to a different aspect of my career.
Research & Development
When I first started off the project, picking the brief wasn’t the easiest thing, which eventually led me to start 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.
Sketches for a Client
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.
Narrowing Down the Selection
After discussing the rough sketches of the character with Marco, we mainly agreed that the character should be more agile, lightly 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 in 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 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.
Putting It All Together
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 material 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
Overall View on the Character
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 give 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 that 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 their 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.