CHARACTER DESIGN with PHOTOSHOP
Designing a character with the help of Photoshop is much more exciting, simple, and affords you so many more ways to look at fresh ideas and variations than designing traditionally. In designing characters at Moonbot Studios, like our hero Diggs, in Sony Wonderbook’s "Diggs Nightcrawler", we used as much digital technology as we could, to our advantage (by this, I mostly mean I used Adobe Photoshop).
The design of a character is something that is essential to creating the CG model, and the more efficient you are with the art, the more time you can spend crafting the 3D details. The efficiency of Photoshop helps us save a lot of time and shows us more options, so we nail down what the group really responds to, details and all.
We start like many people do: sketching. In our sketchbooks, on paper, and yes, digitally. Photoshop has many preset brushes that are great for replicating pencils, pens, markers, paint, and more. [edit: I love Kyle Webster's Photoshop brushes and how natural they feel - look them up, toss a few bucks his way] With this approach I can work quicker, as I am not stuck with the lines I put down like I would be with a marker in my sketchbook. They both have their advantages, but I’m going to go digital soon, so I get to that point as soon as I can.
Here you see many different approaches to Diggs’ design. Some are on paper, some are digital, and some are a mix of the two. Dropping the opacity of layers and playing with the modes (multiply), you can see a ghosted image of your sketch, and build variations or details on top of it. Photoshop has many great ways of replicating traditional things like a light table and tracing paper, but does it with much more control and precision, adjustable for your taste.
Once we have a sketch that the designer, group, director (or hopefully all) like, we can move it forward by fleshing out how it looks in 3D by painting details, volume and more. I like to do this quickly with a few simple steps which keep me from losing the original life in the drawing:
Starting with the sketch we chose, I change the layer mode to MULTIPLY, generating the illusion of it being drawn on completely clear glass.
On a new layer underneath the drawing, I’ll paint a middle value to start from. This helps with seeing the silhouette, and laying a base. I look at this as though I’m washing a canvas with a tone, to paint on top of.
If we hide the drawing, we now see the silhouette. I take the time to clean this up a bit and finesse any shapes that aren’t working for me.
Now I create a layer in between the drawing and the gray tone. This is where I’ll create volume, highlights, deep shadows, and flesh out what appears to be more of a sculpted version. One great trick that Photoshop has to save you time, is QUICK MASKS. If you hover your mouse over the line between two layers and hold Alt (for PC) or Option (for Mac), a little box and arrow appears. While holding click, and it links the layers together. This is the equivalent of letting the new layer be masked by only what is underneath it. Since the gray is painted on a transparent layer (all new layers are transparent by default), anything I paint on this new layer will only be seen on top of the now gray silhouette of Diggs.
To keep my design accurate, I’ll turn the drawing back on, but drop the opacity of that layer. This is really helpful, as I can see back and forth how it looks with and without the drawing, so I can see where I’ve been, as well as where I’m going with it. The ultimate goal is to hide the drawing entirely and see a ‘sculpted’ model of our hero. I now paint up shadows and highlights, using the drawing as a reference.
Once I get to a certain point, I abandon the drawing. Here we see a pretty good start at a painted DIGGS. He’s starting to come to life! To move forward, I’ll tighten up this painting as I would a traditional painting. Using more layers ensures that I’ll be able to make mistakes and be bold without fearing ‘ruining’ this painting and design. Traditional media doesn't have “undo” or “layers”, so working in Photoshop offers a wonderful advantage that encourages boldness, taking risks, trying variables, and moving swiftly.
Once I have DIGGS to a point with which the team is happy, I still like to experiment with design. Often at certain steps of the design process, I get inspired and have new ideas that can still work within the constraints of the director’s requests and vision. This is a good point to try these variations.
With the design looking fairly 3D and sculpted, I can easily create these new options by using the LASSO TOOL and TRANSFORM functions. First I use the LASSO TOOL to draw a selection around the area I want to move and slide it around. I then use the TRANSFORM tool to manipulate or deform the shape in many ways. SKEWING, compressing him shorter or taller, DISTORTING him if I want to clean up or change his proportions, or even WARPING the drawing-- controlling certain areas with angle, scale, and such-- without having a mangled or sliced up image. These tools, and a bit of painting with layers, are all very helpful in getting these three variations of Diggs in a good place to share with the team.
I can also see how different color designs work on DIGGS, very easily through different LAYER modes.
Using modes such as COLOR, HUE, OVERLAY, MULTIPLY and more, I can simply paint colors on a new layer and see the gray turn to a local color. Green worm? Ochre jacket? Brown hat? No Problem! I can paint different versions very quick and rough, getting an idea of his final look.
One more step that is quick and easy to see more variations on colors is to use VARIATIONS, LEVELS, and HUE/SATURATION adjustments. Using these are quick ways to adjust colors, shift hues, bring up or down middle values, as well as lights and darks. [edit: with Adobe Photoshop CC 2015, "variations" have been eliminated]
Knowing that the game may need a lighting “mood”, integrating this painting into a style frame or concept piece that represents the final game, or just trying out more extreme ‘lighting’ or color saturation, can be done very quickly this way. And it once again allows for more experimentation with no risk or loss. Layers keep everything tidy so if you don't like a choice you can simply hide or delete a change, going back to what you previously created.
I think we have our design nailed down! Doing this, with all these variations and changes, would take a lot longer traditionally, and may lose some of the original energy or intention of the design. Photoshop’s many tools and versatile functions help me keep the path straight and quick, while offering many things for the directors to choose from.