In this tutorial I’ll explain the broad strokes of my workflow for creating my character, Akena. Since it’s a personal piece, this was quite straightforward and a bit different in the process from what I usually do at work. In the tutorial I will also give you some tips on how to apply colors to a grayscale character.
Concept and Posing
I sketched Akena a few years ago and she’s just one in a series of characters on the same theme. The idea was to create a young warrior from a nomadic tribe inspired by north african Berber cultures. I wanted to convey confidence in her skills and something both elegant and defiant in the character’s attitude. At this point I also took a look at some visual references about those cultures and start the next step, posing.
I usually struggle and iterate a lot when I’m working on this, but for this character I somehow found a pose I like on the first try. I tried to pose her in the middle of shifting her weight from one leg to the other in an attempt to capture an impression of grace. I designed the clothes and weapon keeping in mind she’s a nimble warrior dressed in a practical outfit.
"I usually make a lot of those quick sketches before I find something satisfying."
I’m currently working at Hibernum, making mobile games. My role on the different projects range from concept artist to production artist where I do both 2d and 3d. My work also includes UI art, character and environment. I guess you could say I'm a generalist.
This step is just hours of painting and detailing. This is where I really define the facial features and expression along with the final design of the individual elements of her outfit and weapons.
I spent most of my time working on softening her expression and giving a flowing motion to the cape.
Overall I refined all the elements to make her look more elegant. I thought she looked a bit too wild and rough in the first sketch. The difficulty here is to balance the level of detail so it doesn’t get in the way with the readability of the character. In order to do that I try to keep all the details gathered in some areas where they won’t break any shapes and ideally create contrast between areas of high density and low density.
"Try to find a balance in you details as to not clutter the design"
This is the step I find really tedious and sometimes really boring also, but it really helps.
The reason why I start working in grayscale is because I really struggle with colors, otherwise I would probably start sketching in color. Instead I’m going through a long phase of masking the different elements of my character with a flat color so I can make easy selections.
With all those masks and selections done I start applying my base colors using only adjustment layers : gradient map and color balance.
I used to apply my base colors with a layer in color mode but the gradient map adjustment layer gives me much more control.
"All the colors are done without any painting, just adjustment layers and masks."
Painting and Refining
After applying my base colors, parts of the character looks like it’s some sort of collage. Pretty much everything is there, but it really needs some painting to bring everything together and fix all of the contrast issues. I also changed my mind again about the character’s expression, and made her slightly cocky.
I added some rim light, which is really the easy trick to make something look cool without having to think too much about your lighting scenario.
I must admit this is also when I regretted spending so little time on the posing. I talked with some friends and thought of some things that could have been better but I had no motivation left to alter the pose t this point. I’m often confronted by this while working on a piece and this is a good time to remind myself of something essential; don’t constantly change your mind or you’ll get have anything done.
"The fun part!"
Now we’re almost done. Here I copied and merged all my layers and tweaked the proportions again with simple transformations. Then I added the background and a very rough shadow. I first thought about making a dark background but I think the silhouette reads better on this warm gray. Overall I prefer the lighter and warmer mood it gives to the final piece.
Finally I made some adjustments. I first desaturated the midtones a bit and added a some cyan in the shadows to neutralize them and make the lighter areas look warmer in comparison. I merge everything again (background included) apply a sharpen and a noise and it’s ready to post. Be careful with the noise though. It can easily get in the way. I usually prefer when such filters aren’t obvious. But overall when you add an effect to blend your element together it’s good to not blend everything too much to the point where you see the effect above anything else. Yeah I’m talking about everyone (me included) who used to think “if it doesn’t work, maybe some filter/effect will fix it”.