Frankenstein’s Monster Concept Walkthrough

concept art tutorial for character design

Here is a break down of the character design walkthrough I had with my film art students today. Research, thumbnails, surfacing, color. Step by step.

Concept art smarts used:

  • Photo based surfacing concept.
  • Silhouette bashing for character ideation.
  • Line work and coloring for quick definition.
  • Custom brushes to add chains.

The Task

For exercises like this I generally prefer to redesign or reinterpret a widely known character. Classic characters like Dracula, Werwolves or Jekyll&Hyde are especially neat, because they do not have one specific look to them. They have been designed and interpreted many many times over and have been explored from a lot of different angles.

This serves as a huge library of tropes and inspirational sources but also is open enough to not guide my students to a specific design. For today I chose to do a Frankenstein’s monster session.

Every student was charged with finding an individual way to approach the creature for an imaginary game or film project.

Feedback Loop

When working in teams or generally working with others or looking for feedback… keeping your feedback loops short can be super helpful and a real time saver. Part of this exercise therefore was not only to design something but also make sure, that the individual stages of the design process would all be reviewable.

Making your research, silhouettes, greyscale thumbnails, surfacing and color sketch all reviewable individually allows for others to comment on each of these stages, which makes for short feedback loops if needed.

character design walkthrough

Creating a pinterest board like this allows us to share our research findings. When doing research, look for contemporary pop culture, history, literature, browse various media and also gather references from reality.

Silhouette

When doing silhouette sketches I recommend starting with a very basic anatomy sketch and then creating derivatives of that and then derivatives of the derivates and so forth. With every new generation you add a little something (or a lot of something) so your design mutates. You can also combine elements from previous generation, effectively creating a child. All your previous generations stay untouched as you always work with copies, so you can always return to a previous state and mutate into another direction. You do all this until you have a big family tree of designs sketches to choose from.

character concept art tutorial

The grey silhouettes are based on a body type, which did not click with me today. Though when working for a client, I would have offered this take as well.

Detailed Thumb

After making sure your selected thumbnails are polished enough, you separate them onto individual concept sheets, reduce the layer opacity to roughly 70% and start adding more detail into the silhouette.

When adding black I bounce between drawing outlines and adding shadows, trending more towards adding shadows. I do not need to draw outlines around the silhouette as the silhouette is already painted with a readable clear contour. The white paint is used for shiny or very light elements only. At this stage I do not try to get great values, just want to scratch in some detail.

Based on the selected silhouette I could of course explore different designs in this stage as well, but we focused on pushing one design through instead of gathering variants, since time was limited.

character concept art tutorial

The silhouette from the previous session was already clean and detailed enough, that I did not need to polish it further before beginning with the detailing.

Surfacing Roughs

Next up is planning how to color and surface the greyscale thumbnail sketch. For this I search for reference photographs and crop them, so that the focus is on the material, not the shape or composition. After that I play around with color tweaks, texture overlays and rough overpaintings to customize my references in a way, that they represent what kind of surfaces I’m planning to illustrate.

This step can be done as a family tree as well, exploring various surface ideas and combinations thereof.

character concept art tutorial

tailcoat via http://www.gentlemansemporium.com. Note how I added pinstripes and a muddy texture to the tailcoat in addition to tweaking the base color.

Coloring

The surfacing roughs serve as color palette and I can extract the colors I wanna use with the color picker. I reduce the layer visibility of the thumbnails sketch to roughly 80% after upscaling the image. Now all deep black elements are a dark grey and therefore can absorb the color information I’m adding on a layer above, which is set to overlay. After adding the color I start painting in some finer detail, using the color picker and a fine brush.

character concept art tutorial

In the final step, I also painted with white on the top layer to sharpen the contour of the head.

With the surfacing cluster next to it, this concept now gives a very good idea of how the character would look, considering the time spent on it. Sure, we still don’t know how the character looks from behind and there is some serious detailing missing, but the essence of the design is now fully readable and can be reviewed.

character design concept art tutorial

With a little more time, I would have tweaked a few more details, maybe adding more asymmetrical elements.

I hope this was a nice insight again, check out the process tag for more like this, and if you got questions, please hit the comment section.

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4 Comments

  1. This was very informative, thanks! I was already doing the individual steps (silhouette thumbs > detailing with shadow and highlight > coloring via blend modes), but it never occurred to me to just use an opacity change to chain them together in a continuous workflow. I don’t know why that never dawned on me; it just didn’t.

    My current process has me painting large swaths of mid-tones on top of the resized black silhouette, erasing out some areas to get back dark shadows, and painting on whites to set the highlights. Your transition via opacity change is much better, since it reduces the amount of painting (with gray) that I would normally do. The same goes for the transition from monochrome to full-color.

    Thanks. You’re awesome. I hope to be as good as you are someday.

    1. HEy, thansk fro the kind feedback. I’m glad you got something out of it.

      The approach you mentioned is not necessarily less effective, it yields different results. My practice here demands, that the silhouette is rather polished, so that it can carry the design up the point of coloring. Even though you can of course always tweak the underlying silhouette, this still kinda forces me to make a lot of decisions early.

      Your approach also makes things more painterly, gives more volume early and takes care of values early.

      It’s always about what works. There are no “best” ways to go about. Though I have seen some worst ways. ;)

      1. Yep, I tried to replicate my traditional media process within digital media, which is probably why I ended up with the more painterly method. I’ve always done better by illustrating primarily in black and white, then later slapping on color washes to convert the grayscale into hues. I’ve done terribly when I try to work directly with color, especially if the color medium is opaque (I’m like a toddler who needs dark outlines to show me where to color rofl).

        As an aside: when I first spotted your work on Project: Rooftop I thought you were Indian because your name reminded me of Ajna and Anahata (Hindu). I’m surprised to realize you’re Germanic.

        1. The name is actually of japanese origin, my parents were fans of the book Shogun, where the name is prominently used.

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