Character Creation Module 02

The Concept Sculpt

Welcome to Module 02!!

In this module we will start to block in our mesh and begin to refine our design decisions. We will be using the Forum to analyze your individual design choices in preparation for the advanced design topics and lectures in Module 03. If you have not had a chance to chose a character, you can use the time in modules 02 and 03 to finalize your choice- which we will be refining throughout the class.

Before you start sculpting, STOP!! Chose an appropriate amount of work for your level of experience – full figure, torso, or just a detailed head. If you decide to create a full character with an elaborate costume be sure you will still have time to take this class. You signed up for this Master Class to get an EDUCATION, not just to create one more character for your portfolio. Recalibrate what you think this course will offer- if we do this right you’ll gain a true understanding of how to open your mind to the real art of design and how to elevate what you can achieve artistically. Ideally, in six months you’ll find it hard to look back at your own work. The less experience you have with character creation, the more time you will want to allow for focusing on the experience and knowledge you can gain through the notes, lectures, example models, critiques, sculpt-overs, and peer interaction.

To reiterate, we are creating a concept sculpt first, then using that digital creation as a template to create a pipeline ready asset. This is important to understand from the beginning so we can focus on the “creative” up front and save the technical requirements for later. In doing so, the technical requirements do not interfere with our design decisions. At this stage you should have a good understanding of the direction you would like to take your design. Because we will be designing in 3D you do not need final concept art just yet……..after all, the concept art won’t really be final until our concept sculpt it done.

Study, memorize, research- then forget all that and just create!

When it came to playing music, BB King had a saying “First you gotta know what kinda music you wanta play. Then you gotta know your instrument. Then you gotta forget all that and just jam.” In order to create truly great designs, you need to internalize all the necessary skills so that you can utilize them at will. From anatomy to cloth folds, to gestures that evoke certain feelings, the more information you can commit to your subconscious about each, the better. If you think that sounds like an incredibly big challenge, you are correct! But keep in mind- this is a life long endeavor.

This is why practicing, and failing, over, and over, and over again is so important. It is also why the research you started last week will pay off. The more you can delve into the world and background of your character, the more you will be able to capitalize on subtle things that accentuate the idea of who the character really is.

The process begins- from 2D to 3D
In a production environment you would traditionally receive “model sheets” before you begin to sculpt. These are orthographic images, usually a front and side view, that match in proportion. If you are more comfortable using this approach, then please feel free to create your own model sheets to start from. I typically do not use orthographic model sheets or image planes. In general they are becoming less and less common each year. The current trend is to receive one sketch and extrapolate from there. This makes you an integral part of the design process.

If it’s my design I’ll start by creating several thumbnail sketches and land on one or two sketches that define the design and personality of the character.

Video: Mesh Setup

  • Base mesh fundamentals, low and flexible
  • Touching on scale and pipeline prep next week
  • Cloth as single sided mesh
  • How much of the character should you do?


Starting from an Unorganized Mesh- How It Can Help
The more likely my design is to change, the more generic I want to keep my mesh. A well organized mesh is a mesh with strategically placed edge loops that help define a specific form. As soon as that form changes, they are no longer the best layout to describe it. Depending on the complexity of your edge loops, as your design changes, they can even conflict with your design decisions. I start the majority of my characters from a very low base mesh. However, if I’m working on a human and I already have that body archetype developed, then I will start with that organized mesh.

*We will be discussing organized topology layout in a future module.

Blocking in the Form
When creating a character, I try to block in all the relevant forms at the very beginning. In other words, if there are accessories that will affect the silhouette or posture, I’ll represent them in the initial block in. Even if it is just a simple cube or low poly object that roughly matches the contour of the shape. In the Bogman design sculpt below, I created all of the clothing as low, single sided meshes, and simple versions of the accessories before I began to refine any parts of my sculpt.

Video: Blocking in your mesh

  • The T-pose
  • The half pose
  • Sculpting begins
  • Why I use ZBrush instead of Mudbox

I use Maya to create my low resolution mesh, but feel free to start with ZShperes or Dynamesh. For me it comes down to the simple fact that I have access to Maya and it is the quickest way for me to generate a usable mesh. I have also grown to love having the ability to step down to a VERY low level mesh to make global edits. The only recommendation I would make, no matter how you start, is to make sure you setup your mesh in a way that will maintain the ability to step down to lower levels so you can make clean, global changes.

  • Starting with ZSpheres- I explored integrating ZSpheres into my workflow a few years back and ended up not finding a great fit for them- of course that does NOT mean they should not be used. If you like them, and have some great techniques to share, it would be great to showcase that in your forum posts.
  • Dynamesh- feel free to start with it. I’ve included a link to a great overview video to help get you started if that’s how you’d like to begin. If any of our advanced students already use a Dynamesh workflow we can examine the pros and cons of that workflow in the forum. We can also experiment with using it to create specific parts of our design sculpt, then find the most efficient ways to utilize those parts when we create our production mesh. At this time I do not use a Dynamesh workflow for my sculpts. I like the workflow results I get from utilizing my low resolution box mesh in conjunction with the transpose tool.  LINK  I would recommend “The Making of Time for Art”.

Avoid Detail at All Costs
One of the biggest mistakes we ZBrush users make is getting too caught up in the finite details. During the beginning stages we need to stay global. Focus on the overall forms, gesture and rhythms of your sculpt. (I’ll be taking a look at your progress this week and when appropriate, giving specific thoughts and possibilities to improve your individual designs.)

Zombies need to be Killed
If you can’t critique your own work you are destined to become the walking dead! Lacking this essential skill is the most direct path to artistic stagnancy. Lets talk about how to avoid it.

Becoming a master craftsman can, and will, take decades. Looking at the work of master craftsman and seeing why it is better than yours, should not. You have to open your mind to a new way of thinking. Accept the fact that there are artistic decisions you do NOT yet understand. Put yourself in the mindset of hunting for them. The best and most accomplished artists have realizations about the shortcomings of the quality and execution of their work all the time. If you are not hunting for these ideas and realizations then you are probably missing many opportunities to improve your art.

Another trap to avoid is looking at the wrong artists or artworks for inspiration. Can you see the difference between the work of these two designers? They are both great draftsman but there are different lessons to be learned from their design choices.

McCaig and Huante

*In our next module we will be examining several different character designs and the choices the artist made. We will talk about ideas that define a unified character design and how to showcase areas of interest to make sure your viewer knows where to look!

Beginning with a narrative- creating a story based character
Lets take a minute to talk about the importance of understanding story and symbolism and how it can improve your skill as a character designer.

Characters in well told stories symbolize something! This is true for heroes as well as villains. Dragons are a great example of this. These ancient monsters of Western mythology were created by man (more specifically story tellers) centuries ago. But what do dragons really symbolize? Dragons always covet two things- TREASURE and VIRGINS. What the hell is a giant lizard going to do with treasure or a virgin!! The answer- nothing. Dragons are not just dragons, they are a symbol of man’s inner desires that he must control to become a noble human being. Understanding the symbolism of this character relative to the story will establish a great foundation for you to build your design upon. Granted, you don’t HAVE to know what a dragon symbolizes to design a good one, but the more sub-context you can understand and infuse into your character designs, the better.

Know your world- and your story- and you will make better design decisions.

Assignment: Let the sculpting begin. It’s time to block in your low resolution mesh for your character and its accessories. A side note- I will be explaining why I don’t start with ZSpheres or DynaMesh next week but that does not mean you can’t. It is really just a personal preference on my part. Remember, don’t feel like you need to take on the entire figure. If you still feel like you have a lot to explore when it comes to mastering your design process and using ZBrush, feel free to do your character from the waist up, or just a bust. Try to focus on the overall form (big shapes and silhouette), broad gesture, and basic rhythms. I’ll be checking in on your individual posts this week for feedback. In our next module we will be diving into and critiquing your specific design choices.


DK Eyewitness Books offer great picture reference on an endless number of topics. These and other topic specific “picture-encyclopedia” style books can be a great source of inspirationfor your character creations.
DK Eyewitness Books: World War II by Simon Adams (there are many different topics and authors but they are all offer a high standard of quality and information)
Art of Books- from Beowolf to Kung Fu Panda 2, are also great reference for spawning new ideas


Books that define narrative structures and classifications: gaining an understanding helps improve our character design choices
Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell) by Joseph Campbell and Phil Cousineau
DVD Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth Starring Joseph Campbell (III) and Bill Moyers (Oct 9, 2001)  Joseph Campbell was an amazing person and this DVD changed my outlook on the type of characters I want to create and my motivations for creating them.
Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies: The Screenwriter’s Guide to Every Story Ever Told by Blake Snyder (Oct 1, 2007)
The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition by Christopher Vogler and Michele Montez




Video: Research and Build Process Example

  • Find two points of inspiration
  • Research your world
  • Defining the overall form silhouette
  • Create your block-in mesh

Video: Skeleton Orientation Creature Design

  • Head to neck attachments and orientation
  • Skeletal proportion changes through out the body
  • Continuity of design choices
  • Reference- evaluating existing designs
  • Utilizing reference

*This video contains two great characters from a previous character creation class.

  • Fernando Acosta: Alien
  • Ryan Whearty: Lizardman from Zack Petroc’s Adaboy