Silhouette Character Design Walkthrough

Part 1 – Embrace the Shadow

Click to enlarge

I’ve been doing a lot of other stuff recently, and decided last week that I needed to have a bit of a doodle for myself to loosen up a bit. But, what to do.. what to do!

Well, one way I’ve found if you’re not sure what you want to do, you don’t want to get into anything too long-term or intense, and you like having a go at character design, is to have a go at silhouette doodling. It’s a great way to take the pressure off and relax if you have a bit of artists block too, and it can’t hurt having a bit more character work in your portfolio.

I’m constantly trying to stay off the computer as much as I can, since I spend all day looking at one in work. So I got myself a Sharpie, and to take the roundness off the tip and give a bit of a chisel edge, I sliced the tip off with a scalpel. It wasn’t the cleanest of cuts, but that was a good thing since it made me think differently about what way to hold it to get the shapes I needed. Then I grabbed my sketch pad and started doodling and didn’t stop til I had these 12 little beauties to work with. You can, of course, do this process digitally if you prefer. More on this tomorrow…

Part 2 – Lighting the Shadows

Taking the silhouettes and scanning them into Photoshop, you can start working on adding some depth. It is more obvious on some of the silhouettes what type of character they will end up as, but you shouldn’t be afraid to completely change them if an idea comes up, just keep doodling and sculpting it into something you think works. What you shouldn’t do is use reference of any kind at this point, it all has to be loose and come straight from your head, just rely solely on your imagination.

The biggest advantage of working with silhouettes is that you haven’t invested too much time with them yet, so there’s no need to get precious about them. If you compare the original scan you can see I drastically changed the complete design of the sorceress while still keeping the same basic pose. What you also should do at this point though, is use the opportunity to fix any proportion issues.

I just used a round hard brush with pressure set to Opacity and switched back and forward between various sizes. Don’t worry about any textured brushes, just concentrate on filling out the characters and getting your values right. The other thing you should do at this stage is to pull the black of the image down to 50% gray, this will give you the scope to add both highlights and shadow to the figures.

PS POWERUSER TIPS:
d key – Switches the Foreground and Background to black and white respectively.
x key – Toggles the Foreground and Background colours.

Here’s a few stages with a couple of the figures to show you what I mean.

Sorceress silhouette: Click to enlarge

Cowboy silhouette: Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

And here is the final set. I’ve given them all names to make them easier to identify, and also to help me remember what direction I want to push them to the finished stage. Next up is colouring.

Part 3 – Colouring the Light

Once you have the grayscale values done, it’s time to move on to the colouring. You still want to keep it flexible and loose at this stage, to make it easier for quick decisions-making.
Taking your grayscale from the previous stage, pull your blacks down to about 70% using Levels. Then create a new layer on top and set it to Multiply. When you start painting on this layer with colour it will darken what’s below, so pulling the blacks down in the previous step will counter this. Switch your brush to hard round with no pressure and start colouring. Just work in solid, flat colours for now, it will make them easier to change, since you’ll be able to Magic Wand a block of colour. This might take a bit of getting used to getting the colours right, but just play around and you’ll get the hang of it.


I’m not going to go into colour theory here, that’s a whole other set of blog posts and there’s plenty of them around. Work individually on each character and try not to let one influence the other, and play around with skin tones. Even if a colour isn’t working on one character, you can always try it on another. It also helps to keep some coordination within the colour palette for each character if you can.

Once you’re done with the basic colours, you can move on to the final stage of highlighting. Add another layer on top and switch the layer mode to Lighten. You should be able to colour pick beneath where you want to highlight, pull up the lightness and saturation of your picked colour and start painting. Work over the characters, you’ve already added the highlights at the value stage so this shouldn’t take too long. Try adding in a bit of complimentary light to the rim on one side to imply a secondary light source, just to punch the characters out a little more.
You could leave that as the final state but I’ve gone a little further and added a Normal layer and just painted over some areas to blend them in a little better and tidy it all up. I also added in a Colour layer to tweak some of the colours here and there, like the flames coming from the Sorceress’ hands. Then I added a Colour Dodge layer and lightly painted over some of the highlights to bring out more contrast. I also worked over some of the metal areas on that same layer, like the swords and armour, since the Colour Dodge method is great for adding sheen for these types of material.

 

Once you’re all done, hey presto! You should have a decent set of characters for your portfolio!

If you have any questions, or even any tips to add to this just pop them in the comments below.

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