Barbel- Notes from the character creation process

Barbel- my Overwatch style character design- is finally complete. Two and a half months of focused work has left me with something I’m relatively pleased with. There’s always room to improve though, and one of my favourite ways of doing that is to review the latest project and think of how to get better results next time.

The idea for Barbel was born sometime in early 2017- I knew I wanted to make a 3d character in the style of Overwatch, but I din’t have any specifics beyond that.  Then one day, the idea came to me- almost fully formed- which never happens usually and is not be relied upon.  I wanted a giant catfish armed with a trident like one of those Roman gladiators. I could see him hunched there in my mind’s eye doing some kind of daft “play of the game” pose and making weird fish noises. He had a space helmet full of water though. I ditched that early on.

What I learned:

In concept art 3d is superior to 2d.

Sketching is obviously a very fast way of presenting ideas, but the fact is that some ideas just don’t occur to you simply because you’re thinking in a 2d way.

When you have a lump of 3d clay and you can quickly manipulate it without preconceptions- you begin to think in a more 3d way and consider how forms twist and turn as they travel through space- how the silhouettes look from all angles rather just one or two key profiles, or how things overlap. All this stuff is obviously possible in 2d- it’s just harder.

It’s also pretty tedious to redraw a character from the back or the side, just so you can see a few areas to decide how they’ll look. In 3d you have one model- and you can see any angle you desire and what’s going to go there. Playing around in Gravity Sketch and Oculus Medium led to a few happy accidents that helped me overcome design challenges I was having at certain points. Which leads me on to my second point…

VR is the best way to concept design in 3d.

Wherever I thought that the 2D concept was underdeveloped or not clear enough I would play around in Medum or Gravity Sketch and quickly come up with a solution. Arguably you could use Zbrush or Maya or something traditional, but the immediacy of reaching out and drawing a line in the air, of genuinely working with three dimensions of input rather than the two offered by the monitor screen, of  being completely immersed in a world where only you and your work exist- is pretty damn special! VR may be a little clunky at the moment, but it more than compensates for it by allowing for a state of flow that surpasses traditional modelling.

It’s also really fast. The aforementioned three dimensions of input mean you don’t have to move the camera every time you want to do a simple operation such as moving an object along an axis that isn’t perpendicular to the viewport. True stereoscopic vision means you don’t have to move the camera to get an understanding of form either. On top of all this- you can move, rotate and scale objects all at the same time, even as you move your view around.

Colour and form should be designed together

Good colour design requires you to balance different key colours, secondary colours and accents. If you have a model ready to texture and you haven’t decided how to balance these colours, you may find some areas of colour or material are bigger or smaller than you’d like, and it’s too late to change it easily.

By contrast- if you deal with colour and form at the same time you’ll get a much more immediate impression of how your design is going to look when it’s finished and textured. If you deal with this at the concept stage you have a lot more freedom to play with the design so that the hierarchy of shape and colour works as you’d like.

Oculus Medium for concept art

About two weeks ago I bought an Oculus Rift. I’ve been extremely excited for VR for a long time now and so far it hasn’t disappointed at all. The games are incredible, Google Earth in VR is incredible and the potential of VR for artists is incredible.

I’ve been using Oculus Medium for concept designing, inspired largely by Jama Jurabaev. Here’s the rough sculpt inside medium:Then a bit of tidying in Zbrush and off to be rendered in blender Cycles:

The end result tweaked and over-painted in Photoshop:

There’s definitely plenty of room for improvement with VR tools, but also incredible potential. The ability to simply reach out and touch a point in the air where you want something to be, or the fact you can use all the space around you rather than just a monitor screen are completely game changing.

Series 48: Interceptor. A sci fi Spaceship design

48 Interceptor

Series 48: Interceptor- Light assault spaceship for close extraplanetary defence.

Concept design for a sci fi spaceship.

I love drawing these but sometimes it’s hard to justify to myself why its so “planey” besides the fact that it just feels right. There’s no air resistance in space of course. I blame pop culture. Maybe I’ll do something more original later…


A town built in a dark caveAt the confluence of the great subterranean rivers, beneath the green glaciers and sheltered from the blinding snowfields lies the isolated settlement of Cavetown.

Many generations ago the nomadic tribes of the frozen tundra took shelter in this cave and have remained there ever since- their small band growing into the prosperous settlement you see today.

In the middle, towards the top- you can clearly see the temple garden where the high priests congregate. This is one of only three places in the cave where sunlight reaches, and where plants can grow, giving it great significance to the people. Only during festivals or ceremonies are citizens permitted to enter the garden, and fallen leaves from the holy red tree are worth a half-dozen catfish to the average villager.

To the left of the garden is the temple itself- its many lanterns burning fiercely. A typical example of Cavetown architecture- it uses a strong stalagmite as a central pillar on which the roof is supported- the roofs are thatched with long reeds that grow at the rivers edge in summer.

Towards the bottom right you can see one of the eel pools, where catfish and eels are farmed for food. They are also hunted from the lake far below and from the many rivers and lakes that extend deep beneath the mountains. High above some sacred finches fly. The local people believe the glowing birds are spirits of their ancestors, and tend to spoil them rotten. In return, the birds hang around, and their bioluminescent feathers provide a valuable light source to the villagers.

Light is a big deal to the people of Cavetown- so they adorn their houses with torches blazing with catfish oil, to show off their wealth and status. Light is also a necessity for navigating the precarious terraces and pathways that jut from the cave walls, so acolytes from the temple are tasked with keeping the pathway lamps lighted day and night.