Category Archives: Development

Protagonist Silhouettes

In the same way I did with my Antagonists, I picked my favourite Protagonist silhouettes and blocked in the values on them to add more detail. One of the harder parts of this was maintaining the overall gradient, whilst keeping the skin tone dark. I worked around this by making the gradient more apparent in the clothing and adding headwear to the character. The resulting contrast also helps to draw the eye to the top half of the character.

Whereas my Antagonist was human I wanted my Protagonist to be an Elf. Following the ideas mentioned before about the player wanting to be the character and escape reality through them, an Elf helps to create this relationship as they are both a fantasy creature and also often thought of as being a level above humans.Protag with notesI varied the clothing style between the heavier, more robust garments worn by desert tribes and the lighter clothing worn by plains and grassland tribes. I think the lighter clothing works better for the Protagonist mostly because it is not very heroic for them to hide their face and be mysterious. Also it makes it easier to recognise the character as female and works well with the elegance of the Elven form.

I struggled to implement the idea of arcane tech into these designs more than I did with the Antagonist. I think this is mostly down to my existing feelings towards the idea, but it just didnt seem to fit as well with an agile elf silhouette as it did with the brutish Antagonist. I maintained the overall arcane theme with runes and drake/dragon hides and skulls however.


Antagonist Silhouettes

So I fed my favourite initial silhouettes into Photoshop and neatened them up (this is just for the antagonist). I also blocked them in using the Value techniques implemented in Dota 2 to give them slightly more detail and give a better idea of what they might look like. It was important to maintain an upwards gradient to draw the eye to the top of the character, but also break it up with varying levels of contrast to create visual interest.Antag with notesSticking to the Arctic theme a lot the clothing inspiration came from Inuit tribes, especially with the fur lining, but I also experimented with more western winter clothes such as scarves. I also made sure to vary on my implementation of the arcane theme. In some examples like 5 and 7 you can see this theme is taken more along the technology side with steampunk-esque weaponry and gauntlets. However in others like 6 and 8 this theme is much more grounded in the magic side, with runed weaponry and ice weapons respectively.

Currently I think I prefer the theme to be more magic oriented, however I intend to attempt both styles in my Protagonist silhouettes before I make my decision.

Initial Silhouettes

My initial silhouettes for my Protagonist and Antagonist (differentiated by “P” and “A”). After some initial attempts I decided I was being too small/neat so i made a mess with very watered down ink and tried to find shapes in it. Quite an effective technique.cap sils-1cap sils-2

The only limitations I placed on myself in this task were those I have mentioned before: emulate Bob Rafei’s use of shapes/silhouette style, and use themes of Inuit (and similiar) and Masai tribes.cap sils-3cap sils-4

Also previously mentioned, I wanted my Antagonist to be large and brutish and my Protagonist to be athletic and agile (and possibly female).
cap sils-5cap sils-6

It was quite hard to show much differentiation in the Masai themed silhouettes due to much of their defining characteristics being in finer details (like jewelry) but I think I have enough to take to the next step.

The next step will be to neaten my favourite silhouettes in Photoshop and add more detail/variation to them.

Final Style Mash-Up: My Style

final 6

So with my idea of how the final style would look firmly in place I set about one final media test to see how it would look. To save time I chose to redraw Dark Jak as my subject (although I did this only using references so as to better understand the shapes). I began my work in grey scale, using the techniques implemented by Dota 2 to create a gradient value up the character and use greater contrast near the upper areas to draw the 1 Next I quickly shaded the character in (still working in greyscale) to see the full range of tone that would be needed and adjust areas as needed to prevent any areas of unwanted contrast, or areas where the character blended into the background. This then allowed me to create my full range of colours, which was based primarily around the 3 most prominent colours on the character. The vibrancy/saturation of these colours was heavily influenced by Ashley Wood, with all but one spot colour (red) being washed out a 2 With my colour and tonal references ready I began work on the final render, using the brushes I had used in my previous Ashley Wood test to attempt to recreate his traditional brush work. Its not exact but its enough to make the final piece more dynamic and unique, and I think it works quite well with Rafei’s strong shapes and silhouette. I also made sure to desaturated the image every now and then to check the tones and fix any mistakes.

blog 3

I am very pleased with this final result. The strong shapes, spot colour, and shadows work well to create a dynamic and eye-catching character. At the same time the desaturated tones make sure the image isn’t an eyesore or too distracting.

Antagonist Moodboards

Following on from my earlier brainstorming, ice is to be the theme for my Antagonist. However in similar fashion to my Protagonist I am thinking more of the concept of ice (the cold, the arctic, tundras, etc.). It would be easy to create an ice monster and be done with it but also a bit dull. Most of my research focused on Inuit/Eskimo culture, but again I broadened mys search into fantasy. There wasn’t as much to go on for ice themes however so I found myself looking a lot more into the environment too and how that might effect a character.
Antag Moodboard 1

I am particularly interested in adding polar bears to the design in some fashion to make my Antagonist large and brutish, but I also want to stay away from Ice Monsters, Yeti’s, and Frost Giants. Furthermore, as I mused on the idea of arcane technology being incorporated I began to think down the lines of a Mr Freeze type character who uses tech to spread winter (thus making him the perfect villain for a hot environment). In particular the idea of frost-gauntlets took my fancy, but I intend to remain open in this design aspect (preferably I would avoid guns though).
Antag Moodboard 2

Protagonist Moodboards

So as I mentioned previously I want to theme my Protagonist around fire. I decided however that I want them to be more about the concept of fire rather than the literal element. With that in mind I began compiling images related to the ideas of fire and heat, both from fantasy/sci-fi and from the real world. I was really interested in taking inspiration from the tribes found in central Africa and maybe combining them with something they are not usually compared to, such as blacksmithing or dragons.Protag Moodboard 1 In the end I refined my idea down to the idea of tribes loosely based off of the Maasai or perhaps Dothraki (Game of Thrones) who roam an arid desert landscape inhabited by drakes, dragons and salamanders. The thought also occurred (after thinking about my Antagonist) to wield fire/heat as some sort of weapon, like a blade that glows hot, or a brazier mace for instance. This came about because I am still thinking about the idea of arcane technology being used in the world.Protag Moodboard 2

Creating My Style

Having researched and analysed each of the main sources of inspiration, as well as some of their off-shoots, I think I am at good point to start making decisions on how my inspiration will take shape and form its own style.

Bob Rafei

From Bob Rafei’s work I especially like his silhouetting and the exaggeration he puts into the shape of his characters (seen most obviously in the shoulder to waist ratio). However I am not overly fond of how his characters look when finally rendered, particularly the heavy line work present on them. Thus I have decided that Bob Rafei’s work will mostly influence the silhouettes and shapes of my characters, but not much else.

Dota 2

Dota 2 has a very nice style overall, but given that I must combine it with the other inspirations I must narrow down its influence (also plagiarism is a big no no). Given that silhouetting will be heavily influenced by Rafei’s work I have decided to let Dota be the main influence for my application of colour. I will pay particular attention to the techniques mentioned in my previous post (Understanding Dota 2) and how they direct the players attention.

Ashley Wood

Being the wild card of the inspirations I spent a long time thinking about what I would take from Ashley Wood’s work, as there were so many possibilities but I didn’t want it to overshadow the other inspirations. In the end I decided that Wood’s work will be used alongside Dota to influence the colour schemes. In particular, his exaggerated use of contrasting vibrancy with desaturation/monotones to really catch the eye and make the character more dynamic.

While this is my main plan for generating a new style, I will be allowing for the inspirations to flow and overlap so that the designs can evolve and adapt and become their own style rather than imitations. I will have to be careful with this however as too much overlap could result in an ugly, mutated mess of stitched together designs.

Protagonist vs Antagonist: Refining Their Traits

After leaving time for my initial ideas to stew and form I’ve fleshed out the initial principles which I want to embody in my characters. I think I am now at a solid point with these ideas to begin the last stage of image collecting and then start the silhouetting.


  • Relatable
    • Not just in that the player can relate to them but that they also aspire to.
    • Many Protagonists are exaggerated in their goodness, they are unto gods. I don’t want to go that far, but they should be raised above the average human (think Captain America).
    • Perhaps look at those aspects of self that many people seek to attain or wish they had
      • Height
      • Fitness
      • Looks
      • Elegance
      • Strength
    • Will have to avoid making them too perfect, then players will see them as in a state of unattainable godhood.
  • Fire
    • Would be interesting if it were not literally fire
    • Maybe relate them to an arid/desert environment
      • African plains
      • Volcanoes
      • Desert
      • Hot industrial world of metal and furnaces (arcane)
    • Can still tie in the literal fire element to creatures of that environment
      • Drakes, dragons, fire elementals, etc.
    • Could wield fire as a weapon
      • Sword
      • Flamethrower
      • Magic
  • Smaller of the Two
    • Doesn’t mean they can’t be tall
    • They must appear weak compared to the antagonist but still strong to the player.


  • An obstacle
    • Should be literally an obstacle
      • They are preventing the Protagonist from reaching their goal
      • Like a metaphorical mountain
      • Monstrous figure
      • A strong sense of weight/immovability
    • Should also represent something wrong to the player. Something they are opposed to and want to get rid of.
      • Inhuman and Immoral
      • Uncaring towards others
      • Arrogant and self-centred
    • Similar to the Protagonist I will have to avoid going too far with this, yes I can exaggerate, but not to a comical point that begins to take the malevolence away from the character.
  • Ice
    • Again making them the opposite of the Protagonist they could be more literal in their references to ice
      • Perhaps they have come to this fiery land to spread an ice age
        • Ice magic
        • Ice creature (nah)
        • Cold generating machinery (arcane)
      • They could also be more subtle, coming from an environment further north of the Protagonist.
      • Definitely want to incorporate strong blue and red colours if using Ashely Wood’s palette technique.
  • Biggest of the Two
    • Going back to the idea of being an obstacle their size should reflect this
      • They are the immovable object, the Protagonist is the unstoppable force.
    • Towers over the Protagonist
    • Massive shoulders

The Characters

I’ve taken a step back from the research and analysis to think about the characters I will be designing. Its all well and good to have the style sorted but I need to get the ideas flowing on how they will look and interact. In terms of narrative/genre inspiration for the characters the brief is almost entirely open, simply stating:

Set on a sprawling planet far from our own solar system, the game will be free from our ‘natural’ conventions. You are free to design fantastical elements and styles uninhibited by earthly restrictions.

With this in mind, I felt it best to set my own general restrictions so that I don’t soon find myself buried in endless epic possibilities:

  • The overall theme of the characters will be Fantasy based rather than Sci-Fi or Modern Day, this does not rule out primitive tech however.
  • The characters will not necessarily be human, but will be humanoid.
  • There should be a large contrast between the Protagonist and Antagonist in some way or form.

With this in mind I started mind-mapping ideas, focusing on what each character should represent rather than how they should specifically look.

protag antag mind map

The main ideas I like at the moment are:

  • The Antagonist representing an obstacle for the Protagonist
  • The Protagonist being relatable for players, thus probably being close to human (elf or dwarf for example).
  • The contrasts of fire and ice and big and small between the Protagonist and Antagonist.

I think what I am going to aim for is a Protagonist who is “small” (well, human sized), human-esque, and somehow fire related. The Antagonist on the other hand will be a monstrous brute with some relation to ice.

The next step in this area will be to collect images of existing fire/ice duos, as well as just fire and ice characters in general. I think I’ll also look at human civilisations that have adapted to relatable environments (Inuits and African tribes for example) and any fictional works based off of them.