Concept artist David Villegas is the latest to join our ranks as an Evenant Design contributor, and we’re thrilled to present his two-part character design tutorial on his unique setting for Beyond Human. From concept to sketch, to color selection and final touches, David takes you through his in-depth process behind his awesomely epic characters. We hope you find this inspiring and useful, so let’s dive right into Part 1: Sentinels.
Beyond Human: The Story & Setting
The year is 2151 and almost 2/3rds of the earth is now a wasteland while the rest has been converted into a massive barriered utopia built by the richest and most powerful. The barrier city of Corinth is protected by an energy shield that prevents both the pollution and the mutated Chimeras from entering.
The city of Corinth utilizes the most advanced technologies to maintain the original atmosphere and ecosystem of earth. The denizens here depend on the automated defense Sentries to guard the city. Little do they know that this whole system would be easily compromised as the Chimeras have discovered a vulnerability. The Chimeras have been trying for years to get their hands on the energy cores of Corinth. As the attacks have gotten more constant and after realizing that the automated sentries were not as useful, a group called the Sentinels were formed to permanently guard the city and scout the perimeters. This group is made up of the most intelligent and skilled individuals who have undergone almost complete cyber enhancements to enable them to go toe to toe with the battle-hardened Chimeras.
Everything starts with an idea. In this challenge, the theme is “beyond human”. It was also required to come up with heroes and villains. Here I will focus only on the heroes.
When I think of the theme, the first thing I think of are cyborgs. This will be the theme for our heroes. I imagine them to be futuristic soldiers that have augmented their bodies with super suits maybe something similar to Iron Man.
I like to write down my ideas first and think of possible stereotype roles. Maybe one character can be the brains and is super intelligent, another one is fast, another one is a sniper, etc. Then, once they have roles, I think of distinct visual features. The intelligent one can have a huge head to indicate additional memory storages, the fast one can have multiple wings, etc. Each visual feature must relate to their roles.
While thinking of descriptions, you must not limit yourself with the genre, even if this is supposed to be sci-fi, I still included keywords such as “mage”, “chariot”, and “blades”. The more original the concepts are usually the ones that are able to combine unrelated keywords together. I feel like I could have still pushed this further but this will do for now.
- Intelligent mage – female, multiple limbs, floating drones, large head, triangle shape
- Heavy fighter – male, hand shield canons, ultimate fighting machine
- Sniper – female, one eye, huge gun
- Fast fighter – male, flying, blade master, like Ironman, heated blades
- Energy producer – male, rides chariot, energy spear, unstable but powerful
Now that I have basic character ideas, the next step is to figure out the visual style that will tie all of them together. I wanted the heroes to look powerful so I came up with keywords that give off that feel.
- Greek Gods, High Priests, Royal Knights, Sports Cars, Sleek, Iron Man
For the colors, my first idea was to use whites, golds, and blues but eventually just settled with white, dark gray with gold highlights instead. In coloring characters, less is more. One to two main colors work best which are complemented by highlights. If you try to blur your vision, the main colors should be easily recognizable. This is important if you want to differentiate characters from each other.
A good example are the characters from Overwatch. Tracer for example has two main colors which are orange and brown. Her highlight color is blue and she has filler colors which are white, grey, black, and flesh. These filler colors should be neutral colored and should not fight with your two main colors and highlights. D.VA’s mech on the other hand is much simpler with mostly pink and some green highlights.
Sketch and shape language
The sketching stage involves just doing fast doodles to show the proportions and poses of the characters. Try to keep this stage really loose and just draw on top to make more refined lines.
I drew some basic shapes as reference when unifying the designs. For the sentinels, I will use sleek curves and long rounded off lines to show the sci-fi light effects. I also try to avoid circle glowing shapes to avoid making it look too much like Iron Man.
Eventually, after a lot of trial and error, I settle down on 5 character sketches while making sure I am able to apply the keywords I did. I make sure each of them has a distinct body shape.
You will need basic understanding of how light works around 3D forms. It is important you know how to render basic shapes like a cube, sphere, cylinder, etc because everything can be rendered just by knowing those basics.
To create the color sketch, I use solid brushes first to mask out the flat colors. I only use dark colors for now because I will add in the lighting later on.
Once the basic flat colors are done, I add on the light one at a time. I add in the main light first. This is a directional light so make sure you put proper cast shadows that wrap around the forms. I do this first to get a feel on the final light direction early on.
The next light is the ambient light This should affect everything that the main light does not hit. It goes from top to bottom and is a cooler color for contrast.
Next, I add in the bounce light from below. I made it slightly yellow orange to indicate that the main light is a bit warm like the sun.
Finally, I add in the energy glow effects using a Linear Dodge layer with an outer glow.
By this stage, everything should look close to how the final would look like so make sure you spend time at this stage.
Now that we have a quick preview, it’s time to finally do the polished rendering. The process is the same but just more precise. I actually separated each character into its own PSD to make it easier on my computer because I have increased the size of the canvas significantly. We will focus on the tank for now.
I start off with the masking again. Masking is important so that the colors will not bleed to other elements. If you want a clean look, this is important. If not, you can always just paint directly in one layer.
I reused the colors from the sketch and made sure I apply the proper cast shadows. This is why it is extremely important to get the colors right in the sketch phase. This way, you will not have to guess anymore and just use the existing colors.
Next step is to add in the details manually. I add in seam lines, additional details and specular highlights. Here I can also finally merge everything to fix any issues with the silhouette.
This is one of my favorite steps in painting. It is like adding the final cherry on top of the cake.
I always put the glow effects last because I want to make sure the form below is properly done first.
To blend in the colors or increase contrast, I use a curves layer for everything. Then, I add in a lighten layer to paint in the light bleed that radiates off from the lightest parts of the highlights. This makes the image look a bit angelic and soft which I really like.
Although it is recommended to do the story first, I rendered the characters first instead because I was afraid of not meeting the deadline. All I knew was that these characters represented the best warriors of mankind ready to protect the last standing city. While writing the story, I made sure I based my ideas on the original keywords. Here’s the basic story about how the group came to be.
The city of Corinth utilizes the most advanced technologies to maintain the original atmosphere and ecosystem of earth. The denizens here depend on the automated defense Sentries to guard the city. Little do they know that this whole system would be easily compromised as the Chimeras have discovered a vulnerability. The Chimeras has been trying for years to get their hands on the energy cores of Corinth. As the attacks have gotten more constant and after realizing that the automated sentries were not as useful, a group called the Sentinels were formed to permanently guard the city and scout the perimeters. This group is made up of the most intelligent and skilled individuals who have undergone almost complete cyber enhancements to enable them to go toe to toe with the battle hardened Chimeras.
I also have a short story for each character which you can read at my post Artstation.
Naming them was actually what I did last. I thought that Greek mythology would fit well with these guys so I chose names of Gods that fit well with the character’s roles and personalities.
That’s it! I hope you learned something from this one. Catch the part 2 of this article soon where I create the villains of this set.
David Villegas, or better known as his alias Deiv Calviz, is a freelance digital concept artist based in the Philippines. Deiv’s expertise includes hyper-realistic and stylized illustrations.
Initially studied Multimedia Arts with a focus on Graphic Design, he decided to take illustration seriously after getting second place in a contest by Blizzard Entertainment. His career started at a local outsourcing studio catering to big projects such as The Last of Us, Uncharted 4, Sims 4, Dance Central 3, and Fifa Street.
Now a full-time freelancer along with his girlfriend and finicky stray cats, he eventually plans to create his own worlds and stories and is welcoming any new opportunities to grow as an artist.