Learn to Create Awesome Character Thumbnails!

3 Simple Steps to Create Awesome Character Thumbnails

Hey artists! If you want to learn how to develop your concept in a quick and fun way, creating character thumbnails is the best approach. It will allow you to show off some quick sketches of ideas and concepts without spending too much time worrying about the finer details. So let’s go over these 3 steps on how  to create awesome character thumbnails.

Step 1: Create Your Silhouettes

Learn to create awesome character thumbnails to have something to show to your client

Grab a simple, opaque brush and create some quick silhouettes. The silhouettes are incredibly important for any character or prop – heck, it’s important for every single thing you paint.

Silhouettes give us the impression of what the entire object that we’re looking at comprises of. Take a circle and add just a few things around it that stick out and it’s immediately much more interesting.

So having this in mind, I first start off by having a canvas that’s about 3000×2000 (you can choose really anything you want, but I find having around this ratio works nicely for lining up a lot of characters). I choose a light beige background and add a quick frame (because I love frames).

Stay loose and do it quickly, painting and erasing to get a balanced and interesting silhouette per character. You can also number them to make it much easier for the supervisor or client to let you know which one they like.

Step 2: Add in Some General Details

Learn to create awesome character thumbnails to have something to show to your client

From here, I can actually go straight into developing one of these if I like them. But it’s good to work more on these to have something good to show the client. So I have developed them a little bit further, without really zooming in or going too crazy on details.

Each of these have their own layers, and I like to start by giving them some value variation, so I choose “Lock Transparent Pixels” (the small checkers’ icon next to the “Lock” in the layers window), then find a highly detailed photo of something that could fit this type of concept: an electrical engine!

This photo is free for use, even commercially. Go to Google Images, and in the search options, find the “Can be altered and used” option, and only the images that you can use and alter will show up when you search. I searched for “Electric engine”:

I then bring this photo into my layers, and place it over the thumbnail layers and hold in alt and click between the photo layer and the thumbnail layer so that it only affects the layer under it and stays inside.

I then play around with the layer blending modes of the photo layer, change the colors, free transform, and all the fun stuff you can do in Photoshop.

Step 3: Refine Details

Now comes the really fun part.

I then use that same technique as I did up there with the photo of the electrical engine. I take the image layer, place it over the guy, change the blending mode to overlay or soft light (or any other that might work), hit alt to clip it down on the guy, and then just reshape and play around with it to get some interesting details, color variation, and happy accidents.

I can now amplify those ideas that I got and take it a step further to give the image some design direction.

Finally, I just put it all together and make it presentable:

Create Awesome Character Thumbnails to Show Your Client

And now I have something to show my client and to continue working on.

I could copy this guy and change up his head, the weapon, the colors, and so on, to just give some more variation and ideas to the supervisor, like so:

I can take this concept further and finalize it so the 3D guys and the rest of the crew can reference to it and understand what each thing does and what the point of it is. But this is enough to get the ball going

Want to Learn More on How To Create Awesome Character Thumbnails?

Hope you enjoyed this tutorial, and if you want to learn more about how to develop your character further from this point, I have a whole module dedicated to this in my Cinematic Design course, so make sure you check that out!

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Walid Feghali

Walid Feghali

Co-founder of Evenant, Walid is a Swedish award-winning digital artist, composer, mechanical engineer, and entrepreneur. Travelling as a digital nomad and exploring new opportunities, Walid has always been dedicated to trying new fields of study, exploring, creating, travelling and collaborating. This has lead him to create artworks for countless clients and compose orchestral film scores for feature films and games, trailer music placements in many Hollywood campaigns such as Independence Day 2, Warcraft, Starcraft 2, Call of Duty, a mechanical engineering degree, and more. The journey does not end here for him!