So far you’ve been blessed by Michael’s sultry tones offering valuable process and workflow advice for new remote development teams.

This post however, you have me – Nathan (AKA napes) – I’m the Art Director at Space Dust Studios, and while less sultry, I hope you enjoy finding out more about the process I use for creating characters for Space Dust Racing, complete from scribbles through to a 3d model.

The Brief

“Create multiple unique characters with a combative cartoon sci-fi bent.”
I intentionally went about this without any preconceptions and instead let the process drive the initial ideas. If you’re naturally more of a hard-surface/mechanical concept artist (I am), this process will hopefully loosen you up a bit too 🙂

Scribbles to Thumbnails

This is a really fun part of the process. I literally scribble shapes that have roughly the right dimensions, but intentionally don’t think too much about them. Some loose sketching and a couple of spots for eyes trigger possible ideas for forms, shapes and poses. The great thing about this process is that 1 scribble silhouette can yield multiple ideas depending on how it is interpreted. I sometimes play this game with my kids where we share a silhouette, and see what each of us makes!

The image below shows a breakdown for Piccolo Diablo, our mean moustachioed intergalactic taxi driver.


This scribble silhouette could have become any number of thumbnail characters


I end up doing loads of these thumbnails, most of which get discarded.

As nice or interesting forms emerge, so do possible stories for this character – good or evil, their role or where they’re from – and as the story evolves, so does the sketch which in turn adds more detail to the story – it’s a cool little circle.

Review Sheets

After I have a sheet of 10 to 15 thumbnails which have something interesting going on, I send them out to the team for a ‘gut-feeling’ review. This is without any story information – it is purely about identifying which thumbnails visually resonate well within the group – they have to feel good first!


Some of the thumbnails sent out to the team – some survived… most did not!

Working up a colour concept

From a chosen thumbnail (in this case I’m going to continue using Picollo Diablo) I start working up the colour concept sketch.
In Space Dust Racing, colour is super important as our characters must have unique palettes and silhouettes, so I gather thematic and colour reference to sample from (bottom left of image).
This is also the stage where I start to flesh out detail, and sometimes things go wrong as you can see from the progression below. I started losing my way, and Picollo Diablo began to look like a cross between John Goodman and one of the Village People! I was still happy with his back-story, so I bounced the WIP out to the team for feedback, and ended up reverting back to an earlier sketch and continuing again from there.


From a Thumbnail to Concept – sometimes things don’t always go to plan!

This process resulted in these initial character concepts below, though it’s important to note that not all of these will make it into the final game!

SDS Dust Racing Line Up

Some of these characters will miss the cut!

Prep for 3D’ifying

Generally the more detail you can provide the 3D artist, the better – ideally orthographic drawings (front/back/side), a colour concept and/or material reference.

However…we’re lucky as our senior 3D artists Grigor ‘Grigs’ Pedrioli and Stephen ‘Pops’ Honegger are really experienced (and frankly awesome not to mention good looking). They can do wonders with the bare minimum of reference. So for this next section I’m going to use a different character – Sarge!

As the colour concept for Sarge is close to front on, I provide Grigs with a rough side projection showing basic detail for his torso, posture, odd leg/hip shape and arm.


The rough sketch for 3D Artist ‘Grigs’ showing the important details for Sarge.


A few chats here and there, and a few days later back comes this great 3D model. Sarge’s character has really transferred across from the sketches, which is awesome!


The final un-textured mesh. Even without materials and colour, Sarge has plenty of character!

So that’s it for this post – hope you enjoyed it and please post comments below. In a future post we hope to show some modeling/texturing walk-throughs  and  best practice.

Finally – there are many ways of generating non-realistic character ideas and none are ‘wrong’. However, providing 3D Artists with the right details and clear information will always result in better looking in-game characters!

Cheers, (n)