This week I’d like to talk about how to design iconic characters using the concept of coherence. A coherent design is one in which all components work together to convey a single idea. Here are a few extremely coherent designs:
The aspects that make these designs coherent can be summed up in the following categories using these rules I made up:
Game characters should have a single dominant or ‘key’ color, unless looking messy is important to their theme; even then it’s a bold move. Kratos has blood-red, Snake has subtle blue, Bayonetta has raven-black, etc. A lighter or darker version of the key color can be used as a minor color in order to produce depth. Depth in this sense is important because it adds complexity to the character without causing distraction. The palette can include more colors, but the entire design shouldn’t incorporate more than three, and the non-key colors should yield to the key color by being either less prevalent (like the maroon and gold on Bayonetta) or more neutral (like the white on Kratos).
Shapes and colors need to be repeated in the design, or else they will look messy/unintentional. In the above examples you can see the repetition of the onion shape in the knight’s armor, and in the repeated gold pattern on Kratos’ waist cloth and his swords. The only exception is when a single piece is meant to be an iconic feature and a focal point, and there should only be one of these per character (the shape of bayonetta’s hair and Snake’s bandana, the chains on Kratos’ wrists). Normally, 3 a good number of times to repeat a non-focal design element.
As you can see from the characters mentioned, the dominant color can also be suggestive of a character’s personality and background. Conveying these is the most important part of establishing coherence in a character’s design, and the act of doing so is called theming. In order to have good theming, you should make sure that your character’s design says something about where they came from and where they fit in the universe. Bayonetta is a witch, so her clothes, accessories, and hair are evocative of the occult and the strange. She is also meant to be strong and independent, so many of her design aspects are iconic of female dominance (note the librarian glasses and stiletto heels.
As a practical example, I’ll show some changes I made to the Joker in the process of finalizing his model and texture:
The first major alteration is that I changed his hands from exposed green skin to purple gloves. The use of a glove is important for theming, as none the characters in this world have flesh – they are magically animated playing cards. The purple color also goes a long way to enforce purple as the dominant hue in the design.
The second change was to add detail and color variance to the horns. The detail was important for theming, because the horns are meant to be demonic in addition to suggesting the role of a jester/joker. In the first model, the demonic aspect was underplayed and the form was just confusing. The color variance was important for producing depth.
That’s about the end of my rant on coherence. Hope you learned something!