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Creating insane characters: 7 things to know

By James Suret

Web: https://www.artstation.com/zerojs (will open in new window)

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Date Added: 4th October 2017

Freelance 3D artist James Suret guides us through seven tips for creating insane characters...




In this article I will explain seven different aspects of character creation that will help you develop memorable and creative characters. With modern software such as ZBrush and Marvelous Designer there are fewer technical constraints that digital artists have to deal with. We can now focus more on our creativity and inspiration which can lead to artists creating truly interesting and unique characters.


The first step when creating a good character or creature is to be inspired! Nowadays it's difficult to create completely unique characters that stand out from the crowd because there are so many films and games that come out every year. Whatever you create will most likely be compared to a character that already exists. Coming to terms with this helped me as an artist to relax and not worry so much about making something a hundred percent original all the time. Sometimes putting your own twist on a pre-existing character can be fulfilling and lead to good results. The positive side of this is that there are so many great character artists to draw inspiration from. I regularly browse through Artstation and usually find several characters that have features I like and try to combine them in to my own creation.

Realism and creativity

When you are creating a new character one of the first things you will need to decide on is the style. Do you want the character or creature to be realistic in a sense that it could actually exist in reality or does it exist in a fictional world? A realistic character can still look unique and creative but you are restricted to real world physics and anatomy, a good way to achieve this is through its clothing and hair. For example in ZBrush you can use FiberMesh to create 3D hair, you can sculpt and brush the hair in to interesting styles. Many artists now are using Marvelous Designer to create amazing clothing for their 3D characters. This software allows you to easily create patterns for clothing much like how a fashion designer would work. It removes a lot of the technical difficulties with creating 3D clothing and allows you to get creative.

The clothing and accessories make this human character look interesting

Disturb the viewer

I often find that the characters that stick in my mind are the ones that are the most disturbing or shocking in some way. I often try to create characters and creatures that evoke a strong psychological or emotional response. Creating a character that is part insect or monster and part human is somewhat disturbing. But you can take this further by depicting partially human characters being tortured or transformed in some way. And you can take this even further by giving them the expression or pose that shows he/she is not in pain or discomfort and is peaceful in this horrific situation or state. H.R. Giger used this technique with many of his works to create beautifully serene female characters in horrific scenes.

This horrific character is a mix of human and insect

Confuse the viewer

Carrying on with this topic another way to create an interesting and memorable character is to evoke conflicting emotional responses in the viewer. A good way to do this is to create a character or creature that appears to be evil to the viewer by the way it looks or some preconceived ideas about it. But then through the characters pose or actions depict it as being benevolent or kind. Another way is to mix arousal and fear. You can achieve this by creating a character that is beautiful or sexual in its overall form but change or completely remove some of its features. You can add to this effect even further by the way you pose or animate the character. A great example of this would be the highly sexualized but scary faceless nurses in the Silent Hill franchise.

This is another character that blends aspects of human and arthropod

Mixing genres

Another way to make a character unique is to mix several genres such as mixing horror and sci-fi. This was done successfully in the Doom games which featured robotic demons. Another example would be the mix of fantasy and sci-fi in the Star Wars franchise. In many of the games and films the characters wear robes and futuristic armor along with a lightsaber, which is of course a futuristic version of a sword. The film Spaceballs successfully mixed comedy with sci-fi. One of the main characters was a humorous take on Darth Vader's design featuring an oversized helmet and tie.

This character is a mix of sci-fi and horror inspired by the game "Doom”


A character can have more visual impact if its anatomy is exaggerated or extended in some way. To make an alien character more interesting you can add an extra pair of arms or elongate its body. You can add more teeth or a longer tongue to a monster to give it more impact. A recent example would be Pennywise the clown from the new remake of IT, his oversized forehead makes him disturbing and more memorable. But it's important not to get carried away and make your character so far removed from real anatomy and physics that the viewer just can't understand what they are looking at or suspend their disbelief.

The extra teeth, tongues and tentacles make this monster visually interesting

Those little details

Sometimes all it takes to make a character more interesting and memorable is some small but striking detail.
Some vampire characters are only recognizable because of the changes in the teeth for example. It can also be an item of clothing or a weapon the character uses such as the characters in the Assassin's Creed franchise with their hoods and concealed wrist blades. It could even be something as small as a facial scar that stands out and makes the viewer curious as to how they acquired it. So, if you are designing a character and decide it's looking a bit dull think about the story you want the character to tell through its appearance. There are small changes you could make that might have a big impact on the way the viewer sees it.


If you consider some of the ideas I've mentioned as well as examining characters that you find memorable you will hopefully be inspired and create your own interesting characters. The overall design of you character doesn't have to be completely unique, sometimes interesting details or features can make it more memorable. 3D software has now removed many of technical barriers that might have stopped you from bringing you imagination to life, now you are only limited by your creativity.

Related links

Check out more of James Suret's amazing, disturbing 3D creations in his portfolio
Read James' great tips for modeling in ZBrush
Pick up a copy of Sculpting from the Imagination: ZBrush to start making your own weird and wonderful renders
Beginner's Guide to Comic Art: Characters is another fantastic resource for someone looking to create memorable characters


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