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Creating a sci-fi character in Photoshop

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Date Added: 25th April 2017
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Industrial Designer Juan Pablo Lozano shares his process for creating sci-fi characters in Photoshop...


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This making of article is about creating a character based in a sci-fi world; I will be using Photoshop as the main tool to create this piece. Making use of techniques that I learned in the last years of my studies, such as using photo-textures and references to fuel my character and making him believable, also showing each part of my process when I design a character.

Step 1: Research of references

This is a very obvious step to start the process but I mention it because it serves as the basis the final design of your character. While you are doing research you should be thinking of how you want the character to look, you might change your mind as you process through the stages but it is good to keep a mood board of all you initial ideas. When I am looking for references and ideas I like to choose interesting to shapes and colors that I can use for accessories etc.

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What to look for in a mood board of references

Step 2: Personality of the character

This is something I recommend doing before creating any character. Just like any character you might see in movies or games yours needs to have an interesting feel or personality that is part of the design, as if the character was part of a larger story. This will help the viewer to relate to the character and buy in to the narrative. I like to look at existing characters that have a similar feel to what I have planned, in this case I am going for a dark, brooding look.

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Think about how you want your character to come across

Step 3: First round of thumbnails

In Photoshop I start the process by making thumbnails; I try to have fun playing with different shapes so that I end up with a nice graphic outline of the character and I don't pay too much attention to the details. I am more concerned with the global design and finding a value harmony than anything else in this step. I then choose two thumbnails that I like most and think will be the best fit for the character.

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Do as many thumbnails sketches as you need to find the right look

Step 4: Focused round of thumbnails

For me the sketching phase is really fun and this is why I like to do a whole bunch of sketches. I used the two thumbnails from the previous step and created another batch based on those as reference. Although, at this stage I have already chosen the one that I will take to the final stage of the design (number two), sometimes the silhouette of that sketch is not the best one for what I want; so I take advantage of all the shapes that the thumbnails have to solve that problem and find the best silhouette.

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Your ideas can always be pushed forward

Step 5: Choosing a pose

Designing of the pose is a very important part of the process because this is what informs the viewer of the characters attitude and personality; this is one of the reasons I took the time to research different looks in the second step. For this character I have chosen a very simple pose that I think fits the dark, brooding personality I want the character to have. It is important that you take time to make sure all your proportions are correct, you don't want to have a great pose and design, but the anatomy brings the whole character down.

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Often a simple pose is the best way to get across the personality

Step 6: Coloring and designing shapes

Having chosen the pose it is time for me to define the color palette using my color board references; then I start adding different photo-textures on a clipping mask on top of the character. This way I can match the color of each texture with my palette and harmonize the overall color scheme. I also make use of the textures to design new shapes and work on the silhouette of the whole character.

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The steps I follow for matching colors

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Think about the shape and silhouette of your design

Step 7: Rendering and polishing shapes

In this step I am just keep having fun rendering materials and polishing the shapes of the overall character. I make sure that the graphic reading of the design is very clear, using brushes that will help me achieve what I want the character's final look to be. Try to push as far as you would like to see your character without worrying about time limits; you are the creator so you can decide when you think the piece is done, with practice you will get to know when you have reached this point. I repeat all the above steps to create the back view of my character, it is important to think of your character from all angles.

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Repeat all steps for the back of your character and place the two side-by-side

Step 8: Overall final touches

Here I make sure everything is how I want it to be and I re-check the overall feeling to the finished character. I start applying lights, shadows, and other effects using the Blending modes in Photoshop ? these include Overlay, Color Dodge, and Multiply modes; they will help to push the final render and give it nicer finish and overall look for the viewer to enjoy. With those final touches done the character is complete. Thanks for reading; I hope you have found this insightful!

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Final image

Related links

To see more of Juan's work check out his portfolio
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Looking for something different? Grab a copy of Sketching from the Imagination: Fantasy

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