How can I quickly gen­er­ate a range of character sil­hou­ettes?

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Jonathan replies

I ap­proach the process of de­sign by build­ing a li­brary of mod­u­lar shapes. I gen­er­ate a base ship de­sign, en­sur­ing that it has a rel­a­tively sim­ple sil­hou­ette. This en­ables me to change it sig­nif­i­cantly by adding ad­di­tional shapes and pieces. By cre­at­ing th­ese mod­u­lar pieces – wings, en­gines, cock­pits, guns and so on – on sep­a­rate lay­ers, it’s easy to place them in dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions on the de­sign, skew them, change their size or ori­en­ta­tion and ba­si­cally ex­per­i­ment in ways to make the ship de­sign sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent.

Sil­hou­ette is what the eye al­ways reads first. By en­sur­ing you make suf­fi­cient changes to the sil­hou­ettes of your ships (rather than in­ter­nal de­tail), you can max­imise the dif­fer­ences be­tween each in­stance of the de­sign. I try to fur­ther the va­ri­ety of the de­signs by adding dif­fer­ent colour schemes and paint jobs to each ship; this idea could be pushed even fur­ther by in­tro­duc­ing dif­fer­ent tex­tures as well as colours and shapes.

Leanne Ash­ing­ton, Eng­land

Paco replies

Com­ing up with in­ter­est­ing sil­hou­ettes isn’t easy, although paint­ing them is, and that’s the in­ter­est­ing thing about them. When paint­ing a sil­hou­ette, you don’t need to paint de­tails – hands or clothes, say – you just need to fo­cus on the gen­eral shape of the character. This means you can rapidly pro­duce dozens of them. So, the key isn’t paint­ing one in­ter­est­ing sil­hou­ette straight from your imag­i­na­tion, but rather to paint a col­lec­tion of them quickly. Sta­tis­ti­cally speak­ing, this should en­sure that you’ll end up paint­ing a bunch of in­ter­est­ing ones that you can de­velop into a character de­sign.

My ap­proach is to paint the first thing that comes into my head, then copy the sil­hou­ette and add more el­e­ments or erase some. I re­peat the process, try­ing to come up with dif­fer­ent things, and once I have col­lec­tion of sil­hou­ettes, I place them along­side each other and choose the best one.

Another method is to put down ran­dom brush­strokes un­til you see some­thing in­ter­est­ing, us­ing pro­grams such as Alchemy. This ap­proach can gen­er­ate a var­ied range of ran­dom shapes. You have to re­mem­ber that there are no magic short­cuts for cre­at­ing a character, but my two meth­ods can make character cre­ation a lot eas­ier.

Fe­bru­ary 2015

Here are the de­signs in con­text.

There are not quite enough to con­sti­tute a fleet yet, but they make a rea­son­ably con­vinc­ing squadron. Above, vari­a­tions of a sil­hou­ette that were painted quickly. Be­low, ran­dom shapes gen­er­ated us­ing Alchemy are de­vel­oped into a character sketch.

Here are four de­signs that I gen­er­ated from one ship, and three ad­di­tional pieces that I’ve cob­bled to­gether in dif­fer­ent ways.

Alchemy is par­tic­u­larly use­ful when you’re stuck for ideas. As you start gen­er­at­ing ran­dom shapes, lots of in­ter­est­ing con­cepts come to mind.

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