Hey there, my name’s Erin. I’m the character artist and animator for Puny Astronaut! I handle everything from the character concepts, modelling, and texturing through to rigging and animating.
So that the player can explore the 2.5D environments without feeling constrained, we’ve always favoured using a flying player character. This mechanic has stayed the same, but as the style and scope of the environment has been reworked, so has our character’s design! I’m always really excited to see how and why character designs can grow, which is why I thought it might be cool to show you my process so far!
The game, which was initially known as ‘Glaze’, was created as part of Abertay’s Dare to be Digital competition in 2016. During Dare we only had 8 weeks to complete a prototype, so there wasn’t much time for research and iteration. The character has always been a sort of snake-like dragon, made to effortlessly weave through the sky. This concept came from looking at how the movement was prototyped. My main source of inspiration became the construction and design of Chinese dragon kites, hence the large head and corresponding segments! I liked the idea of the character being streamline, so a lot of my inspiration came from the dragon/water pokémon ‘Kingdra’.
The idea behind the world of ‘Glaze’ was that the world was entirely constructed from crystal and glass, which meant a lot of hard edges. For the character to look like part of the world, it needed to have these as well. Unfortunately, it was difficult to not make sharp edges look sinister, so a quick solution to try and counteract this was to make the pallet bright and playful.
After winning the Channel 4 prize at Dare (woo!), Glaze underwent some redesigning to help make the environment seem a little more upbeat and welcoming. This meant reworking the dragon too. At first, I was a firm believer in keeping it as close to the prototype as possible, because if it weren’t for the prototype we wouldn’t have had the success we did. I soon realised however, that the hard edges and strong silhouette was never truly going to fit our re-established vision for the game. I wasn’t able to discover this though until I started messing around with a new take on the original design.
Exploring additional details, such as whiskers and horns, showed me that sometimes less is more. For a while I really felt there needed to be something extra, to give a strong indication of direction and movement in the otherwise stiff model.
In the end the solid form really didn’t work for us, especially now that even the denizens had much more articulation. It was back to the drawing board for our dragon, and this time we really wanted to push the idea that they were friendly and welcoming. The idea of the dragon being able to express themselves was really appealing, but the way they were designed meant that it would be difficult to create cute, emotive facial expressions. This challenged me to look into what sort of features could be exaggerated and to what kind of extremes, to give the face that flexibility without it being intimidating.
After looking through pages of different dragons and cute animals, I was definitely leaning toward incorporating big eyes and floppy ears. You might notice that some of the designs below don’t reflect this preference – that’s because I have been taught, and really believe, that trying things outside your comfort zone with design is extremely useful. It can either really help to cement your beliefs, or sometimes it can produce better, unexpected results!
I find using water colour pencils (and gradients in general) is a really effective way to make concepts more appealing, but when it comes to the base design it can really distract the eye from the silhouette as a whole.
A day or so was spent making minor tweaks to the silhouette, which can be a frustrating part of the process, but it means that the outcome is all the more rewarding!
This was when we knew we’d found our friend, Skye.
It was a while before any more changes were made, and even then they were fairly small. Most of the edges have been softened and extra detail has been added to the texture, but the overall design has remained the same for over a year now. I’ve become quite attached to the silhouette so I hope it won’t be needing to go through any more drastic changes, but then that’s the excitement of working in games sometimes, you never really know what’s next!
Thanks so much for reading, and please get in touch if you have any thoughts or feedback!