Alien Explorer – Free sample from "Creating Stylized Characters"

In this free sample from Creating Stylized Characters, Kenneth Anderson creates young alien version of his alien explorer design from the book.

There are six main projects in this book, each executed by a different artist. Each artist creates one core character, which is developed from research and thumbnails up to a final posed and colored design. As an additional exercise, the artist creates three spin-off variations of their main character to give you some ideas on how to translate distinctive features and personality into different scenarios. This free sample is taken from illustrator Kenneth Anderson's chapter in which he creates a friendly alien explorer with a futuristic suit and gadgets. Kenneth uses inspiration from reptiles and amphibians to distance the design from looking too human and creates a bipedal character, with some sci-fi flair. In this free sample he redesigns this character as a young alien, one of three variations of the character featured in the book.


Ideas & Research

For this version, I will be re-designing the character as a young alien. To "age down" the character, I return to some familiar reference points: frogs, lizards, and fish. This time I look for key elements that I could bring to the character to make him appear younger. I want to make him more vulnerable-looking, so I play with the idea of transparency in his skin; maybe his organs show through his body slightly. My idea is that as he ages, he hardens and develops tough scales and spikes. I don't want to completely lose sight of this endpoint, so I need to hint at it in this stage of the character's development.

Fig.01

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Fig.02

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Fig.06

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Fig.01: The pink colors of the axolotl are already almost perfect for my character, but I am unsure at this point whether I want to match my original design's colors, or do something different such as this more blue example.

Fig.02: The axolotl has a strong mix of unusual traits: the external "gills" on its head could be primitive spikes in development, its skin is slightly translucent, and overall it is a cute and appealing animal.

Fig.03: Glowing jellyfish are fascinating; I am keen to see if I can make this idea work with the squashy, radiant appearance of this younger character, but I'm not yet certain how to incorporate these features.

Fig.04: Glass frogs are the perfect reference for transparent bodies. I want the character's arms to have a similar radiance and refraction of light, and I'd like to play around with what can be seen inside.

Fig.05: I return to the horned lizard for reference, this time looking at a younger version. There will be a challenge in making a spiky, lizard-like alien look cuter and younger.

Fig.06: Glass frogs also look shiny and permanently wet. This might be an interesting contrast with the skin of the adult version, emphasizing the vulnerability of the younger design.

Changes

I decide to keep the overall shapes of the new character very similar to the original, while playing with proportions to emphasize a change in age and development. A bigger head, bigger eyes, and softer skin will all help to sell this. I also want to push the original gibbon influence, as it would fit the idea of the young version of the character being a bit more awkward.

I intend to experiment with translucency when rendering the final design, suggesting that the character's body is vulnerable and less developed. Children and baby animals generally have larger head-to-body ratios than adults. I will adjust these proportions to convey the younger age of this version of the character. The spikes on the character's head should be less sharp, in keeping with the much rounder shapes of this version in general. The design should not feel spiky and threatening at all. I consider removing the costume altogether. Perhaps the suit that the main character wears is only worn when visiting other worlds, and is unnecessary at this stage in its growth?

Thumbnails

Drawing influence from the new reference material, I sketch a range of thumbnails that are somewhat stunted, more rounded, and more childlike versions of the main character. Some of the thumbnails stray a bit too much from the defined body shape; I need to find a balance between looking different and at the same time being recognizably the same character. The top-left and bottom-middle thumbnails are definitely on the right track.

Basic shapes

I combine elements of the top-left and bottom-middle thumbnails in order to create a character that looks less physically developed while still having some distinct features of the original design, such as the horns, somewhat reptilian head shape, and large eyes. The overall forms lean more towards the amphibian inspirations than the tougher, scaly creatures that I researched for the adult version. These will help to give the baby alien a soft, endearing look.

The new character has very similar basic shapes to the original one, but they are now more rounded, stunted, and less harsh. Rounded shapes like ovals are definitely the new dominant theme, helping to sell the idea of a younger, softer character.

I develop the forms further, making sure that the shapes work well together and read as childlike. The head is large in relation to the body, conveying the character's young age.

In silhouette, the character clearly reads as round and soft, with only the back of his head hinting at his future spiky nature. Features such as his frog-like limbs and three-fingered hands are distinctly legible and relate back to the original design.

Details

With fewer spikes and no costume, I need to think of other details to bring life to this character. Vulnerability is the idea I keep coming back to; I need the details to reflect that, while also hinting at how his skin might evolve with time by adding some faint bumps and scale patterns to his face, shoulders, and arms.

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Fig.07: I need to be careful that I don't go overboard with the transparency - I want it to be clear, but subtle enough that it's not the main feature of the design.

Fig.08: Here I play with seeing the bones in the legs, and the organs in his belly, much like the glass frogs from my earlier research.

Expressions and posing

I play around with poses that are childlike while also having similar traits to the adult character. I want him to still be curious, hinting at his adventurous nature, and maybe to show the viewer where his love for exploration began.

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Fig.10

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Fig.09: I return to the rock-lifting idea, as I want to compare how he does it as a child with how he does it as an adult. Coupled with a similarly captivated facial expression, it is still a very strong and charming pose for showing his curious nature.

Fig.10: Here the character is discovering the glowing orb maps for the first time, and his interest in exploration is born. The joyful smile and clear interaction of this pose are great for conveying a sense of inquisitive, childlike wonder, so I will use it for the final image.

Value and color

As with the adult version, I use values to lead the viewer's eye to the character's face, as I want that area to have the highest point of contrast and the most visual and tonal interest. However, as the character is no longer in costume, the overall tone and color choices must be different to reflect his youthful and translucent skin. I will keep pink as the main skin color, tying this design together with the adult alien, and create new palettes by introducing other colors throughout the character's limbs and visible internal organs.

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Fig.14 I make sure to keep the highest points of contrast towards the head. Lower in the body, the tones lighten - I imagine his lower body to be more translucent than the top, keeping the character's face clear.

Fig.15 I start experimenting with a split complementary color scheme of aqua, pink, and yellow. This works well to show how the character's see-through body reflects and refracts many different colors, and keeps the original design's vibrant sense of fun. I will use this palette for the final design.

Fig.16 An analogous color scheme centered around violet and purple might work well, as it suggests what the original alien's pink body might look with no costume.

Fig.17

This analogous color scheme pushes more towards purple. I am less keen on this, as it's too different from the adult version.

Final design

This version succeeds in showing a younger, less physically developed version of the original main design. The softer forms, translucent skin, and lack of a costume suggest a child or baby. However, enough common elements remain to tie this in with the original design: we can see the same hands and general body shape, the similar face, and the hints of the spikes that will develop as he ages. The glowing spheres create a narrative between the two versions and maintain the sci-fi aspect of the character.

To see the other variations of this character and a number of other character tutorials from a wide array of talented artists, visit our online shop to get a copy of the book.

Related links

Hone your character design skills with CDQ magazine
Get inspiration from Sketching from the Imagination: Characters
Develop more accurate dynamic poses for your characters with our adaptable male figure

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