Illustrate and texture a sci-fi character

Research: Tools and materials

In order to design our sci-fi character, we need to research and study components that we are likely to replicate in our concept. I will be using Prismacolor Premier Soft Core colored pencils, an HB graphite pencil and a white Sakura Gelly gel pen to draw these texture studies. In order to render them, I shall sketch out the initial base shapes using the HB pencil. I will determine the direction of light, lay down a strong base accordingly, then use the appropriate shades to sculpt the detail with colors whilst constantly observing my references. The white gel pen will be used for highlighting. I’ve looked for inspiration in nature such as flexible organic materials like leather and snakeskin, elemental substances and man-made objects such as metal and plastic.

leather texture, painted metal texture, shiny plastic texture, snakeskin texture, gold chrome texture
  • Leather: This naturally tough but supple material would be ideal for the base of the suit. I am analysing the noisy and wrinkled but relatively smooth texture so that I can apply it in my design.
  • Chrome Gold: I wanted to study a very reflective surface in order to understand how light reacts with this kind of object. This kind of material would be useful for parts such as visors or decorative armor pieces.
  • Snakeskin: I really like the way scales layer over each other, allowing a lot of mobility and protection. This organic textile would be good for areas of the suit that are exposed and require a lot of movement.
  • Weathered Paint: I wanted to determine how chipped paint on metal behaves. The armor pieces of our design will have experienced wear and tear, so adding this characteristic to our armor would give a sense of realism to the concept.
  • Damaged Metal: With the armored elements on our design in mind, I imagined this texture would be relevant. I chose this material In order to interpret how light reflects on damaged metallic surfaces with scratches and cuts.
  • Shiny Plastic: Studying this material helped me understand the difference between reflective metals and plastics. This texture would work as transparent or opaque plastic components such as light casings, decorations, or visors.

STAGE 1: Flat thumbnails

For these thumbnail sketches, we will be using graphite pencils at different strengths; H2, HB and 2B. HB will be used for the initial sketching and outlining, H2 for shading the body silhouettes, and 2B for the armor sets. Using currently existing artificiality and nature as inspiration, I want to explore a range of different shapes that have symmetrical and asymmetrical qualities. We will experiment with bulky and streamline armor and helmet designs with aesthetics like negative spaces and disconnected characteristics.

concept, sketch, spacesuit, suit, futuristic, thumbnail

No.12: I think this is one of our strongest designs, as it looks aerodynamic with light armor with negative spaces. The floating elements and double antennae decorations on the helmet helps the concept’s overall symmetry.

No.1: This is another strong design, as it has an interesting silhouette with mixed weight armor. The helmet is a unique shape and the leg straps attached to the utility belt seems practical.

No.7: I feel like this concept doesn’t have the strongest design. The cable wires seem impractical and the chest armor piece looks unimaginative. I am not keen with the initial silhouette shapes.

STAGE 2: Pose/Perspective thumbnails

For these figure thumbnails, I have chosen to research human reference photography to inspire interesting and dynamic gestures. I will explore both feminine and masculine postures as they offer different expressions which may be favorable for our character. I want to look at fighting stances to suggest action due to the spacesuit holding armored aspects, as well as non-grounded and almost weightless poses to imply space exploration. To sketch out these gestures, I have used graphite pencils at different strengths: 2H, HB, and 2B.

concept, sketch, spacesuit, suit, futuristic, thumbnail

I think I will choose the middle pose as it has a neutral, creature-like appearance, portraying neither masculine nor feminine characteristics. It reflects dynamic movement and action, giving an interesting silhouette with negative spaces.

concept, sketch, spacesuit, suit, futuristic, thumbnail

STAGE 3: Basic shapes

We are going to use a guideline grid to help us plot out our chosen gesture. I will be using a ruler, H2 pencil and HB pencil. As we will be sketching very rough basic shapes of our characters’ silhouette, armor design and guidelines, using the H2 pencil will help keep the lines light which will minimize permanent mistakes and erasing will be easy. The slightly harsher HB pencil will be used for the very final stages where we will be more confident with our line work.

STAGE 4: Details

In this next stage, we can add details such as seams, buttons and sections on the armor to suggest functionality. The linework of the body and initial shapes will be refined to push us closer to the final line art phase. Since the helmet is currently lacking, we can concentrate on the design of this component and even include additional features such as wires and cables. We will give the illusion of 3D to the armor pieces by giving them thickness, and we will also have the chance to alter and change any fundamental areas that need to be corrected.

Stage 4 Image 1 - Now all the initial shapes are placed, we can start making each piece look three dimensional, with thickness and angled accordingly to the characters’ position and perspective. We can also now think about adding small sections of detail, like compartments and lining.

Stage 4 Image 2 - Since we are still working with pencil, we can correct any areas that need to be revised, such as the hands, repositioning the kneepad and adding the left foot behind the right calf.I have also started to refine the linework.

Stage 4 Image 3 - I’ve now completed the final suit design by drawing in the helmet structure and additional detail on the arms and gloves. I also added in wires at the back which help suggest movement and flow in conjunction to the gesture angle.

STAGE 5: Final line drawing

So at the start of designing our character, we first researched into a selection of materials in order to study and learn their properties and how they reflect light. We then experimented with different simple silhouettes, gestures and poses for the basis of our spacesuit concept and compared which composition were the strongest to run with. Eventually we got to a final line drawing that reflected our initial ideas with additional complex details. The tools I will be using to render our drawing are Prismacolor Premier Pencils, a white Sakura Gelly gel pen, a black fine liner and an HB mechanical pencil.

Lighting

I have created this brief shaded mock up of how I'd like the lighting to effect our suited character. I have chosen to have the harsh light top left and a soft reflective light bottom right.

Material Rendering

Material 1: Weathered painted metal

Step 1: First, I use an HB mechanical pencil to draw in the separation lines of where the edges of the damaged paint meets the underlying metal. Then I go ahead and shade the metallic areas using a selection of cool grey and white prismacolor pencils near the corners and edges of the cube, making sure to correlate with the top left direction of light.

Step 2: For the chipped paint, I have selected three different varying shades of turquoise/teal; shadows, midtones and highlights. Regarding the direction of light, I use these prismacolor pencils to color each side of the cube making sure to stay within the line edges of the metal material. Remember to apply adequate pressure when coloring with these pencils in order to achieve that bold and smooth finish.

Step 3: This is where I concentrate on the additional details, such as cuts, grazes and major highlights. I go back to using the HB pencil to re-outline the metal edges where it meets the paint to help sharpen. Still using the regular pencil, I lightly sketch out where I’d like to put damage. Then using the black colored pencil and a white gel pen, I define those areas with deep shadows and absolute highlights.

Material 2: Snakeskin

Step 1: As I’ve chosen white as the primary color for this material, I am using pale yellow, blue, and a light warm grey prismacolor pencil to imitate and shade complex lighting. The pale yellow is the warm direct light, whilst the pale blue is the cooler bounce/reflected light at the bottom of the sphere. To blend these hues, I use the white colored pencil.

Step 2: Next, I need to plot out a perspective grid for the scales to make them look like they are curving around the sphere. Using an H2 pencil to keep the grid light and easy to erase and manipulate, I bend lines alternating in direction, creating a bloated middle section. Following the grid closely, I sketch out the diamond-shaped scales making sure to overlap at the tips.

Step 3: Now, using a mid-toned warm grey, I re-outline the sketched scales carefully, whilst adding areas of shadow underneath the overlapped tip of each scale, using the pale grey to blend. I can include some slight detailing, like the crease in the center of each scale. To add more contrast and dimension to this material, I sharpen a black colored pencil and touch up the corners of each scale, then add spots of highlights with the white gel pen.

Conclusion

I believe the overall concept of our spacesuited character was successful. I wanted to go for a contrasting color combination and a brighter style rather than the typical dark shades for spacesuits. Due to the smooth rendering, the lighting is reflected nicely which accentuates the materials of the suit, including the unique flexible snakeskin sections. I am happy with the chosen gesture; it’s dynamic with a neutral/creature-like demeanor, creating negative spaces within its silhouette. The final details such as armor damage and the glowing additions help complete the design.

concept, spacesuit, suit, snakeskin, futuristic, helmet

More about Emily Megan Young Chapman

I am a twenty-four-year-old aspiring concept and texture artist who is currently in my third year at The Manchester College, studying a BA course on 3D Modeling for games and media. I was born in Camden, London, but at the age of four I moved to Chester and grew up there. Both my parents worked in TV, Film and Theatre in London, which inspired me to also actively pursue a creative career in the media industry. Initially, I wanted to work towards an occupation in Photography and spent five years gaining experience within this avenue. However, a few years ago I rediscovered my passion for drawing and wanted to concentrate on strengthening my abilities down this route. Primarily a traditional artist that favors graphite and colored pencils, I am now honing my skills in digital painting to expand my potential for future careers.