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Brett “2D” Bean: World Building and Character Design

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Brett “2D” Bean runs his own shop, Drawn To It Studios in Los Angeles, and has an impressive pedigree for an artist. Among many other things, he’s created puppet designs for Jim Henson’s creature shop, illustrated books in the children’s book series Beasts of Olympus, and served as the lead designer for Slugterra on Disney XD. His specialty is developing characters, so we asked him to dream up some characters for us. He assembles lots of influences and inspirations and shows you how to change the details of your characters so they don’t look normal. It’s an exercise in world building that he also recorded for us. 

My name is Brett Bean, and I decided to make up my own property for a video game IP. In this tutorial, I hope to show you how I approach design, and how I begin to flesh out designs with purpose. I start by thinking of my big idea first.

My name is Brett Bean, and I decided to make up my own property for a video game IP. In this tutorial, I hope to show you how I approach design, and how I begin to flesh out designs with purpose. I start by thinking of my big idea first.

I have an affinity for both fantasy and science fiction and really wanted to combine the two together. I tried to think of a way to make a big open world in which to play in with all the things I like to create. Here is my premise….

Magical Energy in a Future World

I’ve toyed with it for a bit, and there’s something about magical energy — and my love for all the properties that use it — in science fiction. The idea is to introduce magic into a science-fiction world [what some might call Science Fantasy]. I combined the two and now am starting to see where they can tie together. Here is my premise:

The setting is our fictional future. There has always been magic in our world, and over the course of mankind’s existence magical beings have now populated the earth. As civilization has expanded, humans have  naturally become minorities in the future. Non-magical humans now have two choices as they try to keep pace with the wizards. Remain merely human or augment themselves by using technology to advance their selves beyond what normal humans are capable. These hybrid humans are trying to stay at the top of the evolutionary chain and not become extinct like their human counterparts. These meta Humans known as “Tech-Nodes” have become shadowy versions of themselves, twisted and consumed. Tech-nodes often replace their human bones and other pieces to become part machine, and — in their own eyes — design perfection. Our story revolves around these two ideologies and the humans that are found caught in the middle of a new war over humanity.

You’ll play as Zek who enters the world of Magic and tech that will determine the fate of all humankind. He is a plucky young man, full of energy and confidence, and newly brought into the Mages In Conservation — Mag.i.c. — organization.

Tech-Nodes: Think “Apple computers” gone bad. These meta humans are made of  human and cybernetics. Sleek and very well-designed. They were all top of the line and the next great leap of human development. Twisted by their ideology and lacking in most of their remaining humanity, they seek to stay on top and continue to try and enhance themselves as the perfect design. 

Now that I have my world, I start thinking about my design. It’s got to fit within this world and explain who the people are. I start with a few designs. Normally, for a character design project I would work with 20-40 designs, but it’s a personal project, so I’ve got five designs, and I already know where I want them to go.

I’ve kept my characters heroic and positive, watching for the line of action, pose and its clarity, and overall design aesthetic I’m going for. My line of action is mostly about gesture. How a character stands, walks, or acts is shown in that line of action. My pose will be the fleshed out version of that gesture and how I want my character to be posed. I want to make sure the silhouette and pose is readable. Clarity is key for my audience to be able to identify and read what they are looking at.

As I make designs, I’m trying to also think about unique features they could have, what makes these designs different then what I’ve seen before. I also try and use my shapes wisely, thinking about what shapes represent the idea I wish to convey. Always think about your audience and what you want them to understand about your design choices. Taking that sketch, I expanded the character, adding ink lines and then color.

I did a few call-outs to show the animation team and modelers what I think can help the process along as well as a quick orthographic view for the modeler.

I then try to find my other end of the spectrum, the main hero’s nemesis. Using my hero as my base for contrast, I start down the path of making designs to counterbalance.

I chose an extreme pose for my hero, so I have to do the same for my villain. I really want to showcase them as equals, so they take a similar stance while using magic.

More from Brett Bean

You can follow Brett on Instagram or other places online. If you like his style, check out his online store.