Dev Blog: Designing a Heroic Robot

Here’s our Robot! He’s old, rusty, heavy, strong, and ready for action. But how did we get to this point? Let’s take a look at some design exploration and find out.

Our game features a young girl and a big robot. In the early stages of development, the only thing we were certain about was that the Robot was of alien design, so it was off to the drawing board to discover what he was all about.

During this design phase we were thinking that the characters would be hand animated in 2D. With those constraints in mind, most of these designs were flat and really stylized. Even though the Robot is of alien origin we still wanted to have the player be able to relate to him. I started with designs that were bipedal, had a face, and at least one eye for expression. These aesthetics would be present in every design iteration from this point forward.

I also did a pass at rendering these designs in pixel art. These were fun to do, but ultimately we decided to move in another direction.

All of these designs had some appeal, but something about them wasn’t quite clicking with me. It’s quite common for artists (or anyone) in the games industry to be working on sequels or with pre-existing intellectual property. A strength of a good production artist is to be able to adapt to some else’s art style – it broadens your visual vocabulary and palette. However, now that we are developing a brand new intellectual property, I am free to explore any direction I see fit. It took a while for me to embrace this fact and simply draw how I draw. Everything up until this point felt like I was still making art for someone (or something) else, rather than to please my particular sensibilities.

At this point we were still thinking of hand animating our characters in 2D, but I started to have more fun designing with a lineless style. If we were using Flash or Toonboom, for example, creating and animating lineless art is much more efficient because you have less visual overlap to worry about.

This is the Robot that came out of that round of exploration and the team really responded positively to him. We then had some animation tests done and they came out great. Good progress is always exciting.

Wayward_Jungle_Small (1).jpg

Around the time we were having the animation tests done, I made a bunch of illustrations to showcase the Girl and the Robot. This was the scene of his discovery.

A good amount of time went by and I was able to sit back and absorb the new designs. Again, something wasn’t quite right. Even though he felt alien and intriguing, he was missing a certain heroic quality. His tall and lanky features would also prove to be a problem with how he would traverse our environments. So I went back to the drawing board. These are just a few of the many, many new designs I was exploring. Near the end of this process I decided I would carry over certain elements from the previous design, like the singular eye and wide head.

We were also realizing that we had a much bigger game on our hands than we originally thought. The amount of 2D animation we would need became a real concern. So we decided that we’d render our characters in 3D and use a toon shader to get a good 2D hand drawn feel.

With those considerations, I created this version. He looked more heroic, sturdy, and ready for the kind of action that we were designing.

A few weeks passed, but the design still hadn’t reached it’s full potential. I liked the silhouette. The big shoulders, small legs, big hands, and tube-like arms were giving him a cool gorilla vibe – but the design was too busy. I felt he was too cold and sterile, and lacked the fun, cartoony appeal that I had originally set out to capture. Even though I love to draw in line, it takes me a long time. So I decided to do another experiment which had two main goals. The first was to try an alternate rendering method. What if I ditched the idea of using a toon shader all together, and instead rendered the Robot to look hand painted? The second goal was to speed up my design process by painting the entire design from the start to finish, rather than beginning with a tight line drawing – that method is time consuming. I also get unnecessarily obsessive about line quality.

So, here we are again at the final Robot design! He is streamlined, solid, heroic, and I think way more appealing than any previous version. This final painting of the Robot was undoubtedly the most fun I’d had making art on the project up until this point. The feeling was invigorating and that carried over to all of the other designs I was making for the game.  I can’t wait to show you all more soon!

Thanks for reading!