Basics of Creating Game Characters - Getting References

by Bruno Santos in Tutorials,

on April 16th, 2017

This post is part of series called Basics of Creating Game Characters

In this series of tutorials, we will cover a full workflow with tips that will help you to understand the process used in creating game characters. We will cover Sculpting, Modeling, Retopology, UV setting, Texturing and Baking and Lighting. Although this is a beginner’s tutorial, you will enjoy it much more if you have a basic knowledge of polygonal modeling, sculpting and anatomy. We will be using Zbrush, Maya, UV Layout, Substance Painter, Photoshop and Marmoset.

Topics in this series

potira explotion compose

This is the first chapter in the series on how to make a game character. This chapter is important and unique. Although there are many methods of achieving the same thing, it's important to keep in touch with other artists to stay updated.

The tutorial is split into two sessions: 

  1. Where to keep updated and why  - Getting references.  

  2. Designing your mood board - Why you need one and what's important to include.

I have broken down the content in this manner due to the following reasons: 

Although big companies invest a lot of money on game projects, artists often find themselves working on projects under budget, hence you might find yourself working on a lot of tasks. Working alone, I’ve completed a large number of projects in my portfolio. And I’ve found that, although it pays to specialise, the terms of the industry dictate that you position yourself strategically for the next opportunity.

Therefore, this tutorial will cover all the steps I took in bringing Potira to life. I leave it to you to decide how you use or adapt it to your own style.

Where to keep updated and why.

First things first, you will not be a good enough artist unless you openly welcome and accept feedback and constant interaction with other artists. That's why I ask that you please visit the comments section (below) to give me feedback on how the tutorials can be improved. Spending time with other artists is also a very good way to build up your CV and get noticed.Positive AND negative feedback from friends and colleagues will encourage you to constantly stay at the top of your game and improve your skills and knowledge.

So, investing time, looking around, giving feedback, and saving references will definitely help you to constantly improve and maintain the quality of your work.

As you follow and interact with other artists, you too will be increasingly seen as a professional, so whilst growing your network of contacts it’s equally important that you find and save good references to use in your projects. I personally (like everyone else) use social media to keep in touch, share and save content, and will show you which I use, and why.

Behance and Artstation.

These two social media platforms are, without doubt, the most valuable when it comes to finding and saving helpful information.

Behance: I use this more as a generic portfolio and database source. For example, on my Behance page you can see more about art direction. However, in my opinion, Behance is most valuable and interesting as it allows you to build a chain of contacts and every time you log on you see their network interaction, plus there is an incredible database thanks to the follow (should say flow not follow?) of daily activities. Also, keep in mind that Behance is of huge importance as many companies scout this website looking for freelancers. So, even if you don’t want to create your portfolio over there, you can just follow people or make a search by specific term. It's certainly worth a quick look every morning, whether it’s to search for references or build your own chain of professional contacts or friends.

 Artstation: Here is where the biggest CGI artists are playing, and is of increased value and interest because it has other interesting attributes, such as the Artstation challenge and the job section, where you can be in touch with other members of our industry, including industry leaders. Of course, I ensure I visit Artstation every day to see what’s going on, and I usually use the “Pick” section, where you can beinspired by the cream of the momentary (huh?) community.

Although I don’t consider myself a heavy social media user, I recognise that it’s the quickest way to be updated on industry trends and news. You can get inspired by looking at the work of others, or receive prompt feedback when stuck or needing fresh input. Here's how I use both:

Instagram: Publishing art work with hashtags will make scouts discover you and perhaps give you some useful feedback. What I always do before I go to bed is look around by typing such terms as “game design”, “character design”, “3D character design” and so on. It’s a quick way to get inspired and have good dreams :)     

Facebook: You can share your WIP or final projects on facebook. But, for me the ability to take part in a group discussion even makes facebook cooler. Groups and forums are very important to a freelancer or beginner as you can share your thought on small or even the biggest personal projects.

Pinterest: Here is where I spend the most of my research.

This social media platform is simply amazing as you can create boards as you get new projects or become increasingly interested in new topics. As with Behance, once logged into the website or app the home page will suggest boards according to your last views or people you may follow, and you can also validate an email so as to receive suggestions via email.



Now that you know where to share and get references, let’s talk about what to do with the references.

potira mood board concept art

Designing your mood board.

What's a mood board? A mood board is a canvas where you put good references so as to have a clear direction of your project. You can have as many canvases as you wish for each project. The board is to help you to understand some points and guide you. Depending on the complexity of your project, you can have more than one mood board. Although one mood board is often enough, each project is different.


I got a concept art from Fernando Carvalho.

Below was the brief I had before the project:

"Come up with a Brazilian native girl who should look like a young, smart warrior. She must have Amazonian skin shade and body painting. Props should be simply made with seeds, feather and straw only. Project would be used on an AAA game play and must get less than 75k tris."

I looked around and collected together as many references as I could find of Brazilian Amazonian girls. I then took another look at the concept art to see how Fernando had conceptualised it to filter my search criteria.


Matching the brief and what I absorbed on the concept art, I decided that only one mood board would be enough at the first stage, and that I should basically look at her head and body anatomy,and  the native girl's cloth and body paint.

I created a board on Pinterest and pinned all images about a native girl that I found interesting.

(click here to go to my board)

I spent a few days pinning and googling images, talking with friends about the challenges, repeatedly looking at the concept art, and thinking about what I want the final output to be.


Once I had all the images I wanted, I pasted them on a 1920x1080px Adobe Photoshop canvas in order to create a guideline. In this particular project I had to come up with the character, and she had no face designed at all, only a very rough one. Now, in a case like that, you should be careful about the references.Some frontal and a quarter shot of the character’s head will be the main reference your design will match, plus eyes and lips that you think might link, and some hairstyle and bodypaint which you think is great. For her body, try a shot of someone who looks like the concept art and what you have in mind. If you can draw, try some rough sketches on your design and keep it together, although in my case I’ve just scribbled on the board and moved on to block out.

Next we will discuss Blocking out using Zbrush and Photoshop



5 steps you should follow to get started with:

  1. Invest time looking for art even when you are not into a project. It's the best way of keeping your mind constantly connected to art.

  2. By trying Behance, Artstation and Instagram you are able to see either 3D reference, 2D and also real shots. That increases your sense of perspective, and draw and save references in your mind.

  3. Follow all artists you think are good and don’t be afraid of commenting on their projects, as this will make you visible to those artists.

  4. BBefore you get a project started, have in mind what you want to achieve. Read the brief and match the information with the concept art. If it is a personal project, try to write a brief and sketch it up by yourself..

  5. Define your workflow before you start. This makes your pipeline much more flexible and makes searching for resources easier when you don’t know how to do something.


Please see my network profiles below, and feel welcome to have a look and add me to yours.

Instagram: @Jar2Jar

So now it’s your turn. Feel free to send me questions and comments below, or via the forum section, as I would love to hear your thoughts.



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