Ancient Civilizations: Character Design Winners Interview

With over 800 participants who took part in the Character Design challenge, it’s almost needless to say that narrowing it down to our final winners from the mass of very talented and creative designs was a difficult task for our judges.

Challengers had to  design 10 unique characters from an ancient civilization. Each character needed to  tell their own story with their clothing, adornments, and gestures. It’s not enough to create anatomically correct characters, the real challenge was to tell a compelling story with characters that captivate.

There were endless lineups of impressive character designs for this challenge. Browse some entries here.

We interviewed our top winners Carlyn Lim, Anastasia Nikulina and Nadezhda Tikhomirova to share their challenge experience, strategy and other advice. Find out how they did it and apply their advice to your next challenge!

 What do you think is the most important factor to consider in designing characters?

Carlyn: Their story and how it makes you (and hopefully others) feel. Even if the game/movie or character brief doesn’t come with a narrative, I think it’s important we invent one in our heads to drive the design and imbue the character with some history. To do so, I believe that there’s a necessary level of empathy and appreciation of what is around us, to have a library of stories and emotions to draw from and have the ability to relate to the characters you create. I also think that it is essential to understand the final usage of the design, and approach the character more from a ideation/concept vs illustration perspective.

Anastasia: I think the most important part in the character creation will be the selection of references from which I can draw inspiration and ideas. After all, the main thing is not only to create a character, but also to breathe life into it, to give it a story.

Nadezhda: For me good design is when there’s nothing redundant, every element takes a part of character’s story and I’ve tried really hard for it to be clear by the first look.

Do you have a favorite character from this challenge?

Carlyn: Not really. I do like a few more than the others, only because the world the characters live in and the visual language for each faction had time to mature a little more. The rabbit warrior for example, was the very first one I sketched of the entire lot–she could be more interesting!

Anastasia: Yes, it’s the monk. He survived a lot and still could find peace and his place in the world. Perhaps this is the only character over which I densely reflected and because of that I sympathize with him. Didn’t have enough time for other characters.

Nadezhda: My favourite character is the Thief. He was the first and I think I’ve really caught his sneaky pose that explains him as a character.

What was your main motivation for participating in the challenge?

Carlyn: Mainly for the challenge of it, and the sense of community since I have been absent online for a long time now. I was also influenced by fellow artists at ArenaNet who were working on entries for the Cubebrush competition then, the level of enthusiasm they had was very infectious.

Anastasia: I was hooked on the topic of the challenge. For a long time I wanted to create kind of my own world and I decided that this challenge would be the first step to my little dream.

Nadezhda: The most important thing for me was to prove to myself that I can do something greater than what I always do. After spending almost the whole time working on a studio, I really wanted to paint something of my own and I was so happy to take such an opportunity with this challenge, and the theme was close to me so I immersed myself in the work.

Tell us a little bit about your strategy and process for creating your piece.

Carlyn: Time was of the essence, so providing certain limits (world and tone) and guidelines (shape language and culture) really helped to root ideas down. When that foundation is laid, I just have to traverse the landscape and see what characters I chance upon. I was also trying to imagine if this were a game, what kind of characters would I want to meet, what would make me freeze the screen to stare at/ intrigue me enough to look them up further.

Above all,  it was crucial to peel off all that gunk of opinions, conceptions, expectations, judgement and even to an extent experience before diving in. Don’t try to make it perfect, don’t try to please anyone, and just let the ideas and how they make you feel drive your hand to arrive at something magical.

Anastasia: I decided what I wanted to see from the start and began to look for suitable references. After that, I decided on the characters, who they are and how they will look. Then there was only to draw them.

Nadezhda: First of all, I’m figuring out what this character should do – is he a worker or a hunter? What is his placement in the food chain? Then I’m trying to create some good shapes, which I haven’t done before. This part was most difficult for me.
After completing the silhouette I started to draw more details to complement personality of the character.

Were there any other submissions you were following? What’s another submission that stood out to you in the challenge and why?

Carlyn: I couldn’t help but pause at Silviu Sadoschi‘s characters. The more I looked at his designs, I kept getting rewarded with some really sweet details within some already cool design as a whole. I also thought Casper Konefals idea to take shapes from alphabets was really neat, and his work has gorgeous gestural lines with amazing energy.

Anastasia: Oh, sure. I’m crazy about the characters by Jason Nguyen, Vitaliy Tyukin, Oscar Römer, Kenny JeongDidier Nguyen and of course Carlyn Lim. His characters are adorable. An interesting idea and an excellent presentation, each character is individual, I especially like the assassin twins.

Nadezhda: I didn’t follow any submissions, but I really like Kenny JeongCarlyn Lim and Jonas Petrauskas‘s works. They have wonderful style and shapes.

What was the hardest part?

Carlyn: It was definitely juggling time with my day job, and managing the wrist and arm pains.

Anastasia: At first the most difficult thing was to come up with a story of the race and think about how the characters can look. But day by day, I began to more and more realize that the complexity isn’t in conception, but in time. It turned out to be catastrophically small.

Nadezhda: The hardest part for me was to keep strength after my regular work – I was in hurry specially in the small time limit that we had. I think some characters of mine could become better if only I had more time.

What did you gain from participating (apart from winning)?

Carlyn: The reception to my entry and then the win was completely unexpected and totally bonkers– I’m still in disbelief. Even within ArenaNet itself the support has been tremendous, I would never forget the whole experience. I also reconnected with some old friends, made new connections, and of course, had a nice confidence boost!

Anastasia: I got a lot of experience and, probably, endurance. The contest turned out to be difficult, but insanely interesting. Thanks to the organizers for it!

Nadezhda: First of all, finally I’ve seen that I can do something completely different from my regular work at studio. I’ve become more confident in my abilities and I got even more motivated to upgrade my skills in future. Also I’ve realized that the challenge helped me a lot with an overall discipline, because when you see people around you in a same boat and see their progress it motivates you to keep work on the same level.

What’s your advice for future challengers?

Carlyn: Take time in the initial process to really think your world and your characters through. In my opinion it produces and reflects a much richer and more cohesive design. To me, challenges such as these are also an opportunity to stop and reground yourself– it’s so easy to lose sight of what got you started drawing in the first place. Distill those raw emotions and put them in your work, and you would be surprised how that might come through to both yourself and others.

Anastasia: Always do what you like and participate in challenges, it’s better to improve skills on them.

Nadezhda:: My advice will be to work hard on a design, not with render. I’ve seen so many works done perfectly technically, which missed the concept of the theme of the challenge. Also you shouldn’t relax and think that there is enough time ahead. You will be devastated morally and physically.

See more Character Design challenge entries here

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About the author

Sierra is the Editor of ArtStation Magazine.