Grand Space Opera: Light Age Character Design Winners Interview
The ArtStation Grand Space Opera: Light Age Community Challenge launched in November 2020 and asked artists to imagine the universe within humanity’s reach at the dawn of light speed. 249 final Character Design submissions imagining alien creatures and characters were entered into the challenge.
We spoke with Character Design winners Raphaëlle Manière, Alessandro Pizzi, and Félix Donadio to learn what it was like working with the challenge’s timeline, how they found their inspiration, and what advice they have for future challengers.
Where did you first get the idea for your character design?
Raphaëlle: I often begin to draw from imagination first, then new ideas emerge by taking references from pretty much everything: pop culture, films, comics, high fashion shows, habits from different cultures…after that you just combine every interesting idea, keeping in mind that it must be futuristic.
Alessandro: This time the brief was very open so I took a couple of days to decide what kind of theme I wanted to go for. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to have a lot of variety in the lineup and give each character a different vibe. After scrolling through some references and talking with friends I decided to try my hand at a “headhunting” theme.
Félix: The instructions were precise: we had to create a different alien species for each character. I tried to set up an overall technology for the universe, something quite close to what we have on Earth, so we could relate to the social status of each species, and their role in the world that I was slowly building. I aimed to give each character a specialty so they could stand out from one another. For that, I gathered a lot of photos and reference to find ideas and shapes that I liked, from high technological elements to primitive clothes. Then I was ready to start! A lot of the ideas came along the way.
What was your strategy for completing your submission on time?
Raphaëlle: I had a schedule planned in my head to make sure I could finish on time. I had a deadline for each character as I would for a freelance job.
Alessandro: My schedule was already quite full when the challenge came up, so I had to use all my available free time to work on the challenge. This isn’t my first ArtStation Challenge so I knew that scheduling time for working on it each day and sticking to it was key. I went for a streamlined approach since the time would not allow iterations for so many characters, and I needed to cut straight to a finished look as fast as I could. It is important for me to achieve a consistent look in the submission, so I tried to work on all characters at the same time, dividing the process into steps for each of them. That way, once I decided on the final look for the characters, all that was left to do was execute the work.
Félix: I tried to find a style that didn’t take too much time to render but still enhanced the designs. I tried to spend less than two days on each character, and not get carried away with too many explorations and research. Even with that, I was short on time with my schedule so I never went back on a drawing to correct things that I was not that proud of.
What part of working on the challenge did you find most exciting and why?
Raphaëlle: The first steps of character creation where you combine a lot of ideas to make a character is really cool. You imagine how he thinks, how he behaves, how he acts, what’s his place in the galaxy…and then you see your character come to life.
Alessandro: I enjoyed the initial phase of the challenge, where the deadline was still far away and I could explore a bit what theme I wanted to work on and see the other artists’ directions. Posting and comparing my sketches to the other challengers was also a lot of fun, and a good opportunity to learn from other skilled artists how they work at the beginning of their process. As time went on and the deadline got closer I had to make compromises on sleep to finish, so that’s the part I enjoyed the least. Still, getting to finish such a daunting and fast-paced project was worth it in the end.
Félix: I love the interactions I had with the other artists. We all supported each other to complete the challenge, it was so motivating! They had plenty of inventive ideas, it surely pushed me to find better ones. I also loved to see the work of the 3D artists that modeled my concepts, it was astounding to see your designs come to life with their point of view. I’m still blown away by what they managed to do!
What advice do you have for future challengers?
Raphaëlle: It’s a good opportunity to take risks and try new techniques.
Alessandro: It’s hard to give advice on the challenge as everyone participating has different circumstances. The time to properly work on the lineup of characters is often very limited so you’ll have to make compromises. Overall I think that planning ahead is key to finishing the challenge. Be realistic in your goals and in the level of finish you can achieve. That is the reason why I recommend working on all characters at the same time so that you can keep track of the progress and avoid reaching the last day without even a sketch for the last character. A consistent submission will show your ability to make do with the time and resources available to you, which can be a great skill to have in our fast-paced field.
Félix: Try to start the challenge early on, it’s very intense! Just have fun and do something you love to do, it’s a perfect opportunity to let your imagination get wild!
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