Developing the Character You Want

Developing the Character You Want

Charles Ge tells us how he developed his warlock over 8-weeks in Character Design for Film and Games.


Hi, my name is Charles Chen Ge and I come from Vancouver Canada and I’m the lead illustrator at Kabam Vancouver Studio and I used to work at EA Vancouver as a 3D character artist for 3 years. There are a few projects that I’ve worked on, the FIFA series from 2016 to 2019, and currently, I’m working on the Marvel Contest of Champions mobile game. For artistic background, I graduated from Vancouver Film School and received my diploma in the 3D modeling and visual effect program, I also graduated from Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts and my major was traditional printmaking.

I’ve always been interested in character design and artistic storytelling techniques. So when I heard about this course I was excited and knew it was what I wanted to learn.

Research & Development

The inspiration for my designs is from the traditional African voodoo culture and iconic fantasy illustrations of the old masters. Research is very important to me. It helps me to nail down the main part of the visual target/keywords for my characters. It also gives me more ideas about how I could build my characters backstory/culture and characteristics based on my inspirations.

 Sketches for a Client

I created a lot of initial sketches in the first week and picked 5 of them and developed them during week 2, there was a lot of back and forth for sure before I presented to the “Client”, Marco, and I wanted my client to understand the design from the visual directly. In these sketches, I gave myself about 3 directions for my initial approach for my characters. Sketch A and B are based on traditional designs for a Druid, I put claws on her hands to make the character look more dangerous and aggressive and use horns to add the culture to her faith or religion of nature, and I put some armor plates on the chest and shoulders in design B, also giving her a magical sword to make her silhouette look more aggressive and fantasy-ish.

For sketch C, I used some traditional African culture references, so you could see a lot of decorations, for example the metal bracelets and stripes with patterns. The whole character’s silhouette is more rounded, and I wanted to give her a more subtle and grounded feeling based on her culture and origin.

I put a few skulls and the tribal sword hanging on her waist to tell people her occupation or what she was capable of as a warlock. Sketch D and E, are the tryouts that I did from my imagination of the traditional/typical warlock character. In sketch D, I wanted to give her a totem to represent her origin, and I used a wolf’s head and put some fur on the other side of her shoulder. And the bull skull and bat skull for her accessories to give her more dangerous feelings. I added a very sharp and spiky metal helmet with magical smoke from the top and full armored arms and claws making her look tough, like a warrior. Sketch E is more mysterious and deadly with the hood and the giant skull on the top of the staff to show her ability for killing much bigger and powerful opponents.

Also, the swords around her waist tell people that she has the skills for engaging in close combats. Research helped a lot for nailing down the character backstory and their culture/beliefs. Also making the whole process much clearer and straightforward.

 Narrowing Down the Selection

I made a few changes to design C and D which were picked by Marco from the week 2 character sketches. In the second pass, I got rid of the fur and the magical smoke from design D to make the silhouette clearer and sharper. I also put more details on the armor of her, adding a kind of magic spell symbol on the top of the bull skull to make her look more like a warlock. For design C, I changed her pose so that her sword would be showing more and changed her hairstyle to make her look sharper. and change a bit on her clothing style and added more pattern onto it.  In week 4, Marco and I decided to go with design C which is based on African culture.

Head Explorations

Nessa is a powerful and famous warlock. Power runs in her family and her special bloodline gives her strong mental abilities. In her town, she is respected for facing many dangers and always caring for the people. With strong determination you can see in her eyes she will face any evil and not fail to protect others.

I tried to transform my understanding of the character and her background story into some expression, to make her look more vivid. I made her eyes more bright and look toward the horizon to give her a strong and calm face. Adding a subtle smile gave her more confidence and a kind feeling balanced her strong/tough look. I gave her braids for a hairstyle in order to make her look more professional and traditional.

From these explorations, Marco picked 7, 8, and 9 which are the same ones that liked the most as well. Then I developed the picked ones further as the final submission we see now.

 Character Through Gesture

I tried a few poses and found the one that best fits her character. As we see in the week 5 submission, the pose of the character is more dynamic. I used a ‘5’ or a thunder shape/curve to tell my audience that she is very strong, active, and energetic. From this pose, you should also feel that she is very dexterous and ready to do a magical spell at any time.

I made her kind of jump off the ground and seem to be ready for a fight. Also, I bent her head and upper torso a bit to give a feeling of her being threatened. But at the same time on her face what we see is her calm and confident expression. So in this phase, her pose is in a balance of dynamic and elegant from the pose curve/silhouette.

Final Glamour Shot

There were a few changes from the feedback that I got from Marco. He liked my work very much and figured out some really good points for me to enhance my design for the final glamour shot. First was the proportion of the character. Second, her outfit could be more thoughtful and practical for fighting. Third, was her arms and hands gestures; before the arms and hands were a bit stiff/ uncomfortable and simple. After I changed the arms to be more open, and in the hands I gave her a sort of magic spelling gesture on the right hand which is more interesting. Her outfit tells the audience that she is a warlock and by the end, I got rid of the background and added depth to it as well, now she stands out even more.

Then I asked Marco for more feedback and approval. After a few fixing passes from week 6-7, I finished the black and white version of the glamour shot, then I saved out a new PSD file and merged all the layers, put a top layer, and set its blending mode to overlay. After a few hours, I’d finished the final color version of it. I noticed those small changes could make big differences when I compared the first one and the final submission between weeks 6 and 8.

I think the biggest challenge for me is to understand less is more through the whole process. Trying to understand the purpose of the design instead of just continuing to add more unnecessary details to the design. The second challenge is to submit the work on time while I’m working full-time at the studio. For this, I have to sacrifice my sleep in order to have the final submission on time and have great quality as well. You have to remember that the deadline is the most important thing in this industry.

When I compared my designs from weeks 1 and 2 with week 8, I noticed the big shape and the silhouette hadn’t changed a lot. But the details of the outfit style, material, decorations, and accessories had changed a lot. Also for the head as well. She looks more like a warlock with strong characteristics now.

I added a lot of accessories for the purpose of storytelling. The magic staff has a boar skull on top of it with a lot of metal nails on it. Also, I put a lot of red stripes/ropes on the staff to give it more ritual/voodoo looking. Her earrings, necklaces, and bracelets are telling us that she is wealthy and well respected where she lives. The small wood head on her necklace gives more information about her religion/beliefs. It also tells us that she has the ability to performing voodoo or any type of ritual activities. The big giant skull shows us that she could take down a giant by herself and use his skull as a souvenir. The sword hanging on the back of her waist also shows us she is also capable of close combat since she is a badass warlock after all.


I’m satisfied when my art piece tells a good story or a vivid character through a balanced composition while expressing the correct feeling using color. After all, there must be a sort of “Chi” on the piece which could be a joy for the audiences when they are looking at it.

What I learned and improved on is to know when to stop my pen to take an overall look at my work and judge using the industry standard. Thinking more about how to use poses to tell a good story for the characters and how to design a better character by using different materials efficiently. And also to revisit my anatomy studies.

My current project is to illustrate Marvel superheroes and villains. So from this course, I learned to push the poses more which helps to tell more about the character and their backstory. Rendering the material better by using the process that our instructor showed us. I’d like to practice more from what I learned and saw from the class demos and apply the process as a standard whenever a project needs it in the future.

You can see more from Charles on his site here: