Dark Knight: What It Takes to Level Up Your Skills

Dark Knight: What It Takes to Level Up Your Skills
INTERVIEW WITH Tanya Podolskaia

Tanya Podolskaia tell us how Character Design for Film and Games helped bring another level of realism to her designs.


My name is Tanya Podolskaia. I’m a 2D concept artist and illustrator based in Stuttgart, Germany. I changed my office job for an art career 3 years ago. For a couple of years, I’d been doing watercolor illustrations, until I discovered the world of amazing game art. That was a game-changer. Since then I devoted all my time to digital art. It was a hard period of studying new skills but it was worth it! Currently, I am a concept artist in a Klasgame studio where I work on a new MMORPG game.  When I was studying concept art I realized that I couldn’t push my skills further. However, a good mentor could. Marco Nelor was a great one. I remember looking at his concepts and telling myself “Yeah, I want to learn how he does it” and I really did during this course.

Research & Development

At the very beginning of the course, we were given a list of character profiles. I picked a paladin/knight just because I didn’t have one in my portfolio yet. However, the more I worked on this concept the more it flashed out with its unique story. One of the most crucial lessons we were taught during the course was the importance of research. Who is your character? What kind of clothes does he wear? Every detail is important and should be thought out. I realized that previously I didn’t spend enough time on this step.

While scrolling through tons of garments, belts, and some architectural details I imagined a cursed knight. He is trapped in a fairy realm and for ages was a servant of their queen. When I come up with a narrative like this, it makes design choices much easier.

Sketches for a Client

The second week was all about sketching our ideas. I’ve made 10 thumbnails to figure out body proportions and the general silhouette of the character.  He is supposed to be a massive guy with a huge weapon. I tried different options such as hammer, sword, mace, or halberd. A lot of inspiration for the armor came from Celtic knots.

After the first round of sketching, I took the best four thumbnails and started more precise drawings. Previously I really struggled on this step because I didn’t know how to achieve a good level of clarity but the week 2 demo really helped me with that. I realized that when I don’t know how something looks I start doing scribbles. That’s why week 1 research is so important. Marco also advised me to watch videos about medieval armor to get a better idea of how it functions, which really improved my designs. Finally, I completed 2 sketches for a client.

Head Explorations

Our attention is naturally drawn to faces. As Marco told us “a good face can save mediocre concept, but a mediocre face can easily ruin everything”. We were advised to spend at least ¼ of the whole project time on the face exclusively. As I described above, my character is a cursed knight who has served the Fairy Queen for ages and becomes undead. He still remembers his human life, but can’t resist the evil magic that makes him obey the Queen’s orders.

At first, I quickly sketched a few faces figuring out age, hairstyle, and the depth of decay. I wanted to achieve a good balance between the undead and human looks. A great example which inspired me a lot was Shrike from “Mortal Engines”. I really like that they make this character more complex than just a stupid zombie. When I came up with a general idea of the face I did a few detailed paintings. I started with a wilder look and then added a more complex beard and hairstyle. Zombies don’t care about themselves and these small details show that he doesn’t lose his humanity. And of course a few aggressive looks. Despite all the story behind this character, he is definitely about to kick a player’s ass.

Final Glamour Shot

During our finals weeks, we were focusing on the composition of our final piece and rendering. My personal challenge was to draw a believable pose. You always have to take into account how heavy are a weapon and armor. The best way to find the right pose is to make your own references and act like your character.  For me personally, these final weeks were about challenging my patience, because I had to redraw things several times, render details and push the picture to the maximum of my skill level.

If you look at my week 2 sketches you will see that the character has changed drastically. In the final picture, the pose is more dynamic and the overall look more consistent. The devil’s always in the details. On the first drawings, his garment and belt looked too fresh, as if he bought them a few days ago. I realized that it ruins the undead feeling. I added torn edges, mud, and holes to his armor which supported the look I wanted to convey. I’ve also refined my sketches from previous weeks to include them in my portfolio.

Final Dark Knight

Final Thoughts

I was really happy with my final piece. There is a big gap between what I did before the course and what I can do now. So, I’ve definitely leveled up. Have a look at my before and after I did for an old character.

In my current job, I use almost everything we were taught during this course. From small tips like “number your sketches before sending them to client” to the overall pipeline. I strongly recommend this course to anyone who wants to break into the industry.

To see more from Tanya check out her websites below:

Artstation https://tanyapodolskaia.artstation.com/