Character Design

Week 11: Character Design for Zeta by Valzorra

Analysis of Suitable Hairstyles

After my series of realizations described in Week 11: Initial Iterations for Zeta, I decided to approach the character design from a slightly different angle and focus on Zeta’s personality even more so than I had done in previous versions. Zeta is one of the best professional gamblers and Poker Players in the world, taking immense joy in the game, in risk-taking, and in the high standards of professional casinos. Everything she does in gambling halls is a fun game to her, which is why she can seem so casual and lighthearted, especially when she is winning. Gaming and gambling are an essential part of who she is and of her personality. It only seemed natural to investigate what some of the Best Female Poker Players in the world looked like. The women who are thriving in a game normally dominated by men ought to provide at least some of the inspiration behind Zeta. I familiarized myself with legends such as Annie Duke, Maria Ho, Vanessa Rousso, Sofia Lovgren, and most notably Liv Boeree (displayed below). A common element between all of these Poker Players was that each had her hair down and flowing freely for comfort. What’s more is that most of these women have rather long hair, well past the shoulder. This brief analysis instantly told me how Zeta should be wearing her hair in a way that would distract her the least from her gambling sessions.

Zeta’s Clothing

Another common element between these poker players is that they are all playing professionally at tournaments in the photographs above. However, this is not applicable for Zeta at any point of As It Lies. In the game, Zeta is playing at the best casinos in the world, however, she is not doing it officially as part of a Poker Team, but rather for herself. Therefore, the clothing depicted in the images above would not be suitable for Zeta. Our protagonist is located in that universe’s equivalent of Las Vegas and plays only in the most notable and prestigious casinos and gambling halls. As such, those establishments expect their visitors to maintain a certain level of elegance and grace in the way they dress. Much like in many Las Vegas casinos, both ladies and gentlemen are required to be formal and up to standard. Therefore, Zeta would need to wear some sort of formal dress during her gaming sessions. Zeta values comfort, so her dress would not be too tight around her body. Additionally, Zeta is rather clever and well aware that she is a reasonably attractive woman. Even though it’s a cheap trick, by picking a relatively revealing dress, Zeta could potentially distract some of her opponents and gain an advantage over them. Keeping both of these requirements in mind, I browsed the web for a series formal and sexy dresses that would be fitting for a fancy casino, until I had decided on a design. The most notable images I took a look at are showcased below. I will most likely aim for a combination between the first image and Jovani dress.

Analysis of Appropriate Poses

Now that I knew what type of clothing Zeta needed and how her hair would look like, I had a much better understanding of the character and how she would appear visually. Her hair would be down and flowing, while her dress would be fitted around the waist, free-flowing at the bottom, and would reveal her cleavage rather cheekily and playfully. Zeta would not wear a lot of makeup to the casino, because although a dress is mandatory because of the strict dress code, no rule mentions anything about the amount of makeup women are to wear. Additionally, putting cosmetics on is a dull and time-consuming affair for her. Knowing these vital bits of information, I then conducted quick posture study in order to see how a professional Poker Player would normally sit at the table. Luckily, Zeta’s dress is very comfortable and not restraining at all, which is why these poses can be discussed. I analysed a few images of Liv Boeree (displayed below), and discovered that most commonly she keeps both of her hands on the table, focused on the task ahead of her. She is known to occasionally slouch and shift one of her hands away, however, those occurrences are not very common.

Concept Art Pieces

After taking the time to properly analyse existing Poker Players, and bearing Zeta’s personality, preferred casinos, and story line in mind, the Concept Art came so much more naturally and with ease. Whereas before I just seemed to be drawing random women in awkward poses, it felt like I was drawing Zeta now, and her personality started to show through so much more. Applying all of my research into professional Poker Players and into what casinos with dress codes may expect made the whole design flow naturally and intuitively. For example, the image below is a very good representation of Zeta on a particularly good night out and on a winning streak. Zeta is slightly over-confident, she enjoys showing off occasionally, so if she were wiping the floor with her opponents, she would absolutely make sure that they know how easy it is for her. She would have a smile from ear to ear, boldly holding her cards away from the table, a move avoided during standard play. Additionally, Zeta would not deny herself a few drinks provided that she believes she has earned them through her masterful play style.

She would have a smile from ear to ear, boldly holding her cards away from the table, a move avoided during standard play.

In addition to the personality peeking through in the concept art piece below, this is also the first instance where I started to design her dress. As described above, this dress is to be very comfortable, fitted around the waist and more spread out towards the legs, made from a very lightweight and fine material. The dress has a rather cheeky cleavage, with an elegant opening going down from her chest to her waist, much like the Jovani dress displayed above. Zeta has purposefully chosen this type of clothing as it may end up distracting her opponents from the game. You will notice that the dress has certain pieces of embroidery on it, which are meant as a homage to the Riemann Hypothesis. The Alteration Conundrum, which you can find out more about in the Narrative Section of the GPP, is based on the importance of the Riemann Hypothesis and is what sparked the idea for the entire story. Therefore, I thought it would be rather neat to add the curves of the Riemann-Zeta Function onto the design of the dress. Being the geek that she is, Zeta would also highly appreciate having something as significant embroidered onto her gown.


Posture and Style

Whereas the Concept Art Piece above was more lighthearted and fun, displaying Zeta at her best games, I thought it would be rather useful to have an illustration of her under normal circumstances, perhaps at the start of a Poker game. This meant that for this drawing, Zeta would have a much more composed look, adopting the traditional Poker Player position discussed above. I based this drawing on the first image of Liv Boeree under the Analysis of Appropriate Poses Section, with her holding a chip in one hand, while the other is rather stretched out. When it came for the face, I went for a cartoony style, making the eyes quite large and the nose quite small and button-like. Not only that, but Zeta’s head in the image is constructed from one large circle for the skull, and a trapezoid for her jaw. I chose this style, because I felt it would be closer to what Zeta will actually look like in three dimensions. The 3D Modelling Style in this game would be rather low poly, with simple shapes and not too much detail. Therefore, in order to make characters stand out, they would need to have slightly tilted proportions, making the more important bits such as the eyes bigger.

Examples of the 3D Modelling Style I will strive to employ in As It Lies.

Examples of the 3D Modelling Style I will strive to employ in As It Lies.

Color Palettes and Choices

Moving on from proportions, it feels necessary to justify some of my color choices in regard to the Concept Art Piece displayed below. I’ve given Zeta very warm red hair and blue eyes, because there are very few people who process those traits in that combination. Therefore, Zeta having both would indicate that she is somehow special and significant, making her stand out from the other characters one would encounter in As It Lies. Additionally, Zeta’s dress consists of a series of vibrant shades of blue, which further accentuate that idea. Both Red and Blue are primary colors, so placing them against each other makes both stand out that much more. Not only that, but the blue of Zeta’s dress is also meant to accentuate her eyes and make them pop a bit more. Zeta’s skin color is rather ordinary, albeit quite pale as she does not spend much time in the sun at all.

Technical Execution and Reflection

Technically speaking, the image was created in Procreate, with the use of the Technical Pen from the Inking Section for the line work. It should be noted that I slightly changed the default settings, Streamlining that brush to its maximum as I wanted really smooth and gently curved lines in this illustration to give it a more polished and professional look. The Opacity of that brush remained consistently at 100%, however, its width varied slightly around 5%. I colored the piece using the Round Painting Brush Tool for most of the work and the Soft Airbrush Tool for the shades of the skin. Finally, in order to make the scene more atmospheric, I added a dim light and shadows over Zeta’s head. I applied some color over Zeta, decreased the Opacity of that layer, and then added a noise filter to really give the impression that this is a late night game. The finishing touches involved adding a series of Bokeh Lights in the background to give the illusion of activity behind Zeta and to make the image more dynamic. Overall, I am really pleased with how this turned out because through this process, I achieved a greater understanding of Zeta as a character, I refined my approach to character design, I managed to capture her essence in the finished piece, and I improved my skills in Procreate, which is a new software for me. The finished Concept Piece is displayed below.

Week 11: Initial Iterations of Zeta by Valzorra

Throughout this blog, specifically ever since Project Proposal 4 was introduced, I have continuously mentioned Zeta, the protagonist of As It Lies, giving little snippets of information about who she is and what she is like. I have been thinking about her as a character, what her major personality traits are, how she would behave, and what her story is. Based on those explorations, I have also thought about how Zeta might dress, how she might walk, what her posture is like and so on. I would like to take this opportunity to document my rather long iterative process for Zeta, how she was created, and how her visual style and appearance were determined. The very first step was to solidify Zeta’s personality, because that is what would drive her visual appearance and what she might wear. After all, an individual chooses their clothing based on what they would like and what would be of most use to them. I should also note that I did keep some of the details of the world in mind, more precisely the existence of the Alteration Implants, which may leave a visual trace.

She is intelligent, focused, creative, innovative, lighthearted, an adventurous risk-taker, a total gamer, slightly over-confident, extremely determined, and would do anything for the win.

In order to come up with as complete an idea of Zeta as possible, I decided to employ some of the techniques we learned during our Character Jam in Year 2. The specific method I used was to ask myself dozens of questions about the character, their habits, and their intricacies. Examples of the questions I addressed are “Where did the character grow up?“, “What is their daily schedule?“, or “What are their ambitions?“. The entire list of questions and answers regarding Zeta is detailed in the Characters Section of the Games Project Proposal. As they are rather relevant to the finished designs, I thought it would be better to include them there rather than repeat myself in both the GPP and the Blog. Once that process was complete I had a much better idea of Zeta as a person. She is intelligent, focused, creative, innovative, lighthearted, an adventurous risk-taker, a total gamer, slightly over-confident, extremely determined, and would do anything for the win. She frequents exquisite casinos, which would normally require a dress code, she casually hangs out with her friends in the city, and commonly stays at home to game as well. These three most common locations Zeta can be found in dictate that she would have at least three separate outfits we could see her in, namely her formal casino attire, her everyday clothing, and her clothing at home.

Casual Clothing: Initial Iterations

When beginning to visualize this character I thought I would begin with her casual and everyday clothing, as that is the attire we are likely going to see her in most frequently for the duration of the game. After all, it would be absurd and inappropriate to solve complex environmental puzzles in a formal dress. Thinking about what Zeta would wear, I imagined she would enjoy something rather comfortable that she wouldn’t have to assess and consider for too long. She is not the type of woman that would stay in front of the wardrobe and consider what to wear for more than a couple of minutes. That is why my initial iterations of her outfit featured rather baggy shirts, with plain jeans that would all work well with any combination of clothing. The back of the shirt is slightly elongated, because that would make Zeta’s overall silhouette more distinct and the flowing fabric would make her movement more dynamic. To contrast her baggy shirt, Zeta would need to wear fitted jeans or leggings that accentuate the shape of her legs. These would be a rather plain color such as black, grey, or denim, so that she can wear them with nearly everything else in her closet. In terms of shoes, Zeta is most likely to wear a comfortable pair of sneakers, which would go perfectly well with the rest of her casual and plain attire. Below I have included a carousel of fashion inspiration for the first set of iterations in the character design process as well as a few notable examples of the hairstyle I was going for.

Having described her clothing, its now time to discuss Zeta’s accessories and other physical characteristics such as her hair and body type. Zeta is rather fit and healthy, with a naturally slim figure, which does not require a lot of maintenance. Her body would likely be highly styled in the finished version of the game, which is why I have not focused on it too much just yet. In these initial iterations, I was trying to create a visually distinct and memorable character, someone that would look and feel special. I made Zeta’s hair rather long to help achieve that goal, and styled it similarly to other notable female leads such as Queen Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones, Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn, and Lagertha from Vikings (displayed on the images above). In addition to that, I made Zeta’s Implant rather visible, with it leaving a series of marks and scarring all over her body. Finally, I added the three dice that she would continuously use in the game as three long necklaces around her neck, so that she could keep them safe and close to her. Following these basic rules and decisions, I made a few different concept pieces of Zeta, with mild changes to the outfit, such as drawing her with a hoodie or with shorts. In terms of poses, I was mostly looking for what seemed most exciting and dynamic, what would be striking and grab the eye. The results from my initial concept art and drawing session are displayed below. Most of the images below were drawn by hand with the exception of the last one, which tried to breathe life into Zeta by adding color.

Reflection on Initial Iterations

The first set of iterations for Zeta helped me understand what direction I needed to take my design and art in.

Upon reflecting on the concept pieces I had done until this point, I grew increasingly displeased with them. Although at the time I thought I had very good reasons for making the decisions that I did, I came to the realization that those images were not a good representation of Zeta’s personality. She way very well wear the same clothes as they are quite casual, however, Zeta would not wear her hair like that, pose like that, or even bother with accessories. In order to achieve the hairstyle showcased above, Zeta would need to dedicate quite a substantial amount of her time in front of the mirror in order to get the braids right, which is something she just wouldn’t do. Additionally, most of the poses, with the exception of the right image on the middle row above where she is leaning against a wall, are all very staged and unnatural. Zeta is completely natural in her behavior, she is the heart of the company, and is not feminine at all in her day to day outgoings. What’s more is that although the images above are good concept pieces in themselves, they do not really reflect any sort of style that would feature in the game. Overall, there were a lot of problems with the first set of iterations for Zeta. However, they were a very important step in the design process as they helped me understand what direction I needed to take my design and art in. What I needed to do now was to start the process again, and try to get to the core of who Zeta is through my designs.