TEAM TALK: Designing Emma Martina

Emma, promotional image, by Heliotrope

There wasn't a lot we knew about FACTION when we decided to write it. It was hot off the heels of another project we were working on, in the same universe, and Emma was a part of it.

She didn't even have a name (we affectionately called her "auntie" to get by in writing), or a power, but there were a few things we knew about her: We knew that she was a combat savant, a sponsor player, and was a figure of great strength.

When we settled on FACTION's details, Emma became more strongly defined: She became a kinetic Tank, struggling with her past, trying to make ends meet in the dying Red Faction. This was really when we started tearing into her design process.

Alright, it's time for character design 101 with Heliotrope.

So sometimes a character design just comes together instantly. Emma was not one of those designs.

Emma's first ever concept art, by Heliotrope

Whenever you're lost in a design, you try to identify individual components, then do variations on them and pick the ones you like the best, then add it all back together. I can't really take credit for this approach, I've seen a lot of more experienced designers do it.

Emma's Gauntlets, still before she had a name - Auntlets, by Heliotrope

So the first thing to figure out was general direction, whether Emma was going to be more like some kind of knight, or an athletic cyber warrior, or what. Plus some initial face variations - over time, Emma has ended up with high arched eyebrows and a flat-topped eyeshape, which gives her a near-constant look of skepticism and indifference, as befitting her personality.

We had a general direction, next we worked on determining her weapon. Had some Black Rock Shooter inspired stuff going on, briefly. Also worth noting: these designs started in early 2015, and I didn't watch Steven Universe until mid-2015. I can't promise that Garnet's design didn't subconsciously influence me somehow, but I assure you the resemblance is coincidental. Though, I have seen a number of other characters with giant gauntlets - probably the largest inspiration was this illustration by deadbear, which I ran in to years ago with no context (I didn't know who the artist even was until a few months ago).

Larger gauntlets, by Heliotrope

Now we need to talk about detail hierarchy and level of detail. Put simply: Characters should be detailed on multiple levels. There should be some small details, and they should belong to some large details. So here I am trying different silhouettes. This determines what the largest shape details are, and ensures the character will still be identifiable even when the small details are lost because the character is far away or in shadow or whatever.

Emma, inkblots, by Heliotrope

I knew Emma was going to be a strong character, but our worldbuilding and artstyle doesn't use tons of armor, or hyper-exaggerated anatomical proportions, which led to the bulky clothing and gauntlets communicating Emma's strong presence. I also took some influence from martial arts/boxing getups.

Then I started working on colour details, figuring out what it meant that Emma was a "sponsor player". Having tons of sporty patterns was cool, but would be a pain to draw over and over, and would make designing other sponsored players difficult. Perhaps a more deft designer than I could handle that, but ultimately we settled on a simple circular emblem motif to show sponsorship.

Also, because of the Factions in FACTION, a lot of characters need to share a similar colour palette and I can't just make every character wear unique colours. So instead I considered how much red is on Emma's clothes and where it is, as varying colour distribution keeps the characters unique and identifiable.

Sponsorship design exploration, by Heliotrope

Small adjustments followed, and the rest of the design just came about from drawing Emma a bunch, over time.

Emma, jacket, by Heliotrope

I'm out.

Back us to see the next behind the scenes, November 1st!