Spring 2017 Semester Overview: Part 2

In Part 1 of our Spring 2017 Semester Overview we learned the basics about visual development and took a close look at the work of artist Fabien Mense.

In this post we will:

  • Take a look at work from a number of different artists working in a variety of styles and applications.
  • Take a look at different aspects of visual development (character design, environment design, etc.)

Examples of Visual Development Art: Character Design

Often the most high profile aspect of visual development, character design deals with the characters and personalities that are usually up front and center in any visual storytelling art form.

Jin Kim – Character Design, Disney Animation Studio (Site Link)

These examples are from the recently released Moana and are most likely from fairly deep into pre-production: the overall look of the character has been nailed down and now the artist sets out to explore how Moana will express a great range of emotions. Note that Kim is not just illustrating facial emotions but posing the figure so that emotions and personality can be conveyed through expressive body language as well. This is a great example of clear staging in practice.



Faith Erin Hicks – Comic Book Creator/Writer/Artist (Site Link)

Faith Erin Hicks has published a number of comics over the last few years and her current project, The Nameless City trilogy, is being published by First Second Books. The images below represent development work as she created the characters that populate this sprawling epic.

Click to enlarge.

In this next group of drawings, Hicks wrote a post about the process of developing one of the main characters:

Here’s a bit of the development process for Rat, who is the other main character in The Nameless City. She was far and away the most difficult character to design. Looking at these sketches I kind of want to tear my hair out. This is the most recent drawing of her I’ve done, and I’m still not quite sold on her design, but the deadline for starting this comic is coming, so … gotta finalize sometime soon.

I think I had so many problems with her because she’s not a part of a single theme like the other characters are. Kai belongs to a certain ethnic group, so I could design him within the characteristics of that group. Rat was just sort of … whatever I wanted her to be. Plus, she’s the main character who represents the city that she’s from, so I wanted her design to reflect a multiculturalism that Kai’s doesn’t. And then I also wanted her to have things like bare arms and shoulders because that seemed to make her visually vulnerable, but I also didn’t want her to show too much skin because she’s 13 and that’d be problematic. It was really, really hard.

I feel design is an incredibly important part of comics. You need to know who the character is by looking at them, but this was way outside my comfort zone. It was so much more difficult than looking at how modern people dress and drawing from that to design a character. I didn’t know how to approach this other than drawing the character over and over until she looked “right.” Still not quite there … but almost, hopefully.


Examples of Visual Development Art: Environmental Design

Character art gets a lot of attention but the environment these characters inhabit needs to be thoughtfully designed to draw the reader/viewer/player into the world you’re crafting.

Let’s take a look at some environmental world building art from a few artists:

Kevin Nelson – Visual Development at Disney Animation Studios (Site)

Kevin Nelson has worked on a number of films at Disney: Meet the Robinsons, Tangled, and Big Hero Six, among others. This first set of images come from early development on Rapunzel’s tower in Tangled.



This next set of drawings are concept designs for wasabi’s van in Big Hero 6. I like how Nelson came up with make and model names for each design.


Once a final design was established Nelson had to develop a series of drawings that illustrated the various stages of damage the van took during the chase scene.


5 Worlds Comic Book Visual Development – Various Artists (Site)

This one is a group project:


Upcoming graphic novel series from Random House Children’s Books. Written by Mark Siegel and his brother Alexis Siegel. Art by Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun. The first book in the series “The Sand Warrior” will be released May 2017.

From their production blog:

Here is a sampling of preliminary sketches done by @yumbles@boyasun, and @mrockefeller in the initial planning stages of the 5 Worlds series over two and a half years ago. A lot has changed since these early explorations!


This next set of images is still labeled as pre-production artwork and model sheets.




That’s it for Part 2 of our Introduction to Visual Development. In this section we took a look at a variety of art from different projects and artists and started thinking about two aspects of visual development: character design and environmental design. In Part 3 we will get down to the nuts and bolts of how we will be creating our own visual development portfolios.

Spring 2017 Semester Overview