Drawing the Portraits

Hey, folks, resident portrait artist Michael “Rockythechao” Charnecki here! Banov wanted me to talk about my part in the game’s development, so I figured I’d give you an overview of the general process I go through when I draw the character portraits. I actually wrote this up a while ago, but I ended up getting caught up in the minor details and never got around to posting it. I did my best to make it easy to follow, but if there’s anything you find confusing, feel free to ask about it and I’ll do my best to clarify!

Please note that the methods detailed here are a little different from the industry standards – they’re not the quickest/most efficient way of doing things, they’re just the ones I’m most comfortable with. Also, the enemy used here, the Vardoger, won’t show up until a ways into the game, so be warned that this is somewhat spoileriffic!

Almost every art asset for a game starts with the concept art, a rough mockup of the final image to convey the intended design.

Why is this important? Well, imagine you’re ready to put the finishing touches on an image and your boss shows up and tells you “No, no, that’s all wrong! His jacket’s too bright, the horns should be lower, and his nose is too big!” Or perhaps you come back from a break and you realize that you’ve drawn this guy’s arms in an awkward position. Either way, you’ve wasted time and have to redo all that work. Concept art helps you can catch these kinds of problems before they have the chance to do any damage; it ensures everyone’s on the same page and saves you any unpleasant surprises down the road.

Depending on the team, project and/or situation, the amount of detail you need in this stage can vary. Sometimes it’s a matter of just sketching up a quick, rough example of what you’re trying to convey, while other times call for something more elaborate.

Concept sketch of Gulasca from Yggdra Union.

Environment artwork for Prince of Persia.

Regardless, for most industry-standard titles you’ll be expected to have tons of concept art for pretty much everything – initial design, poses, expressions, storyboards for cutscenes, etc. We, however, are a little more relaxed on the matter and thus do things a bit differently. Banov will usually draw up some basic designs for particular characters and scan them in, then make sprites based on those designs.

He then hands me the sketches and sprites and I create a rough mock-up of the portrait in Paint.NET. Traditionally, artists will start with some basic shapes and use curved guidelines to define the general form, posture and volume. Then they’ll draw over these guidelines to flesh out the details, adding color and shading at the end once the linework is finished.

I, however, tend to start by blocking out the general shapes of the portrait with blobs of color, like so:

But I personally don’t reccommend this method – for one thing, it won’t work well with subjects that have low contrast in their color schemes. But more importantly, it results in a certain margin of error that, while not as noticeable in standalone assets like these portraits, will stand out in things that necessitate more controlled/refined/consistent drawing, such as animation frames. In general, it’s better to take the time to actually sketch the characters’ “skeletons” out properly.

After I get the rough silhouette the way I want it, I give the edgework a little more detail and add in the other parts, like the horns on the helmet and the eyes. My goal at this point is to have the shapes mostly finalized, though I still tend to come back and tweak things later in the process.

Next, I define the interior features using the darker shades of each color. With features like the moustache, fingers and hands clearly discernable, this is usually the first point where I get feedback from Banov if he’s available.

I then move on to the shading, which finally gives the portrait some volume. The light source for the portraits in Phantasmaburbia is above and in front of the enemies, so the darker shades naturally go on the parts facing away (unless the character has a light source of its own, in which case that light source illuminates the parts surrounding it accordingly).

At this point, all that’s left to do is add the lines and put the finishing touches on the portrait. For the thick outline, I actually take the portrait into Game Maker’s built-in image editor and use the outline function. I tend to do the same with the interior lines, splitting the portrait into pieces and outlining each individual part separately, though sometimes I’ll just draw them in manually using the pencil and paintbrush tools in Paint.NET. When I do use the outline function, I end up needing to sharpen some rounded edges and erase the parts below the cutoff point, but in the end it’s still a real time-saver.

After the lines are in, I clean up any remaining rough spots and move on to the final step… The anti-aliasing.

Anti-aliasing is a technique that computers and pixel artists use to smooth edges. “Aliasing” is the term for the visual jaggedness that results from the computer trying to render angles in a low-resolution image using pixels. “Anti-aliasing”, thus, is the act of inserting pixels halfway between the two colors in the corners to fake smoothness. In the Phanta portraits, I use anti-aliasing around the inside edges of the lines to reduce their sharpness – notice how smooth the above portrait looks when compared to the one before it?

The AAing can take a while depending on how complex the image is, but once I’m done with that the portrait’s pretty much complete – sometimes we’ll throw on additional effects, like a glow around certain spots, but for the majority of the portraits there’s nothing left to do but throw it into the game.


Well, hopefully now you have an idea of how much goes into making these things! They’re pretty time-consuming to make, but it’s always worth it to see the results of my efforts in action and to know that others appreciate the work! Thanks, for supporting the game, everyone! It means a lot!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *