The Art Of Woodland Heroes – Characters

Hello Woodland Heroes Players!

The studio is buzzing these days, as we continue to enhance Woodland Heroes and add the details that we know will make it great. The game is really shaping up, and I wanted to take a few minutes to talk to you a bit about the art direction in the game, specifically the character designs.

I arrived at Row Sham Bow after Woodland Heroes had started production, so it was my job as the Art Director to get up to speed on where the game was, and also quickly set a tone for the final visual style of the game. The team had already made great progress, and many pieces were already starting to take shape. The environment art was being expertly handled by an amazing team of artists in Seattle. The UI team was chipping away at the immense amount of interface art that is required for a good looking Facebook game. All of this existing progress allowed me to focus on the one area remaining that needed the most attention: the characters.

I started my career at Disney, and my latest Art Director position before Row Sham Bow was at Cartoon Network. I have been surrounded by cool characters my entire career. I wanted the characters in Woodland Heroes to be appealing and approachable, all while having the ability to convey enough emotion to sell a proper story. The heroes needed to be likable, while the villains should be intimidating but not “over the top scary.” With the painterly backgrounds in place, it made sense to go with a cell shaded style for our characters.

Solid character construction is key. This plays a huge role in creating believable personalities. When first concepting these guys out, I explored basic shapes and sizes. Rounded cubes and circles are enough to tell you if a general character shape is working. It is also important that I understand how the character’s body is put together, and how his arms and legs bend when posed. Is the Bear King old and fat? His poses have to convey that feeling of weight and volume. Gus the Beaver is bouncy and full of energy. His poses need to show off his compact body shape and big toothy smile. No matter what size or shape the character is, the same fundamentals that I learned long ago apply every time.

It is easy to create bland, generic characters. The trick is to give your character enough of a personality to carry a story. In Woodland Heroes, our main character isn’t a super huge warrior. Instead, he is an adventurous raccoon who is drawn into the conflict with the bears. I have always considered him to be like Han Solo with a bit less attitude. His friend, Little Ben, is a loyal buddy with a bit of a complex. During the game, when Red the Fox is making fun of Little Ben, you can feel him getting frustrated. The trick in this kind of game is getting the characters to show the player that emotion with only a few key drawings. When drawing the heroes, I made sure to keep everything rounded, keeping the sharp points to a minimum. A good cartoon rule to remember: “Good guys = Rounded. Bad Guys = Sharp.” There are many exceptions, but in this case it works out well.

This is obviously only the tip of the character design iceberg, but I hope it gives you a glimpse of what we put into creating these guys (and gals!).  I hope to share even more insight with you soon, as well as touch on some of the other types of art in the game. Be sure to visit the forums and let us know what you would like to see.

Thanks for stopping by, and have fun playing Woodland Heroes!

Jeremy Vanhoozer