How to reimagine iconic characters

Paul Gerrard is a freelance artist currently working on Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen. He will be presenting a character concept workshop at Vertex, our debut event for the CG community. Book your Vertex ticket now.

We have all had that moment when the announcement comes in: your favourite movie from yesteryear is getting a reboot/remake. How can they do it! How can they mess with your favourite characters? 

I have been there too, but I have also been on the other end, being responsible for the designs of reimagined loved characters such as Shredder and Turtles from TMNT, Pinhead from Hellraiser, the BETAS from Videodrome and many more sworn to secrecy. 

If done right, a reboot of a design can add to the richness of the franchise, but if done wrong it can kill any future plans of expanding the world and evoke a mass of fan hatred. 

The one thing to get right above all else, above any detailing or fundamental design elements, is the tone. If you nail the tone early on that is half the battle, so you need to ask yourself a few questions before you start.

Reimagining Man-At-Arms

If reimagining characters for a movie, are you creating this for a movie you would go and see now, or a movie you would have seen when you were 14 or so? What are the iconic elements that made this character so appealing in the first place? Break them down to their fundamental basics. Finally, how far are you willing to push it? 

To put my process to the test, I set out to reimagine a whole series of characters that were due a major update – characters I admired for the sheer imagination and bold design elements. 

To make it as challenging as possible I chose cartoon characters, specifically those from popular 1980s cartoon series. I started with Man-At-Arms, one of the main protagonists from Masters of the Universe.

Consider tone

For this piece I decided the tone would need to fit the essence of the character, not the spectrum of its initial audience. So it would no longer appeal to children, but would more than likely appeal to fans of Game of Thrones, Conan the Barbarian (1982 version), Star Wars, Batman and so on. 

Yet I didn’t want a superhero look; he should retain the medieval feel of the character mixed with its own unique technological style. You are in essence world-building with an initial image. 

The iconic elements broke down to the helmet shape and armour colour (although I muted the colours somewhat to add realism). An older face, war torn, the face of experience and knowledge. 

To add more to the ‘older’ feel I moved away from any kind of superhero pose, instead adopting a poignant contemplation piece. This in itself adds to the tone and brings out his personality. 

Other iconic elements were the chest piece and mouth guard, both now given function as well as form. They serve as defence elements and you see how each piece of armour works in conjunction with the tech. The fur on his back is a nod to the medieval vibe the cartoon often portrayed.

You start with a tone piece, and from here you can go back and start to design full profile shots, costume design details and so on and so fourth. As long as your tone is right and you have a mood image like this, it will keep you on track going forward.

Get your ticket to Vertex 2018 now

Paul Gerrard is a freelance artist for movies, TV and games, currently working on Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen. He specialises in creatures, characters, aliens and world tech, creating photorealistic 2D concept art alongside the sculpture and 3D model process. 

He was described by the showrunner of The Shannara Chronicles (of which he designs all the antagonists) as a conceptual visionary who consistently produces work of mind-bending originality. 

Paul will be presenting a character concept workshop at Vertex, so come along to learn from a master and take your work to the next level.

Make sure you get your chance to be there for the discussion, as well as the workshops, recruitment fair and all the other activities we have throughout the day. Visit the Vertex site to book your tickets, from the free expo ticket to the access all areas passes.

We look forward to seeing you there!

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