Thumbnailing – the long struggle


Brief: Near-future sci-fi biker bandits in polar environment who robs transport vehicles with swift hit-and-run tactics. They don’t cross the line from robbery to murder. They name themselves Hail Hounds.

Struggle with fast and numerous thumbnails:

I struggle a lot to make thumbnails. I keep trying to do more faster – say, 20 in 2 hours – and I can’t. One method I’ve been trying since last year is quick, shape-based thumbnails. Here I’m using marker on paper. I would start, then I would quickly fall back to old, safe, slow habit of line drawing so I can see what I’m putting down. This collection of 30 thumbnails took me a total of 5 sittings across 5 days:

  • #1-10 took a day.
  • #11-14 (I think) took a day.
  • #15-24 took a day.
  • #28-29, +25 took ~ 5 hours.
  • #30 took ~2.5 hours.

I don’t usually do character design. I’ve not done sci-fi either. I would research every time I do a thumbnail, and again every time I revise the aesthetic theme. Confusion while in unfamiliar territories sucks… Each time I make shape-based thumbnails, I had no idea what it is, and all the shapes come out generic humanoid with random lumps here and there, looking like cartoonish clones of Master Chief. Each time I revert back to archaeologically scraping an idea out with pencil lines, I end up with 3 thumbnails after 4 hours that may or may not convey the correct feel for this character.  Current problem is, shape-based thumbnailing makes me very insecure when I can’t see what is in those blobs, because I don’t see it in my head to begin with. However, line-based thumbnailing makes me noodle one drawing far too long, and end up with hodge-podge of many little ideas cluttered onto one humanoid armature that rarely convey a clear theme from each drawing. Both together creates a third problem where I feel like I’m not expressing my aesthetic themes clearly, and I’m also not exploring enough variety in my designs. I’m not sure how to break through this choke point that’s been bothering me since last year, and a choke point I believe I need to break through to improve as a concept designer.

Struggle with clear, good design:

At the beginning I had cowboy and western looks mixed in with the outlaw and biker looks, but that was too much of a mix. Currently it’s simplified to just sci-fi biker bandits. Their setting is the dark, frozen regions on Duality-52, where they leech off the clean water (ice) trade some American corporation is monopolizing. A lot of struggle right now is in how to visually convey all that, especially the “polar outlaw who don’t kill” part.

Staying on track:

I started planning and doing characters because of several portfolio feedback I received encouraging me to branch out from just having creatures in my portfolio, and create more assets that look like they can already belong to existing game titles or studio aesthetics. Now that I’ve stopped bending over the thumbnails and took a step back, I’m worried how well any of these thumbnails match what’s already out there.




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