Character Development: Symbolic Design
Updated: Jan 14, 2022
First Breath is a film with the objective of depicting a spiritual experience. This presents many challenges, but also creates a unique opportunity to use digital mediums to break traditional designs. As a Character Artist, one of the main focuses for this project was to develop a 3D character that embodies the soul versus the flesh. And while it was intended to make the character look human, certain methods and techniques were used during the conceptualizing and look development phase to create imagery that implies spiritual themes and steps away from the physical world.
First, it's was important to develop concept art for the cast's appearance. At this stage, I focused on the details of the main character's design to enhance the spiritual elements of the story. Like wise, I wanted the main character to serve as a surrogate for anyone who is watching. For a while, the protagonist didn't have a name, but was eventually called Soul, to imply what the character represents.
One of the first decisions I made when designing the protagonist and all of the other anonymous characters was to use their design to imply they didn't exist within a physical space; this included abandoning physical necessities, such as clothing. Since clothes primarily exist to respond to the conditions of the physical world and social norms, I did not find it relevant to include them in the character's design.
However, I didn't wish to convey the body in an explicit and literal manner either. Instead, I wished to convey the character's body as a temple or reflection of the soul rather than literal flesh. That is why I ignored reproductive details and focused more specifically on silhouette and simple shapes.
Another intentional design decision was to make the characters eyes black or hollow in the beginning of the film. This simple decision was made to imply that the protagonist is empty, or more literally, a soul absent of the Spirit. Similarly, the character's textures and color pallet will reflect this, using cool hues and making the skin slightly transparent to reveal nothing inside.
Lastly, the character's hair was a large component of their design, not to convey a certain style or era, but to invoke emotions and indicate tone. How so? The film consists of three different environments, each affected by gravity and dynamic elements in different ways. I'll dive into the relevance of that later. But for now, know that the movement occurring in the environment will drastically effect the dynamics of the character's hair, and the motion and look of the hair will amplify what is happening in the scene and the overall tone. With this in mind, I designed the protagonist with longer hair that would respond well to all three environments and tones of the film.