Evolution of VSA character portraits
Hi it’s Kate again this week! I’m currently busy working on character portraits for the dialogue segments of the game, so I thought it’d be interesting to show the evolution of the portrait style.
Our initial decision to use portraits visual novel style was one made by looking at the skillset and technology our team had at the time we started making the game. We’ve come along a way since then, but at the time, it was really the only feasible way to tell this complex story with lots of characters expressing lots of emotions with a limited team with a lead artist mostly grounded in 2D (my professional background before Project BC being largely comics and 2D illustration).
One of the earliest attempts I can find around interestingly shows an experiment with a character front-on, like Phoenix Wright or some dating sims:
Now, one of the main issues with this format is that it works great when characters are talking to your protagonist and feels very immediate and personal, but it doesn’t work so well as soon as you have to depict different characters talking to each other, which is quite common in VSA. In fact, characters have relationship values and character building events with each other which may not even involve Dakura at all, so it was necessary to reconsider the style to better accommodate the style of the storytelling.
After deciding on 3/4 view characters, I experimented with some different styles:
I call the first one “shoujo Dakura” because of the shoujo manga feel of the fine lines and soft colours. I was trying to evoke the feeling of the portraits from the original Vacant Sky Contention, which are very soft and pretty. When it comes down to it though, while our audience is mostly female, it’s still pretty mixed, but more than that… it’s just not really my style at all, My work is strongest when I’m working with a more solid feeling. In fact at this stage I was really still holding back on the kind of chunky lines I like to work with.
The portraits that were the “final” versions for a long time looked like this:
Because the game was set to be told entirely in Visual Novel format, I felt it was important to show a good view of the characters, so they go right from head to mid-thigh. This was…not my best idea ever due to the enormous workload it created. Every expression for every character required a new almost full body drawing. Another issue with these was that for promotions and pitches, the main characters had to be rushed through first, so we ended up with a situation where the main characters weren’t as well drawn as some of the NPCs done further down the line. You can definitely see how the drawing on Sarian doesn’t compare well to her original concept illustration, and that Naora looks stylistically slightly different, having been drawn months later.
Between making these characters and now, we discovered techniques and technology that made 3D models possible. Suddenly showing the entire body on the sprites was really no longer a huge issue. Feeling dissatisfied with the old portraits, I brought up the notion of redrawing them, this time with a Persona esque view limited to just head to chest. The test images came out great. I’d estimate they’re about three times faster to create than the old portraits were too, so massively more efficient! With less rush and pressure, I’m able to put move love into the portraits, so they come out more polished. Well, that and I’m just generally a better artist than I was when we started out here.
There are some little touches of polish here to the shading and colours that would have been a pain to add on the more arduous larger portraits. Well, that and maybe I wouldn’t have even known how to do this stuff efficiently back then! I’m pretty pleased with how they look.
Another cool thing to note about this image before I sign off here. This is an actual screenshot in the game engine, it’s not a mockup like all those previous images! We hope to show you more images from in-game soon!