Saturday, September 22, 2012

Ra: Character Design

The eponymous hero of my upcoming game, Ra, needs an appropriate image to depict him. Being based on a god who was worshipped in ancient times, Ra has many pictures on the Internet that I can use as a basis for making my own version of this character. After trying out different variations, I finally settled on the design shown below.

Though it may not look it, the above picture took days for me to complete. In this blog post, I explain my character design process and the reasons for painting Ra the way I did.

My first step was to decide on what I wanted Ra to be. The back story of the game is that Ra and his fellow deities ruled comfortably over the spiritual lives of Egyptians until Octavian, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, conquered Egypt. At this point, Octavian was strongly inclined to abolish the worship of Egyptian gods, a move that his advisers warned him against. Nevertheless, the Roman gods were only too happy to give Octavian a nudge in the desired direction by kicking the Egyptian gods from their places of power. Only Ra, the strongest of the Egyptian gods, found the strength to drag himself up after his fall and to try to impress the local mortals sufficiently to have them worship him again. Only then will he find the strength to defeat the Roman gods and restore all Egyptian deities to their rightful thrones.

I want Ra to be an avenging hero, sort of like The Count of Montecristo and Sam Raimi’s Dark Man. I don’t want the game to be serious, however, because I have a soft spot for comedy. If a game idea makes me laugh, I’m inclined to implement it. Instead of portraying the gods as actual living beings, I’m going to depict them as wall art trying to vandalize each other. This design decision has the advantage of allowing me to put in floating obstacles, as I explained in my previous blog post.

Without worshippers, Ra is so weak that he hobbles like a man at Death’s door. When he happens upon Egyptian mortals, they will softly chant his name, giving him the strength to stand upright and walk normally. By striding before his worshippers, Ra can get them to chant louder until he gains the ability to run extremely fast and jump impossibly high. When hanging on to a nail on the wall, Ra can swing himself ever faster until he flies away like a gymnast, his body whirling and blazing like the sun. At the height of his power, Ra can crush Roman soldiers without coming to harm. Against their gods, however, Ra will need both his smarts and his strength to defeat them.

With this description in mind, I wanted to build Ra like an athlete, more of a gymnast and sprinter than a wrestler or bodybuilder. When I painted him, I started by drawing his silhouette with an eye toward hinting at his athletic prowess.

The broad shoulders and narrow waist suggest that Ra is the athletic type. His arms are muscular but not overly hypertrophied, and his calves are long and well-defined. These convey the idea that he relies more on speed and quick bursts of power than brute strength and tank-like endurance. His head is oddly shaped, like an eagle in profile. This is a departure from how Ra was depicted in ancient times. The top of the original Ra’s head, along with the overall shape of his face, was round, which suggests a love for comfort and relaxation. By giving Ra a more angular, aquiline profile, I depicted him as a dynamic and dangerous character.

When painting the rest of Ra, I relied mostly on the ancient sources to guide me, although I decided to make his arm bands light green instead of red to add variety to the mostly warm colors. It was with Ra’s face that I made some subtle but important differences. Instead of making his eye round, I made it narrow and slanted to give him that pissed-off Clint Eastwood look. I reshaped the black mark on Ra’s face to make it look like an avenging superhero’s mask. Finally, I gave Ra a furious frown on his beak. This is one angry bird that no pig will want to take on.

The color of Ra’s skin was picked to closely match the red ochre pigment that was used for painting skin tones on Egyptian wall art. All the other colors were precisely chosen for their harmoniousness with Ra’s skin color.

Despite the stiff pose of this character, I was satisfied with the design that I came up with. It took me a few days to complete, but I feel that all this effort was worth it.


  1. Definitely some good use of complementary colors there. I like the premise of the game (previous post) and look forward to more updates.

    I'm interested to see how you're going to animate this guy. I never got into 2d stuff and sprite animation. Thanks for posting!

  2. Glad you like the game concept so far, Jclef. My work pace is kind of slow, which is no surprise, considering that I'm the sole designer, artist, programmer, and probably the composer as well. For now, I'm trying to do just the concept art. I might have a playable demo in a couple of months if all goes well.

  3. Hi Frank,

    Jclef asked the same question I was about to ... animation ... won't that involve "many" more (different) images of the Ra?


  4. Hey Lance, great to see you here. :)

    Ra and other Egyptian gods will actually be easy for me to animate. Their bodies will be made of separate parts that I will animate by rotating them in increments on each frame. While it's true that each frame will have its own image, making that image will be as easy as taking a stop-motion photo of paper cutouts.

    I'm not worried about the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Its the Roman mosaics I'm most worried about. I've already figured out how to achieve the mosaic effect. It will take a lot of work to accomplish. I'm going to post my mosaic animation technique on this blog when I've done the necessary preparations.

    Animating the Roman marble reliefs is the process I'm most familiar with. I'll create the Roman gods as 3D models, animate them, and render each frame.