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Behind The Scenes: Designing Embers

Character Design: Sasha Langford


I was excited to be involved with the Embers the Dragon project from the start. It’s such a unique blend of creativity and science and meant I could spend several weeks drawing dragons – what more could an illustrator want!

 

Here is one of the very first designs I did of Embers:


Original dragon

As you can see – a completely different style to where we ended up!

 

Character design is a very playful process and with a few weeks more to play around, try different things and do some deep dive research into character designs for the age group, I gradually got closer and closer to finding Embers. It was then really important to get feedback from the most important group - children - who really helped me refine the design. The creative process always involves getting it wrong lots of times before you get it right! Animator and designer David Ridges also helped bring Embers into their final iteration as well as bringing them to life in motion.



We had a lovely opportunity to work with a young, talented and neuro-divergent girl called Evie who came to do some work experience on Embers the Dragon – she’s an excellent artist already and no doubt on her way to doing great things.

 

Evie helped with some early designs for the rabbits Pogo and Skip – you can see her work here and how closely it informed the final characters. Thank you Evie!



When designing characters for animation you have to think about every angle they can be seen from and create a “turnaround sheet” which animators can use as a reference point when they start making them move to make sure their features don’t end up wandering around their faces willy nilly:


Embers turnaround

Once we had a design from Embers all the other characters flowed from that established style and it was great fun trying to bring to life their personalities visually.


Final characters

I’m so excited to see where Embers the Dragon goes and how it might help families as the trial officially launces. I’m off on maternity leave at the end of this week to have my first baby and she’ll definitely be brought up watching Embers and his friends!



Background Design: Gaby Swann


The creation of The Embers universe with all it’s fantastical worlds required a unique design process which felt fully immersive- particularly as it required a hand crafted, painterly approach. 

 

To start off, getting the visual language right for our target age group was key. The Embers world is filled with bold, expansive circular shapes that play a crucial role in storytelling, especially from my perspective as a background artist. Shape language is my go-to tool for infusing the entire style with a friendly and age-appropriate tone.

 

Considering embers' enchanting setting on Keiki Island, it was a creative playground for experimenting with weird and wonderful botanics and nature assets with unique colour palettes. Our palette drew inspiration from typical sci-fi themes with a twist, incorporating rich hues of purples and blues, accompanied by clashing colours like pastel pinks and greens.  Once again we checked this with our auduence group to make sure the approach appealed. These unconventional colour choices turned out to be a great way to shape our distinctive artistic style, ensuring the audience feel immersed throughout the series.


trees and flowers of the Embers world

After setting the overall tone with the visual development phase, it was time to dive into the background designs. As a background artist, my role involves considering various factors; from layout design, character interactions, and presenting the world in the most convincing manner. From getting the right composition to handling lighting and staging, my mission is to ensure that the worlds created contribute seamlessly to the embers narrative.

 

The process kicks off with an initial layout design for a particular sequence (see below), offering a sneak peek to the animation department to ensure they think animating is achievable. Once the line art gets the green light, it’s time to move onto the painting phase—my absolute favourite part of the entire process. Every scene in Embers undergoes a digital painting process by hand, employing some of my cherished brushes that maintain a cohesive look throughout. Following the painting phase, it's time to infuse the scene with lighting to bring it to life and give it a more realistic feel.


It's also been really fun to use some digital tools to alter some of the hand drawn elements. Check out how this scene transforms throughout the day! I started with the same background design and used some Photoshop magic to create different lighting effects:



It's been a super exciting project to work on - and I'm really looking forward to continue developing the world that Embers and his friends lives in as the project grows.

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