Frankentoon: Creating a funny video game boss in Affinity Designer

You’ve been commissioned to design the final boss for an action role-playing video game (RPG). This game has been set in a futuristic Mayan dystopian world, where ancient gods have returned to (you guessed it…) take over the world! The visual style of the game is semi-cartoony, colourful​ and designed as an isometric-view game.
The boss we will be creating…

Difficulty:

  • Isometric illustration beginner

Knowledge required:

  • Fair knowledge of Affinity Designer’s interface and Tools
  • Basic knowledge of Designer’s Transform Panel

What you’ll learn:

  • Easy techniques to get you into isometric style illustration
  • How to sketch and design your own isometric characters

Part 1:

Leaving Flatland

  • Create a new document in Affinity Designer in whichever size you prefer. We’re working in the Desktop app for this project. I made my document 2048 px x 2048 px at 300dpi. You can double the size if you prefer.

  • Create a 500 x 500 px rectangle (fig. 1), go to the Transform Panel; if you aren’t able to locate it, go to top menu View > Studio > Transform.

  • Now select the rectangle you’ve just created, make sure the link icon next to the W and H values is deactivated and modify your rectangle’s height (H) using this value: 86.062% (fig. 2) and hit enter.

  • Now, let’s modify the Rotation (R) value to: -30° (fig.3) and Skew (S) to: 30° (fig.4). Now, we have made the LEFT face of a cube (fig. 5). Simple, isn’t it?

  • Duplicate this face (Ctrl+drag) and switch values to make the RIGHT face. Enter 30° for Rotation (R) and -30° in Skew (S) input (FIG. 1). Ctrl+drag to duplicate this one again and use a -30°, -30° value to create the TOP face of the cube (FIG. 2).

Join all three parts together and voilá! You’ve given life to an isometric cube out of a simple rectangle.

Exploring exclusive Designer features

One of the unique features of Designer is its ability to work with non-destructive transformation settings. That means you can always edit an object’s Width and Height settings and most importantly, its ROTATION and SKEW settings. Note that not all vector software out there does this.

For example, what happens if I want to change my cube’s height while keeping it projected isometrically? Easy! Just grab any of the cube’s faces centre nodes (second figure above) and drag it upwards to the height you prefer. Do the same with the other face and so on. Using this technique, I made two polygons. These two shapes will make the base of our video game boss.

Part 2:

Creating the main features

For the next step, we’re going to use the help of the Grid and Snapping Axis panel. Go to the top menu > View > Grid and Axis Manager… Select Show Grid, deactivate Use Automatic Grid, Mode: Advanced and from the Grid Type selector choose Isometric.

Create an Ellipse and a Donut, use a 1:1 aspect ratio and same dimensions for both. Then, project them as shown above, line them up isometrically using the Isometric Grid. The distance between both is not essential, as long as they’re aligned with each other.

Using the Pen Tool, trace a path following the blue dots (upper-left image). Make sure each point touches the edges of the underlying shapes. Close this path (upper-right image), don’t worry too much about making it perfect. Your focus should be on its corners; I repeat, make sure that your corners are touching the ellipse and the donut edges.

Fill this new path the same as the Ellipse, select both and using the Add function merge them into one.

Send this merged shape to back, and you’ve just made a cylinder with a hole in the middle.

Group these shapes and, put them aside for now.

The art of recycling

Now you’re familiar with the previous extrusion method, the next part will be easier to follow. I’ll show you how to work a little bit smarter and kill two birds with one stone.

  1. Create a rectangle using the proportions you prefer
  2. With the Corner Tool, select its upper-left corner and round it just a little bit.
  3. On the context toolbar, click Bake Corners and then applying what you’ve learned so far, make this rectangle a right isometric face. Duplicate it and align this duplicate isometrically.
  4. Create a new path to fill the blanks. Select the new path, the duped shape and merge both using the Add function. Send the resulting shape to the back.
  5. Finally, change the right face colour to a darker shade.

Create some duplicates of this new shape and use the Node Tool to alter their sizes and proportions as shown above, and then change theirs colours. We’re building some random assets to experiment with our character’s features.

Use the same techniques we’ve already seen to create the arms. Try to build something similar to the image shown above, without following any instructions.

Pyramid

  1. As above, create a new square and project it facing upwards
  2. Trace a vertical line across the square to use it as a guideline
  3. With the Pen Tool draw a triangle in whichever size you prefer. Just make sure its vertices touch the points shown in
  4. Repeat this step on the opposite side.

Now, we put all parts together.

The cylinders (1), the rounded polygon family (2), the arms (3) and the little pyramids (4). Notice that all of these pieces make sense because I gave them purpose. I start by creating random objects then I try to figure out what to do with all of them.

This is not a puzzle with a single solution, you can move around the parts, create more of them and more ideas…

Part 3:

Having Fun with Details

Inspired by Mayan and Aztec cultures graphics, I made some simple graphics (above), to see how they fit in my video game boss design.

Using the techniques we’ve studied previously on this tutorial, project these graphics onto the different faces of our character. Do not hesitate to go back a few steps in this tutorial if something is still not entirely clear.

Designing by Duplicate

  1. Using our character’s front face as a base, let’s duplicate it CMD + J on Mac (CTRL + J on Windows).
  2. Change this duplicate’s dimensions using the rectangle’s transform controls. Do the same on the other side.

Since Designer remembers every shape’s Rotation and Skew settings (as long as objects are not converted to curves), this task of adding details becomes quite easy to accomplish.

Duplicate the front face again, reshape it to create a small vertical stripe and duplicate it to place both above the nose. Repeat these steps on the top face, aligning both stripes to the ones on the front.

We can also create some cool motion effects just by going off the boundaries.

  1. Duplicate the top face, shrink down this duplicate.

  2. Do the same on the right face, making multiple clones and alternating their sizes.

As you can see, every single detail of the video game boss has been made using the same simple methods we’ve shown from the beginning. The last copy-paste-transform technique will allow you to experiment and create quick and intricate designs in a snap!

Monster’s mouth

  1. Create a rotated “C” shape using the Pen Tool. Go to the top menu > Layer > Expand Stroke. Group the resulting paths.
  2. Scale this group 86.062% vertically, Rotate it -30° and Skew it 30°
  3. Duplicate the group, un-group the duplicate and while selecting both shapes, merge them down.
  4. Align the first Group and the merged path using the Isometric Grid.
  5. Fill the blanks using the Pen Tool as we have previously when creating the cylinders in this tutorial.
  6. Select these paths and the background shape and, merge them down. If you want, add some teeth using the same techniques.

Attach the mouth to the rest of the body, and we’re finally done! See? Isometric Illustration can be super easy when using the right tools.

Part 4:

Homework

Applying all techniques we’ve seen along this tutorial, you must build a background for our character. You can use the image above as a reference, or you can let your imagination run wild and create your own version.


Artist relations
Charlotte is an illustrator and arts lecturer who is passionate about the creative industries and is now part of our artist relations team. Her interests include mid 20th century inspired design, comic books, board games, movie memorabilia, baking cakes, feminism and yoga. She shares her 1960’s home with her graphic designer husband and her toddler son who likes to hide her iPad. Get in touch with Charlotte if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.