Details bring any design to life. They're great to have. What I'd like to go over now, however, is that there are different kinds of details. Some of them are useful, some should be avoided. Some of them catch the attention of the viewer, some do not, but both are necessary
. Once again, these are all just part of my way of thinking about things.
This is not an exact science. I am largely making this up as I go along, but it might be interesting to think about, eh?
The first kind of detail is what I call a Point Of Interest
. They catch the attention of the viewer
and tell more about the character
. Together with the character's pose, they should tell the viewer all they need to know about the character's personality, abilities and role. They are your basic tool for telling a story with a design. Examples might include personal items, expressions, scars, meaningful tattoos and symbols, important background elements. Points of interest catch the eye, and should be spread out through the design so that the viewer will look through the whole work. At least theoretically. There are many great designs with very few but also very good Points Of Interest. Quality over quantity is sometimes a good idea.
The second kind of detail is an enchancement detail
or atmospheric detail
. They do not catch the attention of the viewer
, but serve to emphasize the rest of the design
. They are technically decorative, but their absence would be noticeable and distracting
. Examples might include shading, posing details, flowing capes, frills, body hair, non-important personal items, tribal tattoos, minor background elements. They might not be important for telling the story of your character, but they are important for making the design more dynamic and alive. You can think of them as catching the attention of the viewer in the big picture. When they're browsing your deviantart gallery and all those thumbnails, which pictures do they want to take a closer look at? The ones with more enchancement details. Once they are interested in your design, you can use Points Of Interest to tell them the story of that design. At least, that's how I think.
The third kind of detail is a distraction
. They're the type you want to avoid. They capture the viewer's attention but tell no story or contradict the story you're telling
. If your medieval character is wearing a miniskirt or high heels, that's a clear distraction. If your serious superhero has a goofy expression, that's a distraction. If your character's pose has some awkward element, like overly stiff limbs, that's a distraction. I believe that working hard to make all your details into the other two types is how you achieve a truly great design.
Let's look at some examples of details, okay?
Lady Tiger is almost entirely based on Points Of Interest, which I've marked with RED
. She does not look terribly engaging in the big picture, but I put a few little details into her design that tell a story. She is grabbing her own arm nervously and looking away from the viewer, she is uncomfortable about this situation. Her clothing and armor are plain, so you might initially not think of her as terribly important, until you notice that... holy crap, is she wearing a tiger? She is. Not to mention, that sword she's wielding? It's no dainty little blade, it's a heavy thing, a killer's weapon. She probably used that to kill the tiger. She is not someone to mess with, but she is not proud of it and does not like killing
In addition to these, she has at least one atmosphere detail, marked with YELLOW
, which is the rest of the pelt hanging down at her legs and on her chest. It would be so easy to just include the tiger's head, but by including the whole pelt, the design looks much more interesting as a whole.
Lady Anaconda's arms show her muscularity, but her gray hair and wrinkles show her age. She is a veteran, but still in excellent shape. She is wearing leaves for camouflage, but she is also wearing an enormous, colorful snake headdress with feathers. She is clearly native to a jungle, and of important status. She carries bola close at hand, an unusual weapon for a warrior, but good for hunting animals... or people. Her chest and legs are armored, but her stomach and knees are bare. She clearly values mobility. Judging by all of this, she is a high-ranking jungle warrior who chases down her foes and brings them down with her bolas
As enchancement details go, her macuahuitl (obsidian club) is in the background, reinforcing the fact that she is a warrior. The frills on her pants look cool, and the facepaint fills what would otherwise be an empty space on her face. The hand grabbing the bola makes both the pose and the bola look better.
The lack of stomach armor is actually something of a distraction to me, so I marked it with BLUE
. She is leaving her most important vitals unprotected. That is impractical, and that is distracting. Shame on me.
Lady Shark's design is FULL of details. Possibly too much? When does the sheer amount of details get distracting? If I knew the answer, I would tell you.
In the background, we see a ship on fire. It also seems that the passengers of that ship have been slaughtered or thrown overboard, to be eaten by sharks and carrion birds. The person responsible for it is in front of us, and she is smiling, enjoying the carnage. She is a twisted individual. She has lost a limb and replaced it with a shark-faced cannon, and the ammunition is probably in those bags and pouches. Judging by her crown, she likes gold and treasure and flaunts her wealth. On her legs, we see spiked anklets, impractical but intimidating. Her feet are also bare, even on this slippery deck. She is clearly an experienced pirate who looks the part and likes her job
The railing, the mist and the additional sharks and birds in the background are all extra. I could have kept the bare minimum of points of interest, but the additional details make the whole design more interesting to look at.
...then there's this guy. I don't even remember why I made this design, but I still cringe when I look at it. A blind martial artist, with a staff, that's nice. So why does he have black angel wings? They'll just get in the way of the action, especially when he's swinging that staff. Why does he have a giant third eye? Sure, it's an interesting detail, but WHY does he have one? This design does not tell that. Also, his pose is horribly stiff and awkward and does not take his wings into account at all. It's a mess. Everything about it is distracting and disappointing and I wish I had never made it
So that was a little look into how I think about details in my designs. Do you have a different approach? I would love to hear about it!