Microsoft Heroes Character Design Process

While planning their new sales tool, GSX, Microsoft wanted to add some energy and pizazz by utilizing the superhero genre. Initially, they intended to use the comic book format to help get the point across, create interest and enthusiasm within their sales force. So, when I began designing the four heroes, a comic book it was to be. With some superhero illustration projects I've had over the years, clients sometimes lean towards a silly, campy and retro tone, which is fine - it can be fun. Many seem to want to emulate the Batman TV show. Y'know, it comics - it's for kids! I've drawn a Pizza-Man, who wore a hairnet and glasses. Also, heroes who aren't too muscular or curvy, or even in superhero costumes. In this case, Microsoft wanted something cool and edgy. I was on the right track right off the bat with the two heroines, Affinity and Harmony. Affinity has a punk-ish look, with something of a mohawk and lots of leather. I was asked to try leggings instead of the semi-loose leather pants, change out the boots, and then add skirt with chains. Her tattoo was later dropped. Though I think she ended up with kind of a Desperately-Seeking-Susan look, she turned out well, my favorite of the four to draw.

Harmony was to be meditative and calming, so I went with a clean and straightforward super-heroine outfit, borrowing some french curves from the yin/yang symbol. She was good to go from the start.

My initial designs for the two male heroes, PI and Alt leaned towards a sci-fi look, more clean and streamlined, evoking the new Battlestar Galactica. But to their credit, the folks at Microsoft yearned for something less "Star Trek" and more "Watchmen." So it was back to the drawing board for the males. Alt wasn't too big a change, I just added a leather jacket and made his outfit mostly black, darkening his overall look. He became a bit more serious and cocky, rather than too smiley and friendly.

For PI, a complete overhaul was required. He became a more shadowy, detective-like character in a long overcoat and fedora, more like the Watchmen's Rorschach, Will Eisner's Spirit, or DC Comics' Phantom Stranger.

I also designed an Average Joe worker, then named Simon, patterned a bit after "Jim" from The Office. His role decreased as the script was developed, but I used him in the final art when depicting workers in the story.

About halfway through the character design process, the client changed gears and decided to do a semi-animated video instead. That was fine with me. More about that part of the creative process tomorrow, including some storyboards and some of my favorite shots from the video...

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