Nightmare Project – Thumbnails (part 1)

Before Easter, we were told about an assignment where we could put to practice all the things we’d been learning about character design for the last couple of months. The gist of the background is comprised of two parts:

Imagine a situation or environment that you have imagined a feeling or sense that there was “someone” there. As children this has been a common occurrence when our perception of our environment is new and may be influenced by stories, film and TV shows. As we grow, common sense prevails; and the realisation is that there really is no one there brings us back to reality.

You are required to use design skills to create a character that fits into a situation or experience that you have had in the past. This will be rigged and animated, then placed on a diorama and rendered. See image. 2D or 3D are both acceptable.

I’m referring to this new task as my “Nightmare Project” since I don’t think there was an official name being thrown around. I wouldn’t say I’d had a ton of nightmares while I was a child, but I certainly have some moments that stick out in my mind that I could use as inspiration. Outside of that, I thought it would be a good idea to look at some games for how they designed scary or unsettling creatures.


Fran Bow was an excellent game and I think a lot of people would find good inspiration from it for this sort of project. For the majority of the game, there are creatures and disturbing scenes that meet the little girl along her adventure to find her cat and get home. That feeling that something was crawling just in the shadows, lurking just in the corner of your eye, was pretty regular throughout. I think that’s why the game worked so well; you genuinely didn’t know which nightmare was real, whether it was Fran’s drug-induced fantasies or the actual reality of the world she was in.


American McGee’s Alice and Alice: Madness Returns are such fantastic looking games. While I haven’t played the first, I have played some of the second and it’s just chaotically brilliant both in its gameplay and the creatures you come across. The little evils that are lurking all around, where inanimate objects could come to life and try to kill Alice, offer a perfect example of what character design I think this project is looking for. The bright colours of the baddies contradict their often disgusting and gruesome looks.


I haven’t really had a lot of time to play video games myself as we’re gearing up for the end of the school year, but I do watch a lot of let’s plays while I’m doing my work. The current one I find really good is Little Nightmares. I remember seeing the display and demos going on at EGX when we went last September, so it’s nice to see the game now released in its full glory. I really do love the designs, where it seems like each horrifying, giant creature out to get the little girl has inhuman qualities. From arms that could reach across an entire room to skin that looks like its melting from the body, there is such an unsettling quality to the characters that I think they really are made from a child’s nightmares.

With these sorts of thoughts in mind, I’d began doing some mindless thumbnailing in class. I came up with a few things that I would have thought were nightmareish when I was a child, although currently as they’re drawn they’re simplistic in style. Since the plan would be to model them, I think finer detail could be added later. The thumbnail drawing process was only meant to be quick, after all, but the next step would be group crit (as per usual) and then a turnaround sheet, which I can talk about in my next post once I’ve made more progress!



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