I'm starting to finish a cover for a startup RPG company that I've had on the back-burner for awhile. Over the past few months, I designed their main characters in preparation for making them a cover. Since this young company has no existing art, I chose to do this first so that when it came time to doing the cover, we would have very specific looking characters which would allude to the content in the product and avoid looking generic. RPG characters and covers are usually quite detailed to the delight of the fans.
The concept for this game revolves around a fantasy world where people from the "real" world are captured and brought into this other universe. The emotions of these captured ones become a power source in the fantasy world. My sketches for the cover revolved around the bad guy drawing power from a boy and confronting the heroes. The usual problem arises of depicting everyone clearly, even though some are facing away. Its just as important to show the party of heroes as the main area of action, so we can see the eventual player choices that you may have once you play the game.
The thumbnail I chose is the 2 inch tall quick sketch above. I've decided on a set of stairs to separate the characters out, and tilted the scene for that all important "excitement". I want to have a teleportation portal/door in the background that acts as a light source, and I have indicated some basic actions for the figures.
After a photo shoot, I begin constructing the figures as rounded "dummies" or mannequins. Since I shot my reference in my friend's small apartment, there is camera lens distortion on the figures, with parts closer enlarged unnaturally. Drawing the bodies of the figures out this way is helpful in translating the photo information to something that works in your made-up 3-d space. The discipline of this also allows for the armor and details to be drawn on top more easily.
Above is the final drawing, after some changes to poses and positions. At this point the figures are about half referenced, as my changes had to be drawn without new photos at hand. This isn't much of an issue once the bodies are covered up with their gear. The main bad guy is drawn without reference, and I just took a quick shot of my own hand in the mirror to add the realism you need for a hand. Currently, the boy is pretty weak, and I'll try to refine him to the point that you don't question him being done without a reference photo.
A quick indication of some tones and this is off to the client and ready for a color study...