How to create an isometric character in Affinity Designer − and try out the software for free!

Imagine 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.

In this article, seasoned graphic designer and artist, Enrique Figueroa, walks us through one of his tutorials – how to create an isometric character in Affinity Designer.

An early adopter of Affinity Designer, he purchased his copy back in 2015 after hearing about the app on Creative Bloq. Shortly after it became his tool of choice for professional work.

“My all-time favourite tool of Designer is the Adjustment Layers menu. The idea of changing colour settings without permanently affecting your illustrations makes you want to experiment and be more daring with your art. That’s one of the reasons I couldn’t go back to Illustrator.”

The more he used Affinity Designer, the more he saw its educational potential. Enrique quickly became an independent expert on all things Affinity and created a dedicated website called Frankentoon, which is a ‘one stop shop’ of learning tutorials, eBooks and creative assets like brushes and textures for Affinity Designer.

Ready to get started?

Why not grab the 10-day free trial and try for yourself? You might learn some handy techniques for future projects!

What you’ll learn:

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

The boss we will be creating…But before we start, what is isometric illustration?

Isometric Drawing is a technique, like perspective drawing, that is used by illustrators and designers to represent three-dimensional forms on a two-dimensional picture plane.

Isometric drawings map all objects of equal dimensions as the same size, regardless of their position. This means that that objects do not diminish in size the more they recede from view, like perspective drawing.

Read this article if you want a more technical and in depth explanation of isometrics.

Part 1:

Leaving Flatland

  • Let’s get started by creating a new document. After opening Affinity Designer go to File > New from the main menu. On the popup which appears you can specify the file parameters.
  • Create a new document in whichever size you prefer. I made my document 2048 px x 2048 px at 300dpi. You can double the size if you wish.
  • Create a 500 x 500 px rectangle ( 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: 062% (fig. 2) and hit enter.
  • Now, let’s modify the Rotation (R) value to: -30° (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 voilà! You’ve given life to an isometric cube out of a simple rectangle.

Exploring exclusive Affinity Designer features

One of the unique features of Affinity 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 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!

The 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 the monster is done! See? Isometric Illustration can be super easy when using the right tools.

Part 4:

Building a background

There’s just one thing left to do now. Applying all techniques you’ve used in this tutorial, build a cool background for the character. You can use the image above as a reference, or you can let your imagination run wild and create your own version – it’s entirely up to you.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial and that you can apply the techniques you’ve learned in future projects.

Where can I find other Affinity tutorials and information?

Getting your head round new software can sometimes seem daunting. So its creators, Serif, have produced a vast library of tutorial videos to help users learn all they need to know about the app. You can check them out on their YouTube channel here.

Want to learn more about Affinity Designer?

Affinity Designer has become the go-to app for professional illustrators, web designers and game developers all over the world, who love its silky-smooth combination of vector and raster design tools, and the ability to seamlessly move between the mobile and desktop apps.

If you haven’t looked into Affinity Designer yet, watch this video to take a peek at what this incredible app can do. It didn’t scoop a coveted Apple Design Award for nothing!

And there’s even a 10-day free trial, which allows you to play with all its awesome features before you buy.

Moreover, Affinity Designer is not linked to a subscription model. It’s available for a one-off payment of £48.99/ $49.99 USD/ € 54.99, for Mac or Windows, with free updates until version 2 − a more cost-effective solution than subscription-based plans.

You can find more information about Affinity Designer at https://affinity.serif.com/designer.

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Serif
Affinity is a next-generation suite of award-winning software for creative professionals, comprising Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo, with Affinity Publisher coming soon. Built from the ground up with a meticulous focus on workflow and blazing performance, Affinity apps are engineered to be the smoothest, fastest, most precise, and most integrated creative apps available. Created in partnership with some of the world’s leading designers, they have won over 200 awards internationally and have reached over 6.5 million customers worldwide.

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Serif

Serif

Affinity is a next-generation suite of award-winning software for creative professionals, comprising Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo, with Affinity Publisher coming soon.

Built from the ground up with a meticulous focus on workflow and blazing performance, Affinity apps are engineered to be the smoothest, fastest, most precise, and most integrated creative apps available. Created in partnership with some of the world’s leading designers, they have won over 200 awards internationally and have reached over 6.5 million customers worldwide.