Go behind the scenes to discover how we collaborated with digital artist Karina Redous from Kazakhstan, to create our leadership's characteristic avatars.
Over the past few months, with juggling new client negotiations, number crunching, and industry analysis, our team has been hard at work on crafting a company website that reflects our obsession with quality.
As we progressed through numerous sketches and designs, we realized that one part didn't work with the rest of the site: the leadership team section. Usually these blocky pages are a gallery featuring the team members along with their photos and roles, but our team is spread all over the world, and we couldn't find a way to do professional shots without looking too corporate or being too similar in style. And then, we had an idea, we decided to create illustrated avatars for each of the eight founding members of The 4 Winds, and that these avatars would tie into our theme of nautical exploration.
After researching a host of talented digital artists, we discovered the brilliant Karina Redous, whose art style made our choice for us.
The artist: Karina Redous
Karina is a freelance concept artist and illustrator based in Kazakhstan. While she has a Bachelor's degree as an interior designer, her real passion has always been drawing characters, and illustrations, and the gaming and entertainment industries.
Her area of expertise is character concept art and creating illustrations for indie games, with "Mad Streets," a game currently in development by Canadian studio Craftshop Arts, being one of her most recent projects. Click here to check out her portfolio on ArtStation.
Stage 1: Mood board and references
Karina's initial step in the production process was to gather images for a mood board and key references. Originally, this was to give each portrait a sense of epic atmosphere, which she later abandoned in favor of a more realistic and serene mood. She opted to focus more on The 4 Winds' color pallet, mostly experimenting with the T4W purple and T4W pink.
As with the foundational art done by Flora Silve (which you can read all about in this blog post), we wanted to highlight our enthusiasm for discovery, sailing, and modern-day expeditions led by explorers including Felicity Aston, Jacques Cousteau, and others.
This led Karina to use that same foundational art for the mood board. It helped her make sure that when she came to coloring, both Flora's work and our team's avatars would compliment each other, creating a single piece of sequential art. She was inspired by paintings from two of her favorite painters from the 20th century, J. C. Leyendecker and iconic digital artist Moby Francke from Valve, known for his work on Team Fortress 2, Portal and Left 4 Dead.
Another source of inspiration were photos of explorers like Jacques Cousteau, Robert Ballard, and Ranulph Fiennes, along with modern shots of sailors and ships' crew. Their uniforms, badges of rank, hats and so on were a key factor when Karina was doing her rough sketches.
The mood board that formed the foundation of our leadership team's avatars.
«As we conceptualized our website's core design, we realized that adding realistic photos of our team would clash with the whimsical mood of our nautical theme. We decided to go with Karina's art style to match with our love of exploration and seafaring.»
Head of Communications & Localization at T4W
Stage 2: sketching
Finding a pose that clearly showed what each and every team member did at T4W was crucial. Even though she worked with real images of our leadership team, it wasn't enough, even with the different angles provided by each of our crew members. Karina ended up modifying the poses from the first sketches she did, you'll see these below.
The first sketches left some of our team members looking a little rough around the edges, a little tough, and we decided to revert to something closer to our real personalities... After all, we're a bunch of nice, friendly people.
The original sketches and poses of each of our eight core leaders (Top row from the right: Nazih Fares, Alexey Pastushenko, Ana Maria Piedrahita, and Steven Huot. Bottom row from the right: Lily Shen, Uğur Ülger, Mikhail Sketin and David Mashashvilli)
On top of coloring matching with our visual identity, we wanted to make sure each avatar reflected our own individual cultural backgrounds, nationalities, and that our job titles matched to certain ranks within a ship's crew. While most of our corporate structure is rather linear, this doesn't really exist in sailing culture.
For example, we decided to bring a little Eastern European flair to Alexey, David and Mikhail's portraits, while giving them ranks of equal importance: First Officer, Bosun and Navigator. Other, more challenging job titles to match were Nazih (Head of Communication and Localization) or Uğur's (Brand & Project Manager), these, we turned into Expedition Interpreter and Head Engineer respectively.
With personalization in mind, Lily Shen's avatar was a call out to the Chinese navy with her uniform, Ana Maria became a Third Mate and the flower in her hair is a symbol of Colombia's rich biodiversity. Colombia's national flower is the cattleya trianae, a very delicate orchid that does not last long after being cut, so we settled on the Dahlia imperialis, which is much bigger and sturdier and is often used as an embellishment in the hair of traditional Colombian dancers.
Stage 3: Painting and the final render
At this stage, certain portraits might not go as well as they should, depending on their real-life complexity, and reworking them can take a long time. Some facial traits weren't captured as well as we wanted in the early versions of the work, especially with Ana Maria and Ugur, and these required extra photos from different angles to make sure their real faces came through. In a couple of cases, Karina had to take a step back and redraw things from scratch.
The workspace setup for Lily Shen, represented by a costume influenced by the Chinese navy with our T4W wind rose sigil on the front of the cap.
Brush stroke followed brush stroke, until Karina finally felt she was at a place where she could start working on the minor details, something she loves to do. She used nautical references throughout the entire procedure, occasionally going back to look for a specific detail, studying uniforms, , caps, compasses, and more, all based around the rank or idea she wanted to depict. You can see these subtle details in Lily and Steve's caps for example, where they bear the T4W wind rose sigil, or my book which features characters from the Latin, Arabic and Chinese alphabets to represent my localization work.
One of Karina's favorite finishing strokes is to add rim lighting to her portraits; it gives them a more grandiose look. This technique consists of adding a backlight to the main subject, so the image is exposed to hide some of the subject's features in shadow. This was all done within her Photoshop workstation, frequently divided across multiple tabs full of references, doubles, and black and white versions of the artwork as you can see in the above image.
The pose inspirations for Steve Huot as the captain on the right, and Mikhail Sketin on the left, as the navigator
The final product
We hope you enjoyed learning about our thought process while designing these avatars for our core leadership team. We can't wait for you all to see them implemented on our full website which is launching soon™, but in the meantime, here's a look at the final product.