Think of your character as a jewel that has about a thousand different facets. If you keep turning them over and exploring new sides, you’ll keep discovering…

Lauren Sapala

I am in love with meeting new people – sometimes it’s when I’m out and about, sometimes it’s in the pages of well-worn books, and sometimes they’re just in my head, waiting to tell me their story.

Hello! I’m Emy

This is my portfolio of character design work. My absolute passion is bring stories out from me head and into the world – stories I’ve read and stories no one has heard yet. The best part of any story is a well rounded character – someone (or something) that people can really understand or relate to.

I figured as a character designer – I should probably start close to home, so here I am!

Lugh’s Mastery

A short film created for the Beltane Fire Society as part of an online celebration of Lughnasadh – a pagan holiday in late Summer. While the feast day of Lughnasadh honors Lugh’s adopted mother, Tailtiu, Lugh is the god who started the holiday, and this animation honors his legend.

“Lugh’s Mastery” is a retelling of one of the myths about Lugh, the god of crafting and skills. He famously approached the magical city of  Tara on a mission to join the court of the king. He had to prove he had skills to contribute, and upon sharing his many skills he was allowed in, extolling the virtues of learning many different crafts to the Tuatha Dé Danann, the people of the city.

My Role

Beltane Fire Society approached myself and two others to animate parts of the stories celebrated at Lughnasadh and we decided to neatly divide them and work independently. This enabled us to have complete control over our own stories – making it easier to work remotely, as was required, and also express our own creative vision. To complete this animation I did:

  • Concept development and art
  • Character design
  • Writing and editing script
  • Storyboarding
  • Background painting
  • Animation
  • Sound and visual editing

About Lugh

Lugh himself is the god of crafting and skills and this whole myth revolved around him being a “jack of all trades” (maybe one of the first ones ever written about!) He’s always written as self-assured, capable, and quick-witted. His lesson for the people of Tara was that he was valuable because of his many areas of expertise, and that they’d do well to learn more from one another.

The festival of Lughnasadh is ultimately a celebration of his adopted mother, but the element of Lugh that makes it through in practice is that people often teach each other new skills on the feast day!

I did the design for Lugh in collaboration with another animator (who did another chapter of this animation independently) – she submitted her design, and I worked with and from that to create something in a different style. My color and costume research were on my own, as the other animation shows only his face and neck. I did research into travel-clothes in medieval Ireland and Scotland, what colors were associated with Lugh and the gods in general, what runes and adornments might be associated with him, and in general what ‘well made clothes’ looked like then.

The Tuatha Dé Danann Ensemble

Those that reside in Tara have many myths written about specifically them – they’re are sometimes written as gods themselves, demi-gods, magical people, and sometimes just regular people. For the purpose of Lugh’s Mastery – both the abbreviated nature of the medium and the focus of the story being on Lugh himself, I chose to design characters that were regular, well-to-do people.

The major tenet for every design is that each character, with the exception of the small children, have a skill that is their defining characteristic. This is plot relevant! At the beginning of the animation, they work independently, and by the end of the film they are teaching each other.

The Harpist and the Tailor

These two are nearly-neighbors (with a blacksmith in between them). They’re friends, and work together, even before skill-sharing. The Tailor is wearing a fair-isle sweater (despite being potentially anachronistic) to show that she has both the time, skill, and means to create luxureous clothing for herself. The Harpist is a character based on some very interesting research – a straightforward couple of sentences in a city ledger from 700AD about a Black woman who a city official owed a nominal sum of money to for a skill-service rendered. I borrowed from Moorish styling around the same era for her head-wear, although the harp she plays is a fully Irish harp.

The Blacksmith and the Carpenter

The carpenter is a meticulous worker – lots of measuring before cutting in his world. The blacksmith is all about big, brash moves until nearly the very end, when a delicate hand is required for the first time. Their clothes were based on fun research about what men were wearing in medieval Ireland. The answer surprised me – a garment that looks completely like a kilt is illustrated in the Book of Kells, and some pairs of patchwork trousers have been preserved to the modern era and are currently on display in museum!

The blacksmith has a tiny daughter, but being so young, she’s mostly around to soak in the wonder of others’ skill, and less to learn anything herself, quite yet.

The Historian and The Village Child

History in Ireland, like most of the world around when this story is set, was handed down via oral tradition. The story told in this animation was first told, perhaps, by someone who looks just like this historian here! She’s wearing a simple overcoat, long skirt, and simple shoes – all basic pieces someone of her age and stature would have worn. The little girl she’s telling history to is wearing a simple dress and thick stockings. The pair of them were fun together, the eldest and youngest of the ensemble!

The Sorceress and The Sorceress’ Apprentice

Magic was integral to both Irish society and the Tuatha de Danann. Research into spells and magical runes was a fruitful pursuit, and the concept of who resided over magic knowledge was a mixed bag. The Tuatha de Danann aren’t average Irish people, however, so there was definitely leeway in who was cast in the role.
The sorceress may not be much older than the village child she’s teaching, but she’s very powerful! The mark she’s seen making in the animation is a symbol of new life – while hers will glow and imbibe the home with those intentions, those of her student are simple marks – for now.

The Guards at Tara

A key element to the original myth was that the guards stood between Lugh and his ability to join the court of the king. They are physical and ideological guards for the city of Tara – both a militant presence, and the arbiters of the concept that ‘everyone in the city must provide a skill or trade to the whole’.

My concept for these characters was to go straightforward and with research – finding out what a military guard would actually wear at this time. I knew Lugh needed to stand out as the main character against them, so while I wanted them to have personality, they weren’t meant to be loud or shiny.

To see my process for the

rest of the project, check out my

visual development portfolio!

To see the finished short film, watch below:

Designing a Forest Cryptid

Under the mentorship of John Mahoney (Disney, Blizzard) I set out to “create a totally new creature.”

• My background in science (BA Scientific Illustration) made this goal especially fun and accessible – I tapped into my understanding of anatomy and physiology, and created something new and fantastic.
• My thought process was: “What two animals definitely don’t go together?” and “What body parts can I add to any existing animal to make them cooler?” This was the result!

Sci-Fi Friends

Prompt:

  • Characters that belong together – in the same universe, in the same theme
  • Clothing and overall design that denotes setting, personality, and ‘what’s different in this world’
  • Design in general that is both interesting and pleasing

The overall character concept was ‘not too distant’ in the future that things are unrecognizable, but far enough that things are different. I wanted to capitalize on fun and useful technology that’s on the cusp right now, and make it look ‘normal’. Details like:

  • Violet’s heart moniter – an active look at her heart health reads on her jacket
  • The use of LED fabrics
  • Cobalt utilizing identity-obscuring print as a face mask (and the presence of a face mask – hello 2020 and beyond!)
  • Orchid’s high-end leg prosthetic

Designing an animal

Under the mentorship of John Mahoney (Disney, Blizzard) I set out to design an animal character. Experimentation started loose and exploratory – how ‘animal-like’ vs ‘anthropomorphic’ would be appropriate for this little guy? Once I’d settled on a moth, I needed to figure out how he’d move, and how to root his characterization in his design.

• My background in science (BA Scientific Illustration) made this goal especially fun and accessible – I tapped into my understanding of anatomy and physiology to create something believable and fun!
• My thought process was: “If this moth is a main character, how do they ‘do the most’ in the story? How do they move, how do they telegraph their culture and personality?”

Goblin Granny

A commission for a TTRPG player – their character with familiar in scene. The prompt was:

  • “Goblins are many and varied, I’m sorta happy if you go with your interpretation? Not too intentionally creepy or comical would be my pref and happy to try and narrow down further but if you are happy to go with your feel for it, so am I.”
  • Then the personality of the goblin was described – a grandmotherly-sort, a happy cook, with a bear familiar.
  • A few scenes were described, a few details reference – a picture of some crocheted mushrooms and a shillelagh – all in I had a picture in my head, and I got to run with it!

“Other People” (Television) Visual Development – Main Character Design

A commission for a pre-production television show in pitch-development phase.

  • A witch with American and Iranian roots, born and raised in CA – she works in divination and light, particularly starlight.
  • A quick thinker, problem solver, and easy conversationalist. She struggles to stay in one place for too long, and likes changing her hair with the seasons.
  • She’s one of four main characters, they are all co-workers and close friends from different backgrounds around the US.

“Lumaia” (Short Film) Visual Development – Main Character Design

A commission for a short film in pre-production.

  • A scientist and engineer in a fantasy world where gravity on hair isn’t the same and light and energy can be harnessed from special fruits (this MC is, in fact, the engineer that devises the technology!)
  • The short film watching this character grow up in under a minute, so the audience understands her pretty well – the storyline takes a turn as she realizes the negative affects of her inventions. She exhibits the full range of emotion in this short amount of time!
  • She’s one of two main characters, each transitioning from protagonist to antagonist or vice-versa, until the resolution has them working together.

Cora’Talya – High Elf Wizard

A commission for a TTRPG player – a portrait and loose turnaround of their character.

  • “She’s bronze-skinned with gold hair, and SO MANY SCARVES, like 2 head scarves, a shawl, a scarf-y type top, waste scarves, layered skirts. Think circus, Romani traveller, but – high fantasy. Lots of colors, lots of jewels. She’s wealthy but really young so still into gaudy stuff. She also has a third-eye tattoo.”
  • They also told me that she specializes in illusion magic and divination, has a set of tarot cards, and a history with a traveling show.
  • I based her turnaround on one I’d found of Merida (Brave) because I loved the loose style and the posing.

Style Challenge

This was a self directed project to take two of my own characters and redraw them in styles I admire or grew up seeing. It was a great observational challenge to find what makes each of those styles so highly identifiable. Some more obvious than others, each was fun in its own way!

Reaper Reborn

When author Harper A. Brooks reached out to me for concept illustrations, I was thrilled to jump right in. She let me know her ideas, gave me references for appearance, and off I went! A few of these pieces even let me stretch my design muscles, as some characters are intentionally described less to give the reader more opportunity to imagine. Over the past few months, I’ve completed 8 pieces for Harper. I used Procreate and Photoshop for these illustrations.

My roles throughout these concept pieces:

– Illustration
– Sketching, thumbnailing, ideation
– Character design