The Artistic Origin of the Charr

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The Artistic Origin of the Charr[edit]


As Charr Week rumbles on like an unstoppable war machine, let's take a look at the origin of the charr from a visual point of view. I talked to the three ArenaNet artists most responsible for the look and feel of the charr, Katy Hargrove, Kristen Perry, and Kekai Kotaki, to get their take on this iconic Guild Wars 2 race.

Character Artist Katy Hargrove created the original concept art that evolved into the charr, the main adversaries of mankind in the original Guild Wars.

Q: Katy, what was your main inspiration for designing the charr in the original Guild Wars?[edit]

Katy: The charr would be the main threat to the humans of Ascalon, so we wanted something inhuman, iconic, and intelligent.

The original concept for the charr was a race of animalistic creatures that have a variety of forms and functions. Some of these creatures would be brutish brawlers that ran on all four limbs, while others would be more intelligent magic users who would stand on their back legs, performing rituals and holding magic artifacts with their hands.

Initially we were considering an orc-like race of creatures, but I think everyone soon agreed that we didn't want to make orcs, ogres, or trolls the main bad guys in our game. They've been used in many books, movies, and games, and have been done very well. We needed something different, something that would grab at your gut without needing to be explained.

In our world, if you are a human, large cats are terrifying. They've been eating people for thousands of years, and they come for us out of the trees and the brush and the darkness. So we took a risk and tried concepting cat people. However, the original concepts weren't impressive, and even came troublingly close to being cute. We began incorporating fire and horns into their designs to push towards a more threatening, demonic feel. We ended up with a fire worshipping race of hell cats. As we fleshed out more of their story we followed through on less of the varied forms than we originally planned, but you can still see remnants of the original design in the stances of the magic-using and weapon-wielding charr in Guild Wars.

Q: Did you work from a text description of what the charr looked like, or did you just set out to design an aggressive, animalistic race?[edit]

Katy: The original text description for the charr didn't describe their look much. It mainly described the charr attitude as a race and some of the things they might do in terms of play mechanics. We had a lot of artistic freedom when it came to designing the charr.

One of the ideas that helped sell the charr as a race was they wouldn't just be dudes with cat heads. When talking about cat people as a concept, that is the mental image that met with the most resistance. I began talking about the charr in terms of being not dudes with cat heads but as chimera-like monsters that joined several animals together, with heavy feline features. I remember a key meeting when I drew a quick sketch of a bipedal cat beast to get the point across, we then began concepting to flesh out the race and really sell the idea – and a charr was born.

Kristen Perry was the character artist who volunteered to craft a viable design for the female charr in Guild Wars 2. The female of the race had not been seen in the original game, so creating a concept that was both recognizably female and recognizably charr was a challenge.

Q: Kristen, can you talk a little about the different approaches you tried out for the female charr before settling on the final design?[edit]

Kristen: As a team, we had many discussions regarding the direction of the female charr, and a lot of that back-and-forth was in the form of thumbnail sketches and theoretical debate. These discussions centered around the tension between making the female charr attractive to the playerbase while still making it look like part of the same race as the male charr.

Much of the problem was in making the female charr more universally attractive, which leans towards a more human appearance. Those initial designs explored the tension between an acceptable human notion of beauty and an animalistic design that is cool, but just too "creature" for the average player to find engaging. This exploratory process brought about one model design that was indeed more humanoid and catgirl in appearance. It had the back leg joint articulation of the charr, but stood much more upright, had a human neck, slender arms and almost hand-like paws—and, yes, breasts. The problem with this design, though, was we were trying to find a solution between both goals, which meant we didn't really satisfy either. The human part of our charr catgirl wasn't human enough to be cute, and the charr part of her wasn't charr enough to be fierce, let alone look like a female of the same race. So while this experiment was very important for visualization, in the end it didn't give us the result we wanted.

By this point we knew we didn't want a catgirl, but there was still another conundrum to solve. The males of the charr race are large, overly muscular, brutish, and monstrous. We couldn't give the female of the race the same hulking masculine proportions, because then there'd be no real way to see any gender difference. But how do you make a smaller, less muscular, less imposing member of the race feel just as powerful as their male counterparts?

Q: So how did you strike that balance and create something that was both feminine and charr-like?[edit]

Kristen: Well, when I started designing the female charr, I definitely wanted her to feel just as fierce as the male of the race. She had to feel sleek and agile while at the same time have an appearance of strength and power. By thinking in terms of movement, it became clear the answer was in optimizing nuances. Yes, she had to be large and robust like the male, but we could tone down the testosterone by really extending her body lines to gracefully flow from the top of her head to tail tip.

I didn't see any reason whatsoever to give her less clawing power, so I rebuilt the sabers on her hands and feet and brought out the padding design. The face and horns were designed with style and movement in mind, but also incorporated markedly more feminine cat-like features instead of the more monstrous male features, though there will be those options too. The horns don't have a particular direction to denote gender; they just have to look cool. The female's tail, however, has long hair. This was a very specific thing I wanted to include, as I love the sweeping feel to the long hair, and it's an easy detail to note from behind in telling whether the charr is male or female.

Finally, there was the matter of the chest. It really didn't make any sense to have boobs on a charr female, particularly with all the effort we took to make her sleek and fierce. We thought they should have no breasts at all or at least hide them under some fluffy fur. Above all else, we needed to be true to the race, of course! There was still some debate, however, so I gave them a choice: either be subtle and downplay the breasts (it wasn't a point of the race, anyway) or go full-on realistic. Yes, that's right —none or six!!

But really, the armor augmentation required for six boobs would be just as ridiculous, so none it was!

Concept Art Team Lead Kekai Kotaki was responsible for bringing the look of the charr 250 years into the future, to the time of Guild Wars 2. The warlike charr have changed a great deal since they first appeared in Guild Wars, so their updated design had to reflect their more industrial culture. I thought we'd let Kekai get in the final word on the charr.

Q: Kekai, how did you approach the charr design for Guild Wars 2?[edit]

Kekai: My approach was simple: make the charr badass. And then make them even more badass.