Color Key Process Work

We’ve shown a lot of color keys, we let’s take a look at what went into the design of a few of the more complex ones.

The initial forest key we shared earlier went through a few different drafts, taking it from a more temperate forest that wouldn’t look out of place housing The Master Sword, to a more tropical one.

forest progression

The ferns and vines in the canopy help this one feel more congruent. The fact that it’s this dense is also intentional to show that this isn’t a normal wood she’s wandered into.

Next up the painted forest. We always knew we were going to do the kente cloth designs. Initially they were splotchy like graffiti.

blue progression 2

We streamlined the look to be able to put in more patterns, and make them look more like carvings or something very meticulous as opposed to the broad-strokes original version. As the image evolved the contrasts got deeper and gradients sharper, giving it a more cartoony look we hope to match the final more than the ‘soupy’ painting look in the middle.

Finally we come to the marsh which didn’t even exist in early drafts of the script. Instead we had a sequence where the Spider would create a scary fantasy sequence around Z, and then it would all fade away. Pink elephants.

The marsh is an updated version of the nightmare sequence that makes it a physical challenge as well as a psychological one. We felt this gave the sense that she was earning her happy ending as opposed to just having it be handed to her. It will also link back to the caravan scene in a meaningful way.

Marsh 01-Recovered

Once we knew we were doing the marsh, the concept came together rather quickly. A few iterations later and gabrielaepstein gave us the right sense of mystery and wonder while keep a foreboding mood about it.


The marsh also lets Zahara and Ayan go on a mini-adventure instead of him just going into exposition mode and explaining the plot right here. Show don’t tell.

If they’re going to be a hero sidekick duo let’s watch it grow instead of just having it be there.

Ck 12 Redo 2

More to come.



You may have noticed in the most recent color key the drummer looks a little bit different than what we’re used to.

drummer update 1

Who this is?

Let’s talk about design. As we mentioned in the Twins update, strong design especially in cartoons tends to follow the distinct silhouette philosophy.  That is you should be able to tell which character you’re looking at just by their outline.

drummer update 4

While we liked and grew quite attached to the original drummer design, he was really just in a shirt and pants. We’ve livened up his design a bit by making the jagged motif more prominent, added subtle diamond patterns in place of the yellow strips and gave him a hat for good measure among other details.

drummer update 2

From full regalia to even simpler than where he started and well over 20 iterations later we started to get to a place we thought captured his spirit and was practical and comfortable to move around in.

drummer update bracelets

We wanted to break up the space on his arms a bit too. Bandages were a no go especially after seeing what happens when their inherent coolness is abused…

drummer update 3

Talk back. What do you think about the new direction?

Caravan Symbology

Hey I’m finally in the show! How’s it going wordpress?

Today’s 45 day update is a note on the symbols we’ve used in Spider Stories, particularly in conceiving the caravan.

red gizmo adinkra

For example in the Red Gizmo you notice three symbols on the far wall. The two on the sides are the Spider Symbol, which we use to represent the Spirit World. The symbol looks like a Spider Web and is based on the adinkra symbol for Anansi the Spider, conveying wisdom, creativity and storytelling. It’s the only national symbol that’s based on an pre-existing language. And is the logo for the whole series.

As long as we’re on the subject of adinkra, the symbol in the center a wisdom knot or nyansapo. It symbolizes wisdom, patience, and ingenuity. This isn’t significant to the Spider Stories narrative the way the national symbols are per se. They’re meant to spruce up the caravan cars as a nod to people who recognize and wear them in real life. The Tinkerer is an engineer and fits the mentor archetype so it all fits together.

Other caravan cars have adinkra motifs, either on the outside or hanging inside somewhere.

antique adinkra

For instance the Head Merchants adinkra was the measuring stick – hwe mu dua-  quality control, prudence, and a push towards perfection are conveyed. Appropriate for a business man and antique shop owner. You can see some stylized markings made with this symbol in mind, though it’s not a direct translation. Below are some real examples of prints of the symbol.

hwe mu dua

These are some of the things that inform our creative decisions. Look out for other adinkras peppered in the background.

More to come

Spider 45.


Enter the Tinkerer

tinkerer 2

This character has actually had his design set for quite a while now. What was holding him up really was his pose.

photo 2We imagined him having two tables that unfold and become his work station, but could be stood upright and follow him around as robotic assistants. In a sense they were shout-outs to Azaka and Kamidake from the Tenchi series.

However they were a bit too technological and seemed out of place once designed.



Final character art can take time to develop and we liked the overall mood, but we had to scrap his robo-logs. So we got hung up trying to figure out something else for him to lean on. Until we took it in a new direction.

So with a bit of tweaking the picture came to life in a new way that makes perfect sense.

The Tinkerer represents the technology element of Spider Stories and is Zahara’s practical adviser in the physical world, just as the Spider is directly connect to the Drummer in the Spirit world.  There are subtle details in his staff that are nods to this parallel, and his connection to the royal family. It also sets him up as a more powerful character as an elder. Similarly Gamba and Zahara have staffs with crystals in them, and many other leaders and people in respected positions will too.

Besides, many great old men before him have carried canes.

And that’s our main cast. Quite an impressive line up.


twins lions

That’s Taiwo on the left and Kehinde crouching on the right.

Nigeria has one of the highest twinning rates in the world. As such, there are certain customs and traditions in how they are viewed culturally.

Taiwo is a name traditionally given to the first twin to be born, while Kehinde is the second. However we always have to be mindful of seniority. Taiwo is the first to be born, but is considered the younger twin who was sent by Kehinde to see what the world is like. Once Taiwo checks it out and sees everything is okay, Kehinde is finally born.

As such in Spider Stories, Tai is the more physical and outgoing twin, and you can see he has a slightly larger build and more charismatic facial expression. Ken is the older more calculating and smarter twin. Together they get into all kinds of harebrained schemes between Ken’s wit, and Tai’s strength.

photo 2

These two fill the niche of the high fantasy knights. It was tempting to give them riding armor and other traditional fantasy trappings of knight hood. However taking into account the climate and heat, wearing heavy layers while doing a lot of physical activity isn’t for the best, so we took references from existing African warrior clothes.

twinsThe hair probably took us the longest to decide on. They were initially sketched out as being bald, but we already have one bald guy on the team. First rule of strong character design is building distinct silhouettes so audiences knows at a glance who each character is. That’s why a lot of the most iconic animated characters have headgear or wild hair. Or are Pokemon…

whos that

The whole point is that it’s easy – a hard ‘Who’s That?’ segment is poor design.

We debated several hair styles until settling on cornrows and short braids. It’s tied up so it doesn’t get in the way of their fighting, but otherwise gives their heads some personality.

taiwo turnaround

When characters come in pairs you really have two options color wise. Either they’re exactly the same, or they’re near opposites.

They were initially  wearing Red and Green. But we already have a red ranger in this series, so we took a third option and changed Taiwo’s primary color to be more yellow so he would stay distinct from Z. Together with the Drummer these four take on the primary colors!

Part soldier, part handyman. These characters straddle the line between core team members and comic relief. As brothers they play off of each other so naturally. Their journey with Zahara will force them to grow stronger, braver, and smarter.


Bringing a little brightness to the caravan. Introducing The Little One: Musi.

musi white emblem eyes

So how did we settle on this design?

A few weeks ago we opened it up to the Kickstarter backers and Facebook fans on how they would like to see the finished Musi when we posted these rough sketches:

musi composite 1 musi composite 2

So as the results started to roll in, we began to synthesize the best elements of the ones that were getting shout outs and drew up another batch of sketches.

musi resketches

The pose in the middle we felt captured the tone of her character the best. While the others are certainly in her range, if we had to pick one, the sort of sing-song swaying makes her childlike, the smirk and eye roll makes her a little spunky. Once we settled on a pose, we start the clean up process in Photoshop.

musi dress

As the process went on behind the scenes, more comments kept rolling in online. Number 14 from the first round of sketches was the clear winner, so overtime we started making it more of a straight adaption of 14.

musi colors

So then we started thinking about colors. We tested a few things out, and even did one just for fun as a shout out to Susie Carmichael from Rugrats. But thinking about design of the series and making things congruent, as much as possible we want consistency in the colors the tribes are represented in. As a Lion, Musi’s colors should be of that same warm theme, mostly red’s, gold’s and oranges.

lion 1

We gave her a scheme that matched Zahara’s almost too closely being red with yellow accents. We want the two to have a sisterly relationship, but not be mistaken for sisters. So we simply flipped the script and made it yellow with red accents so she could stand out, leading to the finished emblem art you see at the top of the page.

And that’s pretty much how we do things around here.

Thanks for the input on this one!


hawk general colorsOne of the central antagonists of the Spider Stories series; the Hawk General. An ambassador and champion warrior from the Hawk Tribe sent to oversee their destruction of the Alliance. He is dark and mysterious.

The Hawk Tribe has historically been at odds with the Five Tribes of the Alliance. Growing up in a hostile environment, the young Hawk General once looked to the Alliance in envy. As he grew, so to did that envy grow into rage. He has since devoted himself to destroying all the Alliance stands for, from the inside out.

The shift in power from the Lions to the Elephants has given him an opportunity.

The Hawk General’s general design is inspired by the garb of Zulu warriors like the one seen below.Zulu WarriorHis design has actually evolved a bit from his earliest incarnation to be fiercer and more distinct. You may notice we gave him tattoos evocative of turtle shells, despite the emblem on his sash looking like a Hawk. Like Anansi the Spider, the Tortoise also features heavily in African folklore, perhaps hinting towards another great Spirit.

zulu sketch

We might re-purpose this early design for lower ranking soldiers

zulu sketch 2

He started to take shape here

Finally when it came to colors we initially had a more brown and orange theme, but decided to make him more of a classic looking villain with blacks, purples and a little bit of red. Darkness, nobility, and blood. He takes some cues from other fantasy villains like the Sith from Star Wars, the Black Knight of Fire Emblem, and Zumbi Azul from Capoeira Fighter.

hawk influences

Unambiguously Evil – at least until the plot kicks in

The Hawk Fighters are Magic Knights. They are agile, nimble, yet tremendously powerful and have plenty of mystical tricks to make them all the more unpredictable. A stark contrast to the more direct and straightforward style of Zahara. It should make for an epic battle down the road.

z vs hawk