How to design clothes with a sci-fi feel

Artist Tony Foti explains how to design a futuristic outfit for a sci-fi character.

foti futuristic dress

The final illustration is in three-quarter view so the shapes can be understood. Anything that’s perfectly straight-on or profile will leave out necessary information

One of the most important aspects of any science fiction or fantasy painting is how everything has been designed. People love those genres because they offer a glimpse into other worlds, and when you take the time to design things such as clothing and architecture it enriches the whole experience.

It just so happens that designing clothing is one of my favourite parts of the artistic process, so these are steps I go through fairly often.

Before drawing anything, of course, you need to know the world you’re working in. Is it a grim future? An idealistic one? Has technology augmented reality to the point where everything is automated, or has society crumbled upon itself and now the plasma dome is all that stands betweenus and a pulsing, radioactive sky?

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These are the sort of things you need to know before exploring how the citizens of Futuretown 20XX ought to dress.

For something as specific as a single gown, though, we need to understand the person we’re tailoring for, as well as the world in general.

The key is to try out a lot of different thumbnails, getting out as many ideas as you can and continually checking them against the overall theme.

01.  Assess the character

Is your character rich, middle class, poor? Artistic? Reserved? Overtly sexual? Just like in the real world, how a person dresses can tell you a lot about their story. Create a list of adjectives you would like to see conveyed in your final design, and keep them in mind as you draw. Doing this will help you find your way when you come to forks in the road.

02. Shape it out

foti dress step 2

 I start with a base silhouette and draw on top of it, only focusing on the outline. By keeping things simple, I can quickly experiment with a lot of different ideas. Often I’ll use the edge to indicate something specific such as a frilly skirt, but other times I’m just drawing in triangles to see what my brain creates from the abstract shapes.

03. Fill the details

foti dress step 3

 Once you have enough thumbnails that work, separate them from the rest and start adding in a second value. My usual approach is to create a new layer over the silhouettes and lock it so the outside edges remain true to the base. Let your mind fill in the details, always checking back in with your adjectives to make sure the concept is moving in the right direction.

04. Try some colour

foti dress step 4

 With the major shapes in the thumbnails defined, choose the one that best exemplifies the feeling you’re looking for. Separate and enlarge it, turn down the Opacity of the layer, create a new layer on top of it, then start sketching over the two-tone study. You can then try out different colours beneath the line work, although for this example the dress is black.

05. Familiarity breeds contempt

artists secret dress foti

When designing something futuristic and avant-garde, the last thing you want is for the outfit to look like something you’d see on the street. Get outside of your comfort zone to create shapes that feel strange and unexpected.

Words: Tony Foti

Tony is a full-time freelance illustrator based in California who contributes to D&D and Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings lines. This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 113.

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