So some sort of concept art of the face (if the body will be special, that can be done too) is created to see if the character idea is viable or desirable, before actually making the finished figure. Nowadays there are new tools at our disposal. Enter digital sculpting! In many ways it is like creating a drawing, only the appearance is 3D, so you can easily see the character at all angles while creating the concept art.
Here's a short video of a character concept I did with a free digital sculpting program called Sculptris.....
Sculptris has various sculpting tools that have similar actions to what would be done with real clay. It starts out as a sphere, and by using the tools, you can pinch, pull, push, crease (and more) to create eyes, ears, nose, lips, chin etc. You can rotate the head in any direction so you can see all the features at different angles while you work. Right or left sides, front or back, top or bottom.
You can now see your character concept as if it were in solid form, which is an advantage over a 2D concept drawing. I purposely did not super refine, nor correct the jaw line (I can see that needs some changes) as I will do that when I sculpt the character in real clay. But now I have the perfect reference for sculpting in clay! I can either print out photos (screen print) or put Sculptris on my laptop, and change angles as needed.
Below is a quick sketch I did for a concept of a grumpy character.
There's a lot more detailing I'd probably do on him yet. But as you can see, you can emulate different materials in the program. That one is like water base clay, and the first one is like red clay or wax. You can also do some painting of the surface with this program, but I haven't really explored that yet. There surely is a learning curve, and it does help if you have some real clay sculpting experience.
Even though I like some of the high tech new tools, I still greatly enjoy the traditional materials. I may create some character concepts with digital sculpting, but then I will sculpt the actual head in real water base or oil base clay, or in basswood. There are small (or sometime larger) changes that I will make as I see the need when doing the actual sculpt, that I might not even see in the digital sculpt.
Who knows, maybe at some point I will print out one of these concepts on a 3D printer. Jeff Dunham has already done that and showed some examples at the 2011 Vent Haven Ventriloquist Convention. I haven't seen these yet first hand, but would be quite interested in seeing the quality and what is possible. Sometimes I find technology very fascinating. Other times I want to go as low tech as possible!
In any case, I thought the free digital sculpting program, Sculptris, could be a tool that others might find interesting or useful in their figure making endeavors.