How much time goes into creating a new character for a game? A lot. For every good idea a team will often have to sort through dozens of bad or misguided ones. But after months of tireless iteration a fully fleshed out character begins to emerge. BioWare’s art director Derek Watts walks us through the process of creating one of Mass Effect 2’s more original teammates, Thane.

“A lot of the time we will do the head first and then work on the body. I chose Thane because he was the toughest character for us to get. We had a written description of him to start with; we usually get about a paragraph of text to start, and that's all we really need. For us the key words were “career assassin”. The problem was, he was going to be the female love interest. Now that doesn't sound like much if you think about it, but it got us all mixed up a bunch of times, because women were going to have to find this guy attractive. So we asked all the women in the office what they liked in their aliens, and that kind of got us going off a lot of weird directions in the beginning and made it harder than it should have been. As far as men go – like with the Asari – you make her blue and give her the perfect body and you’re good to go. Women are more sophisticated than that.

This first set of drawings is by [concept artist Ben Huen]. This is his phase 1. We had talked to a few different girls around office, and I know Jude Law had come up a couple times. If you look at the guy on the left, the guy with the back paint on his eyes, he looks slightly like Jude Law. But we were also looking at some birds of paradise, and you can see some version of Thane were he had decorative feathers; we were thinking maybe he could've been very proud of the way he looked.”

“This is done by artist Matt Rhodes. He’s been around for a while. He did a lot of the characters from Mass Effect 1 – probably 95% of them. So at this stage we were actually talking to [Mass Effect producer Casey Hudson], and we were thinking maybe Thane was like the perfect man. Maybe he had like this mannequin head, but he had this slight fuzz of hair, almost like a baby – with number one you can see it on his forehead. We kept messing around with this red mark that we thought might be his key feature. What we usually do is get feedback from some people at this point, and the women looked at these and went, ‘I'm not sure about that guy. He's got a giant red mark on his face and he’s creepy.’ And we were like, ‘what he looks cool.’ So we went back to the drawing board."