The Importance of Anatomy

13 Apr The Importance of Anatomy

Dominic Matthews

In Tameem’s original description of Senua he said that she “is not sexy, not proud, not heroic, not pretty and not skinny.” With this description in-mind we created Senua’s character model. However, this original description and intent has simply not translated into the game.

Senua Model

In film the saying is that the camera adds 10lb. In games the opposite is true. Features or attributes can appear less prominent in the game than they do in the original 3D model. With our initial intent in-mind and with our new Lead Artist Hugues’ fresh eyes pushing for even greater realism, we decided to re-visit Senua’s model an refine her anatomy.

Iteration is critical to achieving the best possible quality in a game. This is true of everything in Hellblade, so this week our Studio Art Director Alessandro ‘Talexi’ Taini has been reviewing and renewing the concept for Senua’s anatomy:


Our character artists build character’s anatomy first, building layers of clothing on top after. Alex likes to do the same, starting with a naked character and then building up his concepts with layers of costume. In the above image you can see 4 different Senua poses, displaying the character from the back. The intent with these concepts is to illustrate Senua’s physique, whilst at the same time exploring how we can maintain a natural femininity in her without resorting to typical heroine poses.

As you look at the line-up from left to right the pose changes from being that of a typical heroine through to one that is more natural. The purpose of doing this is to understand what anatomical adjustments need to be made to Senua in order for her to maintain femininity in a natural pose. The fact that Senua is a woman is an important visual message to be communicated, but in a way that supports her physical strength.  Adjustments such as narrowing the waist and shoulders will give her femininity but also help in avoiding having to adopt cliché heroine poses.

The anatomy of a character tells a story. Senua isn’t a typical Heroine like Wonder Woman but instead is a warrior. It is important to convey that Senua’s body has been forged through a lifetime of travel of combat. She is a fighter, wielding a heavy sword, so as a result her back, arms and shoulders are strong with defined muscle. But she isn’t a body builder, so her muscles are not entirely symmetrical, nor does she have well defined muscle all over her body. Her wielding of a sword with one arm needs to be justified with visible hard-working muscle, but at the same time kept within the realms of realism.



As a 3rd person game, Hellblade will give players a view of Senua’s back for most of the game, hence the importance to getting this particular perspective right. Alex has started with a concept of Senua’s back and will next move to her front, taking the same approach to consider the story that has sculpted the anatomy. With both perspectives complete, these concepts will be used to inform the next iteration of Senua’s 3D model.

  • Skater_Ricky
    Posted at 19:23h, 13 April Reply

    Glade your making adjustments to make her look even more beautiful. I appreciate the fine details yout putting into the main character. Female’s are a beauty in itself.

    I’m glade your bring sexy back.

  • Andreea
    Posted at 19:38h, 13 April Reply

    She looks like a body-builder, horrible! She doesn’t look like a women anymore, women with muscles look very manly. Why not make her a man that would have looked way better than this. I really liked the old Senua, too bad.

    • Roberto Bruno
      Posted at 23:44h, 13 April Reply

      She still looks quite feminine and sexy, just a bit more muscular than before.

      While reading people constantly crying about “moving away from shallow standards of beauty in media” typically makes me roll my eyes quite hard, I don’t see anything wrong with a female fighter that for once actually looks like an actual fighter.

      • Danielle
        Posted at 08:47h, 03 June Reply

        I agree, she looks perfect. I can’t get my head around a female protagonist warrior with no muscle at all. There is no shame in a woman with some muscles. Norse and Celtic women are not frail. The game is going after realism after all.

    • Messofanego
      Posted at 00:14h, 14 April Reply

      Uhh muscles make sense on a warrior. Or any fighter. Any role that requires a lot of physical work. Have you seen female MMA fighters? Weightlifters? Boxers? They look like that. Not like perky no-sag boobs or thin thighs.

    • SteveT
      Posted at 21:34h, 15 April Reply

      Game protagonists should be about wish fulfillment.

      It’d be nice if a game would fulfill a girl’s desire to be strong, smart, independent, rather than prioritising looks as being the most important attribute.

      • Ben
        Posted at 00:38h, 14 June Reply

        Don’t encourage Andreea. I’m pretty sure her/his wishes are for Senua to look like a porcelain doll, a character who would trip on a ladybug and break both ankles.

    • Ben
      Posted at 00:34h, 14 June Reply

      She looks more like a warrior, just like Dom wrote. I appreciate this greatly. If I wanted to see a sword-thrusting mannequin looking like Ashley Olsen with a paper sword I’d play one of the other thousands of dumber games out there. Which you’re more than welcome to do if you’re looking for that. Have fun.

    • Grace
      Posted at 15:09h, 18 January Reply

      I have always striven to create characters born FROM their environment because them fitting their lifestyle, situation, and surroundings are important pieces in the story as a whole. I can look at this character design without any previous knowledge and know what kind of life she might lead. Senua doesn’t care about how she looks, she is way more preoccupied with everything else. Beauty is not everything. She is fighting and surviving.

      I am a female boxer and sword fighter. Muscles are beautiful. I try to ensure that my whole body gets a workout so that I am not unbalanced, but my upper body is pretty built.

      In addition, that’s not what this game is about. At all.

  • Dario
    Posted at 19:40h, 13 April Reply

    Bayonetta is proof that anatomy and good fashion don’t affect sales that much, she is totally ridiculous (and not in a good way either). That said, I’ve always admired the effort Ninja Theory have taken into placing their characters looks and animations in context with the world. Alice: Madness Returns also seemed to do really well like that. It would be cool to see something more akin to Splatterhouse though, savage aggression coming from a woman, ripping the balls off monsters etc… thats sure to generate some controversy… a totally blood thirsty woman bent on revenge with super natural powers fighting all kinds of creatures. Or Heavenly Sword part 2… either way I’m game 🙂

  • André Vila Franca
    Posted at 19:47h, 13 April Reply

    Absolutelly loved this update. I bet Senua will look fantastic, the drawing and especially the 3D model looks amazing.
    Your vision is so true and i hope it continues that way. It would look cool as well as realistic if she had her abdominal muscles defined..
    I’m so hyped for this game!! I hope a master piece.

  • Vital (Brownie_USSR)
    Posted at 19:51h, 13 April Reply

    In the three-dimensional model lacks femininity – from the back reminds boys comfort in ancient times, which is in the movies. 😉 Add volume at the hips please – please a man and a lover of female beauty. $ While taking into account the clothing, it is unlikely to be noticeable, but still …
    To be honest, there was the idea that I’m ready pouchavstvovat in any, even the cheese test game, but it hardly ever happens! : -S

  • Viktormon
    Posted at 20:24h, 13 April Reply

    Looks, awesome. She doesn’t need more femininity, she looks pretty dang badass!

  • Dan MacDonald
    Posted at 21:16h, 13 April Reply

    Love the direction of this character, keep making her more badass in realistic ways 🙂

  • Arijon
    Posted at 21:37h, 13 April Reply

    A very important aspect of the character, and I agree about giving her a strong body, rather than an over sexualized body like in Tomb Raider (with Bayonetta being the only exception, since she is a witch :P). I would suggest though that you take a look at some fitness models like Nicole Wilkins (2014 Figure Olympia) and Oksana Grishina (gymnast and 2014 Fitness Olympia) as role models. These models have strong and beautiful bodies that are also feminine at the same time, I don’t think they are exaggerated. You should avoid the competition photos though and focus more in the daily photos that they post in their facebook pages., where unless they are flexing they look just normal. I think they are a perfect example of what you are looking for: “a body that has been forged through a lifetime of travel and combat”. Keep up the good work.

  • Unknown J
    Posted at 22:39h, 13 April Reply

    speaking of badass female characters – I am in love with the shaved headed girl in Mad Max, something really cool and powerful about her.

  • Liliana
    Posted at 22:42h, 13 April Reply

    Very interesting. There is a great dearth of varying female body types in the media, even more so in video games. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see not only a woman with a non-stereotypical and panderingly sexy body type, but to see so much thought being put into the process.

    And thank you for that part about the poses. If there’s something that’s truly alienating, it’s seeing so-called action heroines being drawn into those ridiculous poses where they contort themselves to look sexy during combat or action sequences (boobs-and-butt, for example). Or even when not in combat, so often you will see female characters having these sexy poses for no reason while the male characters will be drawn in natural, relaxed poses. Ugh.

    Great job, look forward to the final game.

    • Lumi
      Posted at 13:36h, 18 April Reply

      Agree, Liliana, about poses. It’s sadly unusual to see women in games walk or stand or fight or whatever like a normal/badass person, instead of like a model posing for a pinup shot. I want to see women in more “human” poses.

      I liked the original design and the proud and heroic stance in the concepts but I see that’s not what you’re going for with Hellblade.
      It’ll be interesting to see what you’ll do with the story.

  • Messofanego
    Posted at 00:12h, 14 April Reply

    Make her the female version of Guts (Berserk), and we’re good to go for a badass warrior!

    • André Vila Franca
      Posted at 14:02h, 14 April Reply

      Awesome idea!! I bet Miura Kentaro will love HELLBLADE.

  • Elliott meza
    Posted at 06:59h, 14 April Reply

    I just saw the trailer and I liked how she had scars on her face, beauty and badassness together. Can’t wait for this game.

  • Val
    Posted at 09:21h, 14 April Reply

    Keep up the good work, she looks amazing! I really appreciate what you’re trying to do here, and don’t let any weirdos put you off. It’s refreshing to see someone real and badass and feminine.

  • GCH
    Posted at 09:21h, 14 April Reply

    It is strange how everyone is discussing about if she is beautiful or not. Just because its a female character!
    If it would be a man no one would care. Everyone would just discuss about how the character could look even more fitting to the setting, unique in some kind of way or is telling a story just from looking at the model. And I think you achieved that! Of cours could the character turn out to be beautiful in the end but that hopefully because of the depth you are giving the character!
    So I’m really exited to see finally someone doing something like this in the Videogameindostry which is overloaded with the sexualization of women. So pleas don’t listen to all the persons wanna see a next Dead or Alive! Just keep in mind that she is mainly a warrior. Right now I think you are at the right track and hope that you are walking along this path even further 🙂

    • Arcendus
      Posted at 12:20h, 14 April Reply

      Please see my Reply below… I was unaware you could directly reply to comments here.

    • David Young
      Posted at 23:48h, 27 April Reply

      Beauty in this case is about being a true warrior. Not beauty as runway model, cheerleader, whatever stereotypical feminine marketing hype. She is beautiful to me, with scars, and a strong back that shows she uses her blade.
      Men in video games are either movie star handsome, or their face is hidden behind a mask, helmet or we only see it in a cut scene (Dead Space final cut scene). The better so enable either wish-fulfillment – player is that handsome. Or to enable the avatar is everyman, and they player can fill in the face of their choice. The physique might as well be a cut and paste from comic book heroes such as Superman.
      All bets are off if the man is the opposition. Bad guys are ugly, is yet another silly trope.

  • Joana Ramiro
    Posted at 11:04h, 14 April Reply

    Yes. Simply, yes.
    So many game developers (and other industries, too) shy away from making warrior women too muscled, or heavy looking. Your approach is more than welcome.
    In a world where most female characters look the same bodywise, it is refreshing to finally see some logical difference.

  • Arcendus
    Posted at 12:19h, 14 April Reply

    @GCH: We may not discuss whether or not a male character is “beautiful”, but help me out here… in what video game do we have a character of any gender that is “ugly”? Remember, it’s an art form; and not many video games have gone the route of artistically choosing to have an ugly or deformed main character, simply because if you can make one look beautiful, of any gender, why not do it? If it doesn’t impact the way the character is presented and (more importantly) the way the artist intends for the character to be presented, what’s the harm? They certainly have the option of going the route of something unconventional, but it’s not something we see very often. As artists, it’s their job to make the artistic decisions. As simple, fortunate viewers of this art, it’s our job to draw our own conclusions, and you, GCH, trying to argue it’s strange that people view this character as beautiful presumes quite a lot and ultimately does nothing but contribute to the problem you’re presuming exists.

    I appreciate beautiful things, so I appreciate an aesthetically beautiful character… but only as that. Please don’t assume the world is so shallow – assume nothing.

  • Ash
    Posted at 12:25h, 14 April Reply

    She is looking great now! Senua translates much better to your view, she looks and feels like a warrior.
    i think most stay clear from doing things like making a woman too masculine
    and a lead character at that. But thats what makes senua even more unique from the typical female
    character. I cant wait to see where you take senua’s design,

  • Pátchonaa
    Posted at 13:31h, 15 April Reply

    Even though i can understand the idea of her being a warrior, i think there’s still too much defined muscle. Maybe you should change a little bit of her own body structure to use this kind of muscles, or you could try and lessen even more the shoulders. Knowing something about the female body and seeing Senua’s back, they don’t seem to fit.
    Hope you’ll get through this. You’re doing great.

  • Ricardo
    Posted at 15:52h, 15 April Reply

    Female bodybuilders and fitness competitors take steroids and male hormones and start growing into men. Do not use them as models for this character. If you want athletic women, look at tennis and soccer players. Aside from Rhonda Rousey, the MMA is built on steroids.

    Make her a fit female, not a female transgendering into a male using steroids and male hormones.

  • Ruben Planas
    Posted at 16:06h, 15 April Reply

    really baffles me that so many people say that she should be more “feminine”. seems pretty closed minded if you ask me. have you people ever seen a female soldier? some of them can look pretty freaking masculine and kinda scary. that look would, in fact be even more intense if we were talking about medieval and dark ages warriors. In addition, the entire point of the character is meant to be the opposite of sexy and feminine. not every female character will be designed specifically so that you can get a boner. sexy female characters have their place, and I appreciate them as much as the next dood but not if it interferes with the character’s personality or story. senua is a warrior, so she looks like a warrior. grow the fuck up people.

    also, am I the only one who actually likes women with muscle? seems like it.

  • Carlo
    Posted at 16:13h, 15 April Reply

    In your development of Senua’s anatomy to reflect a lethal warrior, I offer this observation. In my experience in Kendo, women/men have a “balanced” stance (neutral). Muscles are well defined but not bulky (within each gender), to reflect the training in this discipline. This is translated in the use of a blade with speed, agility and torque.
    Again your insight, development is refreshing.

    • Malik Robinson
      Posted at 14:48h, 18 April Reply

      I would actually agree.

      But I doubt Senua has any actual official training in terms of sword fighting.

  • Warren
    Posted at 22:24h, 15 April Reply

    Okay I have been following you guys since I found your page or a reference to the game somewhere online. I have simply loved the fact that you share so much to the audience about creating your game. I loved your choice of music. And I love that you have a female protagonist as your ‘ hero ‘.

    I don’t feel out of line when I say that the current build for the body seems wrong. Senua can certainly have a muscular build but her legs are wayyyy too …. ‘fat ‘ Too much muscle in the thigh it makes her look like sh’es been doing squats since she was 10. When I play games I most certainly want my protagonist to look as good as possible. (for those games that allow me to create my own features: I usually create a woman. If I am to be playing a game for 10+ hours a day I want to see and hear the femininity of a demure woman, than a man. I realize this is because I am a man. The stance seems wrong also. When holding a sword at waist you lean into the blade not away from it.. this is natural. The current pictures make me think I am most definitely looking at the back end of a male person and not a athletic woman. The thighs should be more .. slender to the buttocks the buttocks more pronounced and not ‘ square. The upper torso seems okay but but the lips seem like a man’s they should be more full. As I stated the butocks should be more defined because it looks like a man’s backside. Its a known fact women have wider hips so. I dunno .. I hate to say it but this is the first time I think I’ve seen something I didn’t really care for come out from you guys. I guess that’s one way to get opinions though which is all this is.

    • Malik Robinson
      Posted at 12:44h, 17 April Reply


      I think you’re missing the point.

      You seem to only want things to make her look more attractive when they’re trying to avoid making her overtly feminine.

      Her anatomy is supposed to tell that she is a seasoned warrior and yes her lower half is a little blocky looking but that’s mostly because this is really early concept art and most of it’s very blurry.

      Also, didn’t they explain why her legs have that much muscle?
      She runs around in heavy armour, with a broadsword, and regularly stands her ground against guys several times her size and weight.

      • Warren
        Posted at 00:19h, 18 April Reply

        I get what your saying … I guess what I am saying is this current look makes her look more like a man .. than a woman. There is athletic looking woman … and still be a bit curvey. Here I see … a man .. with boobs… the body .. is wrong. Its all I am saying ..and is my opinion.

        • Anna
          Posted at 12:55h, 09 December Reply

          Women do not have one definite look. Some women have the typical wide hips and slender waists and whatnot. But there are definitely also other women who have hips like a man or broad shoulders. Some women have a more defined more round buttocks some have a more flat one and some have a square one. What about it? I love to see a different approach to the female body in a game and I would love to have more different versions more often. Tall, small, fat, slim, beautiful or ugly. All the different shapes ans sizes that are in real life too – for male and female characters.

    • Lumi
      Posted at 13:26h, 18 April Reply

      “I want to see and hear the femininity of a demure woman”
      We are talking about a game with violent combat and not…uh…court dance.
      We are talking about a warrior.
      I would rather see a woman be totally crazy and indecorous in combat than “demure”.

  • Random Guy
    Posted at 04:44h, 18 April Reply

    Will she be toppless? No? Then who cares what her anatomy looks like. So long as her voice actor isn’t a man….

    • Malik Robinson
      Posted at 14:45h, 18 April Reply

      1)Many parts of a persons anatomy can be seen even when they’re wearing clothing.
      2)We don’t know if she’ll always have on that armour we see in the trailer.
      She might wear something more light-weight that shows off her physique more, in the beginning of the game.

      • Random Guy
        Posted at 22:49h, 18 April Reply

        Very true. From what we’ve seen so far, most of her arms and legs are visible, and her top is very form fitting. In regards to Tameem’s initial description about “is not sexy, not proud, not heroic, not pretty and not skinny” I think posture plays a larger part in portraying some of those qualities. The broad shoulders on these new concepts don’t really match up with what the article said about “maintaining a natural femininity”.

        • Malik Robinson
          Posted at 17:01h, 20 April Reply

          They already said they were thinking of narrowing her waist and shoulders to make it look a little more feminine.

  • Rayzor
    Posted at 05:19h, 19 April Reply

    I cant tell if it’s a male or female any more… hopefully the final result gives us a female

  • Carlo
    Posted at 20:22h, 20 April Reply

    In reviewing Development Diary 3: Senua, the look and description that was envisioned was clearly headed in the right direction, with a positive response to the concept. Knowing that you have lost Stuart Adcock, Art Director and Claire Blustin, Senior Character Artist would seem to have put you (as they say) back at the drawing board. Now that those positions have been filled. Building on Diary 3 concepts and the description of Senus’s physique (considering 3D model vs in game reality), could give the new team the bases of her character design. This could continue the art direction that captured Senua as a seasoned (elite) female Pict warrior (my humble opinion).

  • Robin Thurland
    Posted at 23:01h, 20 April Reply

    She looks absolutely amazing, do not change a thing. All these people talking about how she “doesn’t look like a woman” anymore are clearly uncomfortable with seeing a powerful woman (or have incredibly outdated views of what men and women should look like.) She is a warrior. She isn’t there to be ogled. She’s there to rip people apart and slap monsters around. She looks awesome, please keep this forever.

    • André Vila Franca
      Posted at 15:37h, 21 April Reply

      You’re absolutely right man!

    • Marcus
      Posted at 16:49h, 21 April Reply

      I’m not sure what a woman is a “view.” Women are a reality, and what they look like is a reality. Women come in all shapes and sizes, but generally, they do not look like men. Even world-class athletes. There are no ancient statutes of warrior women who look like men. They are fit and athletic, but do not have the hormone makeup to become men.

      The 3D model actually looks like an elite athletic woman. The paintings however, do not look the way many natural athletic females, or warriors as it were, look, except for the leftmost heroic pose.

      Somehow now, it’s a crime for females to be females.

    • Max
      Posted at 11:08h, 07 August Reply

      Dude, you’re awesome. Die first please.

  • Jane
    Posted at 22:25h, 27 April Reply

    I love this!

    Too often do we see very slim, undefined female characters that are meant to be incredibly strong ie. every female Soul Calibur character….

    It’s so nice to see so much detail going into this, you want her to be worn and strong and warrior-like, so of course she isn’t going to be a waif, and we will love her all the more for it! She’s going to look incredible 😀

  • Melissa
    Posted at 02:37h, 28 April Reply

    I love it! Awesome work! I can’t wait to play as Senua!

  • AphroditeBoy
    Posted at 15:39h, 01 May Reply

    I appreciate the muscular physique. I don’t think purposefully setting out to make a character that is the opposite of the typical notion of attractive is necessarily the way to go, but what you guys have done so far is craft a very unconventional and raw form of beauty. She’s not objectified, but she is still beautiful in the same way a marble statue is beautiful. And her body conveys a sense of power – kind of like Lucy Lawless as Xena, but more defined.

    If I were to make a suggestion, it would be to keep the shoulders, because that give the impression of a strong upper body and make her character seem determined. The waist is fine, but the hips could be broadened just ever so slightly. Don’t increasing the gluteal muscle along with the hips, because that would lead to creating emphasis on a part of her anatomy which could be objectifying. Just experiment with a wider hip bone with narrow gluteal muscles. Right now she has the body of a trained dancer or gymnast – even as powerful as it is, there is a sense of delicacy and nimbleness about it. If you broaden the hips slightly it may make the musculature of her body seem more balanced.

  • WarmGreyWolf
    Posted at 04:08h, 02 May Reply

    I love the new direction and it is definitely consistent with your attempts to keep the game very grounded in reality like how you all decided on your attack idle. I really dig stronger female characters and I have yet to play as one in a game that is clothed as and represented as a true warrior. Anyways I look forward to seeing the completed version of her.

  • Psygo
    Posted at 09:41h, 06 May Reply

    “Senua isn’t a typical Heroine like Wonder Woman but instead is a warrior.” Umm, Wonder Woman is a warrior, and she has muscles. Bad example.

  • Nicholas Long
    Posted at 07:15h, 03 June Reply

    I like that you guy are making her less of a supermodel and more of a natural looking character (at least in terms of the world). I’m consistently let down by depictions of women in games even in starring roles as they just seem to be eye candy first and characters second. It seems like you guys are trying hard not to fall into that camp, and I think that’s a great move.

  • Aaron Seet
    Posted at 16:41h, 31 July Reply

    Great design decision. Body of a fighter, warrior. Not a supermodel.

  • Max
    Posted at 11:06h, 07 August Reply

    Not pretty, not sexy … WTF ? More stupids feminism concepts please !

  • Marco
    Posted at 10:57h, 04 June Reply

    We talk and talk about body, instead to enjoy the story written on our bodies and respect the stories written on others.
    I love the realism logic in videogames, it must have been Operation Flashpoint that influenced me so much back in the days?
    Love with no borders, no tags.
    Well done, this work shows a lot of love and the will to share it.

    Thank you.

  • Danielle
    Posted at 08:48h, 03 June Reply

    I agree, she looks perfect. I can’t get my head around a female protagonist warrior with no muscle at all. There is no shame in a woman with some muscles. Norse and Celtic women are not frail. The game is going after realism after all.

  • David
    Posted at 23:46h, 21 October Reply

    This character is so beautifully written and portrayed that the visual details seem more complimentary to the character than defining the character. I did not see this character as being pushed as female empowerment so it feels like her strength, both physical and mental, is more natural and entwined with her as opposed to forced via lazy writing. Thank you for this. She is perfect.

  • David.J in Seattle
    Posted at 23:50h, 21 October Reply

    This character is so beautifully written and portrayed that the visual details seem more complimentary to the character than defining the character. I did not see this character as being pushed as female empowerment so it feels like her strength, both physical and mental, is more natural and entwined with her as opposed to forced via lazy writing. Thank you for this. She is perfect.

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