16 Weird Unused Character Concept Art That Would’ve Completely Changed TV Shows
Television concept art is hard to come by, and for good reason. With each show during this exciting Golden Age of Television, the creative process takes a while, and the early process for planning a TV show gets crazy. It essentially involves throwing everything at an ideas board and seeing what sticks — a glorified brainstorming session that sometimes has amazing results.
Some live-action shows are luckily living through an era of superheroes and re-imaginings, and draw from a plethora of visual history to construct their character designs. However, some show creators don’t have it so easy, especially for cartoons. You won’t believe how different some of your favorite animated critters could have looked, ranging from completely repellent to absolutely adorable. Whatever the case may be, these looks would’ve completely changed the course of the TV shows the audiences are watching.
By digging through archives and artists’ own personal blogs and galleries, we’ve discovered some absolutely brilliant individuals who have put their own personal stamp on some of our favorite shows – even if their ideas didn’t make the final cut.
Here are 16 Weird Unused Character Concept Art That Would’ve Completely Changed TV Shows.
16. ARROWVERSE – GUARDIAN
Is it too early to say that the CW is doing DC better justice than Warner Bros? Yes, it’s overblown, the effects are ropey, and there are enough plot threads to rival Avengers: Infinity War in terms of scope, but at least these shows are fun to watch (after the first three seasons of Arrow).
Last November, the Arrowverse celebrated its five-year anniversary with its fourth annual crossover event, Crisis on Earth X. That’s right, a live-action superhero show has had four crossover events in five years. It’s almost as if the DCEU is taking its sweet time, instead of leading the way in terms of amazing crossover events.
Crisis on Earth X features too many characters to count on two hands, but one is the shield-wielding hero Guardian, the alter-ego of Supergirl’s ally, Jimmy Olsen.
This concept by Greg Hopwood paints an American flag on his chest that, considering his shield, was potentially a little too close to Captain America to fly on the CW. Even if there is a big resemblance to Captain America, this concept art allows one to imagine the DC version of such a hero. It isn’t meant to emulate Cap, but there’s no way around it.
15. STAR TREK: DISCOVERY – EV SUIT
Star Trek being back on our screens for the first time in over ten years was one of the most exciting prospects of last year. Reactions mostly ranged from not bad to downright awesome, depending on who you talked to about Star Trek: Discovery. Confirmation of a second season has been met with hopes of improvement by Trek fans who weren’t as crazy about the show as most.
What the show did get right, however, were the crew of the USS Shenzhou’s uniforms. Let’s face it, Star Trek has always been a little hit and miss with its costuming. J.J. Abrams’ rebooted films manage to combine the classic look with modern detail quite nicely, but most starship crews end up looking like Power Rangers in casual wear.
Discovery’s uniform is sleek and bold, and this concept design could hint at more perilous adventures to come, with a sophisticated Environmental Suit over the standard garb. This art by Adelaide Filippe gives us a perspective into the creator’s perception of heavy duty space wear, which would inevitably come in handy during perilous space missions or alien combat. One can only imagine what this would’ve looked like in the show.
14. AVATAR – THE FIRST AIRBENDER
Ten years later, and it’s still hard to grasp that the U.S. made one of the best anime of all time. Emulating the Japanese animation style, Avatar: The Last Airbender isn’t technically classed as anime, but it may as well be. Sweeping locations, meticulously crafted actions, and elemental superpowers — it ranks amongst the best shows of all time, animated or otherwise.
The character designs of Aang, and his animal companions Momo and Appa are iconic, instantly recognizable aspects of the show, but they weren’t always so distinctive. Concept art is a bit of a catch-22, where everyone involved in the process has their input, allowing them to give an idea as to what they’re expecting. With the above concept art by the series’ artists, it’s not hard to see that the creative process evolves over time.
This rough draft depicts Aang looking less like a young Buddhist monk and more like an impish adventurer.
Appa stands on his hind legs and seems a little more canine than we’re used to. The biggest shock is Momo. Is that a monkey? A robot? Who knows – we’re just glad the animators eventually decided to give him his striking huge ears.
13. RICK AND MORTY – DR. BLOOM
Rick & Morty is everywhere, one can’t step a toe into an internet forum (or a McDonalds serving Szechuan sauce) without getting a face full of “WUBBALUBBADUBDUB!” It’s hilarious for fans, baffling, and obnoxious for those not in the know. The show has attracted its fair share of fans, and even those who aren’t fans inevitably have heard of Pickle Rick at some point.
The first season still holds up, with some of the best episodes of the cynical cartoon to date. “Anatomy Park” definitely deserves a place on the top spot, a riff on the Spielberg classic Jurassic Park, the episode takes place inside a man’s internal organs and becomes gruesomely twisted.
The episode features the vocal talents of John Oliver, who takes Richard Attenborough’s role as Dr. Bloom: a wise, British scientist who just so happens to look like bacteria. Dr. Bloom then shows them around the park’s attractions, leading them on a wild ride of anatomic discovery. As seen from some earlier concept designs by the creators, Dr. Bloom could have looked a lot more like Dr. Hammond, down to the hat and luxurious silver beard. All things considering, it’s a positive thing that they stuck to their final design.
12. FIREFLY – BROWNCOATS
Firefly was a science-fiction action drama starring Nathan Fillion, and written by the genius Joss Whedon, that aired for just one season on the Fox network between 2002-2003. The show was canceled, to many fans’ displeasure, and led to the production of a follow-up movie, Serenity, which wraps everything up nicely through a thrilling space adventure.
The show, much like Westworld, riffed on both the science-fiction and Western genres, and took the idea to the extreme. Space cowboys pilot spaceships instead of riding horses, and the costume design swaps ill-fitting space armor for waistcoats, jodhpurs, and baggy sleeves.
Fillion’s Mal Reynolds and first mate Zoe Washburne are veteran Browncoats of the Unification War.
These designs from costume designer Shawna Trpcic hints at a more militant route the show could have taken.
It is a bit reminiscent of the designs the inhabitants from Tatooine wear, but it embodies the show as well as the actual art that was used. The mix of Western and science-fiction are perfectly represented through the cloth depicted, leg wraps, coats, and all. It’s a shame this art didn’t make it onto the show, but we’re confident it would’ve been an attractive alternative.
11. BOB’S BURGERS – LOOKING SKETCHY
If you’re not watching Bob’s Burgers right this second, you’re missing out on one of the most wholesome and hilarious animated sitcoms on television right now. Stop rewatching Rick and Morty and wipe those existential Bojack Horseman tears from your eyes, and start catching up on eight seasons of low-key brilliance.
It follows the Belchers, proprietors of a pokey burger bar with only one regular customer, and features charming adventures, brilliant improv, and a stellar voice cast surrounded by a host of special guests and recurring characters.
Although it’s improved over the years, and was never anything to sniff at, the simple animation might put some people off in favor of something more technically impressive. However, from some concept sketches from the show’s creator Loren Bouchard, it was clear this was always the goal, and could have ended up looking even sketchier.
The final version of the characters we got was far cleaner as opposed to the above concept art — they look a bit dingy. The family may be struggling with their business, but the actual art used in the show is far less indicative of it; the concept art presented here makes them look a lot more down-trodden than the show ever lets on.
10. GRAVITY FALLS – EARLY SCRAWLS
Gravity Falls was one of the best cartoon shows on television during its limited run on the Disney Channel for just two seasons. Created by Alex Hirsch, the beautiful animation perfectly captured a sleepy, woodland town’s invasion by mythical creatures and Lovecraftian beings from dark dimensions.
What this means is: things got crazy. You wouldn’t have thought it from the absolutely adorable character designs. Especially Mabel, who breaks the cartoon code by wearing a different hideous sweater in each episode. Hopefully, it’s her attempt at scaring away the fearsome creatures spawning around town, but we can’t be sure of that.
When pitching the show, Hirsch asked children’s illustrators to produce some rudimentary character designs, and, if anything, she over-delivered. There are plenty more if you check out her blog, but these are two of our favorites, including a wannabe police detective Dipper, and a particularly disgusting Grunkle Stan.
The final designs are far cuter and kid-friendly than the above, but with the dark tone of the show, these designs could have just as well fit the bill.
Considering the show is almost a cartoon version of Stranger Things, these designs reflect the atmosphere far better than the ones used.
9. DOCTOR WHO – DARK CYBERMAN
Do we have any British readers? Doctor Who might have crossed over the pond and reached some of you geekier sci-fi fans, but over in the UK it’s practically mandatory viewing. Every family seems to have a story of hiding behind the sofas from the Daleks, Cybermen, and a whole host of creepy monsters when they were younger, and the revitalized show has kept up that tradition.
It will soon be returning to our screens with Jodie Whittaker taking the role of the Thirteenth Doctor, a casting choice that we’re sure absolutely everyone will be 100% on board with. The show will more than likely continue on its inter-dimensional quest, and will also provide us with additional situations that, in and of themselves, will trigger nightmares in many of us.
If the Doctor’s enemies aren’t frightening enough, we’ve scoured the web to take a look at some of the designs that were close to making it in the show. Far worse than giving a child nightmares, this concept art by Peter McKinistry of a creepy Cyberman would have been downright traumatizing, for kids and parents alike. One would be foolish to want to stay alone in a room with such a creature.
8. STEVEN UNIVERSE – SKETCHES OF STEVEN
We know it’s technically for kids, but we can’t help but be won over by the pure bright-eyed optimism of Steven Universe. Lovable characters, sparkly animation, and moral lessons aplenty, it’s one of the most gorgeous cartoons of the moment, and fills the void between the long hiatuses between new episodes of Adventure Time.
It’s certainly more appropriate children’s viewing than whatever was going on with Nickelodeon in the ’90s. It’s not surprising that this show is less traumatizing than Nickelodeon’s ’90s shows, but the art above may have given us a far darker show than what we got.
One of the series’ best aspects is its approach to childhood, specifically in the growth of its protagonist, Steven. However, these preliminary sketches reveal that this core concept wasn’t always there.
Steven is stocky, but he’s no grown man, and it’s a little disappointing to see our favorite tween hero with a heavy dose of stubble on his chin.
Not only does he have stubble, but his overall demeanor seems to have changed, projecting a far more serious presence than the cartoon let on. Altogether, this concept art by Rebecca Sugar is suitable for a more adult version of the show, that would involve more dangerous endeavors.
7. AMERICAN HORROR STORY – TWO FACE
American Horror Story injected new life into the anthology series way before Black Mirror got big, and it became the new hot property for television. Each season features a standalone narrative, albeit with some interconnected references for the eagle-eyed viewers who own a board of conspiracies and scribble down theories at home.
The show’s fourth season is titled Freak Show and, to get a little snobby here, pulls elements from the classic horror film Freaks, both following a group of deformed circus performers. Sadly, unlike Freaks, American Horror Story didn’t cast many disabled actors. Due to the above concept art, we have to admit it would have been difficult to find an actor with a genuine second face on the back of their head.
That’s right, Wes Bentley portrays Edward Mordrake, a man with two faces, and the result is gross. If the final result isn’t bad enough, here is an alternate design by Joshua Min that is bound to give you nightmares. Just picture yourself having a conversation with this two-faced monster, which one would you talk to? Can you possibly entertain a conversation with both? One of them could be your match. Who knows?
6. STRANGER THINGS – DEMOGORGON
The primary antagonist for the over-arching plot of Stranger Things has been named the Mind Flayer; that spider-like thing hovering in the sky of the Upside Down. However, since the creature is stuck in another parallel dimension, and can only reach ours through way of possession or visions, it needs some minions to do its earthly bidding.
Enter the Demogorgon, so named in tribute to the gang’s countless hours devoted to Dungeons & Dragons. They’re fast, powerful, and exceptional hunters, though have limited intelligence and are rather easily outsmarted. The look of these creatures in itself is enough to strike fear into children’s hearts, although they would much prefer to do more than just be fearful. The Demogorgons are ruthless monsters, and the above art by Nuttavut Baiphowongse definitely serves to proliferate that idea.
Had the Duffer Brothers signed off on these creature designs, Stranger Things could have had a much different outcome.
Had the younger residents of Hawkins stumbled across one of these behemoths, it’s hard to imagine them not fainting in terror, let alone defeating them in a fight. The series continues to grab audiences’ attention worldwide, therefore we should not be too quick to assume something as terrifying won’t be in the future seasons.
5. RIVERDALE – THE GANG
Riverdale is still going strong. Despite being the ultimate blend of trashy soap opera and unconvincing crime drama, the show amassed a fairly large fanbase and continues to expand upon its pseudo-criminal persona.
The exploits of Archie and the gang in the unassuming town of Riverdale have been going on since way before the CW got their hands on them. Archie Comics began life as MLJ Comics, and Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica first appeared in the funny pages during the 1940s. The comics continued to be successful until today, as they depict the hijinx Archie and the gang get involved in, and considering they can be found at any gas station or grocery store, they’re a road trip go-to.
This artwork from Veronica Fish (who has actually worked with Archie Comics) depicts an early imagining of how the gang could look and dress as a live-action cast of characters. Though it’s in line with the comic book style, Fish updates the gang with some modern flair. Jughead’s crown is mercifully transformed into a beanie and Josie (of Josie and the Pussycats) is rocking a pair of leather pants and some leopard print heel, to go with her rocking guitar.
4. WESTWORLD – FACE OFF
Westworld took the world by the scruff of its neck and demanded it be watched two years ago now, and it’s only just, finally, returned to our screens. Combining the hokey premise of the Yul Brynner starring, 1973 original, with the big budget and super smart writing of modern television, it’s quickly become a hit. Many fans waited for the new season to come out, and everyone of them is expecting things to get quite interesting in the following episodes.
It propels the viewer into a science-fiction dystopia, where the super rich have become bored with the entertainment of the park like movies, books, and Disneyland. Instead, they take vacations in ultra-realistic worlds based upon an era in history, and occupied by robotic residents. This gives them the illusion of living actually different lives from the ones they currently have, and fits the bill as a far more entertaining activity than simply viewing a movie.
The robots are fleshy and practically human, but remove the soft mask and a complex metal structure is revealed, mimicking the human skull.
Here’s an early design of this moment by Luca Nemolato that would have given us nightmares had it made it to final cut — if only for the eye sockets.
3. ANIMANIACS – THE THIRD WARNER BROTHER
Animaniacs are an absolute staple of innuendo-ridden ’90s animation. With the heart of Looney Tunes and Rodney Dangerfield’s sense of humor, each of its 99 episodes are completely iconic. We bet that teachers across America are still teaching the 50 state capitals with Wakko’s catchy mnemonic tune.
The show features the two Warner brothers, Yakko and Wakko, and their sister, Dot. These cartoon stars ostensibly from the 1930s were trapped in the Warner Bros.’ famous Water Tower until their escape. Their designs are simple, but early concepts reveal that, in the wake of Darkwing Duck and Ducktales, they were originally much more duck-like. The above designs remind us far more of the Ducktales animation style than the wacky Animaniacs we later got.
Not only that, but this unearthed sketch depicts not three, but four Warner siblings, dubbed Yakky, Smakky, Wakky, and “their sister.” Surely three animated hooligans running around the Warner Bros. sets was annoying enough, so adding another one would not have been that big of a deal. Taking a much closer look at the above concept art, one could imagine a far different Animaniacs cartoon that could’ve been far better, even if the original is definitely up there in terms of awesomeness.
2. FAIRLY ODD PARENTS – COSMO AND WANDA
Did you know that The Fairly Odd Parents was still airing until last year? That’s right, the adventures of Timmy Turner and his wish-granting guardians enjoyed a whole 16 years on Nickelodeon, becoming its longest running series behind the reigning champion, Spongebob Squarepants.
Its revival ten years ago introduced Cosmo and Wanda’s baby, Poof, and, since then, the series has been met with questionable reviews from fans. It still hasn’t been canceled outright, though, now that Butch Hartman has left Nickelodeon, its future is unclear.
The character designs for Cosmo and Wanda are pointy, yet undeniably cute.
These designs round the pair out a little, but were ultimately deemed too frumpy and later canned.
Cosmo, an infamous simpleton, is especially nasty to look at in this rendition. Wanda definitely looks worse than she does now, but the sight of a fairy with such a look is quite entertaining — one would think the creators of the show would’ve kept that in mind.
It’s not that the actual design isn’t good, but this concept art could’ve given way to a whole different perspective on fairies and their overall visual representation. Cosmo may not look like himself, but the concept art definitely captured his personality.
1. STRANGER THINGS – BARB’S PASSING
Apologies for the spoilers, but if you haven’t watched Stranger Things, or even come across the Twitter trend #JusticeforBarb, then where have you been?
The series is an ’80s revival in the vein of Stephen King, following the infestation of Hawkins, Indiana by a dark presence known only as the “Upside Down.” It’s nostalgic, charming, not wholly original, but compelling television that fans of It will eat up. The general feel of the show is very reminiscent of ’80s TV and it doesn’t shy away from that comparison at all, fully embracing the similarities. Down to the clothing, setting, and writing, the show bleeds ’80s.
Fans of the show became particularly invested in one character named Barb: an endearing bookworm whose life on the show is cut painfully short by her appearance, and subsequent passing in episode three. She’s absorbed by the Upside Down, and it’s nasty,, but could have been even worse, as this piece of concept art from Aaron Sims Creative shows.
The full version is available online, but this version should give you an idea of what to expect. Barb may not have survived this, but this picture will stay in our minds for good.