A cyberpunk character design exploration using Midjourney’s Niji mode.
In the near future of this cyberpunk reality, the collapse of the Holocene climate and a devastating explosion of heat have given way to long decades of bad weather, natural disasters and skies clouded by pollution. In this grim backdrop, mega-corporations have eclipsed the power and scope of traditional nations and city-states. They have established their own economies, armed forces and legal systems. These corporate fortresses tower over sprawling urban landscapes, their neon lights contrasting with the smog-filled air.
The increased scarcity of natural resources and the chaos brought about by the climate crisis have made these corporations more ruthless than ever. They’re willing to engage in various criminal activities, from illegal bioengineering to digital espionage, to maintain their power. Boardroom battles have spilt into the streets as these corporate entities compete for market dominance and the remaining natural resources, advanced technologies, and information that are now more precious than ever.
Violence has become an inescapable aspect of daily life, punctuated by the constant struggle to adapt to a world that, environmentally and socially, is deteriorating at an accelerating pace.
With this exercise, I wanted to explore the design of cyberpunk concept art at the intersection of tech wear and bushido. An attempt to research less biker culture and rock/metal influences.
These first character are part of a series on the theme of Corporate Samurais or Keirei Kenshi and advanced headgear for urban combat.
In this corporatocracy, firearms and long-range weaponry have become a liability rather than an asset. With omnipresent surveillance systems and advanced drone technologies, using a gun could immediately reveal one’s position and identity. Moreover, corporations have developed sophisticated anti-ballistic defences, making traditional firearms less effective.
Sword fighting, especially rooted in Bushido traditions, has become the dominant form of warfare for both corporate security forces and rogue mercenaries. In a society where honor is just another tradable commodity, the code of Bushido has been adopted and modified by these warriors as a set of ethical guidelines, a way to bring some semblance of order and respect to the violent chaos they engage in.
Swords have several advantages in this setting. They’re quiet, allowing for stealthy engagements. They’re versatile and beneficial in both offense and defense. And, perhaps most importantly, they don’t rely on ammunition. In a world where resource scarcity is a constant issue, a well-maintained blade can be a more reliable weapon than a gun. Moreover, advancements in materials science have led to incredibly sharp, durable, and lightweight swords capable of cutting through modern armor and even some low-level energy shields.
But these aren’t your typical katanas. Think blades with monomolecular edges for unparalleled sharpness or swords with built-in EMP generators to disable electronic defences. Some might even have a “smart edge” that can change its shape or properties on the fly, adapting to different combat scenarios.
The Niji mode of Midjourney can be powerful at generating complex and detailed characters based on simple prompts. Most of the works lies in a high amount of variations and getting to explore the right generation of artworks.
The main challenge was finding ways to generate the graphic design details.
For this series of mercenaries, my intention was to create some kind of advanced special force armour system coupled with AR full-face combat headgear pieces.
Combatants also wear advanced armor that complements their swordplay. Think lightweight, articulated exoskeletons that enhance speed and agility while also providing vital data through augmented reality displays. Advanced AI assists in tactical decision-making, while nanotechnology in the armor rapidly heals wounds and optimizes the wearer’s physical condition.
Fighters often train in virtual dojos, where AI systems simulate countless combat scenarios and enemies, honing their skills in an accelerated timeframe. These warriors could be corporate security forces trained to protect assets and eliminate threats or rogue mercenaries who offer their sword arms to the highest bidder, all bound by the new Bushido code governing their engagements.
This resurgence of sword fighting as a dominant form of combat creates a unique blend of ancient tradition and cutting-edge technology. This synthesis reflects the broader world in which these corporate warriors operate. It also makes for visually stunning and tactically complex battles, where skill, strategy and technology interact in unpredictable and exciting ways.
Ronins and Neo-Katchushi
Since the early 2050s, the craft of katchūshi has undergone a transformative evolution, fusing centuries-old traditions with cutting-edge technology to create armor suited for urban sword fighting. Dubbed the “Neo-Katchūshi,” this modern armor is a masterpiece of engineering and artistry, designed to meet the demands of a new breed of warriors navigating the complexities of urban combat.
Constructed with advanced materials like graphene-reinforced nanocomposites, the armor plates are incredibly lightweight yet offer unparalleled protection against bladed weapons and small-caliber firearms. The traditional lacing techniques, such as sugake odoshi, are maintained but executed with high-tensile synthetic fibers that are resistant to cutting and abrasion. These laces are interwoven with micro-conductors, connecting the entire armor to a decentralized, low-energy AI system.
This AI, housed within the armor itself, serves multiple functions. The system also monitors the wearer’s vital signs and physical condition, redistributing the armor’s weight and tension in real time for optimal comfort and mobility.
The armor is modular and designed to be easily customized depending on the situation. Magnetic attachment points allow for quick changes in configuration, from full-plate armor for intense combat to lighter, more agile setups for quick maneuvers and reconnaissance. Hidden compartments in the armor contain compact but potent devices like EMP charges and decoy flares, giving the warrior various tactical options.
Exploring cyberpunk-bushido designs, made me reflect on some more conceptual aspects of the technology and engineering of the armour and helmets the AI was generating. This reflection helped me refine my prompt and orientate my variations in order to use the AI as a truly exploratory and generative tool.
As an integral part of the Neo-Katchūshi armor set, the advanced full-face AR samurai helmet is a marvel of technology and traditional craftsmanship. Called the “Kabuto-X,” this helmet provides physical protection and serves as an augmented reality (AR) information hub for the modern urban warrior.
Constructed from the same graphene-reinforced nanocomposites as the body armor, the Kabuto-X is lightweight yet exceptionally durable. Its design is inspired by traditional samurai helmets, featuring iconic flanges and a front crest, but these elements are made functional for modern combat scenarios. The crest, for example, houses an array of advanced sensors capable of capturing ambient information like air quality, temperature, and even electromagnetic activity.
The helmet’s visor is where the AR magic happens. A transparent OLED screen overlays digital information directly onto the user’s field of view. This interface is powered by the helmet’s built-in AI system, which communicates with the rest of the armor in real time. This AI system uses machine learning algorithms to assist the wearer with advanced Bushido urban fighting techniques.
For instance, when the wearer draws their sword, the AR system can project the most efficient cutting angles and pressure points onto the visor, helping to guide their attacks for maximum effectiveness. It can also display a predictive analysis of an opponent’s next moves based on their posture and movement, allowing the wearer to counterattack or dodge with unparalleled precision.
While the Kabuto-X and Neo-Katchūshi armor are packed with cutting-edge technology, they haven’t lost sight of the psychological impact of appearance, a crucial aspect of traditional samurai warfare.
Just as historical samurai helmets were designed to be visually striking and intimidating, often featuring elements like menacing masks and towering crests, the modern versions follow suit but with a 21st-century twist.
The influence of popular culture, such as the iconic Gundam robot designs, has not been lost on the creators of the Kabuto-X helmet. The mempo, or facial armor, is mainly inspired by this genre, fusing traditional samurai aesthetics with futuristic mech elements.
In a blend of form and function, the horns on the Kabuto-X helmet, inspired by traditional samurai “kuwagata” or horn-like decorations, serve a dual purpose. Visually, they’re designed to intimidate and evoke a sense of grandeur, drawing on the symbolism of strength and aggression associated with horned creatures. But these are no mere ornaments; they are high-functioning antennas that extend the capabilities of the helmet’s integrated systems.
Made from a composite material that is both lightweight and conductive, these horn-shaped antennas are engineered to facilitate a range of communication and detection functions. They can receive and transmit various signal types, from radio frequencies to more specialized data streams. This allows the wearer to maintain encrypted communication with team members or command centers, even in challenging environments where conventional signals might be compromised.
The Clone Sisterhood
Focusing on bushido inspired designs, helps think these characters away from guns, which tends to dramatically limit the scope of possibilities. With the ninja series, I have explored armour, kimono and female character design. Here is the story I have in mind when engineering my prompts and guiding the AI.
In the hidden corners of Japan, where neon lights and data streams form a luminescent veil over a more ancient darkness, resides a secretive order known as Kuroi-shū. These are no ordinary nuns; they are genetically engineered clones, born from a blend of dark Shinto magic and modern science, trained in a mysterious fusion of cybernetic enhancements and age-old rites.
Beneath the pulsing energy of Neo-Tokyo lies their underground sanctuary, known as Kage no Sōzo (Creation of Shadows). It’s a space where the lines between magic and machine blur beyond recognition. Dark altars coexist with servers and quantum computers, enigmatic symbols are etched next to circuitry, and encrypted incantations are the new religious texts.
One of my biggest challenge with these cyberpunk character designs was getting the props right. Probably the most difficult were both the katanas’ suba or hand guard, usually round or square, separating the blade from the tsuka or handle. The Ai would constantly generate absurd designs of handles sticking out from everywhere around the characters.
This series started about a year ago and became really possible when the Niji V5 came out. It requires to add some parameters to turn the anime style in a more 3D version and then the ability to inject specific references. Once the main recipe is stable, it’s mostly a matter of patience and learning.
I added the logos, made in Affinity Designer as a way to illustrate each exploration track.