In this lesson we are going to look at some elements of good character design. This is not a drawing tutorial. This lesson illustrates principles that are the building blocks of good character design. Understanding them will help you in developing a process of good design in which drawing is only the last step. I divided this lesson into two phases: the conceptualizations phase that deals with understanding your character and the realizations phase which deals with bringing it to life.
Character Structure In this phase you are going to define your character. This is done by asking yourself a set of questions that will help you learn about whom it is that you are going to bring to life. Following are a few questions that will give you an idea what to think about: What is the life purpose of your character?
Before you begin drawing, ask yourself the following questions…
Where is he from? What is your character afraid off? What does he / she think about? What is their main obstacle in life? What is his/ her strengths and weaknesses? What type of friends does he have ( see image below)? … you get the idea. By following this process your character will have some dimension instead of just being defined as a combination of batman and superman. One very common model is to have a tridimensional character defining its physiological, sociological and psychological characteristics.
Characters that your audience can identify with will bring the character to life. This interaction between the viewer and the characters helps to create some bond between the character and the audience. The easiest way to do that is to make the character as human as possible. We all know what it is like to be human – to experience joy, suffering, success, failure and so on. If we find common themes like that that are universal, we will be able to reach out to a wide audience with our character. The more abstract your character becomes the harder it will be to achieve this.
There was a whole art movement around symbolism that aims at showing truth through indirect methods. That will give the character another layer of depth. The character that is very insecure might always carry around a big axe behind his back, The character that feels uncomfortable with their height might wear extreme high heels. In this way you can imply characteristics through symbolism.
We all like characters that make us laugh and take make us forget our problems for a little bit. This can be done in a number of ways. Relationships in Size, Contrast in Intelligence, Irony or Misfortune. The worse off the character is, the better it will make the viewers feel about their own situation.
Awakening people’s imagination is a powerful way to engage them with your character. Suggesting an idea that is open to interpretation easily does this. Create a scenario that will encourage the audience to feel some form of anticipation. In the example below there is a tension between the two characters. The eye contact demonstrates their awareness of each other. How they are going to interact next is completely left open.
Reference Once you know your character well enough and are able to visualize what he might look like, start gathering some reference that will aid you in communicating your idea most clearly. Find the elements that will help you in the realization process. If your character is an ancient warrior from a forgotten culture look up images of the Aztec, Mayan’s, Egyptians or other old human cultures. Research different types of armor, weapons, hairstyles clothing etc. This research will help you as a starting point to depart into unknown territory. It will be a proven launching pad for your own ideas.
Sketching / Sculpting / 3D / Digital Painting
Depending on the final output of your illustration chose a medium that you understand well and that you feel comfortable working in. Sketching is most of the time the fastest way to quick materialize ideas. To understand the physical aspects of a character well, it can help to sculpt or model it in 3D. That way you truly get to understand all its physical aspects in a more tangible way. If your whole process is in 2D it will be very helpful to have a model sheet that has some turn arounds of your character as well as a sheet with different poses and facial expressions that will be of great help once you will have to draw your character over and over again for comics / animation/ or illustration.
Some popular styles to use are: cartoony, realistic, caricature, stylized etc. Find a style that will work well with the theme you are working on. Challenge yourself; work in styles that you have never tried before. Try to explore new ways, develop your own eventually that will become your trademark.
Make your character pleasing to look at. You can achieve that through harmonious shapes, good draftsmanship and simplicity. Make sure your character has enough detail to being able to express your ideas clearly but make it simple enough so that you will be able to draw it accurately over and over again.
Your Character is the main storytelling element in your drawing and everything else should just be a support to the character. That means that the focus in design complexity, color, light and staging should be on your character. Design your environment in a way that it supports the main idea of your illustration.
To sum it all up…..
There are many different processes to approach character design. The important thing is to develop a process that will help you design great characters effectively. Some artist are able to draw amazing characters without doing much groundwork but for most of us it has to be a process to develop interesting, engaging characters. Best of luck with all your character creations.
All Images in this lesson are the property of Matt Highison You can see Matt’s work at: http:// www.moonlitbasement.com