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Returning to our series on qualities of a good character design, we want to talk about Contrast. Contrast is important within one character’s design as well as amongst several or even a cast of characters.

When we think about Contrast, it’s really a focus on the difference between two things. This comes into play in several levels of character design.

In the base shapes that we use to define a character, it’s important that something is there, breaking up the monotony, in order to give us visual interest. A curved line intersected by a point or straight line goes a long way in making something interesting. Shape language is really important, but a character made up entirely of the same shape over and over can look rather boring.

Contrast is important when it comes to using colors, blocks, and shapes within a design, especially to accentuate a certain part of your character or to section pieces off. This is why you’ll often see large bands of color in a shirt across the torso, why a belt, sash, or anything else to break up a design. You’ll see this a lot with superheroes, instead of a solid color jumpsuit, There’s usually something adding contrast within a design.

Inter-character contrast is extremely important, especially when you’re trying to portray what it is that’s fundamentally different between two characters. Whether it’s a physical difference, an idealogical one, instantly discernible differences go a long way in communicating to an audience.

Here’s a principle and practical tip for using contrast in your designs, and it’s so deceptively obvious:
Design two opposing characters starting with opposite shapes and forms. Look at a duo like Mike and Sulley, a perfect example of contrast. Big and small, round and square, scaley and furry. If one character is kind and caring, and the other is evil and conniving, design them in opposition to one another, the first using round shapes and soft edges, the other with jagged and harsh ones.