I’m still planning on launching my course Learn Character Design in the late spring/early summer, and I’m hoping to cover more of the essential elements of character design, starting now with How: How do I become a character designer? I’ll talk later about practical ways to make a living as a character designer, but today we’ll focus on the skills involved.
Character Design is an incredibly unique art form, especially because it’s something of an amalgam of several different disciplines.
You’re likely interested in character design because you love characters, characters in movies or animation or games, and feel like you can create your own.I think that’s great, it’s how I’ve always felt, and here is what will help you do that:
The first thing a character designer needs isn’t actually artistic. While that is always important, a character designer’s role first is as a storyteller. Characters are primarily vessels for storytelling. We need a good grasp of what story is being told with this character, and we need to use our character to tell it in the best way. We imbue characters with personalities, as though they’re real people, both through emulation of people, personalities and emotions we’ve come across. We also use personification, which is the process of giving something inanimate or otherwise non-human traits that we can connect with.
A character designer starts, then, by observing others. Study people’s behaviors and expressions. Save what you see because the best characters show us something that we’re familiar with and we connect with.
Next, it’s good for a character designer to have a good grasp on storytelling. Noticing and understanding the way that characters in fiction grow and change, and go through arcs.
A character designer, of course, has an artistic toolset that borrows from several other disciplines.
There are things that a character designer needs to learn in order to be a good artist, like the fundamentals which include perspective: a drawing’s position in space, form: which is the use of shapes to give your art dimension, construction: which is building a drawing with consistent forms, anatomy: which is used as a reference for proper and believable human qualities, and good draftsmanship, which is really just being able to create good clean confident work. But, there are some additional qualities, ones that go further than simply being able to draw well. I think these things contribute to a successful character designer’s mindset.
These things I want to talk more about in upcoming videos, but briefly:
1. Your audience needs to understand something about your character immediately, so you need Clarity. No matter how complex or detailed your work is, it still needs to *read* well.
2. Your audience needs to understand your character, and be able to empathize with and understand what it’s feeling, so you need Expression. Some characters need to show a wide spectrum of feelings and thoughts, sometimes without ever speaking.
3. When it comes to making dynamic designs that people love, as well as a design that just feels right, you need to consider the Balance of your character. As much as we exaggerate with our designs, their actions and movement still need to be plausible.
4. In order to keep designs interesting, there’s several qualities that improve our designs, not the least of which is Contrast. Sometimes something as simple as a curved line intersecting with a jagged one breaks up the visual flow of a character. Sometimes an element added to our character to make them asymmetrical can say something about them, for example a mechanical arm or shoulder paldron on one side tends to make a character more dynamic, and perhaps more of an outcast. Contrast also adds to our next quality:
5. Sometimes this is considered to be the je ne sais quoi (that’s not pretentious at all) of art and character design, and some think that Appeal is simply a term that means a drawing looks good. To a certain extent that is the case, but there’s something of a science to making a character that looks good, whether that means cute or pretty or even purposefully awkward, ugly or repulsive.
6. To go along with Contrast and Balance, we always need to consider Proportion. Even if you aren’t creating a character that’s a 1:1 realistic human, following a certain code when it comes to the structure of your character is really important. This is also a place to think about the visual rule of large, medium, and small, where your design is broken up into uneven thirds. So some of your design is using large broad shapes, medium shapes, and smaller, sometimes detailed shapes to create visual interest, especially if you’re doing so in an exaggerated way.
7. This next quality, I was thinking about how often times our characters are designed to later be posed or animated, and I was calling this quality Capability of movement, but I’ll go a little vaguer and call this Viability. This is involved in either handing off our character to someone else or in moving on to the next phase with them. We need to know our character can successfully move, emote, and act in whatever respect they’ll need to. Often times the best thing to do is test our character out ourself before passing it on.
8. Finally, something we’ve already talked a bit about so I’ll be brief, Exaggeration is a key piece of our arsenal when creating characters. The larger a mouth is, the tinier a set of legs are, the more visually striking a character can be. This all contributes to the above qualities. Don’t be afraid to push a design in order to make it express more.
If you’re interested in becoming a character designer, these things are going to help build how you go about creating characters, more than just being able to draw well, even though that’s definitely still important.
Character Design is one of the most specialized and niche roles in the art industry, and understand that you’re going to be borrowing from other areas of the art world in order to build your characters.
You need to observe, practice, and study.
Keep practicing, drawing everyday, and always push yourself to improve the characters you create.
Remember to observe the world and people around you, empathize with other humans, analyze things that seem obvious, don’t accept the status quo but be truly observant. Conceptualize, think about new and different things a character can be and do, subvert archetypes and stereotypes, like we’re doing right now with the character design subversion challenge. and Study the best character designs, the best designers, even master artists outside of character design will always have something to teach you if you’re willing to learn and maintain a student’s mindset.
This is such a broad overview of what is really an entire career’s worth of traits, but I hope it’s able to benefit you, and stick around over the next few posts as I’m going to be diving into these things in a lot more detail. I’m also building a comprehensive character design education so that you can be fully equipped to make amazing characters. Head over to LearnCharacterDesign.com and signup to know when that’s available. There’s a free ebook I’ve made called the Character Design Survival guide, which you receive when you signup for the newsletter.
This month I’ve begun One on One tutoring, where you and I can have a one on one conversation about what you’re struggling with, where you’d like to be, and what you can do to improve. Some of the best help, tangible advice, and spurts in my artistic growth have come from one on one conversations with artists that I admire, and I’m offering that to you, and for an introductory rate in the month of February, head to http://brookeseggleston.com/one-on-one for more on that.