Character Design for the less brilliant
Good character design is based on a whole truckload of building blocks that need to fit together in just the right way. If you get it right you’ve got a living, screaming, drooling, laughing, silly, funny, scary, superhero character that will hit people right between the eyes. Get it wrong and, well … there won’t be any hits.
Putting these blocks together in just the right way either takes a lot of luck, or it takes practice, a lot of creative doodling, a little bit of talent and lots and lots of hard work. I say only a little bit of talent because creativity is the ability to put existing things together in unique ways, and talented people know how to do this instinctively, but there are methods you can follow to produce similar results.
The approach I am covering in this article is for those who are not necessarily overflowing with creative brilliance, so it is somewhat different from what some books might suggest. You will often find that experienced designers start very academically, talking about character structure and defining its physiological, sociological and psychological characteristics before getting to the visual design process. This is a reasonable approach if you have to design a character for a specific purpose. The other approach is to start with unrestrained creativity and when you find an inspirational character it will, in its look and feel, suggest most of what it stands for. If you do it the other way around you might never find that inspirational character because your creativity will be boxed in by lots of predefined requirements.
Here then are the suggested steps to follow. Improvise at will.
The very first thing you need to do is to just clear your head and think creatively about what kind of character you want to create. Maybe you already know. Maybe you’ve seen something that has triggered an idea. Or maybe you just want to create the next killer character that’s going to make you oodles of money. Whatever the case, this first building block should have a free, crazy, anything goes approach. If you are stuck, start trawling the web for ideas. Search through Google images or go to image gallery sites.
Remember, we are not stressing the intellect just yet. This is about finding and connecting ideas. Download any images that trigger your interest.
Once your head is filled with snippets of ideas it is time to put it together through doodling. There are two ways of doodling: the first is with a piece of paper and a pencil. Sketching is the fastest way to get your ideas nailed down but it helps to have at least a bit of talent. The second, if you are useless at drawing, is the Frankenstein approach. Use Photoshop and the tons of images you’ve just downloaded. Start cutting out pieces of the images that you like; an arm, a nose, a leg and then scale, twist and rotate them to create something never seen before. This image can be as rough as anything and you can continue to reshape it
as much as you like. All you are trying to get to is a rough idea of a character with a basic ‘look’ that you really like.
Here are a few things that you need to keep in the back of your mind while doodling:
Characters that need to from the basis of a successful property need to have something that your audience can identify with. There has to be something that creates a connection. One of the ways to establish this connection is to include some human features in your character. If the character is able to express emotions, such as joy, anger and fear, it has the means of establishing that connection. Emotions can be expressed through just the eyes, or mouth or even just body language.
A lot of the character’s characteristics will be implied through symbolism. A character with a head that leaves little room for a brain will look stupid. Big muscles suggest strength. Features that are slightly off-set or disproportionate, like different sized eyes, will make the character look a bit crazy.
Always be on the lookout for something unusual in your character’s look. Look-a-like characters mostly don’t work. People want to see something new. This could be in the character’s proportions, shape, colours or some missing or additional parts. The unusual attract attention and ensure retention. Just be careful not to create something grotesque unless this is what you are specifically aiming for.
Get it into shape
The next step is to draw a more detailed concept sketch of your character. One way to do this is to overlay some tracing paper over your doodle and draw the character in more detail. If you are skilled with a digital pen you can draw it straight on computer. Whatever the case you need to end up with a basic sketch of what the character is going to look like.
Describe the idea
Now that you have a potentially stunning looking character concept it is time to describe the idea behind the character. If the character is to have any chance to become successful as a character property, something more than just an illustration, it needs to have a captivating back-story and character description in place. Don’t underestimate the importance of getting the description and back story right. It is at least as important, if not more so, than the look of the character. How many really brilliant looking characters have you seen that sit hidden on some obscure website and is not going anywhere and how many questionable looking characters have you seen that make its creators millions? The difference is the idea behind that character and the story that supports it. Defining the idea is a very creative process.
To start the ball rolling, write down answers to the following:
- Who is this character?
- What is its name?
- What is its problem or mission in life?
- What does it do about its problem or mission?
- What kind of personality has he got?
- Where does he live?
- Who are his friends and enemies?
- What are his strengths and weaknesses?
With this you have the beginnings of a character property in place. There are still many hoops to jump through before it is going to make you millions. You need to decide what format the final character is going to be in. Is it going to be 2D or 3D and what will the style be? You might have to find some expert help to bring your character to its final form and to give it life through animation. You might need to develop other supporting characters, the character’s world and the objects that form part of it. You might have to write some stories or animation scripts and you will have to find the right platform, be it animation, games or art, to expose the character to the world.
If you are a bit worried about exposing your brilliant character to the world then read my blog on Protecting Ideas.
If you create something brilliant, be sure to let us know.