Character design: Hilda by Luke Pearson

+$Character design can be a tricky beast to tackle. Creating your own character from scratch involves a lot of creative thinking. Although many of the classic characters familiar to us all through cartoons, movies and advertising look straightforward, a lot of skill and effort will have gone into making them so effective.

从米老鼠着名的三指手 - 为了节省20世纪20年代首次为动画开发的制作时间 - 到荷马辛普森的优雅简约,角色设计一直是保持简单。

+$But aside from clean lines and easily readable features, what else do you need to consider for your character design? There's knowing what to exaggerate and what to play down, what to add to give a hint of background and depth, and what to do to develop personality.

+$And then there's the matter of the technicalities of如何绘制+$your character design. If it's going to be used in motion or as part of a comic strip, you'll need to make sure it works from any angle (easier said than done, as this+$unsettling top-down view of Mickey Mouse+$proves).

+$For this article, we asked a range of leading artists and illustrators their advice on creating memorable, unique character designs. Many of these tips come fromPictoplasma+$, an annual character design festival in Berlin.

+$01. Don't lose the magic

character design

+$Make sure you don't polish all the charm from your characters [Image: Laurie Rowan]

+$Many character designers will start their project with a sketch. And most agree designers agree this is often where the essence of the character is captured. So when you're working up your design, make sure you don't lose that magic.

+$"I try to stick to my original drawing style, because the instinct is to try and clean it up," says+$Laurie Rowan+$. "I don't like to feel like I've created by characters; I like to feel like I've kind of just encountered them."

+$"When starting out on your character design, don’t get caught up in the details," says+$Pernille Ørum+$. "Decide what you’re trying to communicate, then create loose sketches with movement, acting and flow. As soon as you start to tighten up the drawing, you’ll automatically lose some of the dynamic, so it’s important to have as much life in the early stages as possible. Movement is all but impossible to add later, so make sure it’s in the initial sketch."

+$02. Step away from the reference material

+$While inspiration needs to come from somewhere, the aim is to create something original. So Robert Wallace – known as平行牙齿+$– suggests not having the reference material right in front of you as you work.

+$"If you look at something and then you try and hazily remember it in your mind, that's when you end up making something new, rather than a pastiche of something," he says. Above you can see Wallace's new take on well-known festive figures, created for a Hong Kong department store.

+$03. Research Other Characters

+$For guidance, it can be helpful to try and deconstruct why certain character designs work and why some don't. There's no shortage of research material to be found, with illustrated characters appearing everywhere: on TV commercials, cereal boxes, shop signs, stickers on fruit, animations on mobile phones, and more. Study these character designs and think about what makes some successful and what in particular you like about them.

+$"When you work with characters you need to be inspired," advises Ørum, "and you can do this through research. Your mind is a visual library that you can fill up. Try to notice people around you – how they walk, their gestures, how they dress – and use that in your design."

+$04. ... but also look elsewhere

+$It's also a good idea to look beyond character designs when hunting for inspiration. "I like birds' mating rituals a lot," laughs Rowan. The odd movements can spark unique character behaviour.

+$"When I begin a project, I often start with the feeling I want to evoke," he adds. The process begins with the designer taking videos of himself as a reference, trying to capture something of the character idea's movement or posture.

+$Other inspirations include ceramics – an organic texture and muted colour palette stop his work feeling too clinical – and folk costumes.

+$05. Don't lose sight of the original idea

Jo-Mei studio character design

+$Sea of Solitude is an upcoming game by Jo-Mei studio [Image: Jo-Mei]

+$It's easy to subconsciously let our favourite designs influence us. Cornelia Geppert, CEO of indie games studio+$Jo-Mei+$, is a huge fan of The Last Guardian, with its unique aesthetic and great+$video game character designs

+$At one point one of her team members had to say to her that their Sea of Solitude design was looking a little too similar to The Last Guardian. She looked back at her initial artworks, and it brought back the feeling she had when creating them. The project shifted back on track.

+$06. Exaggerate

+$Exaggerating the defining features of your character design will help it appear larger than life. Exaggerated features will also help viewers to identify the character's key qualities. Exaggeration is key in cartoon caricatures and helps emphasise certain personality traits. If your character is strong, don't just give it normal-sized bulging arms, soup them up so that they're five times as big as they should be.

+$The technique of exaggeration can be applied to characteristics, too.+$Anna Mantzaris+$' hilarious Enough film (above) shows everyday characters in mundane situations, doing the things we've all dreamed of doing on a bad day. "I think it's fun with animation that you can push things further, and people will still accept it as real," she says. "With live action it would look absurd. You can also push the emotion further."

+$07. Decide who your character design is aimed at

character design: scarygirl

+$Nathan Jurevicius' Scarygirl features in games and a graphic novel [Image: Nathan Jurevicius]

想想你的观众。例如,针对幼儿的角色设计通常围绕基本形状和鲜艳颜色设计。如果您是为客户工作,那么角色的目标受众通常是预定的,作为澳大利亚艺术家Nathan Jurevicius解释。

+$"Commissioned character designs are usually more restrictive but no less creative. Clients have specific needs but also want me to do my 'thing'. Usually, I'll break down the core features and personality. For example, if the eyes are important then I'll focus the whole design around the face, making this the key feature that stands out."

+$08. Make your character distinctive

Character design: The Simpsons

Matt Groening使用黄色使“辛普森一家”中的人物脱颖而出



+$09. Create Clear Silhouettes

+$A silhouette helps you understand the character's gesture [image: Pernille Ørum]

+$Another good way to make your character distinct and improve its pose, says Ørum, is to turn it into a silhouette. "Then you can see how the character ‘reads’ and if you need to make the gesture more clear. Do you understand the emotion of the character and see the line of action? Can things be simplified? Try not to overlap everything, and keep the limbs separate."


+$A line of action is the backbone of a character drawing [Image: Pernille Ørum]

+$One key aspect to consider when creating a character design is the line of action. This is what defines the direction of your character, as well as being a useful narrative tool and bringing a feeling of movement.

+$"Try to bring the line of action all the way out to the extremities," says Ørum. "A ballet dancer is a good example: they emphasise the line from the tips of their toes to the tips of their fingers. The line of action is also easier to see in creatures with fewer limbs, which is why mermaids are an ideal subject for developing a strong line of action."

+$08. Make It Personal

+$Geppert's Sea of Solitude video game is an exploration of her experiences of loneliness. Intensely personal though it may be, the game hit a chord with audiences when it was previewed at E3 earlier in the year, because it deals with an experience that is so universal yet still strangely taboo.

+$"The best art is based on personal experiences. People can relate better if it's based on the truth," says Geppert. "It's not a made-up story, even though it's based in a fantastical setting."

+$09. Find the posture first

posture in foxes: character design

+$Posture can say a lot about a character [Image: Félicie Haymoz/Wes Anderson]

+$Félicie Haymoz+$has worked with Wes Anderson on both of his animated features: Fantastic Mr Fox and Isle of Dogs. When embarking on a new character design, Haymoz likes to start by finding the individual's posture. This element can start the ball rolling on the whole feel of the personality. "I try to capture the stance of the character. Are they hunched over, or are they sitting straight and proud?" She also notes the face is important to get right.

+$Read More Of+$Haymoz's film character tips here

+$10. Consider Line Quality

+$Straight and curved lines are read by your eyes at different speeds [image: Pernille Ørum]


+$Ørum recommends balancing straight and curved lines. "Straight lines and curves gives your character design a rhythm. A straight line (or a simple line) leads the eye quickly, while a curved (or detailed line) slows down the eye.'

+$It's also worth considering the balance between stretch and compression. "Even a neutral pose can lead the eye by applying these two approaches, resulting in an effective character design," says Ørum.

+$11. Use a joke structure

+$Rowan grew a name for himself by sharing humorous clips of his characters on Instagram, and went on to work on projects for Disney, the BBC and MTV, and earned himself a BAFTA award and nomination in the process. However, it was his less successful years doing standup comedy that provided inspiration for his trademark character animations.

+$"It's through standup I learned brevity. It's kind of a joke structure," he explains. Knowing how to frame the clip comes from past failures and successes on stage: "You very quickly learn how to hit certain points," he laughs.

+$12. Keep It Simple

除了知道何时夸大之外,Ørum还热衷于强调简约的重要性。 “我总是尝试用尽可能少的线条来传达设计。这并不意味着工作没有被用于创建角色的体积,位置和设计,但我尽量简化并尽量放沿着传达必要信息的线条和颜色。“

+$13. Consider all the angles

Hilda character design

+$Hilda needed to work from all angles to appear in a comic strip [Image: Luke Pearson/Flying Eye Books]


+$In the Character Design Crash Course workshop at Pictoplasma 2019, Jurevicius and Rilla Alexander asked attendees to sketch their character in poses held by other attendees, life drawing style.

+$And if you're going to turn it into a comic strip, a la Luke Pearson's Hilda, it'll need to not only make sense from all angles, but look good too.

+$"How to draw Hilda from behind without her hair swallowing her silhouette", how to draw her beret from above; a long and drawn out battle with how her nose should look… these were all issues Pearson had to deal with when creating his character. The problems all ultimately led to design solutions.

+$14. Build it in 3D

+$If your character is going to exist within a 3D world, as an animation or even as a toy, working out its height, weight and physical shape is all important. Alternatively, go one step further and create a model.

+$"Even if you're not someone who works in 3D, you can learn a lot by converting your character into three dimensions," says Alexander. It's a key part of the process the students follow at the Pictoplasma Academy.

+$15. Choose Colours Carefully

+$Complementary colours create a pleasing balance [image: Pernille Ørum]


+$Light colours such as white, blues, pinks and yellows express innocence and purity. Comic-book reds, yellows and blues might go some way to giving hero qualities to a character design.

“要选择有效的颜色,了解颜色的基本规则很重要,”Ørum解释说。 “熟悉一级,二级和三级颜色,以及单色和互补色。一种生成有效调色板的技术是选择两种互补色,并以单色配色方式使用它们。”



+$16. Don't forget the hair

+$Shape, divide and hairline are the secrets to drawing good hair [image: Pernille Ørum]

+$"Some years ago I went from hating drawing hair to loving it," Ørum. "Previously, I used to view working out all the details and directions of the hair as a tedious endeavour. Now I think of it more as a large, organic shape, which like a flag in the wind indicates and emphasises the movement of the character or its surroundings.


+$17. Add Accessories

+$Props and clothing can help to emphasise character traits and their background. For example, scruffy clothes can be used for poor characters, and lots of diamonds and bling for tasteless rich ones. Accessories can also be more literal extensions of your character's personality, such as a parrot on a pirate's shoulder or a maggot in a ghoul's skull.

+$Next page: More top character design tips...