Lacking character? Jon Burgerman drums up 20 tips for creating fantastic characters and the best ways to bring them to life.
Character design can be a tricky beast to tackle, because although many of the classic characters familiar to us all through cartoons, entertainment and advertising look simple, that simplicity usually belies the many hours of work that have gone into their development.From Mickey Mouse's famous three-fingered hands - drawn to save production time when the character was first developed for animations in the 1920s - to the elegant simplicity of Homer Simpson, character design has always been about keeping it simple. But aside from clean lines and easily readable features, what else are you going to need to know? There's knowing what to exaggerate and what to playdown, what to add to give a hint of background and depth, and what to do to develop personality. Getting started can be the trickiest part in any character development project, but once you've got some ideas these tips will help you breath life into your creationâ€¦
1: Research and evaluate
It can be helpful to try and deconstruct why certain characters and their characteristics work and whysome 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 characters and think about what makes some successful and what in particular you like about them.
2: Design and plan
Where will the character be seen and in what medium?This will have a direct bearing on how you go about your design. For example, if the character is for a mobile-phone screen, there's no point designing it to have a lot of intricate details and features. Nathan Jurevicius says, regardless of the format, "The process of thinking up concepts always starts the same: paper, pencil, green tea... lots of thumbnails, written ideas, scratches and sketchesover sketches."
3: Who is it aimed at?
Think about your audience. Characters aimed at young children, for example, are typically designed around basic shapes and bright colours. If you're working for a client, the character's target audience is usually predetermined, as Nathan Jurevicius explains: "Commissioned characters are usually more restrictive but no less creative. Clients have specificneeds 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."
4: Visual impact
Whether you're creating a monkey, robot or monster, you can guarantee there are going to be a hundred other similar creations out there. Yourcharacter needs to be strong and interesting in a visual sense to get people's attention. When devising The Simpsons, Matt Groening knew he had to offer the viewers something different. He reckoned that when viewers were flicking through TV channels and came across the show, the characters' unusually bright yellow skin colour would grab their attention.
5: Line qualities and styles
The drawn linesof which your character is composed can go some way to describing it. Thick, even, soft and round lines may suggest an approachable, cute character, whereas sharp, scratchy and uneven lines might point to an uneasy and erratic character. Sune Ehlers characters are bold and seem to dance on the page, which echoes his approach to drawing them. He explains: "Drawing a doodle is about decisivepen-manoeuvring. A strong line for me comes from strength and rhythm."
6: Exaggerated characteristics
Exaggerating the defining features of your character will help it appear larger than life. Exaggerated features will also help viewers to identif y the character's key qualities. Exaggeration is key in cartoon caricatures and helps emphasise certain personality traits. If your character is strong,...
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