From research, to design plan, the impact the character must have on its target audience, qualities and styles and how colour play an important role in developing a great character were captured in Jon Burgerman’s tip for creating great characters.
Featured image by Grand Chamaco
1. RESEARCH AND EVALUATE
It can be helpful to deconstruct why certain characters and their characteristics work, and why some don’t. There’s no shortage of research materials 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 sketches over 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 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.”
4. VISUAL IMPACT
Whether you’re creating a monkey, a robot or a monster, you can guarantee there are going to be a hundred other similar creations out there. Your character 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’ bright yellow skin colour would grab their attention. And he was absolutely right.
5. LINE QUALITIES AND STYLES
The drawn lines of 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 decisive pen-maneuvering. A strong line for me comes from strength and rhythm.”
6. EXAGGERATED CHARACTERISTICS
Exaggerating the defining features of young characters 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 to 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!
7. COLOUR ME BAD
Colours can really help to communicate a character’s personality, so be sure use them wisely. Typically, dark colours such as black, purples and greys depict baddies with malevolent intentions. Light colours such as white, blues, pinks and yellows express innocence, good nature and purity. Comic-book reds, yellows and blues might go some way to giving superhero qualities to a character.
8. ADDING 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 skill.
9. THE THIRD DIMENSION
Depending on what you have planned for your character, you might need to work out what it will look like from all angles. A seemingly flat character can take on a whole new persona when seen from the side if, for example, it has a massive beer belly. 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.
10. CONVEYING PERSONALITY
Interesting looks alone do not necessarily make for a good character; personality is key as well. A charater’s personality can be revealed through comic strips and animations, where we see how it reacts to certain situations. The personality of your character doesn’t have to be particularly agreeable, but it does need to be interesting (unless your characters is purposefully dull). Personality can also be expressed simply in how the character has been drawn.
credit – computer art
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