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Blog . Quick Tips for Character Design

Blog

Quick Tips for Character Design

11/07/14  |  Posted by Zachary James  |  Posted in Digital Creativity

Making a unique and overall great character design is a hard task. There’s a lot that goes into character design, but here’s a few tips to help you make a character that is interesting and able to hold it's own out there.

Color

The colors on your character are important for design. It can assist with the feel of your character and even enhance and alter other aspects, making the character more united. Your color choice for your characters can also help reach out to your target audience – for example, if your character needs to be friendly and is for kids, use bright primary colors.

Don’t overdo it. Sometimes it’s easy to get a little excited or go on autopilot and use way too many colors. It is important to make sure your character doesn’t have too many colors. If your eyes hurt, or you feel confused when you look at your character it might be time to try some new colors. (Unless, of course, that’s what you’re going for.) As a rule for myself, I normally try to keep it down to three main colors to keep it simple and pleasing. Using complimentary, split-complimentary, triadic, or analogous color harmonies can certainly assist with your palette, don’t feel like you can’t stray from these, though.

Concept

There should be some kind of idea or concept behind your character. Inspiration, if you will. This will make your character much more unique and original. This part is fairly simple, and might be small compared to other pats of character design, but your character will be lost without it.

Perhaps your character is a pianist! Make him hunch over the piano with a bad back constantly pushing his long hair out of his eyes. Perhaps his fingers are longer, he’s tall and skinny, and he’s always exhausted because he studies music day and night. See? Simple. (Also, I bet you imagined some kind of character while reading that. THAT is what you should aim for.)

Your whole design should be fixated on one strong idea.

Shape

Basic shapes can change the overall feel of your character. Let’s talk about three basic shapes that are used in virtually every character’s design: Circles, Squares, and Triangles.

-Circles

  • Circles make your character feel soft and friendly. If you want your character to be approachable and fun, circles are a good idea to go off of. Mickey Mouse is a great example of primarily using circles.

-Squares

  • Squares make your character feel bulky and heavy. Square or rectangular shapes could convey a character’s strength and physical weight. (I know you may be thinking, “but SpongeBob is square,” but he’s softened by those round bumps on his side. Also, check out all those circular pores and his big round eyes and nose!)

-Triangles

  • Triangles make your character feel sinister or edgy. The “bad guys” are generally composed of pointy triangular shapes. Spikes = pain, right? Triangles can also make your character feel edgy, or thrill seeking. Maleficent, The Joker, and Bowser are all really good examples of incorporating the triangular shape in a design to convey the feeling of intimidation and danger.

Mix and match these shapes to create interesting character ideas. For example, I want my villain to look mean and scary, so I’ll use some triangles to try to show that. I also want him to feel comical and funny, so I’ll add some circles in there too.

Try to make sure your characters look and feel different too. There’s nothing more upsetting than seeing twelve characters lined up together all with the same weight, height, size, and shape. Be diverse with your design and change it up! Posture and pose can help give your character’s shape more personality as well.

Before you decide your character looks great and you want to move on, make sure you can recognize your character by its silhouette alone.

Simplicity

Your characters can be absolutely simple or totally complex. It's up to you, but even the most complex characters should be able to be built in a simple fashion. Also, you should be able to tell what’s going on in your design by looking at it. If you look at your character and can’t even tell what it is anymore, it is time to simplify.

Clothing styles and hairstyles should be generally simple when broken down, and should not have too many pieces/parts/elements to avoid confusion. Being able to make your character’s overall design in as few strokes as possible is a great way to challenge yourself to break down your character. Less is more (generally) and simple is easier to remember.

Cohesiveness

It’s a good idea to try and use repetition to enhance your character’s design. Using similar accessories, patterns, and colors across your entire character will unite the design and make it feel like it fits. Even the smallest detail can make your character design work. If your character has green eyes, for example, give her some green earrings, or a green hair tie. What if your villain’s hair is a fiery red? Make the little details on his outfit accented with that same color.

Try and use all the colors, shapes, patterns, and ideas in your character across the design. Also, make sure that the separate parts of your character look like they belong to that character. (If the top doesn’t look like it should go with the bottom, there’s a problem.)

Repeatability

This is huge. Make sure that it is not tedious to draw your character repeatedly. Make sure you try to draw your character in several different positions and angles to really understand and feel your character. If it’s impossible to draw that pattern, tattoo, or whatever twice it probably shouldn’t be there. Drawing your character should be relatively easy and not painful.

Personality

Your character needs to have a personality. If you think that a character that has no emotions lacks any personality, well… that is their personality. A character’s facial features, color scheme, clothing style, hairstyle, and posture should all reflect their personality. If you are having troubles with making a character’s personality shine through a certain aspect of their design, make that bit of personality come through even more in another. If you have to draw a really sad clown, make his posture really slouched and maybe make his facial features really sad. If you feel like you know the character the moment you look at it, you’re doing it right.

Uniqueness

Finally, your character should be unique in all aspects of the design. Don’t depend on your character’s accessories, clothing, and hair to make your character unique. Those aspects can be changed with the blink of an eye. You want the core of your character to be unique. Your character is an individual, and they will appreciate it if you treat them as such.

If your character is bald and naked you should still be able to recognize them. You should be able to tell that this guy is “Jim John the Exterminator” instead of “Bill Bob the Lawyer. “

That’s All Folks

If you still need an extra push, go watch some cartoons and movies. Really study the characters in them and take notes on their design. Decide if the design is successful or not and why. Really break it down simply. You’ll soon start to get a better grasp at what’s going on, and how to implement such things in your own work. It’s important to remember that an iconic character may be extremely simple, but it more than likely took a really long time to rework them into what they are now.

Now go make some art already!!

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