Monday, 9 March 2020

The Art of "Considered Character Design"

"Coffee Guy" by Escapee Natalya Ropotova
Steve Sole, character designer from Tiger Aspect Productions, “Mr Bean”, and one of the main character design tutors at Escape Studios, offers his thoughts on the importance of making a considered approach to the art of character design.

Character design isn't just about creating cool characters. It is very much a client-facing process in which designers work together with art directors and directors to create characters that work in the overall content of a production.

The key to success, Steve argues, is to take the time to consider the process carefully.  In this guest post, Steve explains the principles behind "Considered Character Design".

"Monsterz" by Escapee Nora Racz
Considered Character Design
“Considered character Design is key to quality work. The more love you offer a character in their development the more love the final product will receive. So what is Considered Character Design?

Good character design reflects the character's personal narrative. From the start, be sure to work from a clear brief.  Get under the skin of your character, get to know them through and through.

What makes your characters tick? What are their hobbies? Who is their favourite musician? Who were they in the ‘classroom’ (geek, jock, "it girl", etc etc)? Even if these ‘insights’ have no place in the story they are still important to inform your character.

Begin with a Moodboard
Latin girl by Escapee Verdiana Pagnano
Once you feel you know your character be sure to consider the world they inhabit. What is the setting of your story and how will it/can it influence your art direction? Put together a solid mood board of references for the setting of your show.

Once you have a nice broad range of images you can pick and choose some ‘accents’ that can help create a cohesive design aesthetic linking both characters and backgrounds (a good example of this is Disney’s Hercules).

Now you have a solid understanding of your character and their ‘world’ you can begin to put together a character mood board - put together a Pinterest board and fill it up with images you feel connect to your character. (ask questions like who would play them in a live action film, what kind of clothes would they wear? What kind of clothes are suitable within their environment/time etc. etc. etc.). Depending on how many images you find, you may need to refine the number down . Once you have a nice selection of images put them into a mood board.

Character Lineup by Escapee Joshua Howland-Roohi
Design - Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS)
Now you can begin to design your character - The key thing to remember when designing is the rule of K.I.S.S (acronym for Keep it Simple Stupid). Always consider that you, as a character designer, form part of a bigger pipeline. Design your characters appropriately for the software you are using, and be wary of adding too many details. An animator/designer/modeler will be cursing your name if you needlessly complicate the characters, and the audience will be distracted by too much ‘fluff’.

"Chief of the Tribe" by Natalya Ropotova
The Importance of Shape Language
To help simplify your designs the key things to consider are:
  • Shape language
  • Silhouette 
  • Cognitive bias. 
There is a lot to speak about here but, fundamentally, be considerate of the shape of your character and how that shape reflects their core personality.  For example, are they made up of circles (happy), Squares (strong),  or Triangles (villainous)?  This is a universal language, and a solid simple silhouette will really help define your characters' personality and help an animator consider the acting required for the role.
Turnaround by Escapee Sara Sally
Colour Theory
Colour theory; Always be considerate of colour in the creation of a character - be aware of how your choice of colours which make up their clothing, skin tone/parlour even choice of eye colour can hold power when reflecting the temperament of your character. Be especially aware of the use of cool-vs-warm colours. 

Throughout the design process be aware of the volumes of your characters - where do they carry their weight from and where does it sit on their frame. Being thoughtful of this from the moment of conception will help no end when it comes to pulling a turnaround off of your hero pose.

Cat by Escapee Aimee Rose-Schiel
Life drawing and gesture drawing
Life drawing classes and gesture drawing classes should not be neglected. These are important to get students thinking about the power of poses.

Take risks
I also think it is of major importance to have the students design outside of their comfort zone. As a tutor, I might give students a defined brief to design, or perhaps have the students set each other a character brief. This allows students to adopt different styles and be more considerate as an artist of what best fits the brief - not to just answer each one with their own preference of style/approach."
Steve Sole

---Steve Sole

About Steve Sole
Steven Sole has over a dozen years of studio experience across various positions in both broadcast and web animation. Recent work includes Art Director and Designer on Mr Bean at Tiger Aspect Productions.

Steve specialises in Concept Art, Character Design and Illustration.  Steven also develops on short film ideas, music videos and is skilled with Zbrush and Mud Box. To see more of Steven's work, visit his official site.

"Damon" by Escapee Sole Westlake
Character Design at Escape Studios 
Here at Escape Studios we offer a number of ways to study character design:
And, of course, our undergraduate students tackle character design as part of the "Movement & Narrative" mini-module in their first year. Later, student character designs are incorporated into film productions such as the award-winning shorts Jerich0 and Home Sweet Home.

To see more examples of student character design at Escape Studios, follow this link.  

The Escape Studios Animation Blog offers a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To find out more about our new BA/MArt, now recruiting for September 2020, follow this link.   To apply, visit the official page here


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