VISUAL CHARACTER DESIGN

A basic overview for beginners, with links to some useful tutorials

  • Sooz
  • 05/10/2016 02:03 PM
  • 6200 views
The very start- Brainstorming!

Before you ever draw a single stroke, you need to determine your character basics- not even the details like age, background, and the like, but things like “Who is this person in the story?” and “What themes am I going for with this character?” What character traits are the most important for them?

During this process, it's good to collect images that express these traits. The tutorial linked there mostly collected images of people; I tend to go for objects, clothing, and occasionally pictures with a particular palette.


The first steps- Silhouettes and posing!

Once you have a basic idea of who you're working with, it's time to start with the most basic element of character design: the silhouette. In a really well-designed ensemble, everyone will have a distinctly different sihouette. This can range from cartoonish and exaggerated to more understated.

Cartoonish:



Understated:


Most likely, your first instinct is going to be to make your characters fairly average in body type, unless they're some kind of comic relief. Break out of this mindset! There's a stunning variety of shapes and sizes in humanity (to say nothing of what one gets when nonhumans are involved). This holds true with the athletic types you're probably working with if you're doing a video game: just check out these Olympic athletes!



Think about the character's body: is there a part or set of parts you want to emphasize? How can you convey their themes and mood with body shape? For example, a very strong, solid character might have a thicker, rectangular silhouette, bringing to mind a wall or boulder; an unpleasant and standoffish character might have a sharper and thinner shape, like spikes.

Would it be helpful to exaggerate a particular body part? Think about what associations we make with various parts- feet, hips, hands, shoulders, etc. You can use these to influence how your audience perceives each character. To continue with the two above examples, the stronger character might have exaggerated shoulders and legs- to give the impression they've got a really solid “base”- while the unpleasant one might have long, clawlike fingers and spidery limbs.

Yo here's a big ol' RAR file with all the stuff I use for really basic character design. It's got body types, faces, and a well-researched set of diagrams comparing the basic appearances of human ethnicities.

Once you have an idea what sort of body type you're using, it's time to think about poses.

A basic knowledge of body language is extremely good here, so you can quickly indicate traits like who's confident, who's open, who's shy, etc. Consider also how active your character is- do they use a lot of grand, sweeping gestures, or do they keep mostly still? Are they upright or slouchy?

Here's a really good video on character poses in general

One thing I like to do sometimes is to act out character movement, just to get a better idea of the feel and placement. This is especially good if you either pose in front of a mirror or have someone take a picture of you. (It may help that I tend to be kind of a hands-on learner and also have some training in martial arts and dance; IDK if anyone without those details would benefit as well.)

The icing- Costumes!

Obviously, the first thing you need to consider here is the setting. Modern, historical, futuristic? What kind of climate does the character inhabit? Are there any hazards they need to dress for? A character on the steppes or the prarie will have different dress needs from one in a jungle or a cave.

What is your character's occupation? A farmer's dress will be extremely different from a librarian's. Are there any tools of the trade they need to have on hand? Do they wear something to communicate their position? (A ruler's crown, a policeman's badge, a British judge's wig and robe, an executioner's hood.)

Do they need something that's easy to move around in, or are they comfortable with something that looks fancier but limits their movement? Do they wear a lot of accessories, or do they prefer simplicity?

Your character's costuming should accentuate their silhouette- paulrons or shoulder pads for a silhouette with wide shoulders; capes, flowing scarves, or long hair to accentuate a character who moves around a lot; a tall headdress or hairstyle to accentuate a tall character.

I do a lot of fantasy and historical design, and this is my favorite reference to use. I can't vouch for complete authenticity, but I like using it as a springboard for designing things from similar settings, or just to get a few ideas for basic garment styles.

These are all the very basics, of course; once you've worked on them for a while, you'll start getting a feel for what elements you'd like to add, ignore, or tweak. As with all design, it helps tremendously to do your research- study what other designers have done, and of course always check out how things happen in real life- it can be the best inspiration of all!

Happy designing!

Posts

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Ratty524
The 524 is for 524 Stone Crabs
12637
Yay it's an article now!

Thanks Sooz! You've inspired me to not give up on this whole thing called "art" yet! :D
Dudesoft
always a dudesoft, never a soft dude.
6024
Awesome article, Sooz.
Makes me think about something I've been lacking a lot in my design process; Inspiration collection... I usually skip the process of looking at other people's stuff/photos, unless it's a previously existing character.
I'm going to give this a whirl on my next project.
Sooz
I'm allergic to ghosts
4225
Oh yeah, I am constantly collecting images of stuff that I want to rip off somehow. Gotta lotta creepy photos and old 80s and 90s videro gamr art. :D
Ratty524
The 524 is for 524 Stone Crabs
12637
author=Dudesoft
Awesome article, Sooz.
Makes me think about something I've been lacking a lot in my design process; Inspiration collection... I usually skip the process of looking at other people's stuff/photos, unless it's a previously existing character.
I'm going to give this a whirl on my next project.

Definitely collect reference images. I tend to do it a lot because of how little I know about things, but doing the research is easy.
Sooz
I'm allergic to ghosts
4225
Also you get to look at pretties! :DDD

ETA: Like, here's my collection of inspo and reference that live in my work room:




(That one's hard to get a good angle of because it's right next to my window seat work area. It's mostly costuming and figure stuff.)

Every once in a while I'll grab one of them and just flip through it and admire stuff. It's great for breaking out of your own mental boxes!
Thanks for the article.
I'm just starting out learning to draw and your explanation did a great job of making this make sense to someone who knows basically nothing about art, like me.
Sooz
I'm allergic to ghosts
4225
Awesome! I'm always gad to hear my stuff is helpful to total beginners. Hope we'll see some of your stuff soon!
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