A simple tutorial about the basics of character design.

  • Dudesoft
  • 02/15/2012 12:46 PM
Let's Draw! A Character!

Drawing a character is pretty easy for some, difficult for others, and frankly really hard to do properly for everyone. Until you start to learn the stereotypes of character design.
Last time on, LET'S DRAW! we learned the basics. Start out swinging, I say! Now it's time to buckle down and learn the process piece by piece, and we'll eventually draw another comic; only it'll be even better!

Today, Character design is on the menu; the first step to creating a Story Bible. Every comic, video game, or animation you make will require a Story Bible. Terminology changes from person to person, so bare me no grudge if my terminology is off from your own.

Character Design is full of stereotypes. We're fed them throughout the media. Look at Doug, a big round, friendly character.

Could there be a nicer fellah?

Then look at his rival, Roger, all angular and stuff. Totally untrustworthy.

Don't get on his bad side!

I could prattle on and on about this, but the short of it is that you don't design characters because they "look cool" or "function in the world". You design them to reflect certain stereotypes. Stereotypes help the audience instantly understand a lot about that character. If you see Doug walking down the street, you won't think "Oh shit, I better hide my wallet!" You think, "Hey that guy could house sit for me and I won't have to worry."

If I had to expand this to help skeptics understand: Look at the Looney Toons. Bugs Bunny has a big friendly face, and a skinny body. He looks mischievous automatically. Or take the bulldog... he looks like a strong dimwit.
On the flipside, it could be completely ironic character design. Like Tweety Bird, who has huge innocent eyes, a baby head, and a cute harmless little body... and yet he's one of the biggest jackasses on the show.

No, you're a stinker.

So, Dudesoft! What are the stereotypes you speak of?!
Easy, there's a list that I was given by my mentor, and a list that Karsuman himself has offered (as well as mending a few pointers in the list I was given). This list is by no means the only stereotypes. Just think about tv shows, or cartoons. Think about why certain characters are designed certain ways. (Note: Anime/Manga may not adhere to these stereotypes, but will indeed have their own! Feel free to delve into that style!)

The List
Skinny = Mischievous, Agile
Glasses = Smart
Broken Nose = Urban, Poor
Large Upper Body = Violent
Long Neck = Nosy
Weak Chin = Cowardly, Stupid
Small Eyes = Distrustful
Squinty Eyes = Tough, Brave
Big Eyes = Innocent
Big Chin = Power, Heroic
Ugly = Criminal, Victim
Large Pointy Nose = Bossy, Unpleasant
Large Round Nose = Friendly
Small Physique = Brave
Big Ears = Wise
Big Mouth = Pushy
Thick Eyebrows = Distrustworthy
Long Upper Lip = Stupidity

Karsuman's List
The Symbolic Relationships of Shapes
Round = kind, good-natured, childish
Square = reliable, industrious
Triangle = sinister, suspicious, sly, crafty

Humans have automatic conceptualizations of inorganic shapes related to iconography we tend to inherently thing a character designed with say lots of angles is crafty, evil or something or like a spy
For example, Disney's Doug.
All the friendly, nice characters are round. Doug especially. Doug is a friendly, nice guy.
Whereas Doug's nemesis is all angles and even has a triangle nose. His nemesis is sneaky and thoroughly unpleasant.
(yes I stole his wisdom for the article!)

Jessie's Design

This is all hot air, isn't it? Well, no. Everyone who participated in the last Let's Draw had to draw a character named Jessica "Jessie" Darson, the deadliest assassin in the galaxy. So what were her design choices? Well, at the core this is Jessie:

She's a killer, queen.

Notice that her hair is all pointy, no part of her body is squarish or really round. She's a pretty sharp looking character. Her shirt is striped to give vibes of a prisoner, or a bee. Her eyes match that stereotypical evil half-oval. Her eyebrows are thick and menacing. She's skinny and has a small physique, weak-looking almost. She has a choker around her neck.
What does that say?
Pointy hair = Triangle (Karsuman's List); sinister, suspicious, sly, crafty.
Striped shirt = the idea of being a villain is associated with prisoners / her method of killing is a syringe; sort of like a Bee, no?
Thick eyebrows = Distrustworthy.
Skinny = Mischievous, Agile
Small Physique = Brave
Choker on neck = You'll notice she doesn't say much!

When you're picking stereotypes to use, start writing down ideas about what makes the character. What is this character all about or representing? If you're designing an old, tough boxer... you will definitely want a big chin, broken nose and probably cotton ears. Start thinking stereotypes and then start branching out. Once you've nailed down the obvious keys, start making him or her look cool, or function in the world. It's a very mechanical process, but the end result is very rewarding.

Here's the outcome of this event!


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That was fun and interesting to read! Maybe I should pick up the pencil and draw again. It's been years . . ..
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