Monday, May 15, 2017

Design Convincing Characters to Communicate Effectively

Design Convincing Characters to Communicate Effectively

Manjeet Singh
Head of Visual Arts Laboratory, Kazakh-British Technical University, Almaty, Kazakhstan, Email:

The years old art of designing characters has taken new shape in this age of technology irrespective of the fact that the basic principles of design remains the same throughout. Traditionally characters have been designed for stories, drama, puppetry, dance, advertising, films and animation. New mediums like video games, mobile apps and digital content also require interesting characters. This conceptual paper delves into the concept of character design. Author has tried to give an introduction of the concept and some techniques of character design. This paper is based upon literature review and author’s experience in character design.
Keywords: Character design, role of characters in storytelling, character design techniques
Character design is an art. It is a vital component in storytelling. Superficially it looks as if it is a very simple thing to design a character but it takes lot of efforts to draw successful characters which appeal to the story and audience. The successful characters or popular characters are mostly simple. It’s character designer who brings life in a fictitious character, sometimes with simplicity and sometimes with complex techniques. But it is simplicity which always wins the heart. From Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Powerpuff girls, Doraemon and Chhota Bheem etc. the main quality of most of fictitious characters is simplicity. Simple clear lines and visible readable features is another aspect that a character should posses. Character designer should know that which elements of the anatomy to exaggerate and which to downplay. Every character has some body traits which gives a distinct look and feel to their personality. Designer finds those features and play with them and give the depth to their character through design elements. The personality and the looks of a character are connected.

Character drives the story and brings life into a story. The design of characters of a film, animation, game etc. begins during the initial stages of the development. Character designers work with the director as the script is still being written to bring the characters to life. As the concept and script of the film goes through many changes, so does the design of the different characters. Designers try to build a character with whom audience could ‘connect’ and ‘emphatise’. Weaving a character with humanity, and focusing on their humane values is important while creating this connection and empathy. Sometimes artist exaggerate and sometimes down play the features or traits of their character just to give a hint of background or to build a story, and to develop their personality.

Almost every character designer use tradition media to create the initial design of their characters. They draw lots of sketches taking inspiration from real characters, stories, mythology, news and current affairs and their own life events etc. A complete character design process involves series of steps and may includes a number of artists who need to work together to create the look, feel and personality of the character. Each character has a theme and this theme itself narrates a story about the character. For example, a typical traditional puppet character from Rajasthan state of India will sport some particular kind of dress, accessories and props and will have a certain mannerism. This character is symbolic of stories related to that part of India.

How to Design the Characters
To design a character effectively one must do a thorough research. Character design can be a tricky task, because although many of the classic characters familiar to us all through cartoons, movies and advertising look simple, that simplicity is result of many hours of work that have gone into their development. From Mickey Mouse's famous three-fingered hands – drawn to save production time when he was first developed for animations in the 1920s – to the elegant simplicity of Doraemon, character design should always be simple. Not only the clean lines and easily readable features, but exaggeration is also required sometime. Artist need to decide what feature to exaggerate and  and what to play down, what feature to add to give a hint of background and depth, and what to do to develop personality. Getting started can be the trickiest part in any character design project, but once you've got some ideas these tips will help you breath life into your creation. Once the simple skeleton structure of the character is done, various detailed features, elements like colors and textures, shading, accessories etc. are added.

One should judiciously choose features of a character. One can take inspiration from other characters, give them a distinctive shape or silhouette, keep characters simple, exaggerate your characters’ exclusive features, include expressive features, include some accessories, use color to reflect their personality traits, you should be able to draw them again, and lastly make them exclusive so that you could recognize them instantly. While designing characters, artist follow certain steps to come to final output. They begin with research which helps to frame up the features and special characteristics of character being planned. It should also be researched that who are the target audience, what is social background of theirs and the character being planned as well. To make character convincing all the natty-gritty details need to be taken care of. Once the body features are locked the clothing, accessories are decided then language, behavior and mannerism is thought of. Here the exaggeration principal of animation is applied. A personality of character is created with accessories, clothing, language and mannerism. A style - the unique style statement is created. It can be done by giving some distinct features to character in the form of some bodily gesture, clothing or dialogue etc.

Jon Burgerman (2017) in his article “Think about your audience” say that character design when aimed at young children, for example, are typically designed around basic shapes and bright colors. If you're working for a client, the character's target audience is usually predetermined. Matthew Wilson(2013) share his experience of character design for a children story.  He had written a story which had six different wonderful personalities to design. Before designing a character, he read lots of books. He made notes about each individual character and drew possible poses of the characters. In next step, he sculpted and painted the head of each of the six characters using clay. Then he brought costumes for each of the personalities. He made different poses of the character with different lighting and clicked photos. With these photos as references, he began drawing. Soon he completed a series of paintings and drawings of the cast of characters.

Steps to create convincing characters
Observe and study social and cultural aspects of the character to be designed

Ideate, discuss, make notes

Make Drawings from the notes

Accessorize and Add unique features

Complete the look in drawing

Draw various positions, postures

Complete the character sheet and final character can be built in 2D or 3D.

Most of us get influenced in our youth by fictitious characters. We remember those characters but not their creators. Their creators do lot of hard work to make them a success. A well designed cast of characters can make an enormous difference in the success of an animation. These invented personalities can have a deep influence on peoples lives. Who do you know didn’t “grow up” with such personalities as Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Doraemon or everyone’s favorite, Tom and Jerry? They seem real, even legends to us. Therefore the ever-growing field of bring a character to life will always have need artists who are familiar with the principles of character design and one can master the art of character design by experience, experiment and innovation. Character designers should always be vigilant and aware of their surroundings especially the people. They should study the people, their behaviour and mannerism and at the same time should possess and hone their skills of expression which could be drawing, 3D modeling and animation to design convincing character. Character design is an art which with the support of technology can bring out legendary characters in this world. It is a great feeling to create such characters which will live through out even if the artist who creates it remains no more.
1. Matthew Wilson and Professor Bethanne Andersen, (2013)The Art of Character Design, Journal of Undergraduate Research, Brigham Young University,  
2. Ken Barthelmey, The Art Of Character Design,  
3. The Art of Zootopia: 60 Original Character Design,
4. Andra (2014), 10 Quick Tips to Help You Design Characters Like a Pro,
5. Pixar's Tips For Designing a Successful Character, Character Design,
6. Jon Burgerman (2017), 20 top character design tips,
7. Maldonado, H., & Hayes-Roth, B. (2004). Toward cross-cultural believability in character design. Agent Culture: Human-Agent Interaction in a Multicultural World, 143-175.
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