Characters are the driving force behind every myth, book, or movie that has ever been made. Without characters, there is no story to tell, meaning a character can make or break a story. Bugs Bunny, Fred Flintstone and Mickey Mouse are all characters that have forever been engraved in the history of animation. Their legacies have lasted throughout many years leaving audiences wanting more, but what makes these characters special is their designs.
Memorable character designs visually tell the audience who they are without having to read a description. Their body shape along with certain features are distinguishable even when they’re silhouetted. A unique silhouette is key! The character must be recognizable in any context.
A helpful way to begin designing your character is to think of popular character tropes or cliches. The average joe, the underdog, the hero; just by hearing these short descriptions, you see an image in your head of someone who can fit the bill. Now that you have an idea of your character’s role, you should think of their personality in more detail.
Taking the average joe I think of something like the figure on the left. However, there’s nothing for me to remember this character by. He’s too much like everyone else. But what if he was also into hippie culture? Then you get a design like the one on the right. Just this one quality gives me an idea of how to differentiate his hairstyle, his clothes, and his pose based on how I perceive his personality to be in my head. More memorable right?
Remember to think about who your character is. What is he or she like? How can you visually convey who they are through distinct traits without telling an audience a single word? Are they loud? Give them a dynamic pose. Are they quiet? Show them hunched up, almost as if saying they are hiding. This initial presentation is how your audience will perceive your character for the very first time.
Shapes are important and can vary. An angular character usually turns out to be a villain, while a circular or curvy character is cute and will more often be the protagonist.
Colors also convey a character’s qualities. Dark colors are good for dangerous or mysterious characters while bright colors work for happy, energetic characters.
Eyes are important as they contain the most expression; they are the windows to the soul.
KISS (keep it simple stupid). Simplicity will keep what you’re trying to communicate clear to an audience. Cartoon gloves were devised by animators so that hands would be easier to draw. Remember that characters don’t have to be photo realistic. It’s better to exaggerate their most important qualities, similar to a caricature.
Here are some prompts of different kinds of characters. Try drawing them out and see how you can visually show the personality of these characters:
A shy school girl.
A guy on the varsity team.
An old man golfing.