7 Questions about Character Design and their Answers

I recently got interviewed by an university student of Character Design and their questions felt quite enlightening for beginner character designers. So here I share with you their questions and my answers.

1. How important is character design in animation?

Character design is one of the most important factors in animation preceded only by the animation itself. Think of all your favorite cartoons, if the characters were not recognizable, simple and colored the way they are, chances are the animation might not be as successful. Mickey Mouse being a perfect example of this. 

2. What are the steps of creating a character design?

I can only speak for myself here but the steps I follow to create any of my character designs goes as follows:
  • Thumb-nailing/Doodle phase: This is the first step because it involves guiding my designs towards a goal. Wether that goal is to create a cute character or a scary character. In this step I jot down all my ideas, experimenting with as many different variations and possibilities as possible.
  • Refine Sketch: Once I am happy with one of my thumbnails or doodles, I then proceed to sketch the idea in a bigger format. At this point I am essentially expanding on the things I liked more about whilst dropping the things I did not particularly enjoyed. At this point I start using references to add detail to my drawing. 
  • Inking: With my refined sketch I then take it further by inking the character digitally using my computer tablet. 
  • Coloring: I finally add colors and a background if necessary.

3. What are the principles used in character design?

The 4 main principles used in character design are:
  • Shape
  • Proportions
  • Color Theory
  • Line of Action

4. What are the elements in traditional culture can be used in character design?

Culture can be a very important aspect to character design. For example when we are talking about a dragon, we have to make a proper distinction between the long bodied easter depicted dragon such as in japanese flock-lore, and the more mammal looking western dragons like the one we see in Game of Thrones and How to Train your dragons. Both characters are dragons but depending on the culture of the character’s audience we have to make very specific design choices.

5. How do you implement cultural elements in character design?

Another way we can implement cultural elements is through the character’s clothing and props.Take for example these two designs.

Both of these designs are meant to represent tribal warriors, yet they are both very different. The tiki mask displayed by the second character turns him into a more tropical looking warrior, and make us imagine that perhaps he uses spear to catch fish in his island habitat.

Whilst the first character uses a more Aztec inspired design, which makes us place him in a more forest or jungle aspect like the expansive jungles of south america. In these instances the use of culture in the creation of our character has impacted how we perceive them. They both fit the bill for tribal warriors but these very distinct accessories make them both quite unique. 

6. Which aspect is the most significant to portray culture in character design? (is it the accessories or the clothing, etc?)

I think both aspects are very significant. And we can go a step further and consider props to also be part of culture. 
For example in this iguana surfer design. 

We use accessories like tattooes and the necklace to depict him as a down to earth fellow, the short pants put and the beach colored background, make us think that he frequents the beach several times a week, maybe even daily, and lastly we use the surfboard to complete the picture. Now this iguana character is not just an iguana that likes the beach, he’s know a full on iguana surfer, which is a culture onto itself that carries all sorts of lingo, history and habits.
So perhaps the right answer would be something like finding the right balance between accessories, clothing, props and environment is the one true way to properly depict culture in your designs. 

7. Do you think that character style has an effect when interpreting culture? (such as anime style or cartoon style, does it effect on the storyline?)

I don’t honestly think that style affects the availability of an artist to portray culture nor should it affect story. That is more about the writing, if the writing is good enough and the characters are developed well enough then the right artistic style might push the project further, but that does not mean that another style might not also be able to carry the story.

A perfect example of this is the work created from the draw in this style trend of content:

In which an artist draws the same character in several styles. Whilst the style changes the character still comes through and we can see an easy to follow trend, which shows us that using the major key elements of our character we are still very much able to change their art style and still be able to tell their story. 

Feel free to tell me your thoughts on these questions down in the comments section below and add to the conversation.

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