Earlier this year, I started a self project. I called it Project 365 Vector Characters. Even as a child, I was always doodling wacky creatures and animals in my sketch pad. I would give them names and assign funny attributes to them. After discovering the joy that is Illustrator a couple of years ago, it was but a natural rite of passage to crossover my whimsy character development addiction to vectors.
When I started the one-vector-character-a-day exercise, I never realised that it would become a journey in learning new techniques of character creation and presentation. Before long I was experimenting with colours, textures, shapes, shadows and perspectives. I have only ever had a tattered copy of Drawing On The Funny Side Of The Brain and the rest has been gut feeling and trial and error. I don’t think I have a particular style like a lot of the illustrators do. I am more of an amateur. The things I have learnt as the days go by in my self-project are things I haven’t read online or in any book or magazine, so I thought I’d share.
Conceptualization – Asking Six Important Questions
1. What is it? – Entity
Before I start designing my daily character, I sit down for a couple of minutes with or without my sketch pad. I ask myself, "What is it going to be?". The answer to that question yo-yos wildly from day to day depending on my mood or the current happenings of my life. The burst of idea that reverberates inside my head after I ask myself that question, is usually the one I go with. My brain could say "Fruit Ninja!" or "Sock Monster!" or "Floating Cloud Cows!" or "Tooth Ghoul That Lives In A Pea Pod!" and I would obey.
Deciding what your character is going to be from a wide spectrum of craziness in this world or outside of it is the first solid step towards building a great character. You may then either sketch it out to save you time later or start the process on your computer right away if you have already visualised the character in your mind’s eye.
2. Where is it from? – Origin
After establishing the character’s species or kind, the next step is to ask yourself about its origins. Where is it from? Where does it live? Is it from outer space, a strange alien planet? Does it live in your pantry and come out at night when you sleep? Is it part of a world within yours that you don’t know exists? The answers to these questions will help you start thinking about the appearance of the character in much more detail. A creature’s geographical location is vital in creating appropriate body shape and facial features or lack of them.
3. What is its story? – Story
Everyone has a story. No matter how big or little. It defines who we are and adds to our character. In a similar fashion, creating a background story for your character will help you flesh out it’s quirks and nuances that can only develop from having a past, an existence. The character’s story helps develop its personality and in quick succession, it’s mood. If your character is a sombre clown’s abandoned hat that got squashed by the elephant, you know not to give it a smiley face. If your character is an innocent looking ragamuffin doll that lives in a Parisian chocolate shop and munches the cookies that come alive at night, you know you have to create a creepy horror with the face of an angel.
Once your core story is in place, it is very easy to build that up using multiple characters living within that storyline. It ends up making each character even more interesting and brings to light the possibility of adding new features to your original character.
4. What are its strengths and flaws? – Quirks
Superman could fly. Bugs bunny could annoy you to death. Tarzan could swing. Homer could guzzle beer. John Wayne had a swagger. The monkey George was curious. Remy rat could cook. Santa Claus is jolly. Ellen Degeneres is funny. Every super hero or character always has a strong point and a weakness. Giving your character a strength, an ability; will help you set the scene for the next question to ask, "What is its prop?"
5. What is its prop? – Props
Based on the character’s personality,it’s story, strengths and flaws; you will be able to easily decide a prop for it. The prop defines the character and becomes one with it. You will rarely ever be able to see or picture Harry Potter without his wand, or Frodo without his ring. The coyote from Roadrunner will always have his Acme gadgets and The Cat In The Hat will never be without his red and white striped headgear.
6. Technicalities – Styles
I usually decide at the very last moment whether my character is going to have outlines or just solid shapes. Deciding things like whether to apply textures, patterns, shadows, depth and specific colours will add to the mood and overall look and feel of your character. Exaggerations are a great way of making your character stick out. Everybody loves a whimsy looking character with an unusually looking big head now, don’t they? Some characters are purely made out of shapes. Some are given depth with the use of textures and shadows. The style you choose is a personal preference. It is the very last decisive factor in the conceptualizing of your character and very often, one that will either make or break a character. Depending on the origin, quirks and storyline, use a style that compliments those factors and your character will flourish.
There are 6 basic and very essential questions at the root of any character design concept. You can start off from there and make it as simple or as complicated as you wish.
Before I go
Have you created a character before? Do you do it on a regular basis? What are some of the steps you follow? Are there more questions besides the ones listed, that you ask yourself? Do you always sketch your character? Please share your advice and experiences with us in the comment section below. Thanks for stopping by and if you have enjoyed this article, please feel free to share the word.
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