Drawing from life and observing people is something that drives me to create. I love capturing with pencil the nuances individuals have, seeing their journey, their passions, their likes and dislikes, their disappointments, their achievements.
All of this life experience shows through how they greet someone, how they sit while they drink a cup of tea. It’s every ounce of their being condensed into everything they express – or don’t express, because they may be choosing not to show their true self. All of this is what makes us who we are, whether we realise it or not. This variety in human nature is what I believe is the root of character design.
Character design infamously has a superficial side. Something we see for how it simply reads on paper. We’re more concerned with the size of the eyes in relation to the nose for the limits of appeal, than what it actually communicates about the character. While it’s important to be conscious of proportions, shape and colour, it should be used as a tool to communicate ideas rather than live on its own without a reason for being. Design must be purposeful. It should tell a clear story.
RELATING TO THE AUDIENCE
When I design a character, I want the viewer, director or production designer to feel something. To relate with this character, to feel like it’s an old friend, someone they want to know. Ultimately, I want the audience to empathise with this character as much as I do. And the only way to communicate that is to feel it yourself. If we as designers can’t care about this character, then the audience won’t, either.
If our designs aren’t clear to the average person – someone who hasn’t studied art – then how is an entire audience going to react? The beautiful thing about animation and film in general is that we don’t need to be artists ourselves to appreciate a character or a story within a film.
As character designers, we develop a cast for a film. We build “actors” who will serve the roles the directors have written. These actors don’t exist yet. Usually, early on in a production, directors and art directors want to see as many ideas as possible. They want to push ideas until they break and then reign them back in. The goal is to create a character the audience can connect with, while being unique and telling the story clearly. We as designers refer to many different resources: storyboards, verbal explanations, scripts, research, inspiration. But the point of all this research and rumination is to understand what needs to be communicated through our design.
In this workshop, I’ll be explaining how you can go from initial thought to completion within your own mind. The example will be using the story The Paper Menagerie as a script. I want to share with you how I design characters from start to finish. My body of work focuses on early development and exploratory ideas. While my methods of designing are not for everyone, I hope it brings a new perspective to your work.
1 Understand the story
I’ll start by getting acquainted with the story and characters. I’ll be using The Paper Menagerie, by Ken Liu. This story connected with me and I felt the complexity of the characters would give way to a well-rounded design if done correctly. I’ll be designing the main characters: Jack, a younger boy who has a Chinese mother and Caucasian father who’s facing conflictions with his family and culture, and Laohu, a paper tiger his mother made for Jack
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