Animal Character Design: Creating Animal Characters for Storytelling | Sammie Clark | Skillshare

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Animal Character Design: Creating Animal Characters for Storytelling

teacher avatar Sammie Clark, Illustrator

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (23m)
    • 1. Class Intro

    • 2. Choose Your Animal

    • 3. Naturalistic Sketches

    • 4. Defining Attributes

    • 5. Stylizing Your Animal

    • 6. Accessorizing

    • 7. Coloring

    • 8. Finished Character

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About This Class

Have you ever wanted to make an engaging animal character but don't know where to start?

In this class, you will learn how to start with a naturalistic animal and turn it into an original animal character with a unique personality! You’ll receive tips on stylizing and learn how to design a character that tells a story. Work in the medium of your choice! 

Illustrator Sammie Clark will take you through the steps she uses for developing her charming animal characters. 

In this class you'll learn:

  • Methods to come up with an idea for an animal character 
  • How to work from naturalistic sketches, to create a stylized animal form
  • How to make design choices that tell the story you want to tell 
  • By the end of this class, you will have created your own original animal character! 

This class is for anyone who enjoys drawing who would like to gain skills to bring a character from their mind, to life through illustration. 


Meet Your Teacher

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Sammie Clark



Sammie Clark is a full-time illustrator and art YouTuber. Her work has been published by Thames and Hudson Australia and after graduating with a degree in Fine Arts in 2014, she started her shop where you can find prints, pins and other accessories featuring her charming animal characters. 

Take Sammie's New Class!

Have you ever wanted to make an engaging animal character but don't know where to start?

In this class, you will learn how to start with a naturalistic animal and turn it into an original animal character with a unique personality! You’ll receive tips on stylizing and learn how to design a character that tells a story. Work in the medium of your choice! See full profile

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1. Class Intro: character design. It's a great way to tell a story, but it can be really intimidating and kind of vulnerable experience to put your are out there that has so much from your imagination in it. I'm saving Park and I'm an illustrator. So today I'm hoping to give you some insight into the character design process and hopefully help you feel more confident you aren't out there. What they graduated After studying fine art, I started thinking, What's next? So I started doodling and I had a lot of fun just experimenting since I didn't have a professor looking over my shoulder anymore, and I discovered that I love using illustration for storytelling in particular. I really love bringing a character from my mind life for illustration, and I'm really excited to share that experience with you guys. I'm gonna walk you through my process all the way from the inspiration and cleaning staged to finally completing your very own original animal character in medium of your choice. Well, this class is going to be mainly about making your own animal character. The methods I believe teach could be applied to any kind of character design. This class gave me great for anyone with some drawing experience, was looking to learn methods to take a naturalistic animal sketch and turn it into your own animal character. With the story, I will be working both digitally and with water color, your creed he's ever met me you feel most comfortable with. So go ahead, grab your supplies, and will that started dreaming up in creating your very own original animal character? 2. Choose Your Animal: Okay, so now it's time to start thinking. Who is your animal character? There's a few ways I like to start this now. You might have an animal already in mind that you would like to draw and turn into a character. So what? I have an animal in mind. I like to start by going to my field guide and flipping through the pages and looking at some of the characteristics and descriptions of that animal. You don't have to have an animal feel guy. It's totally fine. You can always go online and look up some facts about them. If you can learn things like, when did they sleep with their houses have, like, what do they eat? All these things could be really inspiring for coming up with ideas for your character. Once you've done a little bit of research, you can use that information to inspire you to come up with maybe a job or a hobby for your character. Figure out if they are introvert or extra her what their personal style might be, where they live, things like that. That's all going to help develop an interesting character for you. So another starting point for making this animal character might be that you already have a story in mind and you want to create a character for it. So, for example, it might make perfect sense for a builder character to be a beaver. But you can also make unexpected character choices that can emphasize the theme of your story or act to abs and humor to the story. For example, it could be really fun to take an animal who might not typically be chosen as the bad guy to play the bad guy something small and timid, maybe, and I could add a lot of humor to your story. Also, if you have an underdog character, you could choose an animal that's typically very powerful or scary to play that role and my emphasizes sort of idea when they get across to your viewer. If you're still feeling stuff and you're like Sammy, I don't even know where to start with this. That's OK. His I'm not always inspired either, so I made a list for you that you can work from if you want, or you can make your own to choose an attribute, an animal and a profession or hobby to kind of start off your character and you promised to work with 3. Naturalistic Sketches : No way we're going to work on ways, naturalistic sketches in just a few minutes during this. If you want to be really good to help you familiarize yourself with what the reading looks like coming and when we start a little bit of stylization later down the road, I like to start by collecting and a few pictures of the animal and various poses and activities so that I can get a really sense for how moves how its body blows from different angles. I will meet you back here after you've done that exercise. 4. Defining Attributes: you. Okay, so next we're gonna look for your sketches in your reference photos to pick out the animals defining attributes. Now, something's might be pretty obvious, like a rabbit ears and be very prominent. And Burke character should have wings. There are other, more self things about the animals that are really important to get across that your character is the animal that you are intending for it to be. It could be the difference between during an animal that's supposed to be a squirrel, but ends up looking like a cat. So let me show you what I mean. Okay, so I'm gonna take this simple cartoon cat face and show you how I would change it to make it into a squirrel on this start making ears slightly more rounded and larger for the head . And then the angle of the eyes and the lack of people's is gonna be a big deal, as well as changing the face shape to be slightly more pointed and moving the nose down more because squirrels have a larger space between their eyes and their nose and taking away the little pink triangular nose and making it more of like a no slit. You can see here working to change the body. I'm changing the tail as well as the shape of the leg, but it could still pass for a fluffy cat. The real change comes when I change the head shape, which you can see here. So, going back to my sketches of the jackrabbit, here are the notes that I took about what I thought words defining attributes. Of course we have the extra big ears which are going to set it apart from just a regular rabbit. Um, and then a few other things were that sometimes its tail is down and has that black mark because I'm drawing a black tailed jackrabbit. Also, its eyes can be somewhat bulging as very skinny arms. But big paws tips of its ears are black, and it has a lot of angles to its face. Also, things like light colored eyes and the veins in the ears will be something I'll think about as I start coloring him 5. Stylizing Your Animal : you know, animals defining attributes. You can play around with proportions and contrast of different shapes in the body on curves and angles, and see what kind of emotion that elicits when you draw your character in different ways. One way that you can get started. Experimenting with this is taking one of your naturalistic sketches and drawing over it and essentially waiting certain parts of the animal. It might be its defining attributes. That might be something else about it that you think it will be interesting to try out, suggest draw over it and kind of exaggerate or minimize certain areas and see what you come up with. Okay, so I thought it would be helpful if we looked at three famous rabbit characters and kind of analyze their character, designed to determine why the designers might have made the choices that they did. So when we look at Bugs Bunny, he is a rabbit who exists in a world with people, and he's very funny and very active and sometimes doing things that are physically impossible. So they went with a by type that is kind of human, but they obviously kept some really funny things, like his Big T than his big feet and all the defining attributes that we could still tell that he's definitely of rabbit. For Judy Hopps from Zootopia, she is a rabbit in a world that is Onley animals there, no humans in this. So in that way the animals were present humans and need to be similar to us. But the story line also has a lot to do with different species, and so it is important that she keeps some of her animal traits aside from just her defining attributes. So she obviously has big ears, big, fluffy tail and rabbit feet some, but it's a little bit more athletic and human like in her form. Also, her facial features are all in the front, which makes her a little bit more human. For Peter Rabbit, he is a rabbit in a world with people that as much like hours and I Will. Beatrix Potter wanted us to do was, as a viewer be able to read that story and think about the cottontail rabbits in our own yard. So he's very naturalistic, and that goes with his story line. He's really pretty much only doing things that really rabbit would would do aside from wearing clothing and things like that, but physically he is acting very much as a natural rabbit. There's also the option of giving your animal a very human like body on, and then just maybe, its head and its tail, and only the defining attributes are still there to represent that it is that animal. So a really good example of this is the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman. It deals with a really serious subject matter, and all of the characters are Nice Hague's cats and dogs. You can see that because it is a serious story, serious subject matter and that they are supposed to represent people. I think it was a really good choice that he made their bodies very humanlike, but it was successful in making them look like animals and not some kind of alien, because he kept their defining attributes there. Another example, where the illustrator has chosen to give animals human like bodies is the cartoon TV show Arthur and I remember growing up, having no idea what Arthur was supposed to be, what kind of animal he was supposed to be. And honestly, it's not very important that, you know, because they are really just supposed to be representing people. Um, obviously again, it works with the rabbit because he has his really prominent years. And I think that they could have found a way for this to work more if it mattered to know what animal are cure was supposed to be. So let me show you a picture. So worker is apparently supposed to be an art bark and we can see the head. He basically has none of the features that an artwork has. Um, they could have given him ears that were similar. He could have had a long nose, but they just kind of scrapped at all. It's very interesting to see because originally when he came out in a book in 1976 he had a very long nose. He looked very much like an artwork. Even the 1980 version. I think it's pretty good, but as time goes on, he gets less and less like an artwork. Now, this doesn't really matter all that much because it's not interval to the story. I think that they probably just chose animal characters for this cartoon show because It's very inclusive, and you can easily kind of impute yourself into a specific character. These are all important things to think about when you are stylized in your character to make sure you're making something that feels appropriate for a story that you are trying to tell with your character design. When I'm working on making an animal illustration or a story with animals, it is important for me to have that animal be recognizable because I want people Teoh connect it with that animal in real life. So why are working on finding what your character body is going to look like? You need to think about if they can do the things that they might need to do. If you are working with the story and your character needs to heart real or jump or something like that, it's important to think if their body can do that. So I just kind of drawing out your character as you have it doing different things and seeing if you need to make any adjustments so there may be circumstances where you can get around adjusting your animal's body too much. So, for example, if you're working with a story in the caption reads. Piggy can count to 10 you can have the little pig there with his cloven hoof may be looking at it, and obviously he can't come fingers. But it acts to add humor in a moment where it otherwise might be kind of boring. So that's a really fun thing that you get to do is an illustrator work with text and having your own little nuance and humor. 6. Accessorizing: So now you've determined what your character's face and body and proportions look like. It is time to start thinking about its accessories, including, and these are part of the process that really helped to tell the story who your character is. I love to do this by kind together. Inspirational images of clothing patterns, textures from interests to put together. And I try sketching out on my character when it comes to choosing colors, patterns and textures for your animal characters. Caliphate accessories. You can think about things like different associations that we have with particular patterns. Sometimes laurel can look very vintage straits kind of give us not a full feelings and flat feels very outdoorsy so you can work with. Those ideas will tell the story of who your character is, but also keep in mind if you want to surprise your fewer. If you can always show your character and it outfit that says one thing and then maybe their expressions as another. So maybe it's a bad guy. They're not something that clearly reads evil, but they have a little look in their eye that gives a person the idea that maybe there's a little something to them. OK, so I have my Pinterest board up in referencing all of the help. It's an accessory is that I really liked and I'm also drawing my character in different poses. But you could just have yours front facing to start with, I finally found opposed an idea. I thought that she should have a math because it kind of want her to be a traveller. She's exploring and vincey me struggling a lot with the feet here, so you might find that you need to make some adjustments as you put clothes on your character. But this is what I came up with. So I just want to show you guys what I did for mine. Um, you saw me do this sketch on my iPad and some has been doing something digitally. It'll just draw directly over that. But since I want to do this traditionally, I had the option of either using watercolor paper over and tracing it or printing out the sketch on paper. But sometimes the ink when it prints out, will bleed when mixed with water color. So I just laid it over and I traced most of the form, but then just added, um, some little details and fix a few things after tracing. So now it is time to get started on doing the coloring process. 7. Coloring: Okay, guys. So now I'm starting painting, and I thought I religious kind of talking through my process, But of course, you can use whoever you may want to hear and starting with watercolor for the for. And I like to go win and kind of make individual strokes and work in layers. And the trick for this is just making sure that usual layer is dry before you start the next one, because otherwise they'll just bleed together. So I haven't really told you about my character, which is this Jack Rabbit. And I decided that she is going on her first excursion, her first trip by herself. I'm thinking maybe she's somewhere like Morocco, and that's kind of how I took my inspiration for her outfit and the overall vibe of this piece. And I find it very helpful when I finally start doing the painting to continue to reference those photos that I saved earlier to make sure I'm getting colors and textures right. So once it was ready to start with painting the accessories, I found that I needed to have the clothing and everything have more weight, more visual weight than the for, and sometimes watercolor just doesn't look solid enough for tangible enough. And so here I decided to mix up this kind of okra color with acrylic paints, and I also ended up doing the bag with a kind of deep all of the forest green color. And this is just something that shows you that you know, you might start off thinking that you're gonna only be using one medium, but find that you will get the desired look much more easily you by using a few mediums together. After I had started the map, I went around the back side and decided that you need to just be more white. So I'm just going in with acrylic paint and painting over this backside to help to differentiate those things and you'll see me going in here with a few different types of pens. This white one is a white jelly roll, and I love this for for accents. I also used in on things like Pet Portrait, and she's really helpful to get really small little details, actually has a little bit of dimension as well, because it is thicker and more race than the watercolor pain would be that you guys see me putting a lot of texture on the for here. And that's something I really like to do with my pieces is make sure that whether I'm beginning, you know, for feather scales, whatever the texture of the animal is, I do like to have that show a little bit. I think that adds a lot of depth and interest to the peace. Overall, depending on how textured your animal is, you might decide to pull back, making their clothing extra textured or patterned. You'll just have to kind of way that as you go so you'll see me going in here now with Penn and I'm using a micron pen that its size 005 It's really, really tiny, and I like to use this on my characters, starting with their eyes and any kind of small places where I don't want to make too big of a mark that I can't get rid of. So I'd like to start small and then go on with my bigger pen, which is a waterproof unit ball pen, and I like there to be some varying thickness to my lines, and I also don't outline every single part of the animal. Sometimes I stick to the places that are maybe more in shadow or issues areas where there's wrinkles, um, or just parts of edges to do the thinking with it could be really fun and at a lot of interest here, character if you go in and at little details, like tiny buttons or little stitched lines, and this just helps to make the peace feel more complete and thoughtful for the viewer. Now I'm just going on the map and adding the little details that kind of help tell the story even further. So on your drawing, you can think about ways that you can continue to just give little hints at who this character is and what they're doing. 8. Finished Character: you. Okay, so now if you've been following along, you have your own original animal character really inside to see what you make. If you want to share it in the classroom gallery, I would love that. You can also have me on Instagram at Sammy Clark Art to share what you've made from this course. That would make me so happy And remember, it's OK. It doesn't feel perfect. The first time it comes to making an animal character with the story. You might go back as your story develops and edit them a little bit. Or maybe they're not communicating exactly what you want it. So don't be afraid to go back at it and try again. It's okay. Okay, guys, here's my character. All finished. I thought you might like to see some close ups. She still needs a name. But I'm really happy with how she turned out. And I hope that this process was inspiring for you. And I can't wait to see what you create