Character Design Basics for Animators and Illustrators | Alycia Pace | Skillshare

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Character Design Basics for Animators and Illustrators

teacher avatar Alycia Pace, Fortune cookie lover and art fanatic

Watch this class and thousands more

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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

    • 1.



    • 2.



    • 3.

      Shape Language


    • 4.

      Big Medium Small


    • 5.

      Silhouette,Straight against Curves


    • 6.



    • 7.

      Putting it together


    • 8.



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About This Class

Welcome to Character Design Basics! This class will help you as you are designing characters for comics, animation, children’s books, magazine illustrations or anything else you are designing. 

In this class we cover these concepts:

-Shape language 

-Big Medium Small 

-Straights against curves 



PLEASE ask questions. I LOVE questions and it will help me know where you all are at and what I should include in future lessons. 

There is an optional exercise you can upload if you wish. Draw a bunch of fun silhouettes using a dark marker. Scribble and explore the magic of fun shapes! Then create a character off of those fun shapes. Upload a copy of your silhoette and the character you designed from it for all to see and comment. 

Thanks so much for taking the time to view this class! 

Meet Your Teacher

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Alycia Pace

Fortune cookie lover and art fanatic

Level: Intermediate

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1. Trailer : It really is. 2. Intro : Welcome everyone to character design the Basics, Part 1. In this class, we are going to figure out what makes an iconic character so that your characters will stand out from among the background. Think of some of your favorite character designs from films and books. What makes them great? What makes them iconic? Why are they coming to your mind instead of other characters? If you get asked to design a pretty blonde character, think about how many cubes pretty blonde characters have been drawn before. What makes your standout, which plenty of lumberjack characters, how will yours be different and thus recognizable? To get your characters on their way to this professional level, we will be discussing shape, language, shaped, variance, meaning big, medium and small. Silhouettes, straights against curves and reference. There will be a follow-up course of character design part do. Once you've completed this course. 3. Shape Language : To begin our character design adventure, let's talk about shapes. Shapes have a language of their own. That's why different street signs are different shapes. Today we're going to discuss the three that will impact your designs. The most. Circles, triangles, and rectangles. Welcome. Do kindergarten. Note, but these are the basic shapes that you'll be seeing in designs. And they tell a lot about your character. So if you have a friendly character, you're going to want to use a lot of circles. It's opening and inviting and cute and sweet. While triangles are used for danger, proceed with caution. In rectangles are sturdy and dependable. So you'll see these shapes in all sorts of characters. And by using these shapes, you'll be able to express in that language of art, who they are and what to expect from them. You see it in nature. Think about roses. They're lovely and pretty with the rounded petals, but the thorns are pointing and say Watch out. You put those shapes together and they tell about your character. We see it in nature also at clouds, they're round and fluffy. While lightening is dangerous. And as we see the edges, and we see the shapes being used to give messages even in car designs. The VW bug says, Hey, I'm cute and fun with it's round shapes. But a SportsCar says, I'm living on the age and laugh in the face of danger with its pointy, edgy design. While the hammer saying something like, I'm sturdy and strong and can withstand anything. You put shapes like these together and they are going to tell about your character. So let's look at how it's been applied in some recognizable characters. And we've got EMA, she's super pointy and angular, kinda like a hedgehog there with all those pointy things around her neck. Don't touch. There's Maleficent 2 with she's gotten a lot of edge to her design. And these triangles and our design without knowing anything about them, would cause me to hesitate and think twice before picking them to babysit my children. We've got Mike was ascii and crazy old Murray's Pascal. We've see the circles in these designs. That's saying, I liked that. They picked that for Michael's ascii kids. They're really trying to make a point that he's not the scary one, right? In the end, he ends up being the funny one. So I love that. He's simply a circle. And we've got crazy old Murray's. He's an intimidating, he sweet. So we see a lot around in those cheek. She just want to pinch them. And then we've got Pascal and he's sweet and have a lot of roundness to him with a slight edge here and there because he's kind of a spooky. So if your character is friendly, you don't have to just use circles. You're going to want a variety of them because each of us have different elements within us. That's what makes us complex. So if you, if you think about here, we've got Meghan toothless and they're a blend of different shapes because are they good, are they bad? Meg? She, you know, we wonder about her. Is she going to cause harm? So we see some angles in her design, but she's also has some sweetness to her. And underneath that edge, you know, she has a big heart, but has these layers to her. And you can see that in her design. We don't know what to expect from her. Toothless. He's sweet and happy, but he's also dragon and he does have the potential to harm. So we see that in his design as well as you see some angles in his wings. But then a lot of roundness to his, his eyes and face. The guy up. He's got a square jaw. There's lots of squares going on with a heaviness to it, but some roundedness to he's, he's a soft sweet, but he's got this sturdy heaviness to him. Now for an assignment, I would like you to make a character with mainly circles, then another character with mainly triangles and one with mainly squares. And don't stress out too much, it doesn't have to be a perfect design. You're just experimenting when you're turning to your sketchbook. Don't, don't think about like this needs to be polished, beautiful sketch. I sometimes do that too, where I sit down and I feel this pressure to impress myself, even if I'm not showing it to other people. It's like I need to prove to myself like I am an artist, so I'm not going to draw something ugly. But no, like if you want to improve and make advances in your career in artistic technique, take some chances here. Release those fears, and just explore a little bit. I would love to see them if you're willing to post them. And if you have questions or want draw VRS or anything, just let me know. But yes, so, so make a character mostly circles, one with mostly triangles and one with mostly squares. And I can't wait to see them. 4. Big Medium Small : Hope you had fun with your assignment. If you skipped it to just grab a piece of paper. Real quick pause this for a minute and just draw for just a little bit and see what you come up with with those simple shapes that we talked about. And what those shapes convey by using lots of circles in a design, lots of triangles and lots of squares. You can just do the face. Just something real quick. Just to explore and experiment. If you're just watching these videos and you're not picking up a pencil or, or paper, you're not going to implement them. It's like the muscle memory edge. By doing it, by drawing, you're going to make lots of changes in your art, but just watching it will not be nearly as effective. Okay, now we're gonna get into how to give variety with the size of the shapes that we talked about before. This is a vastly important technique if you want your designs to go from amateur to professional. It's called the concept of big, medium, and small. Sounds very basic and simple, but it will make your designs more complex and really stand out. So with this big medium, small, big, medium and small, it means that your designs should have one element that takes up a lot of space, a medium-sized space, and then a small area of detail. So you want variety of the size of your shapes to create interests and rhythm and to help draw the eye to the points that are important. The human eye loves foreign trust. So this big, medium and small technique will help people wanted to look at your designs versus others that are boring and Everything's the same shape. You're, the more cartoony something is, the more you're going to see this, if you're drawing a realistic face, you still going to want points of detail versus points of rest. And that can be helped in eight and a lot if you are using big shapes, medium shapes, and then small shapes. We see this here in this tree. There's a big shape and the branches and medium shape in the trunk and then smaller detail branches on the side. And then there's this RAM, sorry that my scan isn't the best quality here, but 3M has a huge body, medium head, and then some small details in for the features. And then this is Jo Olson, He's a professor of mine from BYU. The sketch this out, and I love the variety of the sizes of the trees and the elements in this sketch. How boring would it have been if they'd all been the same size and same distance apart. Now you can use this, you can also use this and break this rule if you want to show something as boring and stagnant. But I recommend for now just trying to follow it. Draw designs with big shapes, medium shapes and small shapes. 5. Silhouette,Straight against Curves: Time to talk about the concept of straights against curves. This is an advanced technique, but it's going to make a world of difference in your drawings. The more stylized your characters, the more dramatically you're going to want to use this. So simply put, it is the breaking of the line flow to show compression. When pressure is applied, you will see straight on the opposite side that you will see the curve. So it's easier to just see this than to hear about it. Tc here. You'll see the straits and then on the opposite end is a curve. Once again, the human eye loves contrast. So this definitely helps the flow of the design and it helps give variety to the lines and shapes. Robert Henry said, a curve does not exist in its full power until contrasted with a straight line. Here are some examples from Stephen Silver, who is a master at straights against curves. As you can see, the contrast with the straights versus the curves makes these designs and silhouettes extra strong. Don't you agree? Per mil 4D them or room? I'm not sure if that's how you say your name. Oh, RUN recommends balancing straits and curved lines. She says straight lines and curves gives your character designs a rhythm. A straight line, or a simple line leads the eye quickly, while a curved or detail line slows down the eye. So reading that makes me think about like musicians who speed up and slow down during a concerto. I just think having your drawings do this will make them seeing. Here's an image by Grisons norm. If you're not aware of who they are, I would highly suggest doing an internet search for grizzled norm and you will see lots of fantastic resources for your learning. So here we see flesh on a hard surface and how that creates a straight line test breaking line flow to suggest compression. You see that here? And sometimes like the extra weight will cause straight lines. You see her body is causing a lot of straight lines. The cat EC, oh, well, you know, floor is always straight but still from a design perspective, it's so nice to have that really good curve above it. Let's talk silhouettes. Interesting how you can recognize these quick sketches without any detail just by the shape of them. There's nothing with their costumes or any details, but you know who they are because of their shapes. Let's now look at some that are filled completely in. Isn't this incredible that these princesses who are pretty much wearing all big dresses like the kind of the same shape. They're still unique and you can recognize who they are with just a black filled-in shape per rating, good design there. And it's interesting with those dresses that a lot of addresses are kinda the same shape because of the big, medium, and small concept. They're trying to take that big shape down below in the bottom of the dress so that the TDL the details can be up in their faces. But yeah, isn't it neat that you can tell who they are? You emote their own kind of similar shapes. It's important to think of silhouette when you're designing hair too. You should think of hair as when I was designing hair, I would think of it as how it was styled or the strands. But instead, try to think of it as one organic shape. You can see that here in these designs. And here are some quick bad examples that I made to show the opposite of a good silhouette. See how these characters would be hard to recognize and align up of a bunch of other characters. What kind of elements could you add to these to make them unique? With like him more interesting pose or cooler hair with interesting shapes in the clothes, the way they hold themselves. What could you exaggerates? Can you make better, bigger, big, medium and small shapes more exaggerated so that the silhouette can be better. Can you add more angled or roundness or squares to make sure that the silhouette is strong and saying a lot about your character. So when you're designing, just take a step back occasionally and think, okay, if I felt this completely in, would it still be a strong design? And then when you're posing your character, you should think about this in regards to how you're placing their hands or feet higher, designing their hair. If everything is stuck into the form, it's not going to read as quickly as if their limbs and hands are out in their stance will help your I read what you have designed quicker so that viewers can know who it is quicker and take facts about what that character might be and how they might respond quicker. What's his pose going to say about your character? Some designers think of a pose and then draw the elements of the characters second to the pose, letting their attitude dictate and lead the design after work this way as well. And most elements of design, you want to start broad and then get to the details after figuring out the broader, bigger elements first, they say you don't want to polish uttered. So you gotta make sure that the overall shape is working before you go in and work out all the details. 6. Reference : Let's talk about two reference. Using reference, the proper way will definitely help your designs. Using it too much could get you into rebel. We'll talk about that in this section. So I do want to show some examples, some walk-throughs that will include how to use reference, as well as incorporating all of these elements that we've talked about. So let's first just briefly talk about my tips for reference. Make sure to step away from your reference once you find, you find good stuff for costumes, pose character. But then look at them. And it can be good for you to take a step back as you're designing. You can like, turn back on the reference if they're on different layers or occasionally to, to look at them and then turn it back off. Or you can look at them, do the sketch, turn them off, and then go in with details just so that you're using your own creativity. But then also sometimes if I use the reference too much is like a crutch, then I find that my drawings lose a bit of life. Not just because they're an imitation, but just because it's coming more from my eye than my heart. 7. Putting it together : So let's look at this character that I designed and the process that I went through for that. So you see here, I pulled up a bunch of Stephen Silver images here on the left. And as always sketching, it was nice kinda have those there to be thinking about pushing my shapes. To be thinking about. Yeah, he just has strong shape language. So I wasn't copying any of those. I was just, I just had it there to kind of inspire me. And then I went on Pinterest and found some costume stuff. And I knew I wanted him to be jolly, plump and sweet. So I grab some images that I felt would help. And I started with the sketch and I did a few sketches weren't great. I was trying to think about big, medium and small shapes. And then finally started to find what I liked. I think poll from long was kind of an inspiration. But obviously trying to make it unique. And that Crane texture thing was just to kinda give me some place to go with the texture on his jacket. So now let's design a little boy using this reference and all of the things that we've talked about in class. A little boys are kinda tricky for me with character design because if, I mean, it feels like there's not a whole lot to do to make them unique, to make their silhouette stand out. Children in general, I mean, with girls, you can be like they bows are big. Ribbons or flowers in their hair, crazy hair designs. So this was a bit of a challenge for me. So I pull the ball, he's references, thought maybe he could have like a weird hat. I liked the red heads, uh, kinda giving like me, maybe like a British fields, this little boy, imaginative WHO started sketching those things in mind. And this would be kinda for, this is for a children's book that I'm working on. And so I've pulled up another character from it's to make sure that the style was consistent and thinking about shapes, big, medium, and small. So I made, I made some adjustments to the sketch so that be a little bit more big, medium and small. And you see like the straights against curves. It's not like crazy appearing here. But I'm thinking about it a little bit. It doesn't, it's not too strong in this design because I'm wanting him to be quite round. And children don't have a lot of angles to them. So there's that guy. So his silhouette you see with the hair and ears jetting out and helps him stand out in with the, the shape of his body is, helps us silhouette a bit. Now let's design a witch. Now this, which is a mom, which in the story she has a child. So I wanted it to be kinda motherly looking. But while still being fierce in sort of scary because of her role in the story. And so you start off with some rough sketches. The reference that I found, I liked the I was mainly just looking for costumes. I want I wanted her to be kind of unique in a sense, you know, I don't want it to look too much like all the other witches so that she can be slightly iconic. And I really liked this sketch, kinda reminded me of optimally. But she looks a little too fierce, don't true cree, she's a witch, doesn't quite look like a mom. I can't picture her making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or peanut butter it in cockroach sandwich, which would have her giant leap have open good design Gaga does. So. I tried to give her maybe more mom hips. I can say that because I'm a mom and I have mom hips. But then she she didn't look fierce enough. She looked do sweet, too gentle, not which he enough. So let's try something in between. Fills like a sweet spot to me. So that was really fun. So hopefully can see how iterations of these designs with that's an important thing to, to work on. Doing lots of sketches, especially in the beginning when it's just quick and rough, this end and rough too. But iterations help you find exactly what you're looking for. Because as much as I liked that first normally sketch, that was to Stern, I really liked her, but she didn't quite work for the story. So story and character needs to come before pretty design. That is important. 8. Assignment : You did it. Your character design, warrior, champion, you made it through the course. Note, you're not going to be a warrior champion until you do the work, until you practice, until you do your assignments. So if you didn't already do the assignment of drawing three characters, maybe just the faces of circles, triangles, squares, using mainly one of those to design them so that they look very friendly if the circle very fierce, if it's a triangle and very sturdy and heavy if there's triangles, rectangles, who? I know my shapes. So your assignment is bum, bum, bum, bum. Design one character using a prompt from Blue, a highly caffeinated Crazy Girl Scout leader, an Asian steam punk villain, or a lucky charm eating champion of the world. Bonus points if you do one of all three, practice makes perfect, right? So the more practice you can get, the better. Now as you're doing this, I want you to think about what we discussed. So shapes, Shape, Language, big, medium, small. And once again, if it's a friendly character, lots of circles, spheres, and triangles, heavy, sturdy you rectangles, making sure that you have a strong silhouette. So next to your character, you could draw just the silhouette of it so that you can prove and show that you have been thinking about it and that your silhouette is strong enough to feel iconic, to fill recognizable and interesting. And then make sure to be thinking about straights against curves and reference. And don't be afraid to exaggerate within your character if you want to give them a giant knows, give them a giant knows. If you want them to be a little bit overweight, make them very overweight. And you can kind of dial back if you feel like you need to for the character, but I feel like pushing your designs can make it really fun. And to see results that you haven't seen before, push yourself a little bit further, exaggerate. For those fun characters that I am excited to see, please post them. It brings me a lot of joy to see your guises work. Otherwise, it feels like you guys are just numbers on a screen. But when I see your art film, like we're connected to you guys and know more of what to focus on and talk about. I have a real students instead of just numbers. So please if nothing else, do it for me. And also, I'd love to see comments on other people's stuff if you want draw overs. I'm not sure if I can comment with a picture, but if I can, I would look to do draw overs if you want. But you need to ask for them because they don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. If you felt really good about your drawing and you gotta draw over. Don't want to hurt your feelings. So post please ask questions. I want to connect with you guys and talk with you guys. So reach out, please, because this is fun for me. Okay? Hopefully I will see you in character design class 2 course to care, remember we're calling it the next course in this series. Maybe there won't be more. But look for characters apart to character design part 2. I'll see you there.