Sun Dawei

Rigger @ Silicon Knights

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Ways To Design a Character (From Don Seegmiller)

Using Caricature

You can caricature just about anything you are drawing: people, animals, plants, and maybe even rocks. Caricature can be used to further develop ideas that seem to have gone stale. Quite often, caricature, while humorous, is looking for the essence of the subject. If you are having trouble seeing where to go with a design, try doing a caricature of what you already have. Once you have again found the essence of the caricature, continue with the design.

Using Humor

Humor is a great way to take an idea that is stalled and jump-start the creative process. Humor's main purpose is to entertain and generally does not need a lot of explanation. Humor does not try to make a statement. For example, if you are developing a serious barbarian character, put him in a humorous situation or change his props to something humorous and see how many more creative vistas open for you.

Using Blotter Pictures

So you are still stuck. You still need to design new and exciting characters and even costumes for them. Perhaps you should try using some blotter pictures to get some ideas brewing. Blotter pictures are the same thing as the famous Rorschach psychological test and are extremely easy to do on the computer.

Black and white as well as color work well. Black and white usually works better when you are trying to come up with ideas for form shapes whereas color tends to work better for ideas that are decorative in nature

Using Exaggeration

Exaggeration, which is an integral part of caricature, is fairly self-explanatory. Take your character idea and exaggerate some portion of it. The exaggeration can either be extreme or subtle, depending on your intention. Be careful that you do not exaggerate everything within the character. After all, exaggeration is based on the difference between things that we consider the norm and things that are not the norm.

Using Satire

Satire is humor but with teeth. The teeth can be large and very sharp, or small and relatively painless. Humor becomes satire when it begins to deliver a message. The humor in satire is almost always aggressive and critical with the purpose of entertaining or scolding while delivering its message. Political cartoonists are experts at using satire with a character.

Using Parody

Parody is one step beyond satire and needs the viewer's knowledge of the subject to work. Parody can simply entertain like humor, try to educate or scold like satire, or try to do both. For the parody to work, the audience must be familiar with the original subject and be able to see the similarities between both the original and the changed version. For example, a fat little Dracula-type character dressed in white would be a parody of the classic version we are all familiar with.

Doing Some Expression Exercises

So every character that you draw has the facial expression of a zombie. No wonder the characters lack life. Every character needs to have expression, and the majority of that expression is found in the face and body language. A good way to practice drawing facial expressions is to revert to the most basic elements that drive an expression: the eyes, nose, and mouth. As quickly as possible, draw a series of expressions using only lines for the facial features. Some of them will be garbage but some will look like something. Take the ones that look like something and develop them further.

Doing Some Five-Dot Action Exercises

Similar to expression exercises, five-dot action exercises help the artist get out of the doldrums of static character poses. The exercise is simple to set up but harder to complete. Take a dozen or so pieces of paper and have a coworker draw five dots on each. Each page of dots should be different. It really does not matter if the dots are in some sort of order or completely random. When you have the paper back, draw your character on each page using four of the dots to represent each individual hand and foot; the fifth dot will represent the head. If your character is not a quadruped, include additional dots as required.

Using Folded Paper

This exercise usually allows you to come up with some very interesting results. Three or four artists each draw a section of a character on a folded piece of paper. No artist can see the previous artist's work, save for the lower eighth of an inch or so of the previous drawing. Taking that small section and knowing what part of the character the artist is expected to draw, each artist completes the assigned section, folds the page so that only the bottom bit is showing, and passes it to the next artist. Several iterations of this exercise can often lead to extraordinary images and ideas.

Using Idealization

The concept is as simple as it sounds. Take your character idea and make it the ideal of whatever it is. Knowing what the ideal of a character is makes it easier to make a realistically flawed character.

Adding and Subtracting

Just like in math, you can add and subtract parts of the character. First, you can try adding things to the design, such as actual body parts, a costume, or some equipment. Then, do the reverse. Take your character and begin removing things-body parts or accessories; it does not matter. The method is simply to get you to look at things differently.

Using Repetition

Somewhat similar to the technique of adding and subtracting is using repetition. Take an element of the design and repeat it numerous times. Once again, do not be limited by your imagination; rather, let your imagination run wild.

Using Combinations

Combining differing elements has always been one of the sparks that fires an artist's imagination. Who would have thought to combine a horse with a human? Combine any number of differing elements and see what is possible. This strategy is similar to the wordplay method we discussed earlier in this chapter in that you are combining ideas. If it helps, write down the different things that you are considering combining and make choices from the list. Combine organic and inorganic elements. Combine geometric and organic shapes.

Transferring Characteristics

Try transferring the characteristics from one object to another. This is a simple concept. Transfer characteristics from an inorganic object to an organic one. Or try transferring the characteristics from something mechanical to a plant. Transferring characteristics is about transferring the physical as well as the not-so-physical attributes between objects and characters.


Superimposing is similar to combining characters or objects except that instead of mixing two separate objects together, you are superimposing one over the other. This can be done at more than one level. Again, you are encouraged to try things that you normally would not consider doing.

Changing the Scale

Take a part of your idea and change the scale. Change the scale of your whole character if it will work. To effectively change the scale of an object, you must include something within the image or on the character to give a visual clue as to the scale. Making a character a giant does not work unless something around the character gives visual clues to the imposing size. The reverse is also true if you are making a diminutive character.


Substitute a portion or prop of your character with something different. Perhaps even substitute something really different. Make that sword a paintbrush or vice versa.


Distortion is very self-explanatory. Shear, twist, fold, spindle, and mutilate your character, portions of your character, the original idea, the costume, anything. Nothing is sacred and beyond your ability to distort.

Disguising the Character

Change the appearance of your character with disguise. Possibly all you need to add is something as simple as sunglasses. Or maybe sometimes you need something more extreme, such as sunglasses with a fake nose and a mustache.

Using Analogy

Take two of your character designs and create an analogy between them. Take different characters and make something about them similar. For example, how could you make a weight lifter and ballerina seem more similar? Could you add a tutu to the weight lifter? Could you add something else? As you see what the results are, continue with differing and additional characters.

Creating a Hybrid

Create a hybrid by taking two of your characters and imagining that they produce offspring. What would happen if one of the characters were a robot and the other were a plant? No combination is too outrageous.

Evolving the Character

Evolution is a very subtle process, with change being gradual and sometimes hardly visible. Evolving a character can be one of the most fun and rewarding ways of creating new and exciting characters. Simply pick something about your character design and modify it slightly. Take this changed character and then alter the changed element slightly. Continue with this type of progression as long as you like.

Changing the Character with Metamorphosis and Mutation

The opposite of evolving a character is to metamorphose or mutate that character. Metamorphoses and mutations are dramatic changes. A most common example of a metamorphosis would be how a caterpillar changes into a butterfly. Metamorphoses are generally caused by some internal action. On the other hand, the dramatic changes that are the result of a mutation are generally caused by an outside influence. Taking your character design and metamorphosing or mutating it into a different character is risky. There is a good chance that you will lose the original idea if not careful.

Using Metaphors

A metaphor is a figure of speech where a word or phrase that usually means one thing is used to describe another; in a sense, you are comparing the two things. You can use this to great advantage when designing similar yet different characters.

Using Visual Puns

A pun is when you play with similar-sounding words that have different meanings, or different-meaning words with the same sound. The visual equivalent of a pun can be a good way of generating new and creative ideas. Good sources for visual puns are cliché sayings.

Doodling and Scribbling

Just sitting down and beginning to scribble and doodle is a great way to expand on an idea that is just forming. Doodles and scribbles should be quickly executed with little detail until the idea begins to solidify.

Making Things Look Strange, or Transforming the Ordinary into the Fantastic

As you develop your character idea, take some of the idea and see how strange you can make the figure look while still being recognizable. This technique works very well for a character's props and costumes. In general, the more you can push an idea, the better the ideas you come up with will be.

Using Mimicry

Mimicry is a technique of deception that is very common in the animal world. Many harmless creatures will take on the physical attributes of other, more dangerous, creatures. This has the direct benefit of scaring off predators. This is the opposite of camouflage, as the mimic generally wants to be noticeable and advertise its deceptive danger. Though this is not generally a good method of character design because of the tendency to confuse the audience, it is nevertheless a great way of generating new ideas.


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