Monday, October 4, 2010

Sketching Character Reference

I put this post together to tie in with what I'll be starting to cover in my Character Design classes at Sheridan College this week. The topic is "Character Types", and these are a few samples I just sketched yesterday to illustrate what I'll be stressing in this subject. I'm a firm believer that an animated or illustrated character should aspire to be distinct as an individual - the visual design suggesting a certain personality through the physical face and body type. The character designer on an animated film should serve the same role as a casting director on a live-action production. Just as a casting director tries to cast an actor or actress who has a believable "look" for a particular role, so should the character designer be trying to create a character that visually suggests the personality to be portrayed in the film.

There is a tendency for the novice to simply design a character off the top of his head, without considering what physical aspects and personality traits seem to work well in combination together to communicate a clear visual statement to the audience. My view is that, before an artist can have any knowledgeable output, one must first have some informed input. Therefore, I strongly recommend sketching people in the world around you, either from life or, as is my preference, from studying various character types on video in order to build up a library from which to draw upon when designing a specific character. I prefer the latter way of working, as video provides a way of studying the subject in a completely controlled manner, allowing one to study the subject at one's leisure. It helps to see the subject in motion, which makes it easier to see the physical "design" of the face and body type in order to then exaggerate and abstract it. Additionally, seeing the subject in motion and displaying physical nuances through body language, expressions, vocal mannerisms, etc. makes the resulting sketches far more successful in capturing personality and inner life than one would likely achieve by working from a still photo image.

Anyway, here are some samples sketched from YouTube that hopefully will illustrate what I'm saying more clearly. It should be noted, however, that the goal of the sketches is not to come up with a perfect likeness of the subject, but rather to make an honest attempt at seeing a unique design in the face and body type and using that as a springboard for abstraction and caricature:

Here are the links to the YouTube videos I sketched these from:
Character #1 Character #2
Character #3 Character #4

Here are the links to these videos:
Character #1 Character #2
Character #3 Character #4

Ironically, the "tough guy" character I've sketched from the YouTube clip is an imagined personality suggested by the physical type, as the fellow in the video really comes across as a very friendly and gentle sort. But in animation and cartooning, perception can carry more weight than being literal to the subject. Remember, you're trying to put forward a visual impression that your audience will understand at a quick glance. When required, more subtlety can be developed though story and animated characterization as your film progresses.


Amanda H. said...

I wish I could take your class. (I'm all the way on the east coast D:) I'm trying to teach myself cartooning and sometimes I'm just like "...I have no idea what I'm doing."

Steven M. said...

I'd sell my legs to be in your class.

Bãpp said...

Hi Pete.
great as always.
I am wondering why do you not make a course on D.V.D. or via internet.
I think you got a lot of students who want to pay for that,included me !!!!!
jan :)

Pedro Vargas said...

Wow, really nice! Thanks for sharing! I should definitely try this exercise. I tend to think more on knowledgeable output then I do with informed input, though I'm still learning more on the output part of a character. I think this will really help me out a lot, though, in incorporating specific personality into a character. Thanks again!!

Anonymous said...

I'm going to think about this post often next time I sketch some people out of my Moleskines, which I already do all the time whenever I go out or when I watch TV. Sometimes, it's difficult to remember the specific details I drew in my sketches, because I really want to apply what I learn to my own work. Any advice about that, Pete?

Mark said...

Thank you very much for this post; it is exceptionally helpful for someone trying to get away from strict literalism. I would second cabap in suggesting a DVD, as it would be beyond helpful to see you actually designing characters from reference.

Tony DiStefano said...

Everytime I visit your blog I walk away with a smile on my face.
Great work.

Martin Juneau said...

Wow! Thanks for this great informations and recommandations Pete. Myself i have some problems with creating new characters for a new story. It's like i have a crazy idea but when i got from paper is often bland, generic and terrible. Those characters studies is perfect for any apprentrice or advanced artist who need to create characters with human personality.

Will said...

Its so hard to find good advice on these things. Wish you whould write a book mr emslie =). Thankyou for sharing =)

Unknown said...

amazing site, would like to use some of your work cannot find contact info