In this tutorial, I'll try to explain character design and how I do it. The designs you see are for an upcoming comic about spirits living in a parallel dimension. I'll show you how I came up with Ted the Tapir, who is one of the main characters in the story.
Step 1: Personality, Background and Looks
Are you ready for this? :) It's quite a lot of work, and you might get sick of your character in the process. If you start to get frustrated at any point, just relax and make yourself some tea. It allways works for me. :)
First, you'll need a general idea of what your character is like. You're basically forming their identity. I won't go into details about that (reading an article on creating a fictional character for novels or screenplays should help you out).
I decided that Ted would be cocky, a bit of a smart ass, and really good with the ladies for some reason. He also has a big fear and respect for authority figures, which will in turn lead to many funny incidents in the story.
I imagined a tapir's head on a human-ish body and just went from there. I decided to make him taller than others, but with the proportions of a short man. So, those were my initial ideas, and I got to work.
I doodled a lot. I came up with the sketch above, but was is just one drawing. How do his facial expressions work? What does he look like from other angles? What's the rest of his body like?
When you create a doodle that you really like, it can be worth exploring!
Step 2: Optional - Making a Sculpture
We're looking for consistency in our character. It means, they have to be recognized from all sides and angles. If you're more of a 3D thinker (like me) you might want to get out some clay, and sculpt your character.
This took me a while to get right, but it really helped in the process. You can even do this later or earlier if you want. Just play around with your clay, until you get close to what you want. You could even do a 3D model in a computer program like Rhino and 3D print it.
Step 3: Drawing the Head
The biggest problem of any character is the head. So, let's tackle it!
I started by creating a basic shape. Based on my model, I decided that it would be a tent - like thing. Try to rotate your volume, so you are drawing it at an angle, like I did. It will be easier to determine where everything goes.
Next, I tried to make it more organic. I failed a couple of times, played around and tried to make it look right to me. I was finally kind of satisfied with the last shape, so I decided to move on to details.
If you want to show a wide range of emoitons, you'll need to add the following to your character: eyes, nose, upper and lower lip, chin and eyebrows. People use all of those to communicate their mood, and you'll need at least some of them to make your character 'feel emotions'. They don't need to be literate, for example - Ted's upper lip is actually the curve of his trunk and his chin is actually his lower jaw.
You can see that I am very aware that his head is a volume. I am consiously adding more volumes to it, like the trunk and the mouth. This is a bit harder than just skipping to the last step, but will make it so much easier for you later. You really need to map the shape of your character out - not only on paper, but in your mind.
When I did the clean - up, the head looked flatter. This is the style that I want for my comic, but it doesn't mean that the volumes are gone. I now know exactly how this head is made, and will be able to recreate it from every viewpoint.
Step 4: Spin, Spin, Spin...
Did you know that spin means a spider in Dutch? Well now you know.
Did you think we were almost done? Eeeer... I told you at the beginning that you were going to get sick of your character and wished you never created one. You now need to rotate him at least 180 degrees, pausing at 0, 45, 90, 135 and 180. (you'll get it from the picture).
Start with the front view. I used perspective as a guide and drew a box around the head so it reminded me that this was a volume. I wasn't satisfied with the way the trunk turned out, so I moved it a bit to the side.
Next, I repeated the process of making a volume and adding details, but this time I rotated the head 45 degrees to the left. Look at the first drawing you made, look at your sketches and look at your 3D model, if you made one. You can figure this out! :) Don't give up!
If you feel like you're stuck, try looking at your drawings in the mirror. If you've been drawing one thing for too long, you'll stop seeing your own mistakes. Mirrors (or friends) can provide a fresh perspective.
Step 5: Clean - Up
Once you're done with your sketches, you can use a light table or a window to copy your drawings on a fresh piece of paper. You can ink them if you want.
And there you go! All done with the head!
Step 6: Body
Let's start designing the body. I started by determining the body type. Ted will have a body of a short man that isa bit too fat but nevertheles in a really good shape. That means - a fat tummy, but muscled arms, good posture and sturdy legs.
Also - I determined that he'll be 4 and a half heads tall. Usually, a fictional character looks 'right' or 'average' when they are 5 to 6 heads tall. Children have different ratios, and so do real life people (I, for instance, am 7 heads tall).
This 'head' measurement is just for measuring proportions, and doesn't mean anythings in terms of actual size. Ted will be taller than all the other characters in my story.
If you are designing a fictional body (like the one of Lumpy Space Princess from Adventure Time), you might have to re-do all the steps from before - designing the basic volume, adding details, etc... I was doing a fairly common body type that I'm familiar with, so I just went ahead and did the final sketch and the rotation.
Step 7: Your Character in Action
Now, try drawing your character in action. Do some typical poses for him. I did three, firstly, he is cross becouse a fitness instructor offered to help him get fit. He is allready fit, he doesn't need any help!
Secondly, he brought donuts to some of his co-workers, and they are thrilled for some reason. I don't know why they like him so much, perhaps he's like Rene from Allo Allo.
Thirdly, a Judge Dana (another character from the upcoming comic) is cross with his choice in clothes, and he is terrified of her.
It's important that you test drive your character BEFORE you start your project. Only this way will they look consistent troughout the story. If you plan to make a long run of it, your style will enavitably change, just look at the older Snoopy comics.
Play around, figure out their body language, their motions and reactions, and most importantly - their facial expressions.
Step 8: All the Colors of the Rainbow...
This is also optional, but if you plan on ever adding color to your work (like on a cover or a comic book, or for a poster), you should really figure out the colors.
I used watercolors, but you can use anything you like. You can easily paint with a free program like GIMP. I did a test run on a sketch, using brown, but decided I didn't like it. I opted for a blue/red combination.
Don't worry if your character ends up reminding you of some other one (mine reminds me of Kratos from God of War, Gazpacho from Chowder, and that annoying tiger thing from a cartoon whose name I can't remember). This happens, as nothing we do can be 100% original. What we're doing is taking things we've seen before apart and making them into something new. That's not copying - that's just what art is.
If you liked this tutorial, you can visit my tapas comic ( www.tapas.io/series/atrocious-demeanor ), or my website ( www.ginkgowhale.wordpress.com ) (which hosts experimental and not funny comics, so I don't blame you if you pass).
Take care and keep drawing :)