how do you come up with all the character designs??
To be completely honest, anon, I never follow a specific method when I draw character designs. Sometimes they’re done at completely random with no particular thought, and sometimes they’re done with specific characters in mind. But! With that said, I do have certain keys that I tend to follow.
The main key is to keep things interesting. But that’s more simple than said. What makes a character look interesting? What makes them stand out?
I’ll try to demonstrate my thought process as well as I can.
The first thing to keep in mind is to remember that your first design, even the finished version, is nothing more than a concept. Yes, even when it’s all done and you think it looks perfect, remind yourself that it’s not. Time will pass, and you will make adjustments at some point. Sometimes, it’ll be a complete redesign, and sometimes, it’s just a small detail. Either way, it’s important to remember that the design you end up with is, in fact, not the end result.
To some people it might help to draw out really quick scribbles of random designs to see which one speaks to you the most. I highly recommend this, and I’ve done this a lot! Again, my methods vary depending on mood or situation. From beginners to professionals, the scribble method works just as well. Here’s an example of some concept art of Dorian from Dragon Age Inquisition.
As you can tell, the artist tried out several looks on a model before settling with a design they liked. (Sighs… Teach me your ways, bioware…)
Some prefer to draw a model that they can draw the clothes on, some go completely wild, which is also perfectly fine, draw the “scribbles” in whichever way suits you, as shown here and here — just remember to keep it quick and simple; save the details for the design you end up liking the most!
- (With that said, I want to mention that this tutorial will be more focusing on the design parts than the character appearance, because i feel like faces and bodies deserves it’s own tutorial (it’d be all too much for one post).)
Okay, let’s start designing. For the sake of demonstration, I’ll use two different ways of thinking and genres. On the left, I’ll draw a more ‘random’ design, going more on impulse rather than thinking of a certain character. The only thing I have in mind is that I want the genre to be Sci-Fi, so let’s call her that. On the right, I’ll try to keep a character in mind, with the genre being Fantasy for comparison to Sci-Fi, so let’s name him Fantasy. Remember, if you do have a certain character in mind, creating a character becomes much more complex, but more interesting. (In my opinion). You need to remember that what they do and who they are will, and must, show in their design in some way. Unless, of course, it’s purposely done the opposite, in which case you have to be even more careful. Remember, every detail will say something about them! For example, say a character loathes makeup. Why would they be wearing it? Unless you have a really good explanation, don’t draw them with makeup. Basic logic, and it would fit their character. (Note: NOT an excuse, if you do something just to ‘prove’ it to basic logic, then it’s an excuse. If it’s done intentionally and with good reasoning, then it will not come off as unwise.)
Back to the designs — I wanted to keep it fairly plain for the sake of easier explanation. Perhaps minor characters, or perhaps purposely down-played for the sake of character image. I wanted to give Sci-Fi a nice, strapless and form-fitting dress, I wanted her to look sweet, and I wanted Fantasy to be kind of creepy, eyes-on-you kind of guy, not someone who’s too fancy, but not lacking in money either since he knows his way around things. The way he rubs his fingers makes him seem kinda eager for something.
Does the designs I drew above translate any of this at all? As I can imagine you guessed: no, it does not. It just looks like Anyone™ wearing Clothes™ with hair doesn’t say much, either. ™.
Perhaps if we add colour…
Colour theory will be a different tutorials altogether, but I’ll cover the basics. As you can see, these colours do not flatter each other, and it does not make the clothes look any more interesting. For Sci-Fi, I wanted her clothes to be cute and colourful, but she only ended up looking like I’ve dropped the basic colours of MS Paint on her. The reason why that is is because the hues do not differ from each other. If i were to make the drawing in grayscale, you would see little to no contrast difference between the colours. Even when you’re going for a certain palette, such as pastel, you must make sure that the contrast and hues are complementary. Only, only break this rule if you know about this rule already and have practiced it. You must learn the rules before bending them. Patience is key. You will learn to do your own method with time, but being ignorant and oblivious is poison if you want to improve. Don’t be afraid to matching darker colours with lighter ones, and don’t be afraid to play around with the hues. (For example, making the skirt more red than magenta, etc.)
Now, for Fantasy, I wanted him to seem like the guy who could afford expensive dyes, but he wouldn’t bathe in them (but he probably wants to). I wanted a vibrant red to show that knowing that red can be an aggressive or passionate colour, and is often also associated with danger or sex. Perhaps he has a violent nature, maybe he’s really passionate about something, or perhaps, he really loves to sleep with people. Judging by his body language and expression, some of those traits certainly seem to suit him. The colour most vibrant, the one to stick out the most, is the colour that will say the most about the characters. Secondary colours is just as important, too. The colours chosen, however? It makes him look like a badly decorated christmas tree. The problem is, like Sci-Fi, the lack of contrast and hue (you can barely tell the difference between the boots and the pants). Not only that, but also uncomplimentary colours. Green and red are two completely different colours, as is the case with many other colours. To make them more appealing to the eye, you need to adjust the contrasts between them, making one darker or lighter, and you also need to tone down the vibrance. Since I wanted red to be the primary colour, the vibrancy turned down would be the green colour, etc.
Now, the first step to making the design a bit more interesting is to look up references. I know, not too fun, but you can make it so. I highly recommend getting Pureref for this. While you can have your own design in mind, your own ideas, it always helps to look up references of pictures that inspire you. You’ll find things you would likely never have thought about on your own. The ideas with both Sci-Fi and Fantasy remains the same, but the tweaks made made them already more unique and stand out, and you’re starting to really see the look that you were going for. For Sci-Fi, I kept the strapless look, I even made the skirt form-fitting, and I even kept her boots. The difference was the silhouette. Don’t be afraid to go bold with your designs and shapes! Make them stand out! Chances are they aren’t as bold as you think. Yes, it’s the uncomfortable ‘go outside your comfort zone’ method. Trust me, after a while it won’t be uncomfortable. You’ll just have to believe in yourself and what you’re drawing. If you want to make unique characters, you need to think unique. You might have personally wanted to wear what Sci-Fi wore before, but she is, after all, not you. Even if Sci-fi is a more random design, you are drawing what she would wear, in her settings. Same with Fantasy. He, too, remains the same as before. He has boots, pants, and a shirt, just like before, but this time with more renaissance (?) influence. Instead of an ordinary collar, I gave him frills, hinting about his status, and added them on his sleeves as well. The shirt itself is a peasant blouse, and while I don’t imagine him being a peasant, it’s either saying that he’s more relaxed about the way he dresses, or, he’s not as rich as he’d like to be. For both of them, I also adjusted their hairstyles. I gave Sci-Fi some lovely, long hair with relaxed locks drooping down to enhance that sweet look I was going for. Fantasy got long hair as well, and while it has definitely been taken care off, judging by how slicked back it is, it’s not perfect, and intentionally so. Perhaps he doesn’t care — or maybe he he think it looks good as it is.
Don’t be afraid to make changes if something about the design doesn’t seem right to you. Does Sci-Fi’s dress really need to be sleeveless? Would Fantasy really walk around in a blouse? What would the differences you’ve made say about the characters? Giving Sci-Fi those details makes her look a little more dressed up — perhaps it’s a uniform of some sort?
Think about the limitations you have. If you’re drawing modern or historical characters, you will have to be more careful with how much you change with the look. Would the characters, in their settings, actually wear that? Would it suit the world the live in, does it suit the look you’re going for? Make careful decisions when thinking about this. If you need to make drastic changes, I suggest you start a new drawing entirely. Sometimes it’s better to start fresh to think fresh.
It’s worth mentioning, also, that when looking at references, if it okay to bend the rules, especially if it’s a fantasy or sci-fi setting. Use your references as inspirations, not as a hard must. Go by instinct, even if you have a character in mind!
Notice the repeated patterns. For Sci-Fi, there’s little hard-edged shapes, except around her shoulders and boots. This is why it reminded me of a uniform of some sort — notice, also, how her design has a lot of cut-outs, which is a repeated pattern as well. For Fantasy, I decided to make his design overall more sharp, with a lot of pointed shapes. I made the sleeves loose, to make him look just a little less formal, and with buttons as well for a repeated pattern.
Remember to add accessories! They might be subtle, and to so some even unnoticeable, but they are important, and they are noticeable in their own light. You won’t notice the rings of a character who has their hands in their pockets, but as soon as they bring the fingers to their lips to giggle, you’ll certainly notice them when they are big, and shaped like skulls. No accecories says a lot about the characters as well. Disney’s Rapunzel does’nt not even have shoes — no accessories whatsoever, but Flynn Rider, however, has very visible belts, straps and a pouch. What does that say about them? Why does a thief need pouches? Does the girl locked indoors all her life need jewelry to decorate herself with and shoes to protect the floor from being covered in mud? Accessories are statement pieces, even from the most simple ribbon to a thick, studded, leather belt. I feel like Sci-Fi would enjoy taking care of her hair, so I put more volume to her hair and added hair pins to show that. With that, I added gloves and a rather odd bracelet — since i felt her outfit looked like a uniform of some sort, but not a professional one, but perhaps a game promoter, I wanted to finish that off with some ‘unneeded’, stylistic gloves. With Fantasy, I added add a big ribbon to his hair, to bring more light to his status, while keeping a few careless hairs in front of his face. In addition to this, I decided to add big, bulky rings, but also keeping a very small, subtle necklace hidden behind his frilled collar, and some decorations on his boots as well, repeating the pattern on his jacket for a finished look.
Note that small details such as these can be tricky if you’re an animator, hence why in cartoons details like these are either not existent or extremely simplified — if you don’t animate, there’s no reason for you not to add details. Don’t limit yourself!
It’s worth mentioning that bigger garments, such as outerwear, capes, etc, will make more of an impact and statement once you finish the design. The more space they take, the more important they will seem. As a general rule, one should save this for main and supportive characters and their villains. That’s not to say that minor or background characters can’t have capes and jackets — it all depends on how you draw them, how much space they take, and how much detail and thought you’re giving them. It doesn’t also mean that important characters all need large garments, but it’s definitely something worth keeping in mind.
And this is how the ‘finished’ look ends up like. It’s not perfect, and certainly needs more work (more time and effort!) but it certainly stands out more than the first example I showed you. Notice how the same palette was used, but keep in mind what I said about the hue and the contrasting colours. They’re less in-your-face now, and more complimentary. Naturally, shading is extremely useful if you want to finish the looks, because it allows you to add more details and more texture to the designs.
With that said, when you colour, you might notice that you want to add more to your character designs — such as the green stripes on Sci-Fi, or the vivid, red details on Fantasy.
However, as mentioned before, note that this is not the finished result. It’s a concept, and it should not be overthinked or overworked. Once you’ve spent a certain amount of time on one design, let it go and work on a new one later. You may draw the same design again, but improved, or you might find yourself draw a new design entirely. Both are fine and both options should be explored and tried out!
I hope that helped you. ♥ If you want to check out more of my tutorials, you can find them here.