When I design characters for myself, I think less about design than I do about personality. In fact, I rarely think at all about it. I feel it instead.When designing characters for commercials or even for other people's cartoons, I rely more on design theories in the abstract. Like how to balance shapes and spaces that add up to a pleasing 2 dimensional graphic that is more symbolic of a general character type, rather than a fully dimensional multi-layered personality.
This is partly because I am designing backwards and partly because most producers, executives or scriptwriters don't want specific character designs. "Specific" features are generally considered ugly by authority figures in the animation world. I'm not sure why; perhaps it's just because traditionally so many animated characters have been generic symbols rather than true characters. I've learned to work both ways for different purposes.My most specific character is George Liquor. He is the only character that I've ever created all at once in a flash. His basic appearance and personality just popped into my head at the same time. I wish that would happen more often!
Usually my own characters start as an idea that rests somewhere between a general character type and a specific variation. Then I let nature take its course and allow the characters to evolve, being pushed along by the stories I write for them.
I give my own characters a lot more design flexibility than I do for characters for other studios.
I let the storyboards, layouts, animation mold the designs - and vice versa. I don't think of each creative stage in a cartoon as a separate entity. I find that drawing storyboards is probably the most significant factor in designing a character's visual appearance and specific personality:
When I draw storyboards, I am free of the restrictions of too much consistency. I don't feel stuck having to draw "on-model" or to even keep the proportions consistent. All the technical requirements of say, layout - have a tendency to stiffen my spontaneity.
I draw storyboards fast and free, thinking only of the flow and personality and gags.Lots of fast and loose storyboards at the link below:
After the storyboards comes layout and that's when I look at the storyboard drawings and try to analyze the expressions and poses-looking for lucky accidents and new specific expressions.
The hard part is translating the freshness of the storyboards with the technical requirements of the much tighter layouts.
Here's a layout Jim Smith did from one of my story sketches:Once the layouts have been made from the boards, I might go in and add more poses. These newly created poses tend to have more spontaneity than the poses that were inspired from the boards.
Some of these poses were added in the layouts, not copied from the board.
Here is a drawing that went straight from a storyboard sketch to final inking and color with no layout step in between:
Each step in the creative assembly line affects the others back and forth - like non-linear editing. The character design is not the boss of the story or the animation. Even though we use a step by step procedure to make a cartoon, I am always willing for an idea to come from any other step to affect an earlier one. -even sound effects or music, which are usually added after all the art and animation is finished inspire me to draw and animate things I wouldn't have thought of without the sound. That's why I usually build the soundtrack before I do the layouts or animation.
Designing characters after the fact of knowing their personalities:
I aleady knew Slab N Ernie's basic personalities because they are based on 2 cousins I grew up with. I wrote story ideas for them before I drew them and then kind of drew simple designs that look like my cousins. These characters are not as specific as George Liquor in their raw designs and have to be monkeyed with in the acting in the stories.I could go on forever about this stuff. There are no set rules for how to design characters for me. I have done it a bunch of different ways. Some of my characters started as "phone doodles" with no thoughts of design or story at all. They were mindless scribbles that just sort of evolved into characters-like Ren and Stimpy.
I'll try to write something about designing pretty girls next.