Hey, I have recently just started finishing off writing my first webcomic and I am currently doing some art for it, I assumed I would have finished this sooner but turns out a lot more goes in to a story webcomic than I had originally thought, but as I have started the art I feel I may have hit a bit of a wall, I think my character designs are missing something, they all seem a little bland or uninspired.
Here is what I have done so far:
Edit: The newest one of my designs where I am trying to implement some of the ideas I have gotten from this post in to the design
My main worry is that the characters will become forgettable from a design stand point, kind of blending in with what others have already done (as many of there designs are based from bits and bobs I have seen)
So my main question is, do you have any tips when it comes to character designs?
What's your approach designing a character?
What sort of thing goes in to the design?
Something I read that I've found incredibly useful is to "choose a defining trait".
Look at iconic characters from different stories.
Superman has his house symbol emblazoned on his unitard.
Sailor Moon has her hairstyle.
Harry Potter has his scar.
Voldemort has no nose.
Hercules has his godlike strength.
Edward Elric has his metal limbs.
Find something about your characters that you can use to make them easily recognizable.
Something else you can do it a silhouette test where you line up all the characters and fill them in completely in one color so only their outline shows. Each character should be easily identifiable when you do this; if not, make it so. It's no fun to have characters mistaken for one another.
Go crazy. Funky accessories, hairstyles, posture, even their body shape.
However, this can be both restricted and opened up by what sort of time period you're placing your comic in. Let's say your comic is set in medieval England: give the characters clothing that suits their culture. Maybe someone went to the East and thus wears a turban. Maybe someone is a knight and always carries his helmet and sword. Perhaps there is a Viking covered in furs. Maybe someone is poor and has scraggly hair, dirty clothes, and buck teeth. There could be a rich person laden with gold and precious jewels, wearing fine clothing and with a well-kept visage.
Really, the possibilities are endless. I think the designs you have up there are pretty good, but agree that they are a little plain. Even adding simple things like a headscarf to the girl or a funny headdress for the guy in black can change the design.
The blandness you're perceiving is due to too many similarities between your characters. They all have black hair with rounded hairstyles and the same body type. Make one of them taller! Give another one a more defined chin! Maybe make one of them blonde! Give the villain a ponytail! Once you can tell each of them apart while naked in a crowd of nudists, then you'll feel more satisfied with them. Mere clothes aren't enough to seal the deal.
I really like the first character's design. It's simple but it's harmonious. I'd be motivated to make fan art of her if I had the time
I don't really get that same feel from the second character's design though. The colors/shapes are a little inharmonious imo. Also, having different colored eyes is sort of a common trope, so it's kind of a pet peeve of mine tbh, but if it's an important plot point of your story I'm not gonna argue that you should change it or anything :x
The third character design gives off a dark, villainous vibe which is probably what you're going for, but it's a little bit bland imo; he needs some theme in his design that makes him stand out besides "HE'S EVIL" I think.
Sorry that I can't really put my feelings into less vague words or give you better advice, but I hope that helps somewhat!
One thing I noticed right away is that, while each character has distinct clothing, hair, etc, their facial shape is pretty much the same. You might want to try playing with the actual shape of the face, ie longer, rounder, a little chubbier (some real people have a chubby face but a fit body), higher cheek bones, more pointed or wider, squarer chins, etc. Also smaller things like dimples, cleft chins, slightly larger or smaller ears. You can sketch the heck out of a drawing pad just playing with the different little touches. That is my two cents, anyway!
What Marraph and Joel Sawyer said. Also there's a danger that the character that only wears black may end up as a shapeless blob, especially if you have a dark background. Because of that I suggest you give him some accessories like a belt to define his body shape underneath the cape.
Check out how this artist dealt with a similar character design of a villain in the Stuff of Legend- the boogeyman is part silhouette but his arm and face are very detailed with nuanced shading.
(I love that series, by the way)
I really dig your style and it just takes some fine tuning to perfect it.
I love character designing. My advice is just think of people you've seen in real life, either famous or normal, take their characteristic you thought was really cool and exaggerate it. I do a comic set in the past as well, in real life everyone wore really drab gray robe clothing in 280AD ireland. My comic is about bards and druids, kind of the rockstars of their day, so I based character designs on an iron age version of 70s hippy/glam/ punk fashion.
Doing something like that could be cool for your comic, unless you are trying to be insanely historically accurate.
Just think of characters who you think have the coolest designs and ask yourself why you think they're so cool and great. Then apply those principles to your own character designs.
For historical stuff, take things from now and bring them into the past in some way, that will make your characters more relatable. For my bard character, I thought he loves music, and backpacker underground hip hop heads today like music. people in Iron age ireland wore neck torcs, and that made me think of massive DJ headphones, so I just made his torc look abit more like those massive headphones you see backpackers and DJs walking around with these days. not sure how successful it was but thats an example of my thought process, if it helps you.
I really like your style and looking forward to seeing pages.
I am pretty much with Rinkel on this one. Okay, I'm just writing about a character designing right now (more about inner then outer stuff, but still), although not in English, but still...
So my main question is, do you have any tips when it comes to character designs?
What's your approach designing a character?
What sort of thing goes in to the design?
It might be a bit big-headed, but let me tell you how I designed this guy/gal:
It all had started when I had this dream. It had a minor shape of characters, rather ephemeral then concrete, but I had the overall idea. The overall idea was that I want both unique and cliché mad scientist. I wanted people to recognise him as a mad scientist and a sadist, but still didn't want him to be just another one from thousands cloned characters.
So, I've made a small list of things in my head how mad scientists look.
Well, they're weak and thin, although they can be rather tall - the height can emphasize the sick thin-ness of theirs.
They're usually black-haired and shaggy; rarely - ginger or sometimes platinum blond. In other words, very 'monosemantic' with colours. Like, no shades or between-colours, like dirty blond, or chestnut, or brown. Bad characters usually have rather shocking hair colour.
They wear glasses or goggles, or both.
Eccentric choice of clothes (and overall behaviour, but we're more about the looks now, right?).
Often aquiline nose (why is my nose considered to be a badassish!?)
Can't remember the others right now.
I took a standard image and started to change it.
First of all, I was doubting. I'm tired of seeing weak as sick scientists, priests and mages. I mean, they can work out, right? They can do sports or just help ladies lift things (obviously because they're evil and want to bed them). But then again, I didn't want him to be muscled and heavy. For cheese sake, so many beefcakes these days; and all those overmuscled superheroes and supervillains... I wanted him to be able to pick a grossery bag or open a goddamn tight door or can. I did find a way out of this, I'll speak about it later (perhaps), but for now, I've chosen being very thin.
Now, I know many characters like this are tall and such, and I said why, but, again, this fashion... you know, I once met a girl, whose character was a thin busty 19-year-old pure-blood Japanese lass 190 cm. tall. What the hell? I didn't want him to be tall. In fact, I got very attracted to the image of a universe most feared genius who can't pick a book from a top shelf or needs to speak with others whether standing on a chair, or... well, speaking with their groin. Not that 160 cm. is so small, I had a gf 162 cm, my photographer is 159 cm, it's fine. For a girl. And a human. Here we have a genderless alien among aliens who divide thers on 'worthy' and 'unworthy'. I liked that he looks or of the others, and quite ridiculous.
Besides, not all characters are supposed to be tall. I have a rather tall protagonist, mid for his species, and a bit big for humans, his 'friends' are quite impressive themselves, and it might be a good contrast, I thought. I need to show they are different, and that is not the actions thing, but the looks too (for example, often when good characters dress blue, evil characters dress red, for contrast - people tend to trust blue more then red; white more then black).
As oppose to standard variant of a scientist, I didn't want him to be a sick person. In fact, I thought, I wanted him to be healthy as a devil! I want him to be able to run a marathon and don't catch a flu because someone sneezed nearby. Of course, his job with viruses, toxins and radiation will make their part of the deal, but why would you be a mad scientist and do not find a cure? And he did, but it's more about the mad regeneration and assimilation skills of his species, that let him transplant organs and make blood transfusions as many times as he wants. Yes, he'll be all sick, tired as hell and dizzy after that, and it would heal and assimilate slowly, but he won't die at least, and that's the thing he wants. I mean not Wolverine-alike regeneration. Not 'nevr get sick and never get wounded'. He just doesn't die if hit with a knife in soft tissues, like humans, for example. He can transplant himself a goat lung, but his body will assimilate it to the rest of the organism in time. That kind of regeneration and assimilation.
When it came to goggles, well... I just like goggles. And they look kind of creepy. I think his patients a.k.a. victims were even more scared of him, with his eyes covered, and so part of emotions gone. It's pretty much like my view on why people are scared of clowns, read it if you'd like, but there's nothing new in it. At first I wanted to give him a bit spider-alike eyes, one pair of bigger and two pairs of smaller, completely black eyes, like this. Buuuut, it seemed too much for the character. Like making your human with natural blue hair, one eye orange, and another one green and shining. And a bit 'straightened'. In other words, I didn't quite like it, although some people do say he's very insect-alike. Nevermind.
In my head he was in those goggles for so long, then when I've decided something with the eyes... I didn't really want to take them off. They stayed there, never moving, being now the part of his body. Literally. They are even 'wired' to him, which can be seen on other references, and that's a big hint on him being a cyborg. And I like it. It gives him 'a thing', a distinguishing feature along with some others, but the main feature I certainly take these green goggles (it was mentioned there's a brownish liquid beneath them, and it's totally a theme for an illustration).
To be honest, that reminds me, that once I thought of him being something alike to the Greys. You know, one of the standard images of aliens with huge eyes, big head and thin figures? As he is thin, the goggles could've been mistaken for eyes, and he has a rather grotesque shape by human measures. I was actually considering making him one of the Greys. That was put away quickly.
When it came to hair... well, at first my description of him was like 'short, sexless, probably-ginger'. I wanted him, or, it to change appearances. I wanted him to wear different wigs, use make-up, put on fancy dresses alongside with labcoats, to be whether a pretty lady or a goblin-alike man, a fancy aristocrat or a savage. Be a... fashion whore or something. Be something alike to transgender who acts and looks depending on mood, crosdresses and plays, like in a theatre, confusing people around, being what he wants to be, or what others want him to be. If a\his master wants him to be a manwhore, sure, he'll become a manwhore; if he wants him to be a dominatrix, he'll be a dominatrix, No Problemo!
I thought about all kinds of stuff. Hair or feathers, horns, spikes, tentacles or those antennas protos have, but then I just did it simple, making his species with no fur at all. After that those patterns appeared. We can see them on his head, but they are actually over his back, sides and shoulders, too. Just because it he looked too 'flat'. Here I was inspired by Dragon Age's character, Fenris (and, well, Anders too, a bit, they both shine in dark) - the marks of my character are 'mood rings' that are greyer and more 'slicky' (like scares), but will glow a bit when he's feeling strong emotions. I made it something controllable, like when you stop after running, and breathe heavily, but can make yourself breath slow and deeply. Just because I didn't want him to become walking lamp, that's all.
Four fingers, by the way, came because of my confusion 'Why all toons have four fingers' and because I'd really like him to have a 'business card' with his experiments, and though that cutting people's finger would be very nice. And he cuts his 'patients'' ring finger (if they have one). Sweet, eh?
The last one was the ears. I didn't know what to do with them, since I really got tired of pointed ears that are used all over the fiction. Why does he need ears anyway, I thought? I also remembered a TV-program that was telling how will people evolve in few thousand years, and it showed dog-alike ears 'for protection from loud noises the industrial planet is full'. I thought about that. In fact, I thought about many 'what's and 'why's when I was making him. But these ears... *sigh* well, I was tired of concept, and I just went to check my Tumblr, and remembered pretty neat concepts of anthro animals I saw, and decided o find the artist for inspiration. Then I remembered one of these concepts - a tattoed sphinx cat in a suit. That's really nice, I thought, and cats have amazing ears. I thought, that would be so funny and grotesque, to gice him big ears, like bald cats have, and make them represent the mood the same way. My sister is a crazy cat lady, I know a lot about cats. It seemed rather nice, and he looks rather nice. Besides, it's something that won't lie about his moos or thoughts. Like dog's tail.
Now, to put this stuff short, I just took a 'dummy' of a standard character of this type, a cliché, and just stared deleting things I didn't like, and replacing them with something I considered better, more interesting, funnier, etc. Therefore, he stayed typical, but had something original.
Some things came themselves, out of these 'why's I was telling about (you want something your character to be? Ask yourself why. Things happen for a reason), some he told me himself, some were just an accident.
What I think... you just need to give your characters some time. Take your time. Time is good. During weeks, days or months, the characters are going to 'lick into shape'. Not only their inner 'I', but the looks as well. They will change a lot, giving the opportunity and not having borders. You just have to keep the overall idea of what you want them to be. Mine was a mannered psycho-doctor that wears high heels. And he is changing. Even right now. I learn more and more stuff when I'm thinking about him, some about biology, some about the backstory, some about his way of thinking and morals, etc.
You characters are alive, even if in your head, they need... space to grow, to go crazy, to be themselves. Take it like being a parent to a kid. Take it as if you wanted them to be what they want to be, whiting some small boundaries. Like, you don't want your child to become a mass-murderer, but you're OK with his profession of choice or the looks. So give him freedom in this. I often do that. I'm not always satisfied with what they want to be, but that's what they were meant to become, then? Or I'm jut taking my characters too serious.
Anyhow, there's the short process of creating crazy alien transvestite Carbuncle. May be, it helps. I really doubt that, though, hehe.
You talk about love, you talk about dreams, but you're just all simple machines to me.
Wow thank you all so much for all of this feedback its been really helpful, its really cool to see so many people so happy to help and so passionate about character design.
I am going to design my villain for the series taking all of these points in to account trying to make her stand out more, and trying to move away from the already used body types and overall base designs I have used for these three, though if you have more tips or just commends on the subject keep them coming I love reading all of these its really helpful.
also thank you so much to everyone who commented on the art itself is very nice to hear :D
Yeah, right now they all look like siblings or even the same character. Think about changing up the hair (look at how you might incorporate curvy hair, wavy hair, or maybe simply a style for one that doesn't bring it in front of the face), while looking into face shapes. A fun thing to do is to imagine you're casting your characters in a movie and to find a celebrity that you think looks like your character--and then drawing your character as close to looking like that celebrity as possible (it can help get subtle face differences).
I also agree that the first character looks great. So I would suggest not changing her much (or at all) and seeing what you can do to the others to make them look different.
An additional thing you might want to consider is emotion. Most characters will have one main trait -- the girl who is too shy to speak up for herself, the school bully, the guy who always screws everything up, etc. Who are these people? For the villain don't just make him evil. Think about what he wants. Does he want to rule the world and make everyone slaves? Does he just want to punish others for hurting him or others?
Use the character designs to help show who the characters are. Or, if you want, you can have the character designs be the opposite of who they are to show contrast. The boy who can't talk to girls is actually handsome (so you think he would be able to get girls, but he can't) or the girl who is always prepared for school and super ambitious dresses like a slob instead of being preppy. Sometimes these contrasts can help show a deeper level of character.
I like your drawing btw!
from THE BOOK OF LIES -- a viking struggles to break the curse so he can join his family in Vahallas
Thanks very much for the feedback, personality wise I think I have written this characters to a point where they are not just bland stereotypes its more looks wise I am having issues though again if anyone has any input on how to write a good character I would love to hear it, I am no where near a great writer. I am now redesigning the lead male as most people here seem to like the girls design, looking closely at them they do look very similar so I think a quick edit might be in order.
also I think people assume the third character is evil, I would like to clean that up by saying hes not overally evil at all and is in no way a villain in the comic.
to put him in a better light here's him playing with a bird:
I think the main reason people thing he's a villain is he wears so much black and, in my opinion, his face looks like a mask. Black is associated with evil and darkness in many things.
Let's examine this guy. He looks fairly normal, right? Size warning.
Ghirahim is one of the bad guys in the latest Legend of Zelda game.
Why did I choose him?
LOOK AT HOW COLORFUL HE IS.
There is very little black in his design, yet we know he's a bad guy. Why? Look at his face. The way he stands. Facial structure can help define a character. His features are slightly sharper than Link's or Zelda's in the game.
Another thing is the darkness of the colors. Look at those reds and yellows. They're not saturated, they're shades darker than the pure pigment.
Even his smile hints at what sort of character he is supposed to be, and his eyes. His eyes are almost completely black and very slanted so it looks like he's a bit on the snooty side.
Now, everything I just said MIGHT seem like I'm contradicting myself, but I'm trying to convey a sense of being able to convey a villain-type character no matter what they wear. Many people associate 'evil' with the color black, the overly dramatic, and things like that. Perhaps if you add some color to his design people won't be so quick to think he's "evil".
I think maybe if you at least add some color people won't be so quick to assume he's bad. But personally his face is what made me think of him as a bad guy. It looks very stoic and still, like a mask. Even adding something as simple as eyebrows can help change how he appears to others.
His face is a mask, he's a burn victim so his body is covered head to toe, his main focus in the story would be how people judge based on clothing, and appearance above actions and conversation but that's not overally important honestly I only put what I put due to the fact I had a picture of him playing with a bird lying around and wanted to post it and thought of a semi-funny way to do so, sorry if this caused you to think I was confused, its pretty obvious why he is assumed to be a villain after all hes designed to look like one at first glance.
Though I actually really liked what you said here and will be applying it to my actual villain who I am really trying to make look, well not like a villain so all the points you put here I can apply to her, so thank you very much.
I was just trying to help, and I'm glad you'll take my blabbering into consideration.
But what you said just now about him being a burn victim and all sheds a whole new light on why he is dressed in such a way, and now we have a backstory we can apply to him and know that he's not inherently bad.