CAP 101 - Concept & Character Development

Lesson 2 - Creating Appealing Characters


This lesson introduces the student drawing characters based on a reference image. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. How to draw facial features (including emotions), poses, and how body language can set tone and mood
  2. Importance of reference material, either "real life" or created work
  3. Importance of "morgue" file cabinet and folders for reference material
  4. Collecting and saving reference material, and using it correctly

The Creating Characters with Personality text continues the idea of geometric construction in chapter three. It reminds us that a character will be composed of many shapes, but that it is often good to start with a circle, which will become a sphere when we rotate it in three dimensions. Note the left profile image of the character on page 55: Mr. Bancroft began with a circle that holds the top of her head down to her eyes. He added a triangle to give her a jaw line, a chin, and a place to draw a nose and mouth. A neck is just a cylinder that changes diameter over its length. Simple shapes are a good place to begin, allowing you to add more curves, angles, and and shading to create your character.

After you have one view of your character, you need to rotate that concept in your mind to create the next view. (Remember, you will want to create a front, back, profile, and three quarter profile for each character for reference.) Take a look at these model sheets done by Alex Toth. Most of the standard views are seen here, as well as action poses that would be typical of each character. Take a look at this collection of Disney character model sheets, as well. You will see some variety from one to another, showing that not all artists do it the same way, and not all characters can be described by three or four images.

Mr. Bancroft warns us that we can ruin a character by pressing for too much continuity from one view to another. I think he means that we should allow for some imperfections in the design, instead of making it too perfect. Real people are never perfect, so your characters should not be unrealistically perfect either.

To reach an acceptable level of continuity, we are shown that we can polish a model by using reference lines, making sure that we draw the same features at the same level in each of several views done side by side. The images on page 56 also show that you have some choices to make when developing your character in three dimensions. This is why Mr. Smith recommends doing a three quarter profile right away: it forces you to make these three dimensional decisions at the start of your character development.

Mr. Bancroft suggests pushing your design, drawing variations on a character that emphasize design options until you see combinations that you can combine for a finished design. For example:

  • variance - make thin parts thinner, big parts bigger, small parts smaller, change out big parts for small parts, and small parts for big parts until you find versions of these features that are right for your character
  • contrast - vary using straight lines and curves on different features

Costumes and props change a character as well. When you choose a costume or a prop for a character, consult the script again. Make sure you are doing what is required of you first. You should always do some research on costumes and props as well, regardless of the level of detail you are using for a given character. As an example, page 81 shows a version of the hero of our project, Dillon, done by professional artist Mark Henn. According to the text, Mr. Henn modeled a revolver for Dillon after an 1875 Remington pistol, perhaps like the one I have linked to.

This presents a problem: an 1875 revolver in 1815? (The story is set in 1815, remember?) Remington didn't even start his company until 1816. Maybe we should model a Colt Peacemaker instead? Well, no. Sam Colt didn't start his company until 1836. Maybe we should talk to the producer and writer and rethink the date of the piece? This will affect the costumes as well, and any historical references made in the story, and any other technology used in the story, etc. Or do we just say "it's only a cartoon" and give up on doing a good job? We have to strike a balance. If this is meant to be just an entertainment, we can have some anachronism, but we should still be responsible to our viewers. If this is meant to be historically accurate, we have to make sure it is. We need to find the right level of realism for our props and costumes as well as for our characters.

Assignment 3: Search the Internet for appropriate prop and costume ideas for Dillon and two other characters in the story. Save some jpg or gif images, along with URL references for those images in a Word document. Turn the file in to me by the start of week 3.

Chapter four begins a discussion about drawing female characters. Mr. Bancroft gives us some basic ideas:

  • an appealing female character may not be a realistic character - less realism and more technique may work
  • making the head and eyes larger in proportion to the body gives a more childlike appearance
  • emphasizing variance can work - making the waist and limbs thinner will emphasize the curves that you make rounder

Maybe your characters will be more realistic than Mr. Bancroft's. This can just be the difference between the styles of two artists. It is probably important to pick one style for a production and to stick with it, especially when you have a team of animators working on the job. Using different styles from scene to scene will be jarring to viewers, unless you are doing that for a reason that you make clear to them.

On page 68, Mr. Bancroft makes some good suggestions for varying the appearance of your characters. (These apply to male characters as well as females.) In other words, don't draw your characters so they all look like each other:

  • vary the mouths by making one of the lips larger (fuller) than the other
  • try drawing epicanthic (Asian) eyes by making the bottom line flat and the top line curved
  • vary the shape of the face: circle, oval, triangle, combination, etc. (Note: each of his faces seems to start with a circle, and is completed by adding another shape.)
  • vary the size of the pupil and size of the iris from one character to another

If you are doing "glamour shots", the ideas on curves and tilts can work. In ordinary work, a little of this can go a long way. Use good judgement. If a character is always shown as twisting, tilting, and posing, that character may be hard to take seriously.

In chapter 9 of Mr. Bancroft's book, you should look at the material on showing expression (page 137) and the discussion of eyes (pages 138-140). This material is should give you some ideas about drawing characters with expressions appropriate to different moods. When in doubt, act out a scene with someone else to see the expressions on their face. Modeling your character's expressions on a real person can be a start: you don't have to make the character exactly the same, but the real person's face can keep you from going too far or in a wrong direction.

Assignment 4: Create a new sketch of the characters for Mr. Bancroft's movie. Use the material from chapters 3 and 4 to revise your initial sketches for Polly, Dillon, and Brent in particular. Work on three quarter profile drawings to be done by hand on paper. Turn the drawings in to me by the start of week 3.