I haven’t wrote a “rage session” for a while and I had this topic on my mind for a while now. It started one night on a Facebook discussion with one of my friends who was struggling with some character designing for a character in an animation he was working on. So I thought I would share some thoughts and more on it and also some process behind what I do for character design, such as; choosing hair (color, style, etc), clothing, distinguished marks and more.
One of the main things that potentially gets overlooked when designing characters is functionality. What I mean by that is, does what the character wear, use and even hairstyle match what the character is doing. Let’s look at the below example, Tomb Raider.
If you are not familiar with Tomb Raider (Lara Croft), she usually is out in the wild looking for treasures and solving puzzles. The places she explores range from the jungle to ancient ruins and more. She often gets into danger, hence why she is carrying weapons. Do you see where this is going? Her shorts and tight shirt are to help not only keep her cool in the jungle climates, but they also won’t interfere with her as she is performing all of the jumps and running throughout the world. If her clothes were baggy, long and not tight fitting, they could get in her way if she has climbing or other maneuvers to perform. She has a little pack to carry items in that she finds on her journey. Notice her hair? It’s in a ponytail, otherwise her hair would be in her face as she was running, jumping and tomb-raiding. Her design is practical for the world she will be living and interacting in.
Let’s take a look at a couple more characters.
These two characters are Kenshin (left with red hair) and ShiShio (Blue and on the right). The characters are set in historic Japan, which is why the two characters are wearing traditional clothing. The main points of these characters are ways of converting their history into their character design. For instance, Kenshin has a scar on his face. In the story, Kenshin was an assassin and killed many people. The scar is a way to show the viewer constantly his past. If you were flipping through channels, and came across this show and saw Kenshin, without knowing any of the story, you would immediately tell he had a rough past.
Shishio on the other hand, you get the same vibe of a troubled past. However, the bandages are a little more mysterious because we don’t know why he is covered in them. This uneasy and mysterious vibe help play into his role of the bad guy. We eventually find out they are covering his burns, but he could have easily been scarred like Kenshin from a blade or he could have some kind of deformation, skin disease or more.
So let’s take one last character, Light from Deathnote.
Light is a high school student that discovers a notebook in which he can use to kill people. However, the majority of the story is based heavily in the real world which means his outfit needs to be the same.
Light is a smart kid, the smartest in his class and a master at planning. To reflect his high IQ, his school uniform needs to portray that it is a higher end school. The tie and jacket give his uniform that extra boost of prestigiousness. His pants appear pressed, he is sporting dress shoes and the shirt is tucked in as well. You could argue that all of this is pretty normal, which it is, the show is based in the real world with some other worldly aspects. But we are overlooking one key area to Light’s character, his hair. His longer hair reflects his darker mischievous side.
When Light is distressed, his hair and tie are used to reflect his inner emotions and become frazzled and unkept. So it is important to see how you can use these supporting design elements to help convey emotions if need be.
If you have your own favorite characters, look at their design and see how it fits and supports their role in the universe and if it is functional as well.