3 top character design tips from Adventure Time's lead designer

Andy Ristaino, formerly of cult cartoon series Adventure Time, offers some great advice.

Andy Ristaino’s work on Adventure Time won him an Emmy Award win for his character designs in the fifth season episode Puhoy

Developing an understanding of how to construct a successful character, and bringing it together the components required to execute it commercially, are hard-won skills. But with this expertise comes a wealth of opportunity for those with the passion, drive and imagination to pursue it.

"The goal of a character designer is to make the main characters as appealing as possible in as simple a way as possible," says Adventure Time lead designer Andy Ristaino.

A cartoon about the last human boy, Finn, and a shape-changing dog named Jake, Adventure Time follows their journey in a post-apocalyptic world called Ooo. "I think that challenge is what attracted me to character design," he adds.

Cast of characters from the Adventure Time series, featuring the main protagonists Finn and Jake

Originally created for a younger audience, Adventure Time has grown and matured into a cultural phenomenon that appeals to adults and children alike.

"The show has continuity and the actions and decisions the characters make have lasting repercussions," says Ristaino, who started working on the cartoon in 2010.

Crafting characters

Taking inspiration from nature and his surroundings, Ristaino says mastering character design is a process that can't be rushed.

To become truly great at crafting character, illustrators need to invest the time in developing their own visual language at the most basic level – by drawing every day.

If you're building a family of characters, it can help to create a set of rules that define their graphical elements, before then experimenting with size and proportion.

And try to think in three dimensions. Draw a character and consider how it would look from the side, back and front – not just flat on the screen.

For budding character designers, Ristaino has three key tips:

  • Experiment with shape and form
  • Take the time to let your mind wonder
  • Keep drawing

"It takes time, practice, effort and a lot of exploration," he continues. "But if you keep digging you'll eventually find a place that's totally your own."

Words: Lisa Hassell

This full version of this article first appeared inside issue 241 - a character design special - of Computer Arts, the world's best-selling creative design magazine. Get up to 55 per cent off a subscription to CA here.

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