Top 40 character design tips - Part 2: Human based characters

If you're looking for inspiration and advice for your own character design creations then we have a little treat for you - yesterday we published 20 tips from some of the world's leading character designers in Top 40 character design tips - Part 1: Creature based characters. Now it's time for Part 2. Enjoy.

21. Think about proportions

“Sexiness is a question of proportions, to some extent, so check you have a good rhythm between shoulders, breast, waist and hips. If you have trouble finding the correct pose, look for natural, everyday actions – waking up, stretching and wearing clothes, for example.” -- Xavier Ramonede, 2D and CGI animator, Paris, France

22. Simplify those lines

“Work your lines, and simplify them as much as you can: that’s my advice. I also always find that the more simple the lines are, the more effective the character ends up being, whether it’s human, animal or monster. If you’re working with vector art, this is always true.” -- MEKA, Graphic designer and illustrator
, Montreal, Canada

23. Push it further

“Sketch, sketch and keep sketching. When you find something that works, keep going. Be as fast, loose and rough as you like. Play with everything and push it all as far as you can, then a little bit more! I find that working on a couple of characters together can sometimes help.” -- Wayne Harris, Illustrator and character designer, Cardiff, Wales

24. Work a detail

“A good character is like a logo: it has to be concise and recognisable. Work with a feature that defines your character, whether it be arms that reach the floor, a crazy hairstyle, accessories, or whether the facial elements are in an attractive and recognisable position.” -- Charuca, Designer, Barcelona, Spain

25. Vary your shapes

“Often, what makes appealing character design is shape variation, and positive and negative space. I learned much about shape variation from Ronald Searle. His work has a lot of rendering, but what makes it so appealing is that he uses large shapes against small ones.” -- Stephen Silver, Animator, California, USA

Captain America © Wayne Harris.

26. Have a strong backstory

“Story is paramount: if you know why you are drawing something, it tells you what to draw. A lot of people miss that completely. For example, if you’re drawing a child, there’s a difference of proportion, or if the character lives in world with a lot of water, it might walk on stilts.” -- Dacosta!, Creative director, Vancouver, Canada

27. Set the stage

“A pared back design may feel like it will not have presence on screen. But if the same amount of attention is paid to staging and lighting as it is to the design of the character, and if those things are designed to support the performance, it’s astonishing how little is needed.” -- Marc Craste, Senior animation director, London, UK

28. Pay attention to the details

“Detail can be in the colouring style or in lines, proportions or added elements, such as the accessories and clothing worn by your characters – it’s what makes them unique. Personally, I love to give my characters tattoos – it’s like making an illustration into a character design.” -- Rubens Cantuni, Art director, Genoa, Italy

29. Get in the zone

“When you set out to design a character, find your spot, plug in your favourite tunes and go crazy in your sketchbook. When you think you’ve finished, put your pencil down and walk away. Then re-visit it: it’s amazing how a fresh eye can pinpoint an idea’s strengths and weaknesses.”-- Tom Whalen, Illustrator and designer, Los Angeles, USA

30. Tell the story

“Organise the different features of your character by emphasising them through colour, size or detail. You need to trust in the principles of cognitive psychology. The goal is to design a character in a way that tells its story as if the viewer is reading a text in a chronological order.” -- Mark Gmehling, Illustrator, Dortmund, Germany

31. Don’t get lost in the details

“Don’t try to get too much detail too fast, or try to finish the drawing and start colouring it before you have the character. Bruce Stark once said, ‘Always try to work from general to particular.’ That really stood out for me. No matter what, get the general shapes, then work on the particulars.” -- Stephen Silver, Animator, California, USA

32. Don’t force oddities

“An eye patch, peg leg, robot arm, cowboy hat and butterfly wings on one character could be too much. I’m not completely a fan of the ‘less is more’ rule, but I am a fan of the ‘too much is too much’ rule (which I invented). Your character needs one good idea, not 100 poor ideas.” -- Rubens Cantuni, Art director, Genoa, Italy

33. Don’t neglect cartoon culture

“Poses are a very powerful tool: they can either make or break the dynamics of your creation. Posture is a direct consequence of the qualities of the character, so don’t be afraid to exaggerate the poses themselves. This comes directly from the influence of cartoon culture.” -- MEKA, Graphic designer and illustrator, Montreal, Canada

34. Don’t forget the silhouette

“When you have finished your character, concentrate on the silhouette. Is it recognisable? Is it different to the rest? If it is, then your design works. And when you apply the colour, work with a palette that also contributes to the personality of your design.” -- Charuca, Designer, Barcelona, Spain

35. Don’t settle

“Drawings suck for a long time before they get good, so don’t give up. Don’t settle on a pose or a position. If there’s something you can’t get, just keep at it. Plenty of times everything I do sucks right until the very end. Push through, and all of a sudden it starts to look good.” -- Dacosta!, Creative director, Vancouver, Canada

36. Don’t lack emotion

“A successfully strange character only looks strange and unique at first sight, but it will need an aspect that is emotionally familiar to the viewer. Something that picks him up, arrests his attention and whets his appetite to discover more.” -- Mark Gmehling, Illustrator, Dortmund, Germany

37. Don’t ever stop looking

“Look at people, clothing, hair, accessories, make-up – anything that can add detail and mood to a design, reflect a personality and give a sense of uniqueness to your design. These details can be used to convey humour – a witty slogan on a T-shirt, a tattoo, or a pair of weird sunglasses.” -- Wayne Harris, Illustrator and character designer, Cardiff, Wales

38. Don’t let it slide

“This might sound like a simple tip, but don’t procrastinate. When the lightning bolt of inspiration strikes, use it. And if you’re rolling on a design, see it through to the end. It’s a shame when a great idea is left almost finished In other words: strike while the iron is hot.” -- Tom Whalen, Illustrator and designer, Los Angeles, USA

39. Don’t confuse sex and sexy

“A sexy girl isn’t necessarily skinny, so don’t forget to play with little anatomy details like the belly, or shape of the breast. And remember, porn and vulgarity are not sexy: everybody will like a sexy, fun girl, but most will be offended by too much sexuality. Think sexy, not sex.” -- Xavier Ramonede, 2D and CGI animator, Paris, France

40. Don’t go for unnecessary realism

“If an all-singing, all-dancing character is needed, then I think the only thing to do is strive to not make it too realistic. Not because there’s anything inherently wrong with veering towards realism, but it rarely looks good. And the closer it gets to realism the more it begs the question: why?” -- Marc Craste, Senior animation director, London, UK

Main image credit: Wayne Harris

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