Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Orangutans and Character Design

Character design has always been a struggle for me.  When I was at BYU several years ago, I was so bad that I had to take Ryan Woodward's excellent character design class twice.  One assignment was to make characters based on animals, and the first time I tried an orangutan.  The result was so unappealing that I hate myself for having to post it:
I realize now that my problem wasn't my skill or lack thereof; it was a lack of knowledge, and more importantly, purpose.  All I did then was try to find a funny way to abstract the shapes that an orangutan was made out of, with maybe a little caricature.  What I needed to do instead to come up with a better design was have a more solid concept of who and what that character was supposed to be.  When you don't know anything about your character, it's hard to determine what kind of lines, shapes, proportions, or anything else to use to describe that character.  So what you end up with is a hodgepodge of decisions that don't lead the viewer toward any conclusions, which usually results in a less appealing character just because the chances of finding a great combination of elements at random aren't very high.
Armed with this knowledge, I decided to attack the problem again.  The lower left guy (image below) is where I started after doing some research on orangutans.  When I started to think about character types that fit with orangutans, my first thought was stereotypical surfers/hippies.  Then it hit me: Orangutans are the rednecks of the primate world.  So I did some more brainstorming and came up with a more specific personality/role that I liked for this orangutan.  My top drawings are starting to go somewhere.  If I was doing this character design for work I'd probably do about 20 more iterations to improve the idea and replace (where possible) stereotypical elements with more surprising ideas that filled the same purpose.  I already think the new guy (upper left) is a big improvement on the original, though.

17 comments:

  1. I love this post and am so glad you showed us your old orangutan because it shows that there's hope for me! appreciate this post.

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  2. It's funny because even your old design was pretty good...(I'm pretty sure it made it to the good wall...whereas me and the "Bad" wall...we were friends.) The new one looks fantastic! Love your stuff, as always.

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  3. Heather: Actually, I remember clearly that this went into the "bad" pile along with my heron-in-a-bubble-helmet. Now that I think of it, I seem to remember Dan Haring putting it there and apologizing about it as he explained he knew I could do better. Strange how memories are connected in that way.

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  4. hahahaha great post Sam. Made me chuckle quite a bit. Great points, I need to do better at all that. GOOD THING YOU'RE MY TEACHER! lol

    those "good medium bad" walls are so scary.

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  5. Wow sam!! You have come a long way. And I'm not saying that in a condescending way. Really, you must have worked really hard.

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  6. Well said!

    Not sure I agree about the "rednecks of the primate world" though haha

    Would be great to see this coloured.

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  7. Great info and advice Sam . . . love the sketches too!

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  8. always fantastic with the insight. I hate that I just doodle and not mindful of what Im putting into my drawings.


    Love comin here and gettin an educated perspective . I feel like I learn loads from hearing what you have to say and how you tackle things

    Nuther great post sir!

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  9. I commend your honesty in your struggles of character design. We all face challenges creatively, and hearing a detailed account of some of yours provides valuable insight into my own.

    Cheers from Vancouver
    -Jesse

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  10. I'm not sure I think the old one is awful. I can see character in him. Not a featured character, but a bit part. In all of the arts I have ever practiced - and probably (not surprisingly) most obviously in acting - I learned from the beginning, you have to start with a real person. It's called "method acting," based on Stanoslovski's (sp) theory - he told of trying to play the Moor from the outside in, starting with costume and face paint, and jumping around his apartment, gnashing his teeth and swinging his sword. But he finally figured out that if he wanted a profound performance, he had to start with the man - trying to understand where he had come from, what his life had been, how he had come to this place where the play began, and how he would feel -

    When I write a book, I can't start with the plot. And I can't start with characters I haven't felt. The characters lead the plot, write the book.

    And even when I'm felting or knitting a toy, or starting with clay - it's the soul inside that leads the shape and line. Not that I ever do anything great, but it's the soul of the creation you have to begin with. Bodies don't do well without them.

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  11. That is great insight! Thanks Sam! It's also inspiring to see how much you've improved

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  12. Sweet and inspirational post! That is immensely encouraging to a lil grad like me.

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  13. This is great. I always assumed you were simply amazing right from the get go! Great insight as well. Thanks.

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  14. Dude u may hate me for saying this but I like em all. I see story in each of em. Love this site man, I'm reminding myself to pass it around work on Monday.

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  15. touché. All that you said is so true to my ongoing battle. Thanks for showing that you're not superhuman ;)

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  16. Anonymous8:32 AM

    excelente blog.
    Muy buenos trabajos y magnificos consejos.
    Gracias por compartir.
    saludos desde Mexico.!!!!

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  17. I often found myself on the bad wall the first time (and occasionally even the second!) for similar reasons. I was either so worried about masking my personal style or trying to make awesome shape decisions that I forgot to actually put any "character" in there.

    Still need to be reminded of this every so often. Thanks!

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