Character Design Mini-Series Pt. 1 – Gesture, Silhouette, Form
October 8, 2019
Hey everyone! This is the curriculum for
a three-part character design series. we’ll go through the entire creative
process of designing and painting a character in a semi realistic style. also
in this series we’ll be taking a look at the fundamental art skills that are
being used each step of the way. OK, you ready?
Here’s the project brief. Vladimir is a burly, sword-wielding psycho. He stalks
his prey on the streets and fears no man. and we got some clothing and age notes…
let’s get to work! I’d like to talk about gesture drawing using this
piece of reference. can you see the overall ‘C’ curve running through this
pose? also these secondary ‘C’ curves that kind of rhyme with that action? Lines of
action are what gesture drawing is all about. So let’s do a gesture drawing of
this pose. I’ll start with the main action line and get in some of these
secondary lines of action. Now, I kind of want to plot out the head, because
general proportion is a consideration in a gesture drawing, even though I’m
definitely not considering the actual forms yet. So I’ll kind of plot out where
the shoulders are, where the hips are … that kind of helps me delineate the body…
maybe kind of where the foot might end up somewhere down there … this foot as
well. But more than anything, what I’m interested in is feeling the thrust of
the chest to the arc of the back. I’ll make sure everything I do here supports
that c-curve rhythm I’ve established through the body. This arm is a very
subtle, almost actually kind of an s-curve. Even the way the head kind of
flows into the body … it all connects rhythmically. I’ll even think of the hair
as an extension of these rhythms. you notice I’m using a brush that’s not
allowing me to draw any kind of detail. I’m not even trying to draw a volume or
form! Above all else, a gesture drawing should evoke the brief moment in time
that this pose exists in. Now, is this a work of art in and of itself?
Hardly. Is it a critical tool for understanding the pose? Certainly! …You
know, another critical tool I use is Wix – which is helping to bring you this
character series. If you’re an artist and not a web designer, like me, you can get
started with one of Wix’s many templates. Just pick one you like and Wix’s editor
loads up. Now using the editor we can customize to our hearts content!
watch how user-friendly this is: I’ll drag an image into the uploader … there it
is! And my front page is already taking shape. Want a gallery? Simple! just strip mine this pre-built one, drag-and-drop some images, and then customize to a
slick presentation that doesn’t sacrifice quality. Wix has reliable, safe
and secure hosting; custom mailboxes; unlimited pages; search for your very own
custom domain. I’ve been with Wix for five years and I rest easy knowing my
work is being presented to the public and to clients in a professional way. You
can have that too, right now, for free at wix.com/go/MarcoBucci
so why not give it a shot and bring another dimension to your art, or your
business with Wix! So let’s explore Vladimir’s body
language with gestures drawn freely from imagination. And I’ll try out different
rhythms here, like maybe a curve against some straights. And this is a start.
proportions are a bit on the cartoony side though. ok let’s try something
different for this one, maybe a more exaggerated s-curve like someone ready
to strike. ‘Strike’ is a funny choice of word. This guy looks like a batter for
the New York Yankees. So that’s not gonna work. Gonna go back to some straightness
in the shoulders and arms which kind of feels like a tense grip to me. A little
bit more of a curvature in the body, like he’s moving into this pose. Maybe the
angle of the sword mirroring the angle of the arms for a dramatic kind of
v-shape? I don’t know there might be some power there. Using an s-curve seems to
offer a little more movement so I’ll try that again here. Although I’m already
thinking this looks more like an athletic pose rather than a hunter’s
pose. So, while I like the movement here I don’t exactly think it’s suits Vladimir.
OK so I’ll go back to some C curves mixed with straights kind of thing … and I
guess I like the movement, but it looks like he’s in a dance recital, not killing
someone in cold blood. Huh. OK, this time something with more straights. The
straight arms just seem to be working for me.
I’ll go back to that and try and minimize even the curves in the body.
I’ll stretch his back leg far back as though he’s currently transferring
weight to his front leg maybe? Hmm, but I don’t know, something about this feels
posed … and here’s where I got lost in the woods a bit. So we move on! Ah, twisting
the upper body, that’s a good idea. There is a murderous intent to this pose
that I didn’t have before. I like it! Gonna try a variation on that
pose. Something more in the moment of the strike. Gonna twist the upper body again.
I think that works for the character and yeah, I don’t know we’ll add it to the
collection. I’m thinking maybe Vladimir is less
athletic than this. So let’s see if I can communicate “physically imposing” without
the histrionics. And notice that even though this pose is more static, it’s not
straight up and down. And for the first time I think that could be Vladimir!
Now I want to take what I learned from that pose and bring it all the way back
to my first pose actually. Getting a static yet lumbering sort of thing.
Somebody hunting, moving slowly, methodically transferring weight to
that foot. Some nice contrast in the
straighter left side and the more curvy right side. Alright so here are my three
favorite poses. I think this one really captures the sheer physical presence of
the guy. I also really like the proportions on it however it doesn’t
really communicate his intent – and that’s a problem when you’re trying to sell a
character. This one definitely has intent but it just doesn’t look to me like how
a burly guy would walk. OK this one seems to have the intent, the plodding
sense of weight, and the bullheaded confidence of a man who is really strong,
but maybe not professionally trained with his weapon. I feel like Vlad lives
somewhere in there. So let’s move ahead with this one! Silhouette is a strictly 2D understanding of your drawing, so what I’m doing here is I’m
just filling my gesture in with an opaque black brush. Kind of guessing at
the silhouette to start. of course having that gesture kind of preloads my
silhouette with action. alright but now I can hide the gesture, let’s make a
duplicate of our silhouette, drag it over here, and do some iteration. I want to see
what happens like for instance if I move the head over here and made him lean in
more. Maybe I can tweak the action of the shoulders, getting specific about where
exactly they cross the head. Negative space is critical as well so I’ll start
designing this piece of negative space to see how it affects the readability of
this pose. Also, because this is a silhouette, I can just do crazy things
like grab this leg … maybe move the pivot point up here and, like, bring this leg in.
The reason I’m doing that is remember I said that I like the straightness of
this side? Well here it was kind of like a little like that… and I want to make it
more straight just to see if that works. of course I’ll have to straighten out
his foot here. So let’s speed up the video a bit and just do some more
iteration. tweaking shoulders and, oh I really like that tweak! That series of
straights really make it feel like he’s leaning into this. At this point I’ll
bring in my first piece of reference, for these heavy-duty construction pants. I’m
looking at the specific silhouette shapes in here as the fabric collapses
on to itself at the bottom here. The thickness of the fabric makes very
characteristic shapes and I think putting some of that in here would
really help my design both on a silhouette level as well as a realism
level. Maybe right around here as it folds near the shoe. Now be careful here!
see what I just did? I just made the same shape twice. That is a design no-no!
Repetition like that can draw too much attention and it’s so easy for it to
sneak into your drawing. Undo it and I’ll try again – maybe I’ll get rid of this one
and go back to this one … and maybe smooth out that one … have it only a little bit. I
also like these pockets here. Reminds me of like a saddlebag on a motorcycle. I
think they add a lot of interest to the silhouette and would fit this
character’s choice of clothing so I’ll put that in and see what happens. I’ll be
very careful about navigating the negative space
where it hits the arms. You see, what I don’t want to do is accidentally do this.
That looks a little falli — unfortunate. So let’s bring back that valuable negative
space. See, the silhouette is your chance to achieve the fastest and clearest
read. These two photos both show me holding a mallet. This silhouette
communicates that information … and this one does not. Burying critical elements
inside the silhouette is usually not the best design choice. The viewer needs more
time and more information to resolve this picture, and that can be a real
barrier to their interest. Whereas this reads clearly and quickly, even at a
great distance. I find designing the silhouette really
fun! It’s a great place to experiment with shapes. Here I’m trying out some
complexity on the pants, but I think it kills the straight too much. I’ll remind
myself that there’s lots of room for complexity later when I am dealing with
the inside of the silhouette. Okay, just making a few final adjustments and let’s
look at this. Here’s where we started and here’s where we ended up. Before. After. I
think we can all agree that’s an improvement? And I’d like to explain
something else that I think is contributing to that. Let’s call it a
rhythmical awareness. Look at this area here. See how jumpy and staccato that
rhythm is? Compare that to this rhythm which is right next to it, and we get
that longer sense of relief. It’s a visual cadence I was able to refine here
that in this stage was not quite present. Because in that stage I was focused on
other things. Also, recalling these small negative spaces, my personal philosophy
is the smaller the shape, the simpler it should be. Because a simpler shape is
more likely to read at scale. All right let’s move on to the third topic of the
day. This is a drawing by one of my favorite
figure drawing instructors, Glenn Vilppu. This drawing has a strong sense of
form, meaning three-dimensionality. Now, a gesture of this drawing might look
something like this. There’s no solid form there yet, but we can now build it.
One thing I learned from Glenn is to look at the axis of the shoulders and
the hips. In this drawing you might think those two lines are parallel. But that is
rarely the case. In this example I think it’s more like this. Those two axes give
me a starting point to lay in some basic forms. Boxes have been used since forever
to help artists understand the most fundamental plane changes. But using two
boxes: one for the ribcage area and one for the pelvis area helps me visualize
the different three-dimensional orientations at play here. In fact I’ll
even draw a center line down the model to embed this information in my drawing.
I’ll throw on some quick tone here and now we’re really seeing in 3D! I’ll
expand on this by adding some cylinders for the arms. I like to figure out the
start and end ellipses before connecting them. And I’ll do the same thing for the
legs. Now at this point I could go in and layer on things like anatomy, or more
specific breakdowns of each part. But I’m getting ahead of myself so let’s go back
and start building up our character. I’ll use the top planes of these boxes to
help me understand their orientation. Now instead of the box, this time I’m drawing
an egg form. That’s the ribcage. The ribcage is a formidable volume and can
really help your understanding of the bulkiness of the chest. It’s particularly
useful here as this is a big burly character. Now the ribcage still has boxy
side and front planes, so you can imagine both at once if you want. These are all
classical life drawing tools! And spending time learning them really
revolutionized my ability to draw. Anyway, I put a centerline in, and now I’m
simplifying the head into a box form. Underneath that, a cylindrical neck
connects to the ribcage. And here come more cylinders to help me figure out the
orientation of the arms … and back two boxes for the hands. The legs are very
simple cylinders. And by the way, if you want to convert those cylinders into
boxes, you can do that quite easily. You know, what I’m doing right now is not
even really ‘character design’, it’s simply understanding
three-dimensional form. Which is a prerequisite to good drawing. An
experienced artist learns to see this way naturally and is able to convey this
information without having to literally draw it. But I have seen a lot of people
kind of skip this part of their learning. And if that describes you,
my recommendation is the life drawing classroom! Now, I can start using that 3D
information to work inside the silhouette and figure out some tricky
things – like how that arm is pressed up against the chest there, and the mass of
the shoulder behind it. I could even start like figuring out the folds in the
clothing. Now, that’s something I’ll cover in the next installment of this series.
Speaking of clothing though, I have this reference, and I want to fit the chest
piece around this guy’s burly chest. I can’t copy the reference it’s not the
same character or angle. But I can use its information. In this case the design
of those overalls. But then reapply it three dimensionally to my drawing. Those
overalls wrapping around the form is a great way to reveal the three
dimensionality of the character, and as a designer you’re always looking for
opportunities to do that. Here I’m just painting away some of my construction
lines so I can get a better sense of what the actual design is looking like.
And at this point I’m working on both the 2D silhouette (that is, the outside)
and the 3D inside. These straps on the overalls wrapping around to the back
here are yet another great excuse to show the three dimensionality of the
character. And I’ll just quickly lay in the head here with again some basic
forms… essentially just figuring out the eye line, the center line, setting the
stage for designing the actual face later. I can do other things like wrap
lines around his waist, which might later become a feature of his clothing – like a
belt or something. Just gonna see if I can punch up that strap a bit. Mass in
some quick tone to separate the clothing elements. Now, one unfortunate thing that
happens to me when I draw like this is my drawing tends to stiffen up. So it’s
never out of the question to blast out an entire area and retry it! In this case,
I think I can get a little more torque in that shoulder. Recalling that upper
body twist I had in some of my gestures. And I’ll do overhauls like this right up
until the end! Like Drew Struzan said once: “It ain’t sacred until it’s finished.”
Okay let’s put ol’ Vladdy in the corner for a second. So, to me, ‘Form’ has two
overall categories. The basic geometry, which is what we’ve been dealing with.
Then a second category: Anatomy. We’ll come face to face with anatomy in those
gigantic forearms! Currently we have a tapered cylinder. And that’s a start but… uh…
forearms are a little more complex than that. So we have to increase the resolution
here. First I’ll map out the elbow, which is kind of a mini box. And I need to
indicate where the upper arm is so that I can add this group of ‘ridge’ muscles.
They originate from the upper arm and wrap around the cylinder toward the
thumb and are responsible for that signature bulging contour of the forearm.
Next we can map a line from the elbow to the upper outer corner of the wrist.
That’s the Ulna – the bone. I’m also converting the wrist into a boxy form.
next i’m landmarking the lateral epicondyle.
That’s the little dimple next to your elbow. From that point comes a group of
‘extensor’ muscles. They too have a twisting action, a kind of winding river
like flow, culminating at the top plane of the wrist. Also the extensors can
overlap the Ulna near the elbow. Okay, a third group of muscles, the ‘flexors’,
originate from the medial epicondyle. That’s the other dimple hidden by the
elbow in this view. They flow around, like a lazy river, to the palm side of the
hand. And they’re responsible for the other signature bulging contour of the
forearm. Overall, the forearm is twisty and flowy, but it’s offset symmetrically.
Not respecting that aspect of the forearm is a common mistake! In fact I’ll
have to address it in my drawing – which is currently too symmetrical!
I think anatomy best fits into your fundamental study after you have some
basic 3D drawing skills. And where can you study these forms? Well, the life
drawing classroom, for one … or you can go to Proko’s channel. He’s got the
anatomy thing pretty much covered! All right, now let’s take a closer look at
the head. I’ll show you how you can start modeling this. I shot a photograph here
of my Asaro Head. The first thing I’ll do is use the temple and cheek area to
separate the head into front and side planes, which is very valuable overall
information. These planes here make up the bottom two-thirds of the front of
the head. This plane is oriented upwards, more so I’ll give it a lighter value for
now, and now I’ll use a darker value to delineate the side planes of the head.
Now, this is just a temporary design for the sake of this breakdown. I want to be a little less rigid in my actual design. But these are the
underlying fundamentals I’ll be using later when I am designing more freely.
Now I’m working out how the nose feeds into the brow and carves out the eye
sockets. And for the sake of this demo I’ll just mask the eye sockets
completely in shadow – which does happen quite often in real life. Then I can
refine my contours here. Getting the right thickness of the cheek, and
protuberance of the brow. I’ll work my way down to the mouth here, figure out a
general shape for it, and more importantly, get in this under-plane. This
one right here. It really helps describe the depth of the mouth. Okay, the nose is
very boxy. It’s got clear front and side planes. So I’ll figure out where those go.
Throw a little tone on the side just for clarity. What I’ll do now is think about,
like, the nose casting a shadow onto the muzzle. Deepening the darks and the eye
sockets to show their depth. The head casting a shadow onto the chest.
I mentioned the muzzle just now. We humans have muzzles just like animals do.
They’re just far more narrow. From this angle, it has an egg-like shape, like this.
And you can trace it rhythmically from the wings of the nose, past the corners
of the mouth, right down to the chin and back. If you want a deep dive on this
stuff, I have a 7-hour class that focuses exclusively on the many planes
and rhythms of the head. I encourage you to check it out! Last but not least, the
brow has a protrusion here known as the superciliary arch. Say that 10 times fast!
There’s also the brow muscles underneath there. Not only does this set off the
dimension of the brow, but you can design it to look very masculine … which is
probably what I’ll do for this character. OK, so I’ll quickly implement these
things in my design, keeping in mind that this is a character
design, NOT an Anatomy textbook! So just enough anatomy to help move this thing
forward. For the head I’ll keep it suggestive with shadow shapes for now. My
preference is to leave the face for later, when I’m working in color. But
that’s coming up next in the series. This is just a little sneak peek at Part 2.
We’ll be getting into lighting and painting and color… and start making our
design look real professional! And hey! I’ve got an art challenge going
on my Discord, where you can design Vlad along with me. And if you’re a patron
I just might feature your work! So stay tuned – I’ll see you in part 2 🙂