Someone getting a Master's degree in Character design recently asked me to answer some questions about my career and thoughts on character design. Here's the mini interview:
When did you start with character design and what motivated you?
WHEN I WENT TO CALARTS, ONE OF THE CLASSES I HAD WAS A "CHARACTER DESIGN" CLASS. MIKE GIAMO, WHO IS A GREAT TALENT, TAUGHT IT. I HAD ALWAYS LOVED DRAWING CHARACTERS AND MAKING UP MY OWN, BUT SOME OF THE PRINCIPLES OF DESIGN HE TAUGHT US REALLY OPENED MY EYES TO HOW MUCH MORE I NEEDED TO LEARN. I GOT HOOKED IN THAT CLASS, BUT IT WASN'T UNTIL YEARS LATER, WHILE AT DISNEY ANIMATION, THAT I STARTED TO ACTUALLY DO CHARACTER DESIGN PROFESSIONALLY.
What are your main resources for inspiration?
ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING. I LOVE GREAT ANIMATION STYLE ARTWORK SO I HAVE A LARGE COLLECTION OF OTHER ARTISTS' SKETCHBOOKS AS WELL AS MOST ALL OF THE "ART OF" DISNEY, SONY, DREAMWORKS, AND PIXAR BOOKS. THEN THERE IS THE INTERNET AND ALL THE GREAT ARTISTS BLOGS. MOST OF THAT IS FOR STYLE INSPIRATION THOUGH, FOR POSING, EXPRESSION, CLOTHING, PROPS, ETC INSPIRATION, I DO GOOGLE SEARCHES FROM LIVE PHOTOS OF PEOPLE. THE INTERNET IS A HUGE PART OF WHAT I DO. I RARELY START A DRAWING/DESIGN WITHOUT GETTING SOME KIND OF PHOTO RESEARCH FIRST.
How do you recognize that a design idea is „final“ at its sketch state?
THAT USED TO BE A HARDER QUESTION FOR ME. AS I'VE GROWN IN EXPERIENCE AS AN ARTIST, I HAVE A CLEARER IDEA OF WHAT I WANT TO DO BEFORE I START DRAWING. BECAUSE OF THAT, I HAVE A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF WHERE I'M GOING WITH A SKETCH; SO THEREFORE, I KNOW WHEN IT’S DONE.
What to do if there is no matching anatomy in nature?
I RAN INTO THIS PROBLEM WHEN I WAS DESIGNING "MUSHU" IN THE DISNEY FILM, MULAN. AT FIRST, I WAS LOST. I COULD DO ANYTHING, SO THEREFORE I COULDN'T DECIDE WHICH WAY TO GO WITH THE DESIGN. THE POSSIBILITIES WERE TOO ENDLESS. FOR SOME, THAT'S A BLESSING, BUT FOR ME I LIKE SOME MINOR RESTRAINTS TO WORK WITHIN. IT HELPS ME HAVE A DIRECTION EVEN IF IT’S A LOOSE ONE. I DID FIND THAT YOU ARE NEVER TRULY WITHOUT SOME REFERENCE THOUGH. MOST MONSTERS, CREATURES, ALIENS, ETC. HAVE SOME KIND OF ANATOMICAL REFERENCE THAT RELATES TO EITHER HUMANS OR ANIMALS. THEY REALLY NEED TO, ALSO, SO THAT THERE IS SOME REFERENCE FOR THE VIEWER TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY ARE LOOKING AT.
Do you use vector art in your character designs?
NO I DON'T. I DON'T HAVE A VERY GOOD UNDERSTANDING OF VECTOR ART CREATION VIA FLASH OR ILLUSTRATOR LIKE SOME DO. I WISH I DID. THERE HAVE BEEN SOME CLIENTS THAT NEED A DESIGN I'VE CREATED TO BE VECTORIZED SO THEY CAN USE IT IN A VARIETY OF WAYS FOR MARKETING. WHEN THAT HAPPENS, I HAVE A FEW FRIENDS THAT I CAN HIRE TO CREATE THAT. I KEEP MY FOCUS ON THE ROUGH/TIGHT DESIGN WORK AND ART DIRECT THE FINAL VECTOR PIECE IN THOSE CASES.
What do you believe will change over the next few years in the field of character design?
I CAN'T THINK OF ANYTHING, REALLY. I THINK WE WILL STILL NEED TO CREATE CHARACTERS (OR AT LEAST IT WILL BE FASTER) WITH PENCIL AND PAPER (OR CINTIQ) AS WE DO TODAY- BEFORE THOSE CHARACTERS GET MODELED FOR A COMPUTER ANIMATED SHOW, FOR EXAMPLE. THE RESULTS OF TRYING TO DESIGN YOUR CHARACTER IN 3D, ON THE COMPUTER, WITHOUT PRE PLANNING IT TRADITIONALLY SHOULD MAKE THAT METHOD NOT VIABLE IN THE FUTURE JUST AS IT IS TODAY.
What do you think about 3D speed modeling? Is there already a competition in the industry between 2D and 3D concept art?
I THINK I JUST ANSWERED THAT QUESTION ABOVE. MY BELIEF IS THAT YOU WILL EXPLORE MORE OPTIONS (SHAPES, SIZE RELATIONSHIPS, RADICALLY DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS) WHEN YOU HAVE THE FREEDOM OF PENCIL AND PAPER. WORKING WITH THE "CLAY" OF 3D MODELING TO "FIND" YOUR CHARACTER INHIBITS THE POSSIBILITIES, IN MY OPINION.