By Bryan Tillman
Let’s talk about the most important part of character design: story and storytelling.
You probably are tired of hearing this, but it is very important and essential to good character design! Everything can and will always point back to the story. No matter what character you look at, you must try to figure out the story behind that character.
It is human nature to try to pinpoint which category of archetype a character fits under. I challenge you to look at any character and not try to label that character a good guy, a villain, a monster, a sex symbol, and so on. It is nearly impossible—unless you are not at all interested in what you are looking at. In that case, the aesthetic is all wrong for you, and, well, that’s another chapter in this book.
Take a look at this character. Stare at it for a couple of minutes.
Did you find yourself trying to figure out if this is the hero, the trickster, or any of the other archetypes? Or did you find yourself trying to figure out what his back-story is, what makes him tick, or why he does the things he does? Why do you think that is?
A. Because, we just got done talking about archetypes, and you know this article is about story.
B. Because that’s what I told you were going to be doing.
C. Because, as human beings, we are very inquisitive and want to know as much as possible.
If you answered C, then you are on the right track. The main reason we become engaged with a character is that we generally want to know as much as possible about a person. Science established a long time ago that it is people’s nature to be inquisitive. If we weren’t inquisitive, we would never have had so many advances in science, we wouldn’t have the works of Shakespeare, and perhaps colonized the new world.
This is even more evident when dealing with characters like elves, characters with super powers, people in history, or any character who has captured your interest. Most character designers and storytellers use this to their advantage. How many times have you felt compelled to watch an entire TV series or read an entire book or comic series, only to ask yourself:
The answer, once you finally break away from how pretty the character or characters look, is that the designer or storyteller has given you something, be it information or an illustration, that is causing you to ask questions that remain unanswered. So you stick with the character or characters and hope that your questions will be answered.
Excerpted from Creative Character Design, by Bryan Tillman. © 2011, Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.
Bryan Tillman is currently the academic director for Media Arts and Animation, Game Art and Design, Visual Game Programming and Visual Effects and Motion Graphics at the Art Institute of Washington, DC. He has an MFA with a focus in sequential art and a minor in drawing. Bryan is the owner and CEO of Kaiser Studio Productions, a production studio for comics, toys, animation, and games and published author of Creative Character Design, Focal Press, 2011. For further inspiration, visit Bryan’s website: www.kaiserstudio.net or follow him on twitter: @kaiserstudio.