Character Design - How to go from silhouettes to thumbnails in 5 steps

Now that you've chosen your ideal silhouette (and asked your friends which one speaks to them the most clearly) it's time to create several thumbnails. Choose your magic number and get creating.

Things you will want to consider when creating your characters:

Step 1:

Ask yourself what world they are from.

How can this be signified from things like their physical traits to their clothing? One of the greatest character designers, Iain McCaig, suggests that every single element we add to our character should have a reason, even if the viewer or reader will never know what that is! I'm thinking... do I want my ballerina to be on Earth in 2020? Not a super attractive place to be... what about an interstellar system in the near future... hmmm... Going to think about that one. I've also been playing with the idea of a super flowy watery being. At the ideation phase, no idea is a dumb idea. If you can think it, try it out!

Step 2:

Aim for a silhouette that is distinctive and displays clearly what the character is doing.

When adding accessories etc think about how your character might still be recognisable in silhouette form. This will ensure that your character's key traits will stand out from far away. My dancer, if from a post-apocalyptic situation might be different from a dancer on an interstellar planet far far away. Can one dance in a spacesuit? I don't know... but it could add a cool contrast to the general stereotype of 'sleek dancers'. I considered adding a dress to my ballerina but thought a dress might cover the awesome pose too much so I checked out some dancer's silhouettes and found a flamenco dancer with a fan which makes a distinctive silhouette.

Step 3:

Connect with who they are.

Zoom even closer into their personality. What are their personal effects? How do they operate? How do they get around, who are their friends? What music do they listen to? What books do they read? Such small details might even hint at what kind of wrist tattoo they might have! If I go with the space ballerina she really may not show a lot of skin, but I think a glimpse of her face and her facial expression will hint at who she is - whereas if I go with a leotard wearing Waterbender I can rely on the pose and the water to communicate who she is. This leads us to our next question...

Step 4:

Lay your different ideas and thumbnails out in front of you and consider the pros and cons of each of them before moving on.

So by now, you've made a lot of decisions that will have you closer to knowing who your character is. Creating designs and making art is all about making decisions. Even if your progress may feel slow, spending time on these decisions in isolation helps you to be intentional about the way forwards. Take time to consider all the different thumbnails you've made (this can be anything from 4-15 thumbnails or even more) and think about what the purpose of your character is. If it's for yourself, or a novel, you may feel happy with the brainwork you've done. If it's concept art for a video game or illustration, you may want to start considering the finer details for the next step.

Step 5:

Decide on the final pieces for your art-work, ready to be made.

Ask your friends, colleagues or family which one they thing portrays the message the most clearly. Display your work, and pat yourself on the back for doing a thing!