Character design! It's all about those visuals right? Those flashy cloths, outrageous hair, and cool gear, right? RIGHT? Well, to start, let’s look at this character:
What would you expect from a character like this? She probably has a high pitched voice and exhibits the usual anime tropes, right?
But then what happens if I said she sounded like an old man? Or that she is actually a reincarnation of Hitler’s soul? The perception of the character changes and suddenly her daintiness adds another layer of interest. Because of the shift in dynamic, the overly saccharine visuals now make the character MORE intriguing, not less.
That’s not to say that visuals and writing must always be in opposition with each other, but it does draw attention to an often overlooked mindset that is crucial to making great characters.
When crafting a character, each aspect of the character should NOT be created in vacuum.
A character’s writing informs what parts of the visual design need to be enhanced, and vice versa. (Same for movement and audio, which might be covered someday… maybe.)
An example of a character design that works because the visual design and writing build on each other:
On first glace, Genos looks (and acts) like a slightly blander version of every pretty boy action hero. His visual design alone isn’t terrible, but I’d hardly call it iconic. So why does he work as a character? (Mild spoiler alert) By all means, if “One Punch Man” were like any other action comic, Genos would have been the hero of the story. However, because of presence of Saitama, the ludicrously powerful protagonist, what would have been Geno’s epic story arc was interrupted. Instead of playing the handsome tragic hero, Genos has now assumed the role of the sidekick/student. With this context in mind, his design actually starts to work. He still looks cool but not iconic enough to be mistaken for the main character and what was initially a mediocre character is made hilarious and complex as he is asked to play a role that his cardboard tropes weren’t designed for.
So the takeaway? Good character creation is not just about visual snazz, but about how individual elements that make up the character combine to make a greater whole. Like cooking a Person Stew, you can’t always hide the taste of bad ingredients by dumping in tons of salt and sugar.
From here, I’ll start doing a deep dive into visual topics (like expression/acting, silhouette, color, and symbolism) and give examples as to how they can be utilized in a given character. And with that, I’ll end with a neat look into the ingredients that went into creating Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite.
Video | Concept Art
Thanks for reading!