Character Studies? Yes, Please!

After a character has been conceptualized, the next developmental step is, typically, to create a series of illustrations that shed more light into the character's traits.  At this stage, a comprehensive guide, which includes it's thought process, mannerisms and other delineations that set it apart from other characters, is mapped out well enough for it's personality to be unmistakably clear. This is a a very elaborate progress, but it needs to be in order for everyone to understand, and support the character.  This entire process is the definition of a Character Study.  So, now that we understand what a Character Study is, let's have a closer look into the methods often used during the process of a Character Study for a character that we intend to animate.

Proof of Concept

As explained above, once we have developed a character that we feel confident in, the Character Study can then commence.  So, what's the next logical step?  Expressions, expressions, expressions!  Facial expressions, to be exact.  This stage can be called "Proof of Concept", because, at this point, we must prove that the character can emote in a way that would make an audience care.  Empathy and pathos are key here.  Simply put, if an audience can't empathize, or relate with, the character, they won't feel a connection with it, and then we'll lose their attention. This can be because they'll be too distracted by issues with characteristics that, deep down inside, they know are fundamentally wrong.  Ultimately, this means that their focus is no longer on the story, and so the story fails.  On the other hand, just the opposite is true.  If we can, succeed at developing a personality that "makes sense", if the character embodies a type of quality that viewers believe actually exists, then we will have managed to succeed at designing an appealing and memorable character.   IMG_01   A good tip to help you uphold this concept is to study the world around you.  If you're suffering from artist's block and you can't quite come up with any expressions that you feel are unique and magnetic, perhaps it's time to put the pencil, stylus or mouse down and take a stroll through the park, lounge or mall.  Places like these are gold mines, because they are often filled with all sorts of personality-types.  You're bound to come up with a few great ideas.  After this step, you're more than likely familiar enough with the character to began the next and "final" stage which is body language.

Body Language

So, at this point you should know your character well enough to communicate what it's feeling through pantomime.  Create as many full-body gestures as possible that communicate what the character is thinking or feeling.  Again, like our "Proof of Concept" phase, we should be able to have the character express itself in a way that hits home for the audience.  Before you begin, ask yourself questions like:
  • What would be the best pose to uphold the integrity of the character's nature?
  • Is the character an introvert or extrovert?  Depending on the answer to this question, how would the character react to being surrounded by a people they are and aren't familiar with?
  • What would be the character's demeanor during a subway ride home?  Would they prefer to stand or sit?  If they like to stand, would they grasp tightly to the overhead handle to prevent themselves from falling over, or are they the adventure-type that refuses to use any support, overly confident that their "innate" ninja abilities are all they need to remain balanced.  Or, if they prefer to sit, would they pull out a book to read, or headphones to listen to their favorite music to keep them calm because they dread public places?
  IMG_02 By asking and answering questions like these, your character will begin to solidify to the point where they're like another sibling or best friend.  You can then illustrate the character with confidence, knowing that whatever gesture you end up with is one that's most suitable.  And, that's when things get really exciting because you can start to communicate the character's behaviors when confronted with a variety of situations, from excitement to fear and anxiety.  This is utterly important because if there's a message that you're trying to convey through your story. The character will either make your point crystal clear, or too obscure to comprehend.  Crystal clear stories win everyday...mostly everyday. In this article, we learned not only what a Character Study is, but more importantly, why they're essential to a story.  Make sure to put an extensive amount of time and effort into character development.  In the end, you will find that the time spent was not only worth it, but you'll also come to truly enjoy the character and will support it through the long haul of the production of your story.