What elements make a design good for animation? It needs to be simple and repeatable so you don’t have to spend a long time drawing each frame.
It needs to be recognisable too, so your audience can instantly distinguish your character from scene to scene while understanding them.
There might seem to be a lot of boxes to tick, but if you design your character with a story, things will become a lot easier.
Before you start sketching and getting visual ideas down, ask yourself some questions. Who is this character? What’s their age, gender, and personality? What do they normally do in their daily life? Where do they live and which era were they born in? What’s their favourite food and favourite colour?
After you have answered these questions, you will have a clear goal and it will be much easier to render the person you have created on the page.
You should draw out the most visible traits of the character. Don’t spend your time designing things that have nothing to do with the character’s life.
I blocked out the overall composition with green lines and then used a thicker red brush to sketch gestures.
I used black lines to further define the picture. The linework should be as clean as possible for easier colouring.
I tried to pick a colour palette to make the character stand out. I then roughly lit her with an airbrush.
As the 3D version of the character is the focus, I carefully rendered her, using a mask layer for a clean silhouette.
I added context and used Curves to adjust the colours. I layered several textures on the 2D pictures.
Making a modelsheet for your character will help you to understand them. This is a reference for a 3D modelling artist or for other 2D animators to see how the character looks from different angles. It’s an essential tool because it forces you to visualise these views. A characteristic may look decent from the front view, but not make sense when you see it side on.
This tutorial by Yangtian Li originally appeared in issue 29 of Digital Artist.