10 top character design tips for animation

Using my experiences of working on Harald – my award-winning graduation film for the Institute for Animation and   VFX at the Filmakademie – I aim to share my techniques for creating characters with depth and personality. I have applied this idea to the mother in Harald, who is in conflict with herself – her big head full of ideas on how to be famous and loved is opposed by her small tube-like body. In a robot world, probably everything would be in perfect balance; there is no emotional tension within a robot character. Or do it within the character itself. This is great, especially in the beginning when I still want to be able to experiment with my overall proportions. It doesn’t nail you down to a higher tessellation of geometry and, with less polygon faces, I don’t have to be as careful not to break any of my nice smooth curves. 04. The benefit of using the low poly version in rigging is that you don’t have to deal with as many vertices and it is a much faster process to do the skinning. The visible features of my characters should not distract from the invisible ones, so after trying it out I decide against the hair, as there is no narrative purpose in it. I start off with several primitives and then use Extrude, Split Polygon and Insert Edgeloop. As I have reduced my modelled shapes, I do the same for my painted shapes. She is supposed to look cranky, and the asymmetric shape of her head and eyes will help to show her inner tension. Most people are looking for balance in their lives, but we are all unbalanced somehow; some more, some less. Technical versus artistic solutions  
When modelling the eyes, I first try the ‘common’ way of modelling a sphere with a hole, then adding another shape to form the iris. Style of textures  
I decide to keep my textures very plain. 01. Overall shape  
I usually work in Maya using classic box modelling tools. I try to reduce my artistic arsenal to a minimum and suppress my own style preferences and routines as long as possible. I tend to keep all the specular and reflection effects rather low anyway – again, I don’t want to create a visual barrier of glossy shapes and effects between my characters and the audience, especially in the face, where most of the deeper emotions will happen. If you want the characters to sell the ideas you have written in the script, you should learn to translate the words in the script into clearly readable shapes, colours and proportions in 3D. The style I have chosen for modelling is very much about reduction – so there is no sense in taking it back into a more realistic or detailed world, which would likely reveal the ‘cheapness’ of my geometry. Internal conflict  
If you have only one character in your film who is in conflict with him/herself or the world around him/her, build up the counterpart by designing parts of the world in an opposite way to your character. The good thing about having such a simple setup is that you will have total control over the emotion in the character’s eyes already in animation (where you only see viewport previews), because you are not so much dependent on textures, refraction, reflection and specular effects. But let’s think about it before just applying it mindlessly to our character models – does it make sense for you and your project? Environment adds character  
In Harald there are two characters and I try to assign different items to different minds, like, for example, the watering can which is designed to fit in with Harald’s proportions, and on the other side the challenge cups, which are more in the group of items that symbolise the mother’s character and interests. For example, on the outer side of Harald’s legs there is a strong geometric rim. There is a rule of thumb that no living creature is 100 per cent mirrored on both sides. Edges versus curves  
You may notice I have some unnatural edges in my character designs. 02. The hero Harald is a harmony-loving character and therefore not as much in asymmetry as his mother is. If you compare Harald to his mother, I am exploiting this to its full extent. Keeping the different primitives in mind helps me to   give them each a unique overall shape. 06. Words: Moritz Schneider
This article first appeared in 3D World issue 186. Each character will benefit from its difference from the other and it will make them more unique. Working this way is great because it helps me design my characters in 2D in a way they will benefit from when created in 3D. This makes it much easier to go forward and backward in the animation process and tweak viewing directions and the look of the characters without having to make test renders all the time. For example, ‘big’ has no meaning in a stylised world unless you give the audience a related counterpart to judge the dimensions. I worked with cubes for Harald and used the same workflow based on cylindrical primitives for the mother character. 08. However, I will use the low polygon version of my characters for rigging and skinning, so it is very important to always make sure that the loops of your meshes have a continuous flow from one polygon to the next. While I use Maya, Mudbox and Arnold Renderer, in this training you’ll find a collection of tips and insights in the process of designing, modelling and texturing a character for rigging and animation. Also the audience may lose the focus I have already set up with   the reduction. 03. 07. These edges in general serve the purpose to break up the smooth flat and rounded surfaces on my characters, and to build up contrast and tension within the characters. I focus on what best communicates the content. I work with the Viewport mesh tessellation of Maya and avoid mesh smooth operations while modelling.

Updated: 15.12.2014 — 21:59