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Learning how to draw means learning to see. A good art lesson teaches us not only to create but to look at, think about and understand our world through art.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Create a Character Sheet for your Original Cartoon (and invent a world that tests them in every imaginable way)


Creating original cartoon character drawings,
 using the random character trait generator:

It is human nature to want to tell our own stories and to create characters like ourselves. 

 But there is a danger in creating a character that is too much like you. If you become too attached to your cartoons, you'll be afraid to do anything bad to them. This could kill your story before it's even begun. 

If your audience is never worried about your characters, they'll also never start caring about them.

We also yearn to create characters that have admirable traits, failing to consider that what makes a character likeable and relatable are their imperfections.  

Using a random trait generator is a wonderful exercise for artists of any skill level. If you inadvertently generate a character with only positive traits, all strengths and no weaknesses, try again. 

Nothing kills a story faster than a character that is too perfect or a plot where nothing overwhelming or insurmountable happens. Your audience wants to see what your character does when they are destroyed and completely broken by impossible odds. How does your character deal with grief, tragedy or, at the very least, the knowledge that they messed everything up? If saving the day were easy, if anyone could do it, why does your story need your particular character to get the job done? 
Assignment: Create an obstacle course, maze or torture chamber for your character:
In this next exercise, create a drawing that throws everything bad you can possibly think of at your character. My character is very proud of his strength and he is overconfident in his ability to meet any challenge. I want to create an obstacle course that is going to shake him to the core. 

Imagine that you are creating a video game based on your character and his story. 

Create a drawing that puts your hero through their paces and don't forget to have fun doing it. As you draw you will develop more ideas about your character, who they are and what their strengths and weaknesses are. 

I created this short video to explain the process:

I did not realize that my character would be afraid of snakes and bugs until I started drawing the obstacle course. I think it would be fun if this phobia turns out to be his dirty little secret. He is very proud of how brave he is and doesn't want anyone to know his Achilles Heel.

Most of us cringe a bit when faced with creepy crawlies, but what about an imaginary bug that feasts on human flesh?

Carnivorous plants and imaginary spider bat monsters are always fun to draw

Finally, don't forget to provide a sliver of hope in your drawing. Your hero needs a reason to enter the maze and test his fortunes. What are his goals? Is he trying to find something? Rescue something or someone? Get to a better place? 

I am not sure I trust these 'doves' but I had to give my hero a reason to go through the maze. Maybe he is trying to escape a super villain's torture chamber? The church window with the beam of light shining through gives Floyd a goal and provides a sliver of hope for our hero.

Drawing an obstacle course/maze/torture chamber for your hero hopefully enabled you to discover new things about them. For instance, when I first created Floyd, I had no idea he would secretly fear snakes and bugs. 

I also added another plot twist as I was drawing: unbeknownst to Floyd, he will be unable to fly if his magic cape gets too wet. That should be fun to watch.

This brings us to another truth: What is fun for your character, will not be fun for your audience. What is fun for your audience will most certainly not be fun for your character. Recognize that they are two different things and you'll see the wisdom of not getting too attached. 

This does not mean you shouldn't eventually come to care about your character, it just means, let him earn it and don't make it easy on him. 

Now that you understand your character better, it's time to design a character sheet for them. 

Your character sheet should include a turnaround ,
a walk cycle and some poses that are emblematic of your hero's personality. You should also include a variety of facial expressions. The entire sheet does not need to be colored in or shaded. Just color and shade in one or two feature poses for now.  Then add in a description of your character. Include any powers, strengths and weaknesses that are pertinent to the story.
Let's talk about adding color, light and shadow to your artwork. I have created tutorials on this subject before so, for my students, the video below should be a review:

Here are some great references that I used in researching this art lesson:
This is a great video on Pixar storytelling from Bloop Animation:

Art of Looney Tunes is a treasure trove of Warner Brothers character sheets.

The Random Character Trait Generator is an indispensable tool. If you are looking for a little more autonomy, click here for a comprehensive list of character traits.

Pixar in a Box, introduction to storytelling:

Pixar in a Box: Character Development

Pixar in a Box: Visual Language:

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