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2D Animation and Illustration by Renato Vargas

Building Character is not the Same as Character Development

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Post written by Renato Vargas

When someone is doing an entire animation on her or his own, there’s a tendency to avoid taking some of the preparatory steps that studios often cannot ignore, such as creating character model sheets, among other things. “After all”, one thinks, “it’s all in my head”. Wrong!

Image courtesy of yashrg.

Character development is a crucial step that often gets neglected by hobbyists such as myself. We might see the character in our minds and think we’ve got it all covered. We probably drew our character on a napkin for the first time and it looked excellent. Our buddies thought it was “awesome”, and the girls all thought it was “so cute”. You’ve got a winner… until you start animating.

Your first frame requires your character to be in an entirely different position than the napkin’s. So you rough it out and voilà; instant Picasso. Your drawing skills are more or less solid, you think, but your drawing of Little Timmy doesn’t look like him. He looks awkward. “Hmm, it’s something about the nose”, you think. Okay, you erase him and start over. Another piece of abstract art flows out of your wrist. “Damn it”, you get angry, “I can’t tweak each drawing for 30 minutes. I’m never going to finish like this”. And you’re right.

As it turns out, character model sheets were invented for a reason and they can help you speed up the animation process if done right. Their purpose is to give your animated character a consistent look throughout your project, regarding not only its features, but also its dimensions and colors. A good model sheet should have images of your character in various positions, and looked at from different angles, so that you’re able to compare every drawing you do to it, and judge whether you are “on model” or not. But how do you make one?

1. Dimensions. You need to know how big its head is, in relation to its body. Are its arms long or short? How many heads tall is it? On a blank page (or frame, if you draw it directly onto the computer) draw horizontal lines spread apart by multiples of the head size and draw your character standing in a full 180 degree range of drawings, meaning you will draw it facing front; a quarter left; full left; three quarters left; and back, all next to each other, and then flip them to have their right counterparts(unless its sides are different, because then you would have to draw the others too).

2. Facial expressions. Under your full turnaround, draw as many facial expressions as you can.

3. Sitting poses. Fill the blank space with a couple of drawings of your character in a sitting position.

4. Action poses. On a new page (or frame) draw him in active poses, such as running, walking, or things your character would typically do. Does it play basketball? Does it eat frantically?

The purpose of this is to practice building your character. Drawing him or her should come naturally to you and model sheets are an excellent practice. Keep it simple. Your character’s main structure should be made with simple shapes such as circles and cylinders. Add details last.

Tomorrow is animation Tuesday for me. I won’t animate though. I’ll be going back to model sheets, because my character’s face cannot stretch anymore. It’s all over the place. Wobbly, wobbly, wobbly. He’s starting to look like plastic man. Learn from my mistake and just start with a nice model sheet for each of your main characters, before you do any of what I mentioned in point 1. of my previous post.

Do you experience the same consistency problems I do? Let everybody know in the comments.


Written by Renato Vargas

January 5, 2009 at 10:27 pm

2 Responses

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  1. thank you the insight provided by is praise worthy.

    jivan kumar

    November 12, 2010 at 4:36 am

  2. At the moment I am working on the development of my first comic book characters and I face the same problems. I totally agree – model sheets are important .


    September 1, 2011 at 6:39 pm

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