Sketchbook Update: Creating A Character


Lately I’ve been trying to brush up on my character design skills. I’m planning to attend the CTN Animation Expo in Burbank this November and I’d like to walk through the doors with a beefed-up portfolio under my arm.

To get ready I’ve recently taken a character design workshop from Nate Wragg at the new CGMW online school, I’ve attended a lecture by character designer Chris Ayers, and I’ve been reviewing past critiques of my work from industry professionals. Over and over I keep hearing that in the animation industry it’s not enough to create a well-designed character if all you do is sketch him standing around in stiff and boring poses. Everything about your drawings – the pose, the costumes, the props and situations – needs to say clear things about who the character is and, ideally, tell a mini-story. As my friend Tom Bancroft says in his excellent book on character design, every pose should have a clear reason behind it. Animation studios don’t want someone who can just design a person or animal, they want someone who can create a character.

Chris Ayers has a really great trick that he uses to help him practice his character design skills. At his drawing table he has a ziploc bag full of little slips of paper. Written on each piece is a character type, a prop, an animal, or an attitude/expression. After he cracks open his sketchbook he reaches in and pulls out a few slips of paper and then challenges himself to create a character using that combination. For example, combining “rhino”, “lederhosen”, and “ready to fight” would probably result in a burly German rhino looking like he’ll knock your block off if you dare to snicker at his silly green outfit. If you purchase My Daily Zoo, Chris’s excellent drawing/activity book for children, he even has a batch of tear-off tabs in the back to get you started on your own ziploc bag of character ideas.

I loved that idea so much that I brainstormed my own list and now keep a similar bag near my desk. The other day I reached in and pulled out slips of paper reading “shark”, “charming”, and “southern gentleman”. I put those together to create the above sketch.

If all goes as planned I’ll be posting more sketches like this as the CTN Animation Expo gets closer.

CTN Animation Expo Just Around The Corner


I’ve been looking forward to this for months. The CTN Animation Expo starts Friday in Burbank, CA. To my knowledge this is the first-ever event of its kind. Artists and creatives from all over the Hollywood animation scene will be gathered under one roof for three days of inspiring seminars, workshops, and networking. Lots of artists will be exhibiting their work and some of the big studios in town will be scouting for talent. There’s going to be a lot going on and the event is generating a lot of buzz. Highlights include:

  • Panels and Presentations…click here for schedule.
  • A tribute to legendary Cartoonist Ronald Searle.
  • Spotlight Booksignings and Exclusive Sketchbook Releases.
  • Speed Talent sessions—show your portfolio, ask questions, meet a mentor.
  • Screenings: “The Secret of the Kells”, “Banjo The Woodpile Cat”, and a surprise late night screening 11pm on Saturday… sshhhhhh!
  • Live Demonstrations hourly by the creators of some of the highest grossing films in the history of animation.
  • Exclusive Spotlight Interviews: (in alphabetical order)
    Peter de Sève
    Gary Goldman and Don Bluth
    Mike Mignola
    Paul Young and Tom Moore the makers of “The Secret of the Kells”
  • CTN-X@nite Networking Parties sponsored by Animation Magazine, The Marriott Hotel and Walt Disney Studios.
  • Reunions: Don Bluth Studios, Walt Disney Florida and Rowland Animation and more.
  • Live Demonstrations all weekend.
  • Recession Buster Raffle $1000 cash and prizes. One winner a day.
  • ToonBoom:  Presentations and Software Raffle
  • Z-Brush: Presentations and Software Raffle
  • Corel/Wacom Artist Contest: Win a Painter and Intuos 4 tablet.

You can still get tickets, starting at just $25. Hope to see you there!

(The CTN Expo is sponsored by the Creative Talent Network.)