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As an Environment Artist, Matthew Quickel wanted to expand his design knowledge so he could complete a personal project that was completely different from his day job. Check out the four assignments that established essential character design skills with plenty of room for creative experimentation!

  1. Carhop Carline
  2. Vixen Dog-Owner
  3. Salad Tosser
  4. Chef Bebop

Hi there! My name is Matthew Quickel and I am from Pennsylvania, United States. While I earned a degree in animation, my interests have shifted more specifically to environment design and modeling. For the past 15 years, I have been working in the video game industry on such franchises as F.E.A.R., The Elder Scrolls Online, and Civilization, and I am currently a Lead Environment Artist at Firaxis Games. I’m currently working on my design skills so I can rely on other concept artists less to bring my visions to fruition!

1. Carhop Carline

The assignment for weeks 1 and 2 was to create characters using only lines, shapes, and one single color.  For week 1 I created a carhop – Carhop Carline – who clumsily falls on her skates while carrying an order to hungry guests.

Art Direction for Character Designers was both an opportunity to do something outside of my day-to-day environment work, and an opportunity to learn from Nate Wragg, whose work I have admired for years.

Matthew Quickel, Environment Artist

Enjoy a sneak-peek into a lecture from Nate’s Art Direction For Character Designers course!

2. Vixen Dog Owner

For week 2, we were supposed to add a pet. In light of this spin, I developed a nasty, Cruella-De-Ville type character who wears elegant furs and accessories. In true Cruella fashion, she yanks on the leash of a dog so hard his front paws are off the ground.  The designs of these characters were all very much influenced by a time period where this type of limited line, color, and shape were found in animation, mostly from the work of UPA.

I tried several different dog breeds/types and poses. The main issue I kept running into was that I was making the dogs too literal and detailed and it would break the vibe of the simple line, shape, and color assignment, or it simply wouldn’t work at all. The first two weeks were probably my favorite because the restrictions provided a fun challenge as well as a tribute to the impact of limited animation.

See how another student approached these assignments in “5 Ways to Undo Bad Illustration Habits.”

3. Salad Tosser

In week 3, we were tasked with creating a character using a style similar to Ronald Searle, which of course included adding an abstract element and a fake headline. I have young children who – as most parents can relate to – don’t care for vegetables, so I thought of this idea where the shape of a lettuce leaf could look like projectile vomit.

I played with his pose quite a bit even though the initial sketch and the final piece weren’t that different from each other. I was skeptical of how this piece would turn out or how well the abstract element would integrate, but in the end, it was a neat assignment. I lucked out with this piece since it seemed to click on the first try, but it was important for me to incorporate the abstract element in the initial sketches.

4. Chef Bebop

For weeks 4-5, we were asked to use an existing villain or monster and ‘cute-ify’ them and then use them in an advertisement. I’m a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kid (I still have a stash in my office) and chose Bebop for my design. I made some initial sketches using references from the TV series, comic fan art, and the physical toy from the late 80s.

Because toy design already simplifies the character, it’s more digestible to study color, line, and shape. For the initial pose, Bebop was carrying a giant boombox and in the advertisement version, the props focus on the product he’s selling. The product is turtle soup, which is a common phrase used throughout the cartoon series whenever he’s going into battle against the four heroes.

Based on feedback, I made some minor changes to the second version of the character, such as some simplification and larger nostrils, but for the most part, the character remained mostly unchanged. I included subtle shading with linework and sporadic patterning (such as the hair stubble).

Final Thoughts

  • Because I believe you can never stop learning, and I wanted to be able to do more of my own design work rather than rely on concept artists, I signed up for the CGMA course Fundamentals of Architecture Design taught by Tyler Edlin. I saw immediate results in the work that I was doing professionally and the positive experience I had with my first course prompted me to sign up for others. That led me to this course taught by Nate Wragg!
  • Art Direction for Character Designers was both an opportunity to do something outside of my day-to-day environment work, and an opportunity to learn from Nate Wragg, whose work I have admired for years. When I took the course, I was also in the process of creating a children’s book – The Big Book of Horrendous Diseases – and was hopeful the course would help me in the design and development of my own characters.
  • Nate’s course lectures resonated with the general design rules that I also try to adhere to in environment design. This helped me to evaluate the characters I was developing for Horrendous Diseases and make changes accordingly. It also allowed me to improve my Procreate skills on an iPad, which is how I completed 95% of the work for this course.
  • Unlike being in a studio doing full production where you’re racing to get content in, the class setting really challenges you to pause and question your work. Students should come into this particular class willing to take the time to explore different ideas or iterate on different shapes, designs, and poses of a single character!

LEARN MORE

CGMA provides comprehensive instruction for Art, Games, and VFX industries in a variety of courses for a range of students, from 2D and 3D artists looking to supplement their college studies to industry professionals looking to stay up to date on emerging trends and techniques in the field.

RELATED LINKS

Enjoy a sneak-peek into a lecture from Nate’s Art Direction For Character Designers course!

See how another student approached these assignments in “5 Ways to Undo Bad Illustration Habits.”

Check out the course that first hooked Matthew on CGMA: Fundamentals of Architecture Design taught by Tyler Edlin!