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Designer Daniel OGuin wanted to blow away a high-profile client with his character animation, so he decided to sharpen his skills. Daniel is amazing at using his own life experiences to influence the personalities and shapes of his characters. Don’t miss out on how Daniel’s narrative-forward approach to 8 different character projects, including:

  1. Shape Language
  2. Design Silhouettes
  3. Character Line Ups
  4. Character Faces
  5. Character Story Moment
  6. Matching a Style
  7. Animal Design
  8. Character Turn Around

My name is Daniel OGuin and I come from Kailua, Hawai’i. I am the owner of Eternaleyes Design, a Dream Design Agency Making Positive Visions Last  Forever. Some of my clients include Google, Cisco, Carvill Sotheby’s, Mike Love, Cinequest Film Festival, and more. Although I studied Entertainment Design at Cogswell Polytechnical College, it was hard for me to find Previsual Concept Design work right out of school. Eager to make my mark on the world, I moved to Los Angeles a year after graduation with a design portfolio and one goal; to be a successful artist. Now, my talents have allowed me to travel around the world while working remotely. Instead of focusing on concept designs, I evolved into more of a Renaissance Designer that helps companies actualize their dreams, while I manifest mine. To design a better planet.

1. Shape Language

My first characters revealed themselves to me. I felt like an archaeologist searching through shapes in order to find a character unique enough to create. Since the topic was “monster” I went with a cuter direction almost as if they could be turned into stuffed animals. Along with the cute theme, other words that helped my design process were goofy, mysterious, and introverted. Like myself 🙂

The rectangular monster signifies this rigid, shy character that moves around the world as if he is supposed to squeeze a square into a square hole. Follows directions, is afraid to speak his mind, and lets other monsters walk all over him.

The circular monster is very drifty. He floats around aimlessly like a fluffy cloud. He doesn’t bother anyone or anything… that is unless they bother him.  Then he swallows them and poops them out into tiny gumballs.

The changes that Nate Wragg recommended for my two monsters were to push their personalities. The square monster needed to feel even more weak and soft-spoken, and the circular monster needed to feel more dazed and hypnotized. We were able to accomplish this through their poses and facial expressions. The square monster now has a bit of a lean, a weaker arm, and a worried face. The circular monster has eyes that are more wall-eyed, a bit of a smirk, and has heavier eyelids.

Also, during one of Nate’s Q&As, he showed us the importance of using different line weights and textured brushes to create different styles with your characters. I tried my hand at it with this revision to see how my characters would look. I think I prefer my original textured brush though.

Curious about character pipelines in the industry? Nate Wragg also teaches CGMA’s Character Design For Production course!

2. Design Silhouettes

The triangular knight is like a paper tiger. Big growl, no bite. He would do better as an opera singer than a warrior. He has flimsy little legs and a  worthless sword, but loves to yell and flex. His silhouette from afar looks almost as if he would tip over if the wind blew hard enough. His head was the hardest part for me. Making a mouth that was unrealistic, but believable took the most time. It was the primary focus of this character’s silhouette because  I wanted the audience to see how vocal he was. Always talking but never taking action.

The round giant beside him is a real warrior of love. His staff is firm in the ground to symbolize his unwavering nature. His fluffy smile alone is enough to dis-empower his enemy. And his massive shield is not one to protect himself out of fear, but to show the world his heart. He is a real gentle giant. His silhouette needed to be larger than life. Like a great wall made of pillows. This was the greatest challenge for me. Every body part and prop needed to be perfectly proportioned in order to achieve the proper silhouette. The end result is a mountain of a man that will stand there as long as he has to to be victorious in the face of fear.

3. Character Line Ups

Since “story is king” I had to draw inspiration from my own life’s path for this week’s assignment. I had also previously conceptualized a Pirate Circus book, so this was the perfect opportunity to flesh out the characters of the story.

The tall lanky figure on the left represents me. A tightrope walker always trying to find a balance in life. The captain on the right is an old mentor of mine.  A father figure and captain of my life a few years ago. The woman in the center is the girl of desire we both once loved, who carries the metaphorical treasures of all of our hearts. They, along with the rest of the crew, sail around the globe performing their circus acts.

The funambulist is the barrel man that walks from mast to mast all day every day looking up at the sky. His flag is not just a fancy prop. It is also his balancing pole, his weapon of choice, and support for his unusual height. The buoys that decorate his torso and limbs are indicative of his need to not only stay balanced and afloat but were also chosen to reflect his primary shape language of the circle.

The captain is kind of a Rasputin opportunist. He has a keen way of exploiting people for their talents and at the same time observing their flaws and taking advantage of them. He has a prickly personality which is clearly shown in his bristly beard and angular shape language.

The female of the bunch is a look-but-don’t-touch kind of girl. Her hair is obviously the most attractive part about her. It’s a regal robe that trails behind her at all times. The silky opposition to the captain’s scruff was a great opportunity to silhouette her with a large dark rectangle. She is the treasure bearer.

Using circles, triangles, rectangles, size, and weight, I was able to create visual contrast between all of the characters. Moreover, I was always keeping their personalities in mind which resulted in aesthetic differences.

Nate offered some really minute but extremely valuable advice for this lineup. I was told to push and pull the 3 character’s heights to create even more of a difference between them. I squished the captain on the right and stretched the women in the center to achieve this. Secondly, I was told to bring out their personalities through their facial expressions. Since the faces are where our eyes tend to go first, it’s very important that they are legible and say something meaningful about the character. The woman now has a coy facial expression, and the captain has a clearer more defined face.

Check out Nate Wragg’s other popular CGMA course: Art Direction for Character Designers.

4. Character Faces

Ms. Triangle is very stuck up. Your quintessential librarian is always shushing people. Although she is snotty, she has a deep desire to be noticed and find love in the quiet library. That’s why she is always so dressed up with earrings, collar pins, and nice glasses. Her triangular shape language was intended to bring out and reinforce her abrasive personality. Without going over the edge with it though, I made sure it was more like a rice musubi.  Rounded, and dare I say edible?

The circular oldie but goodie is the man who’s been in the library for way too long. The cool thing about him though is that everyone loves to visit him. He has a wealth of stories and wisdom because he has read every single book in the library. His whole head and beard are a giant oval which was intended for him to look so welcoming and inviting. Even his round squeezable nose, monkey-like ears, and circular glasses help to echo that shape language.

Phil is the guy who sticks to the rules. He is so introverted it’s uncomfortable. He is the kind of guy that is inward but really wants everyone to know and love him. That’s why he wears the name tag. He is a square, so I made sure that every facial feature was over-exaggerated to reflect his demeanor.

Nate had some really tiny critiques here. Adding fluff to the old man’s beard, fixing the librarian’s bow tie, and fixing the women’s collar. All of these minor notes added to the realism of the designs because they were following the laws of nature.

5. Character Story Moment

This was also a moment that I needed to pull from my own personal life. The central figure is me. The two rascals are my stepkids. The old scared man in the middle is playing a school teacher that is currently being tortured. All he wants to do is protect his briefcase, survive the day,  and be taken away from his current misery. The rascals are a devilish duo. They are inescapable and as fast and wild as a pair of raccoons on a 24-hour candy diet.

My biggest challenge was probably the character’s poses, proportions, and facial expressions. It took a lot of failed attempts to get them to a point I really wanted them at. The old teacher needed to look like he was heavyset, but not melting onto the bench. The kids needed to be invasive, but not violent. In order to get there, I pushed all of the characters until they broke. At one point, the kids looked too aggressive and the teacher looked like a pile of poop.  Eventually, though, I brought them back to the realm of credibility.

Watch this video to see Artist Seiji Lim approach these same projects and learn from TWO amazing artists.

6. Matching a Style

The Ronald Searle dragon has the demeanor of a vulture. He picks up the scraps that other bigger dragons leave behind. He is short and stout and has a  long snout. He is utterly apathetic, has a hard time even standing up, and can barely reach anything with his hands because his nose is way too long. The best thing about him is that he is a boneholic and loves chewing on bones anyway.

The Jay Ward dragon is very gregarious. He loves to serve everyone else around him, but can never seem to get the orders right. I love dichotomy, so making a loveable character who wants to do his best but can’t, really resonated with me. We all fail, but we can choose to do so with a smile on our face and keep moving forward, or quit and feel sad. This dragon never quits no matter how many times he gets it wrong.

The Ronald Searle dragon was more challenging because it took multiple attempts to find a unique silhouette. Adding lots of detail and line work took some time but was easy. Being able to work within the confines of Ronald Searle’s style took discernment and concentration though.

Nate has such a great eye. He was able to quickly tell me how I could make my Jay Ward dragon fit the world of those classic cartoons. I cut my details in half and thickened the shapes of the dragon in order to keep the most important factor in mind; that this dragon would be animated by hand, redrawn over and over. Which meant, this dragon could not have superfluous details.

7. Animal Design

The colorful reference images were part of the exercise for this week. By breaking down the animal into simple shapes, it helped to commit to memory how we could redraw the animal at any time. It also made us focus on how curved and straight lines create any given body part of an animal. After discerning that, then we were able to push and exaggerate each shape to create something more unique and characterized.

I chose the fox because I’ve always thought of it as part cat and part dog. They’re fluffy and colorful, yet agile and fierce. I almost wish I would have leaned more towards the cute side of the spectrum, but naturally, my pen just created a fox that was a bit more sleek, sly, slender, and ready to pounce.  I believe the result is because my focus was purely on finding a balance between straight and curved lines and shapes. The primary thought during the process was, is there a curve I can use with this straight? And vice versa.

Now the alpaca, here’s a cute fluff ball. I chose it because I saw one at the zoo some months back and wanted to take a bath in its fur. I knew I had to go goofy with it. I knew I wanted a silly face, shaved neck, over-the-top hair-do, and colorful Himalayan neck ornaments. There were so many opportunities for shape and line contrast with the alpaca. What came naturally was a giant body and head, and a skinny neck, and tiny legs. Once those shapes were established it was much easier to find ways to push and pull the curves and straights on those shapes.

Nate’s requests for both of my animals were to have clear reads for the faces. There were also slight changes to the bodies, but the main area he had me focus on was making sure that the muzzles and silhouettes of the faces were clear. After doing the revisions, I was able to see just how important his recommendations were.

8. Character Turn Around

I just love the Pirate Captain. The pirate line-up was my favorite assignment and I wanted to dive deeper into the story’s characters. The captain’s giant triangular beard was something that intrigued me. How would it look in 3D space? As a whole, I had a deep urge to flesh out the captain’s face more because his initial concept drawing was focused more on his silhouette, but less on his face. Since he has such an exaggerated hat, feather, mustache, and beard, it was challenging to imagine what those elements would do in space. I actually had to use my own props as reference. I attached a fake mustache to myself and had a long piece of paper cut out as a feather to take reference shots of myself. His hat was a real guessing game for me. At first, when I drew it, it was three times as long. I eventually realized that this captain wouldn’t be wearing a hat that would irritate him, so I trimmed the tail of the hat way down.

Final Thoughts

  • When I am blessed with the opportunity to observe a professional, I mimic them. As we took a journey through Nate Wragg’s mind and design philosophies, I started noticing consistent themes that really helped me achieve better characters. Contrast, simplicity, clarity, “story is king”, properly analyzing great designs, exaggerating lines and shapes, how to take designs to the next level, echoing primary shape language, breaking designs down to their core, and following directions and timelines were all such crucial lessons in my development as an artist over the 8-week period. Nate saw what I  just couldn’t see in my own work. He pushed my work, which in turn pushed me to be better.
  • The week 3 (character lineup) was the most fun. This was mostly because I was able to infuse a story about my own life into the characters. It was also a highly anticipated moment. Nate showed us multiple examples of character lineups from different films and the desire to do my own had built up. Drawing one character is fun, but when three get to live together on a page, it all of a sudden makes the story come alive. After all,  character designs get lonely too….
  • Do you have any tips you could give other artists that would like to take this class?
  • My advice to other artists is to put in the work. Use every day of the week to practice, study, draw and learn. Do as many sketches as you can before choosing the best one to execute for the week. Don’t be lazy and procrastinate until the night before. You’ll regret it. Also, use your own life experiences as a way to infuse your personality into the characters. Without a story and personality, the characters are lifeless.
  • To anyone who takes this class, please take advantage of the Q&A sessions. Use them to learn how to be a better designer, and how to think and act like a professional artist. Don’t ask how to get into the industry. You get in by doing amazing work and doing it consistently. Implement Nate’s feedback, and do it the day after he gives it to you. If not, you will put it off and his critiques will be useless to you.

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

If you want to try your hand at these projects, enroll in Character Design for Animation taught by Nate Wragg!

Curious about character pipelines in the industry? Nate Wragg also teaches CGMA’s Character Design For Production course!

Check out Nate Wragg’s other popular CGMA course: Art Direction for Character Designers.

Watch this video to see Artist Seiji Lim approach these same projects and learn from TWO amazing artists.