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Character Design | SketchTime

@ an advanced age…

It takes only a few marks to add decades to an invented character. Crows feet, heavier lids, skin irregularities can be convincing. The low angle cell phone pic adds some extra drama.


Scribbling, a gateway to character concepting

I find it challenging to loosen up my style for character invention. Drawing small, random shapes with a light Copic brush pen often helps. In this case, I happened to be sharpening a Colo-Erase, and spotted a shape that resembled a sort of swirling feline genii. I added a little push in Photoshop to bring out some dimension.


Jekyll-Hyde, A Strange Sketch

Fun imagining the transition from Dr. J. to Mr H.
Can you watch the transition without staring into his eyes?


Summer Sea Concept

Mini-mermaids or giant sea horse?



One “For the Birds”


Only realized long after this ArtCard sketch that Pixar’s “For the Birds” short was its inspiration!



What-if scenarios are great exercises for character design. This concept for “evolved chickens” was part of an Art Order Challenge. Cluck, cluck.

Taking a Page from the Master


Neville Page, an industrial designer best known as Hollywood’s “blockbuster creature designer” recently gave a presentation at the Oceanside Museum of Art. Posters and stunning 3d-printed models of his character designs from Super8, Avatar, Tron, Green Lantern, Prometheus, Cloverfield, & Star Trek were on display.

  • His process begins with sketching and marker work, after which the designs are imported into Zbrush. Modo is used for photorealistic rendering (taking input from cinematographers to match the lighting, lens angle, and depth of field of a scene). His workflows may also incorporate Max, Lightwave, Maya & Alchemy).
  • As an obsessive clockwatcher—a methodology he developed while teaching at Art Institutes—he’s very focused on timing & delivery.
  • Tools for symmetrical sketching (using Zbrush or PhotoBooth) are very helpful to quickly establish novel character shapes. He re-images and merges segments of models, textures and faces using these tools, and has built these explorations into a 5000-image library of shape inspirations.
  • To avoid overused reptile and elephant skin texture maps for the creature in Super8, he used an x-ray of a stingray for its other-worldly radiating patterns.
  • Design decisions on high profile projects require more justification than, “I chose this design because it looks cool”. This typically leads to heavier input from directors (…”Well, show me several other directions”). So before he presents a design to Spielberg or Cameron, he builds a full environmental justification for the character (rationale for coloration, morphology, etc.), which makes the concept much easier to “sell.
  • When he gets “stuck” on a design, he often restarts it in clay to shift gears.
  • Modestly, he claimed that 75% of on screen”creature magic” comes from the animation (which he doesn’t do).