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Back on Track: Mindful Habits of Character Design

Animator Eddie Betancourt takes us through his design process and how his shape language conveys personality in work created for Character Design for Animation.


My name is Eddie Betancourt, and I’m a Texas-based artist/animator working in both Gaming and Television production. Past projects I’ve worked on include Axe Cop, League of Legends, The Banner Saga, Agents of Mayhem, Call of Duty, and The Adventures of Kid Danger. I took this course specifically to help push my current abilities as a designer. As artists, we’re forever evolving and forever a work-in-progress, but sometimes having a little more structure and the right guidance can really help expedite that growth or get us past artistic plateaus.

Design Silhouettes

I went through a variety of designs and settled on keeping with a rigid, square shape language. Typically, characters with sharp angles tend to be a bit more menacing or antagonistic. I wanted to take that idea and flip the personality trait, making him more cowardly. I wanted to make his eyes more rounded in contrast, to soften his appearance. He has the capability to at least face his foes, but whether he’s successful in thwarting them, or particularly courageous as he attempts to, is a whole other story. I think the one thing I wanted to make sure was clear was that he was cowardly, and had features that were distinct to a knight, or at least read like one through his silhouette. Another important addition to his posing were the buckled knees against his squared body – to give a feeling of both a grounded but non-resilient personality.

Character Line Ups

I imagine these misfits trying to carve their names in history as the greatest pillagers that sailed the high seas, but collectively never actually getting anything done. The captain can never get his cohorts in line to do some serious pirating, but he also can’t afford anybody else. I never imagined them to really be threatening, so I went with softer shapes for all of them, with the captain having some slight sharper edges here and there to reflect his more focused, rigid pirate ideals. I mainly played with their posture and shape as a quick visual way for the viewer to read their personalities. The Captain I made with a sharper hat and much broader shoulders than the other two – compared to his companions, he is a little more serious about his goals, a little more grounded, and a little more commanding. His posture is meant to read as someone who commands presence and exudes confidence. His second mate I made smaller, with a hanging gut. He’s the more gluttonous one out of the three, and compared to the sharp and confident pose of the captain is far more relaxed and carefree. His expression is intended to read cocky and self-assured. Lastly, the dim-witted brute, who is drawn to be a little larger than life and more physically imposing – but contrasted by his soft shapes. Though he is the strongest of the three, he isn’t necessarily mean. They’re all tied together as a ‘team’ or crew by their manner of dress and complimenting shapes.

Character Faces

For the librarians, I was interested in portraying cheerful, strict, and exhausted personality types to allow for a nice, distinct variety. For the cheerful, peppier librarian, I wanted to use softer, rounder shapes to make him more welcoming and approachable looking. I imagined him as both excitable and laid back, which might often result in him unintentionally sharing his excitement of the latest news or books a bit too loudly in what should be a quiet library. I wanted this to reflect in his exaggerated expression.

The strict librarian I chose to give more edges and angles, to reflect her more rigid, wound up personality. She holds up the law of the library and cracks down on any riffraff who breaks them, armed with nothing but a scowl and an upturned lip. Even the large, ‘softer’ shape of her hair bun is carved out by edges and angles. This librarian is put together and unmoved by the more emotive librarians.

Lastly, the poor, exhausted-looking fellow with the five-o-clock shadow. His whole concept for his shape design was to show ‘downward’ motions. Downwards crescents, drooping curves, hanging eyes, and disheveled hair. This was to spotlight the feeling of someone being ‘down on their luck’, weathered, worn, and weighed down. This librarian is tired and has been doing this job for way too long. Of the set, this character had the most particular nuances, and it took a few tries to balance the sharp edges and curves together until it clicked to combine these all with hanging, drooping shapes.

Character Story Moment

For my story moment, I was really into the idea of creating a scene of a confident character who thinks they are doing a fantastic job of serenading and wooing someone… moments before reality was about to hit them. I’m a huge fan of comedic moments built on expectation vs. reality. In my initial sketch, the girl looked excited and joyful over being serenaded. In another iteration, she’s grown more irritated and was plugging her ears from all the racket. However, in the final version, that need for a bit more of a comedy punch kicked in. So, in comes the pepper spray. It just felt right.

Since the characters were aliens, I had to figure out how I wanted to design the bench they were on to fit the setting and universe the two characters might be from. I did a regular bench design at first but decided to rework it under the idea that every bit of the scene should tell a little bit more of the story, or about the world, these characters are from, no matter how minimal it is. So, it ended up being something a little more ‘futuristic’!

Final Thoughts

This class helped give me a little more direction and pinpoint where I should really push and plus my design choices. There are a lot of things we do and try to keep in mind as artists, and sometimes a lot of those teachings can fall through the cracks as we start to develop consistent habits. They aren’t necessarily bad habits, but it is easy for artists to become complacent and comfortable with things they are simply used to doing. Taking this course helped me get back on track and retrained me to again be mindful of trying new things, to find more ways to really push my designs to the next level. The librarians were probably my favorite out of the whole course. Playing with their shapes, pushing and pulling and exaggerating their features or expressions were a lot of fun. My advice to new students is to just be willing to try new techniques, really push outside of your comfort zone, and just have fun trying something new.

You can see more from Eddie here:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/edderzz/

Portfolio:  https://www.eddiedraws.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/EdderzzLive