Letting the Character Shine Through
Character artist Laura Gómez walks through her creations — from timid crusader to lazy dragon — crafted over 8 weeks for Nate Wragg’s Character Design for Animation course.
My name is Laura Gómez and I’m from Guadalajara, Mexico. I graduated from UDG with a Visual Arts Bachelor Degree where I learned traditional arts and techniques. I work as a freelance artist for independent animated short films, mostly in my own country. Currently, I’m working on an independent short film titled Nemi.
I have taken a lot of self-directed Character Design courses over the past years, but I was looking for one which provided personalized feedback. After some research, I decided that the CGMA courses were my best option. As a mostly self-taught character artist, I was getting concerned about my development, and I wanted to get a professional opinion about my work and the opportunity to open myself to a global market.
Focusing on Design Silhouettes — The Timid Crusader
My knight isn’t the bravest man in Jerusalem: he is not that young anymore and he isn´t in the best physical shape either, which makes him a little bit insecure about himself. He was never much of a fighter—he actually wanted a quiet life inside his little castle—but you can’t stay at home when all your friends and the king are going to fight in the Crusades so, yeah, life is hard.
While I was working on this assignment, I wasn’t focusing on this character specifically. Instead, I started playing around with different shapes: circles, triangles, etc, and thinking about which kind of personality matched better with each of them. I sketched a circle knight, a rectangle knight, an old curved knight, etc. (see above). Finally, I decided to go with the “nervous” triangle. After making a general sketch I started adding some detail to his costume, props and facial features. As you might notice, I tried to put a triangle in every single detail of this character—that was the most time-consuming stage of the designing process. For the pose, I often checked my design as a solid color block, just to make sure that everything was clear and in place.
Character Line-ups — The Pirates
I love pirates, so I really enjoyed this assignment. For these characters, I wanted to display a mix of toughness, silliness, and dirt. These guys are sailing the seas stealing things, fighting, and drinking… and they don’t really have the time nor enough spare clean water to think about taking a shower that often. They are like eternal teenagers with the whole “you only live once” and “nothing to lose” attitude.
For the design of these characters, I started the silhouettes with solid, flat, simple shapes. At this stage, I was more worried about shapes and proportions. A short while after this I started adding props, like hats and weapons. At that point, I was playing with basic shapes to make sure that every pirate looked different from the others. I kept asking myself questions like what if I make this thing bigger or smaller? How can I make this character stand out from the others? what will happen if I use a different basic shape? It was a really fun and playful part of the design process.
After that, I picked 3 out of my 6 original pirates and began to refine their designs by thinking more deeply about their personalities and how to show that up through the design. For the girl, I wanted a personality that’s sharp, fierce, and a little vicious, so I added a lot of pointed shapes, like her hair, bandana, eyebrows, nose, fingertips, and obviously, her dagger. For the short guy, I wanted a wild and fun-loving character, so I added a lot of rounded shapes and circles and really crazy eyes. The big one was stoic and massive, so I went for big square shapes. For this assignment, I didn’t add the basic shapes to every single detail as I did with the knight. Instead, I experimented with using a wider variety of shapes while still trying to stay focused on the basic form that I picked for each character.
The Story Moment — “Hello, Sailor!”
For the story moment, we have this old, lonely, and tired sailor, seated on a bench, passing the time with the good company of smokes and booze when this little posh kid with his little boat and a big lollipop (who is a great fan of the sailor), approaches him like “Hey! I’m a sailor too, let’s hang out!” The little boy feels like he is meeting with a hero, while the old man is surprised and maybe a bit uncomfortable.
I started this assignment with an idea about a thin lady eating nuts at the park, with a squirrel trying to steal a nut from her, then I changed it to an old lady feeding birds at the park being interrupted by a little girl with a lollipop full of dirt, and finally I changed that to the little boy and the sailor.
I picked this moment because I wanted to have the closest connection between the characters in the scene. For me, a little boy who wants to be a sailor and tries to catch the old sailor’s attention has more backstory potential than the other two options, which feel like more casual encounters.
Style Matching — Searle & Ward Dragons
Both of my dragons are quite silly-looking: one is distracted watching a moth while the other is telling a really bad pun to someone. I didn’t want to draw them as fierce and dangerous dragons. For both of them, I was thinking more about a creature that’s chubby, lazy, and not that bright.
The more challenging style was definitely Ronald Searle. I finished the Jay Ward dragon (above) in like a single day, but Searle’s dragon took me a whole week. His style is super detailed and loose, with a lot of pen drawn textures. I have never tried to emulate anything similar to his style and it took me a lot of effort. I started with the general, basic shapes, and then I gradually started to add more, and more, and more detail. I had lots of thumbnails with his drawings pasted on my canvas during the whole process because I had to check the references really often in order to stay close to the style.
Animal Design — The Sleepy Anteater
For the animal design, I picked an anteater because it is one of my favorites animals. I think they have a really funny looking shape, with the long nose, the big fluffy tail, and the huge claws. In my opinion that’s a really neat mixture of features to have in a single animal. My anteater is a nice, cool guy, but quite sleepy.
The approach to this design was really different from the first assignments of the course. For week 1, the assignment was to design an alien or monster and those can be easily based on any shape and look like anything. Since in this case, we are working with real animals, I had to use a lot of references. After all, people should be able to recognize the animal that I’m drawing. I took a really close look at the real animal in order to really understand the basic shapes that I had to use before pushing them into a more stylized version of the same animal. In the sketch, you can see the two passes I did before the final version of this design.
The course was all I was expected and more. Nate Wragg’s comments about the assignments were really helpful, and always clear. Sometimes you get lost in your own work and start doubting if you´re doing things the right way, so being able to get the kind of advice that tells you exactly what you need to improve on is priceless. It’s amazing how making a little change here or adding a small detail there can take a design to a completely different level. Also, Nate wasn’t only giving us advice about the classes, he was always open to any kind of question about the industry. He has really, really helpful in so many ways. I highly recommend taking this course to anyone who wants to improve as a character designer.