Imitation and the Art of Finding Your Style

Imitation and the Art of Finding Your Style

Animation student Linh Bui tells us about his experience adapting to various art styles and how he learned just how different he could be in Art Direction for Character Designers.


Hello, my name is Linh. I am a 3D animation student in Canada. When I was a little kid, I always watched cartoons on the tv screen of my neighbour through my window. Cartoons always make me feel happy.  Unluckily, my parents did not allow me to draw until 2015 April, when I was really making an effort to explain to them that art for televisions, games and movies was a professional career. After days and nights of learning through free tutorials on Youtube, buying many many books and practicing, I realized something was missing – I needed solid feedback. I started looking for good quality online schools, and I was very thrilled when I discovered CGMA.

After I improved my drawing skills as well as my design thinking through fundamental courses, I decided that I wanted to become a character designer. After three character-design classes, I have improved more than I can imagine. However, I had just one style for character design. So, I was really looking forward to taking the last class with Nate Wragg, which is Art Direction for Character Designers, to learn more styles. Unfortunately, that class is offered only one time per year. I wanted that class so much, and I finally attend that class Winter 2019.

*Art Direction for Character Designers if only offered during CGMA Winter Term

Line, Shape, & Color / Characters & Their Pets

The style of Week 1 & 2 was a different way of thinking for me, so I have to plan ahead before I commit to my design and make sure everything is consistent to the style. The style only allows having one color (middle value), solid black, and white (black line wrapping around).

I wanted to tell a story for each of my Character designs. She is a Baroque Aristocrat, she is really arrogant, and she does not care about anything else but herself. Moreover, I gave her a white poodle companion to emphasize her arrogance. For the main character herself, I emphasized the hair, bow, flowers, and dress to give my character a noble look. I combined a skinny body with a chubby face to give her beauty. Also, to describe the arrogant characteristic of my character, I designed square ears, sharp eyebrows, and well-done eyelid and beauty-spot.

I had some challenges with the environment. I asked Nate Wragg for his advice before and during the Q&A and his advice really made my design a lot different. One of Nate’s advice was that my shot was far away, he told me to bring the camera closer so the viewers can see the characters more clearly.

Animated Title Sequence

My choice for Animated Title Sequence was Game of Thrones because I am a big fan of Game of Thrones, as well as the way they tell the story, the way they develop their characters. I did think about the specific moments such as the first time Arya has needle, Arya’s reunion with her wolf and training with Brienne.  However, I wanted to capture more about Arya’s journey–What Arya had been through and where she is now. So, I chose this confident pose because before, she was a confident, brave but miserable kid. She lost her parents and one of her brothers, struggled to survive, and was being bullied during her training, but now she comes back to her home with confidence and ready for everything that will come next.

Additionally, the style for this assignment is combining Alexander Lindberg’s style and oil painting texture. I noticed that the style of Alexander Lindberg has curves versus straight line and I used just a few lines to describe details and indicate the form. After I finished with my design I applied the oil painting texture (which Nate Wragg provided). The texture not only added texture but also made every single element of my design have the same tone and it really put a more epic look into my design.

Bring Life to an UN-Living Object / Rivals

After watching Nate Wragg’s lecture of week 7, I always wondered what object would be interesting. So, I took a lot of pictures of daily objects that surround me and drew faces on them to get the feeling and inspiration. It was really fun.

My first Character was a Matcha ice cream. He is a dashing and confident kid and he likes a Lollipop, which is a little girl who just likes to hang out with other girls doing girly things.

In each feedback, I got directions to improve my designs. For example, when I first designed the Matcha ice cream character, he looked skinny and funky not exactly the look that I wanted. I wanted for him to show his confidence and dashing personality, but after the feedback, I recognized what I did not do well and fixed his look.

After the first character, I was having a very difficult time choosing his rival, because I spent 5 days focusing on what is the opposite of ice cream, but I realized that I do not have to focus on that. I just needed to focus on what story I wanted to tell. So, I came up with a story of an ice cream who likes a pretty Lollipop and follows her everywhere and tries to win her over, and he starts to annoy her. I wanted to give the Lollipop the look that she wants to say: “someone lick this guy, please!”

Final Thoughts

The reason I took this course was to be Nate Wragg’s student again. He is a very good instructor and he provides good and early feedback and even helps us with our portfolio and our personal work without hesitation. The main skill I have learned from this course is that to be able to adapt to whichever styles in the industry and developing my own style. Now I can share my portfolio with confidence that that is says “I am versatile. I can adapt to your style as well.” Thanks to this course, I have more than one unique style in my portfolio. Before, I had only one style and was scared when applying to companies because I was afraid that I could not adapt to another style. This course helped me not only to adapt to a new style but also to know how to combine styles together to make unique styles. Now, I have a process to learn more and develop my own style.

Through this course, the most fun assignment for me was Animated Title Sequence and Line, Shape, & Color / Characters & Their Pets because they were new ways to approach design for me. After the course, I still do some work for my own in those styles and have had good response. Nevertheless, I have some difficulties with Make Abstract…Not Abstract. The task was combining between 3 styles: An Abstract element, a specific Bulky & Chunky style and Ronald Searle’s final line. I was having a very difficult time matching with the Bulky & Chunky style because at that time I was still too attached to my own style.

The CGMA courses helped me to develop my own process for designing, strengthened my weaknesses and I found what I am really interested in. I would like to recommend this course to people who want to further their character design. This course will definitely help character designers have a unique portfolio.

You can see more of my works here: