Fun With Form: Approaching New Challenges With a Pen and a Pun

Fun With Form: Approaching New Challenges With a Pen and a Pun
INTERVIEW WITH Matthew Quickel

Environment Artist Matthew Quickel shows us how he focused on shape and form to create characters that cracked us up in Art Direction for Character Designers.


Hi there! My name is Matthew Quickel and I am from Pennsylvania, United States. I have had an interest in art and animation from a very young age and while I earned a degree in animation, my interests have shifted more specifically to environment design and modeling.  For the past 15 years, I have been working in the video game industry on such franchises as F.E.A.R.The Elder Scrolls Online, and Civilization, and I am currently a Lead Environment Artist at Firaxis Games. Because I believe you can never stop learning, and I wanted to be able to do more of my own design work rather than rely on concept artists, I signed up for the CGMA course Fundamentals of Architecture Design with Tyler Edlin. I saw immediate results in the work that I was doing professionally and the positive experience I had with my first course prompted me to sign up for others.

Art Direction for Character Designers was both an opportunity to do something outside of my day-to-day environment work, and an opportunity to learn from Nate Wragg, whose work I have admired for years. When I took the course, I was also in the process of creating a children’s book – The Big Book of Horrendous Diseases – and was hopeful the course would help me in the design and development of my own characters.

Week 1 and 2

The assignment for weeks 1 and 2 was to create characters using only lines, shapes, and one single color.  For week 1 I created a carhop – Carhop Carline – who clumsily falls on her skates while carrying an order to hungry guests. For week 2 we were able to add a pet and I developed a nasty, Cruella-De-Ville type character who wears elegant furs and accessories and yanks on the leash of a dog so hard his front paws are off the ground.  The design of these characters were all very much influenced by a time period where this type of limited line, color, and shape were found in animation, mostly from the work of UPA.

I tried several different dog breeds/types and poses. The main issue I kept running into was that I was making the dogs too literal and detailed and it would break the vibe of the simple line, shape, and color assignment, or it simply wouldn’t work at all. The first two weeks were probably my favorite because of their restrictions and their tribute to the art you see in limited animation.

Week 3

In week 3 we were tasked with creating a character using a style similar to Ronald Searle and adding an abstract element and a fake headline. I have young children who – and let’s face it most adults agree – don’t care for vegetables, so I thought of this idea where the shape of a lettuce leaf could look like projectile vomit.

I played with his pose quite a bit even though the initial sketch and the final piece weren’t that different from each other. I was skeptical of how this piece would turn out or how well the abstract element would integrate, but in the end, it was a neat assignment. I lucked out with this piece since it seemed to click on the first try, but it was important for me to incorporate the abstract element in the initial sketches.

Weeks 4 and 5

For weeks 4-5, we were asked to use an existing villain or monster and ‘cute-ify’ them and then use them in an advertisement. I’m a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kid (I still have a stash in my office) and chose Bebop for my design. For week 4 I went through my process of initial sketching using references from the TV series, comic fan art, and the physical toy from the late 80s. Because toy design already simplifies the character, it’s more digestible to study color, line, and shape. For the initial pose Bebop was carrying a giant boombox and in the advertisement version, the props focus on the product he’s selling, turtle soup, which is a common phrase used throughout the cartoon series whenever he’s going into battle against the four heroes. Based on feedback, I made some minor changes to the second version of the character, such as some simplification and larger nostrils, but for the most part, the character remained mostly unchanged. For the coloring and shading, I was inspired by the work of some children’s book illustrators, Nate, and included subtle shading with linework and sporadic patterning (such as the hair stubble).

Final Thoughts

Nate’s course lectures resonated with the general design rules that I also try to adhere to in environment design and helped me to evaluate the characters I was developing for Horrendous Diseases and make changes accordingly. It also allowed me to improve my Procreate skills on an iPad, which is how I completed 95% of the work for this course. Unlike being in a studio doing full production where you’re racing to get content in, the class setting really challenges you to pause and question your work. Students should come into this particular class willing to take the time to explore different ideas or iterate on different shapes, designs, and poses of a single character.

You can follow Matthew on his Instagram @mquickel or check out his work here:

His book is available on Amazon now: