Owen Welsh on Designing Great Characters

Learn to design Great Characters. Online course taught by artist and animator Owen Welsh. Starts June 8th. Learn more at Comics Experience. Picture of a person in a red, brown, and cream robe and headband casting a spell.

Think about the most memorable elements of the last comic book you read or cartoon you watched. No doubt the characters stood out to you in some way, right?

Veteran designer Owen Welsh (Flagship Studios, EA, Qalang) is once again offering his course on how to create memorable characters, beginning June 8! For aspiring and experienced artists alike, this class focuses on the basics and philosophies of an important aspect of comics and animation.

We spoke with Owen about his views on what constitutes strong character designs and his approach.

Comics Experience: What’s your process like when designing characters? For such a complex undertaking, what makes for the ideal starting point?

Owen Welsh: Before we begin to draw we first must know what goes on inside a characters head. I would first start with a script, character bio or profile. Often times we are so eager to begin drawing that we will skip this crucial step by overlooking the psychology of our character. At this starting point the we should ask ourselves one simple question, “What is my character’s object of desire?” Answering that question will inform us on many personality traits that will be needed to supported this ambition, want or need. Form and content go hand and hand.

CE: What elements all go into great character design when it comes to specifically animation, specifically comics, and both? What are some particularly standout examples, from any form of media, that exemplify your views on character design?

OW: There are many elements or principles that we will discover during the class that help guide our process towards designing a character. First and foremost, drawing is a language and wither you are drawing for animation or comics you are communicating something very specific and intentional to your audience. Be deliberate! Animation and comics are mediums and both of them share stylistic qualities. Given the striking similarities between the mediums I would say that appeal is king of all the elements in design characters for either medium. If your character doesn’t look appealing, keep searching. Milt Kahl was an expert character designer at Disney, Jack Kirby created amazing characters for Marvel, and Heinrich Kley gave us some of the most interesting characters as illustrations to name a few.

CE: What are some misconceptions about character design held by artists? Newcomers and veterans alike.

OW: Some believe the holy grail of character design is unending pretty detail and realism. We must push past that into the world of caricature. It’s so often that we as artist do not push our designs to more extreme caricatures and as a result, the designs are easily forgotten. The best way to capture realism and detail is with photography, as artists we have the opportunity to give the world something they haven’t seen before and with that, our perspective on things. Don’t miss your opportunity.

CE: What’s some advice you wish you had gotten when you first began designing characters that you’d like to pass down to aspiring comic book artists and animators?

OW: Copy, copy, copy! Don’t feel guilty about copying other artists when you first begin. This is how we learn. Also don’t be discouraged if your character doesn’t look exactly like the original. If character design was easy everyone would be doing it. Every time you complete a new drawing reward yourself, you are one step closer to creating even better drawings. When you copy another artist you will build a dictionary of lines and shapes in your mind that’s you can pull from when you begin to design your own characters. With hard work and practice you will eventually find your own style and voice, which will be a result of the various influences you researched over time along with a special ingredient, you!

Ready to learn how to craft memorable character designs? Reserve your spot in Owen’s class here!

If you want to make comics, write, draw, letter, and color comics, or improve as a comics creator, you’ll find like-minded friends and colleagues in our online workshops and courses. We hope to see you there!