Advanced Character Design with Stephen Silver, Part 8

It's a new year!

I'll be posting here more frequently in 2016. I've got a new position at work and some exciting developments in some personal projects and I'll be sharing all that stuff soon. For now, my final post about Stephen's class. 

The class has been over for months, but I figured I should share my last project. We had to design a set of characters based on traits—shy, athletic, bully, smart. Two boys, two girls.

I decided to try to fit these teens into the short-lived Spectacular Spider-Man show's style. I loved the art style and character design of that show (hat tip to Sean Galloway). It’s a style I’ve always admired, but never tried myself. If you haven't seen it, the show had super thin lines and flat colors, but everything looked really smooth and dynamic. 

Here’s what I ended up with:

I think I was mostly successful.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the feedback video for this one. I forgot to download it before the class closed. But his feedback was in line with a lot of the other things he said during the course. He pushed some of the forms a bit so they could better lean into their traits—a stronger inward hunch for the shy kid, a sassier tilt for the mean girl bully, etc.

The biggest thing I learned in this course (and this assignment was a good example of how I still struggle with it) is how to keep the energy and excitement of a sketch in the final image. Sketches are loose, kinetic, exciting. They're alive with possibility. When you start putting lines down, you tame that wildness. Tame it too much, and your drawing looks stiff and lifeless. It's not an easy thing to do, but I'm more aware of when it happens now than I ever was before.

I went to CTNX for the first time this year and got to meet a lot of art friends I know online in person, and that includes Stephen. I got to do some live drawing at his art studio with a bunch of my Oatley Academy friends. It was so cool!

Stephen has a bazillion students, both online and in person, but he remembered my art and, as I knew he would be, was super nice and friendly. He's an all around good dude, and I'm so glad I got to learn from him.

So if you're thinking about brushing up on your character design, I cannot recommend his class enough. It might be worth it alone just to watch him draw each week. Seeing character design the way he sees it has helped me be more thoughtful about the characters I create.

Advanced Character Design with Stephen Silver Part 7

After a bit of a delay (things got hectic late September to early October with my book launch), we're back on track. I finished the course a few weeks ago, and overall it was fantastic. I learned a lot and I can see an improvement in my art. Totally worth it.

Here is the second to last lesson.

For this assignment we were tasked with turning a celebrity into an animal. In the lesson, Stephen turned Steve Buscemi and Sylvester Stallone into birds. The point of the exercise wasn't so much about creating a celebrity likenesses, but more about finding inspiration for character designs from real people. 

His final birds didn't look exactly like those actors, but if they were voiced by them, you'd make the link. Stephen showed us a few examples of characters that took inspiration from their famous voice actors, and the likenesses are usually pretty subtle. 

Just like with previous assignments, I wanted to challenge myself. My wife suggested I draw Kevin Hart, her favorite comedian. I figured because of his stature, I'd turn him into an otter. It wasn't easy!

First I Google image searched him.

Hart reference.png

Then I tried to find his most defining features. What things would you need to see in an animal to connect it to Kevin Hart?

With these loose sketches and notes (and a random doodle of an otter), I was ready to take on the image. Here's what I ended up with:

Not bad! If this otter was voiced by him, I'd totally believe it. In Stephens' feedback, he agreed that this was a challenging celebrity to take on, but he made some solid suggestions that would sell the likeness even more. 

Next week I'll post the final assignment! Since the class ended, I've been going back and cleaning up some of my assignments based on Stephen's feedback. I'll cover those after I'm done with the class posts. Until then!

Advanced Character Design with Stephen Silver Part 6

This week’s lesson was split up into two parts. The first part was about drawing from reference…objects. Instead of drawing from pictures or photos of people and animals, Stephen used objects around his house as inspiration for new characters. A lamp, a candle holder, and more all served as the jumping off point for new characters.

Our first assignment then was to take a picture of a random object in our house and sketch a couple characters with it. I went with my son’s sippy cup and quickly drew these three guys.


That’s far from my best work, but I enjoyed the exercise and will definitely be doing it again when brainstorming characters. It’s just a great way to force you to think outside the box.

Part two of the lesson was about a little-known job in the animation industry called storyboard clean up. Storyboards are pulled together quickly, and the characters in them aren’t always “on brand.” The storyboard clean up artist will get a rough storyboard sketch and a reference of the character in it (in a more finished state) and is then tasked with making sure the character in the storyboard looks like it’s supposed to.

Stephen showed a few examples from The Fairly Odd Parents. One image had a dad character who was supposed to be in a boy scout uniform in the final show. Stephen was supplied with the storyboard image and a finished image of another adult character in a boy scout uniform. He took the information from that finished image and what he knew of the show’s style to clean up the pose in the storyboard and put the character in the right outfit.

Our second assignment was to clean up a rough image of an old man looking frightened. Here’s the image we were provided, both the storyboard and the reference.


I had a tough time with this one because there was so little context. What’s the old man looking at? Is he scared of something below him? In front of him? Is it a sound that spooked him? Where is he in the scene? All I could do was guess (I asked Stephen when I turned in my assignment if that’s how the job really goes, and you hear him answer it in the video).

Here’s what I turned in:

And here’s Stephen’s feedback.

Our next assignment was to turn a celebrity into an animal. I turned Kevin Hart into an otter, which was a lot of fun. Come back next week for feedback on that one!

Advanced Character Design with Stephen Silver, Part 5

This lesson was all about observation. Actually it was about drawing from reference, but the bulk of the time was spent watching Stephen watch other things and then draw them. That might sound boring to some, but I thought it was super fun.

He started with still photos, just drawing random people in random pictures. Then he moved to YouTube. The first video he pulled up was from Disney’s Sword in the Stone. He would pause the video at random moments and draw the characters on screen. Sometimes he would go for an exact likeness, other times he’d get the same pose, but change the character.

His video was sped up a bit so it looked like magic whenever he would pause and draw something amazing. I followed along, pausing his video and scribbling out my own version each time. I never stopped for more than two minutes, which forced me to try to find the essence of each image fast. The pace and variety kept it fun.

After Sword in the Stone he switched to sports. He drew some boxers and some sumo wrestlers—all from just random videos on YouTube. Again, sometimes they were exact likenesses, other times he turned them into animals or different people.

Our assignment was to draw someone from reference, which was easy enough—I just had to pick a person. I went with old school wrestler Captain Lou Albano. My 4 year old likes to watch the Super Mario Bros Super Show on Netflix. It’s a show that I loved back in the early 90s. Unfortunately it did not age well. It’s really terrible, but in a kind of great way.

So I took a screenshot of the episode where Lou Albano, who plays Mario, shows up as himself, with a bucket of chicken.

captain lou

I sketched out three iterations of Lou. The third one was my favorite (and that’s the one I turned in). You can click on these for larger versions. 

Here’s Stephen’s feedback. He didn’t have much to change, instead he offered some tips on how I could change up or iterate on my design.

I really like playing with the straight against curve style, and I’m super happy with this picture. I’m not sure it’s a style I would have explored before this class, and I’m really glad I did. Five lessons down, four more to go! 

Advanced Character Design with Stephen Silver, Part 4

This assignment was about drawing women—something I’ve definitely struggled with. What I love most about this class is how many different styles Stephen exposes you to in each lesson. He pulled up tons of different images and styles and highlighted the similarities and core principles many of them used to design women.

Another thing I like about this class is how much he stresses putting in the work through repetition. Lots of people talk about it, but you rarely get to see that constant repetition in action (because unless you’re super into art, it’s not that glamorous). This lesson was filled with Stephen talking over sped up sketches. Faces, bodies, different styles, and more—he just kept drawing. It was fascinating and inspiring.

So before I took on my assignment—draw three waitresses with three different body shapes—I decided to just draw a bunch of women from reference.

I searched random stock photos and Google image results and went with poses that looked interesting. Then I dressed those women up as video game characters, because I like video games.

I also practiced a few faces. 

And then I brought in what I learned from the caricature lesson from the week before and sketched Garfunkel & Oates while I watched their hilarious show on Netflix.

All that sketching done, I felt ready to take on the assignment. Here’s what I turned in:

And here's the feedback:

Not bad! I’m getting better and better at avoiding tangents. Each time he catches one I commit it to memory to avoid in the future. It seems so simple, but cutting out those tangents makes an enormous difference when designing characters. Avoiding tangents and varying shapes is something Stephen seems to do easily--I want that! I can feel myself getting better at it the more I do it.

Heh, this just in: drawing a lot can help you draw better.