Lars Denicke and Peter Thaler share key ad­vice from Pic­to­plasma’s work­shops

Computer Arts - - Contents -

BIBLE BA­SICS Lars Denicke and Peter Thaler

For any­one work­ing pro­fes­sion­ally in char­ac­ter de­sign, a char­ac­ter bible is one of the most es­sen­tial el­e­ments of your work­flow. A char­ac­ter bible is the doc­u­ment that gath­ers the subject’s de­sign, turn­around, bi­og­ra­phy, hero poses, colour schemes, props and worlds in a pre­cise, eas­ily un­der­stood pack­age. It’s used in nu­mer­ous fields of work, in­clud­ing an­i­ma­tion, game devel­op­ment and book cre­ation.

In our work­shops at the Pic­to­plasma Academy, tu­tors Rilla Alexan­der and Nathan Jure­vi­cius pay a lot of at­ten­tion to all the dif­fer­ent as­pects of the char­ac­ter bible with the aim of en­cour­ag­ing at­ten­dees to take their ideas and con­cepts to the next level. A well-crafted char­ac­ter bible is the key to open­ing new doors, and is some­thing you can hold in your hand to help you com­mu­ni­cate your ideas to any po­ten­tial col­lab­o­ra­tor or pro­ducer.


The very first thing our tu­tors get the stu­dents to do is ob­ses­sively draw their char­ac­ter over and over. De­spite hav­ing drawn a char­ac­ter for years, at­ten­dees are chal­lenged to look at new ways of see­ing their de­sign. The idea of this ex­er­cise is to break away from old habits and open up pos­si­bil­i­ties of what could be re­vealed if pushed. Some of the most en­joy­able and fruit­ful ex­er­cises in­volve mir­ror­ing fa­cial ex­pres­sions, hu­man pup­petry and a mind-bend­ing fan art ses­sion. In this last ex­er­cise, ev­ery­one comes to­gether for an in­tense speed-draw­ing event, in­ter­pret­ing the en­tire group’s char­ac­ters. You learn a lot from the in­ter­pre­ta­tion and ex­ag­ger­a­tion of oth­ers!

Rilla and Nathan also ask at­ten­dees to work just on the sil­hou­ette of their char­ac­ter and cut it out from board pa­per. When it comes to the sil­hou­ette of your char­ac­ter and its most char­ac­ter­is­tic poses, it is good to re­flect on ba­sic psy­cho­log­i­cal rules, such as a tri­an­gu­lar shape stand­ing for dan­ger, a cir­cle for friend­li­ness and a rec­tan­gu­lar form for strength. Stress­ing one or com­bin­ing two in your de­sign will in­flu­ence how your char­ac­ter ap­pears to oth­ers. The fun part is when they take this to the next step and ask stu­dents to cre­ate pa­per masks of their char­ac­ters. Stu­dents then act out and em­body their cre­ation through a num­ber of in­ter­ac­tive ex­er­cises.

This leads di­rectly to the per­son­al­ity of your char­ac­ter. As much as you work on the outer qual­i­ties, you should also think about the in­ner ones. We have found it prac­ti­cal to do a lot of brainstorming and free as­so­ci­a­tion, for ex­am­ple, fill­ing in lists of things you like to draw, writ­ing short bi­ogra­phies for your char­ac­ter and read­ing them to fel­low at­ten­dees, putting your char­ac­ters in a de­fined sit­u­a­tion and de­cid­ing how it will re­act. The more you can imag­ine your char­ac­ter as a be­ing that is in­de­pen­dent from

your cre­ation, the more you will in­stinc­tively find out about its per­son­al­ity.


All this is done with­out a com­puter – you will just need a pen­cil or pen and pa­per, and oc­ca­sion­ally some board pa­per, scis­sors, glue and sta­ples. Next is plas­ticine, as you need to put your char­ac­ter in front of you and get a 360° vision of it. As you hold your cre­ation in your hands, touch it and take a look at it from all sides, it’s a great mo­ment that feels like you’ve cre­ated a new life. You will find out a lot at this stage. Things that look great in 2D don’t nec­es­sar­ily trans­late well or eas­ily into the third di­men­sion. If the medium you want to take your char­ac­ter into will re­main flat, you might feel you don’t need this in­for­ma­tion, but even if you aim for a two-di­men­sional il­lus­tra­tion, it’s good to know about your cre­ation’s vol­ume and cor­po­re­al­ity. Work­ing with your own plas­ticine model will of­ten give you a new un­der­stand­ing. It is also es­sen­tial for you to draw the turn­around – six views that show your char­ac­ter from front and back, both sides, bot­tom and top. Again, you might never want to fea­ture your char­ac­ter from these per­spec­tives, but it helps to un­der­stand how it could look from dif­fer­ent an­gles early on.

Rilla and Nathan en­cour­age at­ten­dees to doc­u­ment all this material on the wall, grad­u­ally build­ing up a col­lec­tion that tells the story of their char­ac­ter. It’s at this point we get stu­dents to trans­form their sketches into vec­tor graph­ics, do­ing clean up, de­cid­ing on the most im­por­tant poses, and mak­ing turn­around views pre­cise.


At this stage, the char­ac­ter bible is fi­nessed and pol­ished by adding short bi­ogra­phies of your main char­ac­ter(s), a syn­op­sis of the pro­ject and a def­i­ni­tion of colour schemes in pre­cise val­ues (such as CMYK, RGB or Pan­tone). This process could po­ten­tially also in­clude side­kicks, props that are im­por­tant to the char­ac­ter or a map of the world the pro­ject is set in. Even if you never re­veal these as­pects of your char­ac­ter to the wider world, do­ing these ex­er­cises will bet­ter in­form you of your char­ac­ter and the world it in­hab­its, and in the long-term, help you to cre­ate a more per­sonal and re­ward­ing fi­nal pro­ject.

Once you start pitch­ing, com­mu­ni­cat­ing to oth­ers or pass­ing your char­ac­ter on for pro­duc­tion, the char­ac­ter bible will be an es­sen­tial tool for any col­lab­o­ra­tion.

“Mak­ing a char­ac­ter bible will bet­ter in­form you of your char­ac­ter and the world it in­hab­its”

Be­low Hav­ing a char­ac­ter bible can be use­ful when pitch­ing your char­ac­ter or col­lab­o­rat­ing.

02 03

01 An at­tendee’s char­ac­ter drawn in the group pose.

02 Work­ing on the sil­hou­ette of a char­ac­ter.

03 Work­shop at­ten­dees pose in a group sit­u­a­tion.



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