Sketchbook Update: Creating A Character

Copyright © Cedric Hohnstadt 2011. All rights reserved.

Copyright © Cedric Hohnstadt 2011. All rights reserved.

Recently I’ve been trying to brush up on my character design skills. I’m planning to attend the CTN Animation Expo in Burbank this November and I’d like to walk through the doors with a beefed-up portfolio under my arm.

To get ready I’ve recently taken a character design workshop from Nate Wragg at the new CGMW online school, I’ve attended a lecture by character designer Chris Ayers, and I’ve been reviewing past critiques of my work from industry professionals. Over and over I keep hearing that in the animation industry it’s not enough to create a well-designed character if all you do is sketch him standing around in stiff and boring poses. Everything about your drawings – the pose, the costumes, the props and situations – needs to say clear things about who the character is and, ideally, tell a mini-story. As my friend Tom Bancroft says in his excellent book on character design, every pose should have a clear reason behind it. Animation studios don’t want someone who can just design a person or animal, they want someone who can create a character.

Chris Ayers has a really great trick that he uses to help him practice his character design skills. At his drawing table he has a ziploc bag full of little slips of paper. Written on each piece is a character type, a prop, an animal, or an attitude/expression. After he cracks open his sketchbook he reaches in and pulls out a few slips of paper and then challenges himself to create a character using that combination. For example, combining “rhino”, “lederhosen”, and “ready to fight” would probably result in a burly German rhino looking like he’ll knock your block off if you dare to snicker at his silly green outfit. If you purchase My Daily Zoo, Chris’s excellent drawing/activity book for children, he even has a batch of tear-off tabs in the back to get you started on your own ziploc bag of character ideas.

I loved that idea so much that I brainstormed my own list and now keep a similar bag near my desk. The other day I reached in and pulled out slips of paper reading “shark”, “charming”, and “southern gentleman”. I put those together to create the above sketch.

If all goes as planned I’ll be posting more sketches like this as the CTN Animation Expo gets closer.

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I’m Now An Award-Winning Toy Designer

Play Illustration, a portfolio website for artists in the toy and game industries, recently held their 2011 International Art Competition which I entered. I’m pleased to announce that they’ve given me a Silver Award (second place) in the category of Concept Art for Toy or Children’s Product.

I found out on my birthday, which makes it extra-nice news. It’s definitely more exciting than the time my high school voted me “Most Likely To Attend Comic-Book Conventions Well Into His Thirties”.

The piece I entered (shown above) was some concepts and the final design for a plush teddy bear created for DecoPac, Inc. You can see how the final toy turned out on the DecoPac website or on my earlier blog post about the project.

I want to congratulate the first place winner, Timothy Banks, as well as all the other winners in the other categories. I also want to thank the nice folks at Play Illustration for the award. You’ve given me the excuse I needed to start doubling my rates. (I kid, I kid!)

Preschool Puzzles for Patch Products (Say That Five Times Fast)

A few months ago I created a large batch of illustrations for Patch Products, a leading toy and game company. They had a series of puzzles for very young children that needed a refresh, complete with new artwork.

Today a package arrived containing all thirty of the updated puzzles, bundled in packs of three. I’m told that they’ll be popping up on the shelves at Walmart very soon if they haven’t already. You can also order them online directly from Patch.

I did almost 100 illustrations for the project. Here’s a few of them:

Google’s New “Reverse Image Search” Helps You See Who’s Stealing Your Artwork


Google recently launched a new service called Reverse Image Search which should be of tremendous value to artists. Among other things it allows you to quickly and easily find unauthorized uses of your artwork from all over the web. Simply go to the Google Image Search page, drag an image into the search box, and Google will show you just about everywhere on the internet where that image appears. This is an amazing new tool for fighting copyright infringement.

Last night I started poking around with Reverse Image Search and to my surprise I found well over 100 instances of my artwork being used without my permission. Most were rather benign, such as a personal blog or a Facebook profile pic, but there were a few sites that were offering them as “free clip art” or as wallpapers. I also found a couple of small businesses who were using my art on their websites. Fortunately I haven’t yet found anyone directly profiting from my work by claiming it as their own (although that has happened in the past), building a brand around one of my characters, or selling the art outright. But I do know of at least one graphic designer who has found over a dozen infringements on a logo he designed. And I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The internet has made copyright infringement easier than ever. Most of it is fairly innocent — the average person doesn’t realize that when they post an image on their blog or website without permission, in most instances they are breaking the law. They are well-meaning and simply ignorant of how copyright works. They assume (incorrectly) that if an image is available online it must be free to use.

Then there are the many people who aren’t so ignorant and are blatantly stealing the creative work of others to make a few extra bucks. (You may have heard about the recent firestorm that erupted around a company called LogoGarden who was selling dozens of logos that turned out to be blatant rip-offs).

Of course nothing will stop copyright infringement entirely — it’s far too widespread. But Reverse Image Search will give artists a powerful new tool in the fight to protect their work.

Local Art Exhibit & Book Signing by Hollywood Character Designer Chris Ayers

I should have posted this earlier this week but over the last few days I was slammed with deadlines. Better late than never.

Chris Ayers is a Minnesota native currently working as a character designer and concept artist in Hollywood. He’s done work on Men in Black II, Star Trek and The Fantastic Four and is currently designing characters for an upcoming Dreamworks animation project.

Chris is probably most well-known for his Daily Zoo books. In 2005 he was diagnosed with leukemia and as part of his recovery he challenged himself to draw an animal a day. He kept it up for over two years. The sketches were compiled into two books with a third in the works, plus a fun children’s drawing/activity book called My Daily Zoo. As for the leukemia there’s good news: Chris has been in remission now for over five years.

An art show of Chris’s work recently opened at the Owatonna Arts Center. Chris will be there in person later today (Saturday, Sept. 10) from 1:00-4:00pm. At 2:00 he’ll be giving a slideshow presentation to discuss his work followed by a book signing. The exhibit runs through Sept. 25. If you live in or near the Twin Cities I’d encourage you to check it out.

Chili Cook-Off

I’m still busy working on some projects that I can’t say much about. I’m doing another round of sketches of some licensed merchandise for an upcoming animated feature film, I’m developing some ideas for a birthday cake topper, and I’m cranking out some digital marker comps for a rush advertising project.

In the mean time to keep the blog from growing stale, here’s a piece I banged out the other night to promote a chili cook-off at my church.