That Blue Square Thing

Making a Character

There are some links to useful sites about cartoon character drawing at the bottom of the page...

A fairly common theme in a multimedia portfolio is that you need to make some kind of character.

This might be a cartoon character, an e-safety buddy, a guide of some kind or you may just need a set of characters to tell a story with. Sometimes there's a clear target audience which the character has to appeal to - often younger children.

There are a range of ways you could make a character. The best one to use depends on what the SPB says you need to produce, how good you are at art and your creative ICT skills.

There's no single right way to do this (usually). People in the same class might use a whole bunch of different methods. That's fine (and is actually a good thing...).

Tip: do some rough designs first (I'd always suggest doing these on paper - no mater how bad your drawing is). Then get some feedback on your ideas. Remember to record your feedback somehow - and say what you did as a result of it.

Draw by Hand

This is absolutely fine as a way to produce a character.

The drawing will need to be scanned so it's best to use plain white paper and a create a clear outline image. This will let you scan easily and then use software to add colour and detail. Make sure you make the image as big as possible as well.

This would allow you to trace effectively. Beware though: usually SPBs require you to produce an original character - you can't just trace around one which already exists.

One problem with this method is that you can easily end up with a "dirty" background which will cause problems when editing. Take as much care as possible and then ask about ways to clean up the scanned image.

Need an idea? How about this guide to drawing an evil penguin? There's a cute (and easy to draw) bear at the bottom as well.

If you have access to a graphics tablet this can be a good way to create an image. Apps for tablets might also allow you to create a hand-drawn image digitally.

Use Graphics Software

It's entirely possible to draw effectively using graphic software. This could be complex software such as PhotoShop or a simple piece like Paint.

This allows you to create a graphic straight away without too much fuss. You might use shapes to help build up your image and then use an eraser tool to rub out some of the lines. Again, try and make your images as large as possible.

A good tip is to remember that you can select areas of an image and paste them. Need two eyes that are perfectly the same? Copy and paste one!

I would always try to use a plain white background for my image. Ideally I'd want it to be transparent if possible - so saving as a PNG and then using PhotoShop to make it transparent would be helpful.

It is possible to trace using PhotoShop by using a transparent layer and then the pen or pencil tools (aim for a 5 pixel wide brush). It's also possible to use Paths to make this even more complex. Ask if you want to see how to do this sort of thing...

Use a Template

Depending on the project, you may be able to use a template of some kind. A blank template of a lego figure, for example, might be effective to use as a base. You can then add colour, faces and so on.

There are a variety of places you can find good templates. I've used Sweet Clip Art quite effectively. You do have to work to develop the image though - just some colouring in really won't do the job at this level.

Use a Camera

Sometimes it's possible to use a camera and create images by using figures of some kind. These could be plasticine figures you've created or figures which you already have. Lego figures can work well (I used these in Han Solo's Bad Day) as can any character you have from when you were younger - that set of Barbie dolls in the loft perhaps?!

This method won't work for computer animation very well - although it is perfect for stop motion animation (look up lego animation on You Tube and you'll see what can be done).

Check the requirements of the SPB carefully. Sometimes this method won't really work that well - it really depends on what you need to produce.

Use Office Software

Standard Office software can be used to create characters by using the shapes available. This has the advantage that it's possible to do more with the shapes than it is in Paint or other simple graphics software.

If you do this I'd suggest creating the basic character, grouping the elements and then copying into Paint. Save as a PNG and then tidy up the image using the eraser tool. You may find it easier to add colour in Paint as well.

General Tips

Keep it simple. Don't worry that you find drawing difficult. It's possible to use shapes to make a simple basic character - think of a robot or a jelly fish or even a shape with a face. That might work...

Make your image as large as possible. It's easier to reduce the size than it is to increase it (and you'll avoid pixellation).

Keep your character original. Don't rip someone else off. It will lose you marks!

Research the target audience. What sorts of character do they like? What sorts of characters are they familiar with? What will work well?

Get feedback on your initial ideas. If you can get this from someone close to the target audience then so much the better.

Keep a development diary showing how you create the character. Use screenshots to show key elements of editing - if you need to do something fancy or start using multiple bits of software for example.

Useful Sites

There are all sorts of helpful places you can look on the internet for advice about drawing cartoon characters. These are a starting point:

Basic cartoons - Bergen School, the Netherlands - yes, this is aimed at Year 1 and 2. But it's good!

Cartoon chicken - WikiHow

Cartoon animals - Instructables

If you want something a a bit more technical and involving "proper" drawing then you might try somewhere like We Draw Animals which, well, deals with drawing animals really.