Character Design Issues and Limitations

So let’s talk about some of the practical issues and limitations that are associated with a character’s design. You must be aware of many issues as you work on a character design. Often, you will be able to sit down with the animators and modelers and get precise specifications for their needs. Other times, you will not have this contact and will need to know what general questions to ask so that the character will be correctly designed for its specific use or platform. Over time and with experience, you will gain general knowledge of what is expected and what the parameters are for a given platform. Not too long ago, a character of 1,000 polygons was very detailed for one of the current game platforms. If you didn’t know this information (or didn’t ask some of the correct questions about the limits of the platform you were working for), you, the modelers, and animators could either be in for a long and stressful project or it would be a very short relationship.

The following sections cover some issues and limitations that you as a character designer must be aware of before you start and as you work. The questions are only posed; solutions are not given on purpose because the questions and solutions will probably be different for each assignment.

How Will the Character Be Used?

You need to know if the character will appear as a supporting background object, a mid-ground prop, a foreground character, or the center of interest. A character that is closer to the camera generally needs more finesse and detail, but maybe not the same level of detail as a character at the same distance that is the center of focus. Human vision is very selective, and things on the periphery of our awareness will not need to be complicated.

How Will the Character Be Displayed?

Quite obviously, the needs associated with different media vary widely. A character in print will require much more detail than a character on the movie screen. A character for a movie will need more detail than a character on a video or television monitor. A TV or video character will need much more detail than a character in a handheld game.

How Close or Distant to the Camera Will the Character Be?

If the character will never be closer to the viewer than 100 meters, there’s no need to add superfluous details that would be lost in the distance. The flip side is also true: if the character will be in close-up, make sure that you add convincing detail.

Will the Character Be Animated?

A stationary character will have different needs than one that animates. For example, if the character will be standing stationary, then you will not need to be very concerned with how the joints would work. If your character will be animated, you must take much greater care when designing how things will bend and articulate.

How Many Angles Will the Character Be Viewed From?

If you are designing a character for print, you have only one viewing angle at a time. A side-scrolling game will have only one viewing angle at a time but may have multiple views used at different locations throughout the game. A movie or real-time 3D game character will need to be viewed from all angles.

How Much Movement Will the Character Have?

A character that will move only its arms, for example, may need more careful design than a stationary character. A completely mobile character will require a different design than a partially mobile one.

How Fast or Slow Will the Character Be Moving?

Don’t assume that because a character moves, it will have to be more complicated and detailed than a stationary one. As the character’s speed increases, you will reach a point of diminishing returns in terms of detail and geometry because a very fastmoving character may be viewed as mostly a blur and may need a very simple design.

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