jump to navigation

Applied Arts Workshop on Character Design September 20, 2010

Posted by claralieu in Applied Arts.
Tags: , ,

Character Design Workshop

We had a blast at the Applied Arts workshop on Character Design led by RISD Professor Shanth Enjeti this past weekend.  Shanth started the workshop with a lecture about basic principles of character design, followed by a discussion of his own work and experience as a designer, closing the workshop with a short exercise and group critique of the works. As I write this blog post, I wish there was some way for me to capture Shanth’s amazing energy and depth of knowledge.  He had all of us laughing uncontrollably throughout the entire lecture, while at the same time demonstrating an incredible depth of knowledge and experience.

Shanth emphasized several fundamental principles about Character Design:

1) Character design is not about drawing or rendering.
2) For a design to be good, a five year old should be able to draw that design in five seconds.
3) Great design is not complicated.
4) Creativity is an impulse.
5) You have to be able to think on an intellectual level for good character design.
6) Geniuses are very simple in their work.
7) If you make awesome stuff and you aggressively tell people about it, it can catch on fire.
8 ) There are some designers who are playing an entirely different game:  their game.
9) All successful designers have had international influences on their work. Examples:  Julie Taymor, Eiko Ishioka, George Lucas, Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki

Shanth moved on to talk about James Joyce’s alter ego Stephen Dedalus’ aesthetic theory: that there exists “Proper and Improper Art”.  Proper art is static while Improper art is kinetic. Kinetic art is didactic art and referrs to a design’s ability to evoke loathing in it’s viewer. Pornographic art refers to a works’ ability to arouse desire in it’s viewer, serving the purpose of creating visual pleasure. Human beings need characters that remind us of an emotional state.

Character Design Workshop

(above) Shanth Enjeti shows and demonstrates his drawing tools.

One of the major themes Shanth discussed in his lecture was the “four elemental closed forms”:  the circle, the square, the upward triangle, and the downward triangle.  The circle is considered by many to be the most appealing and comforting form, it’s the ultimate symbol which speaks to wholeness. Examples include halos in religious art, the Venus of Willendorf, the human eye, doorknobs, the click wheel on the ipod, etc. The most popular character in Star Wars is R2D2:  he has only one eye, and he’s all round.  Mike Wazowski from Pixar’s Monsters Inc. is an angry character, and yet he is loved by every child due to his simple and round design.

The square is a completely different scenario which can be seen both positively and negatively. Negatively, many westerners “fear” the square (“Don’t be such a square!”, “I’m thinking outside the box”, and cubicles.) A square environment represents submission and order: an example being Mussolini’s square colosseum. In Star Wars, Darth Vader, who is a representation of order and submission has an electronic square in the center of his chest. The Borg from Star Trek is a race that is all about losing your individuality and submission-and they fly around in a giant cube. From a positive view, Wall-e’s job is to take away the chaos by making squares and stacking them. The most popular game of all time, Tetris, is all about making us feel better when we arrange squares.  Legos, the most popular toy of all time is all about stacking blocks that even have little circles on them.

The downward pointing triangle is largely negative and all about submission while the upward pointing triangle is about aspiration and perseverance. Examples of downward pointing triangles would be Maleficent from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, the Decepticon icon from the Transformers, and the Stormtroopers from Star Wars. The upward pointing triangles on Totoro’s chest, combined with the circular eyes allows that character to appeal to many audiences.  Life is disordered and chaotic: we put it into boxes and circles to make it livable.

Character Design Workshop

(above) Shanth Enjeti shows his corporate and commercial character designs.

Next, the workshop participants got an opportunity to create some designs themselves, and have them critiqued by Shanth. The assignment was to create two characters: one which represented your worst trait, and another which represented your best trait. Everyone had 15 minutes for each character in this assignment. You can see below several of the examples.

Character Design Assignment

Character Design Assignment


1. She Started It - September 20, 2010

Sounds like an amazing class! I know Shanth personally. He is an amazing teacher.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: