I've had a few people ask me to make tutorials on character design, but I'll be honest:
For me character design isn't entirely an artistic thing. It combines some of my stronger ideals with artistic taste.
This makes it sort of odd to just make "a tutorial" on how to do it, as there's a lot more to it than just the art.
I'll summarise the artistic part in short: Almost any good quality character design tutorial will most likely go into things
like silhouettes, body shape, how to stylize, unique faces/facial features. If you really desperately want information on that
it's out there, google and/or the search tool are your friend.
For me I'll talk exclusively about how I try to design my own characters (mostly in my comics)
from a more philosophic standpoint, rather than just "this is how you do the arts".
I'll divide it by general areas,
This journal's subject shall be:
My characters aren't me.
This isn't as obvious as it sounds, I'm not just talking about the "Mary Sue" thing. I'm sure most people who are interested in
good character design already avoid extreme self-inserts like the plague.
The thing is, most characters we make still strongly pander to our own tastes. Guys draw girls with the body type they like,
girls often like dudes who they're into in some shape, A "good" character often shares our own sense of morality, cause that's
what we consider "good".
There's always exceptions of course, sometimes we design characters for us to hate, sometimes for the audience to hate. Sometimes
we design characters simply cause they'll pander to very specific niche audiences.
Heck, sometimes we "design" characters to be unnoticeable and whatever, the so called NPC-group of design.
I really don't enjoy designing characters this way much at all for one big reason:
Designing characters to pander to what you personally like (or by extension, what is "popular") is almost "too easy" for me,
rather than having to put a lot of effort into making a character who can be considered appealing to anyone.
I find that it's much easier to be satisfied with a design that, simply put, appeals to you simply cause they're already in my interest group. For me that's a reason to avoid it.
1. I've got a thing for more gothy/alternative looking girls in terms of style/clothing. It takes a lot of effort for me to see
this type of character and to really go "meh", these designs have that sort of appeal to me.
2. Non-human characters in most shows always appealed to me a lot just by virtue of being a "cool weird thing". Even in shows that
I consider to have fairly subpar designs in general I often still find myself loving "that one dragon dude" or "mr.lizardman".
3. In contrast, like many DA users, I often find myself much preferring more obscure/oddball protagonists to the typical "dumb action guy"
trope that plagues a lot of hollywood movies (for example), so those types of characters have the opposite effect for me: I tend to dislike them
almost by default.
Rather than taking this knowledge and going "TIME TO MAKE A TEAM OF HOT GOTHS, LIZARDMEN AND WIZZADZ!" I actually try to do the opposite,
I ask questions such as:
1. How can I make an "action hero" type protagonist that's subversive and fun enough for me to love the character, despite being in a "bad bad" camp.
2. Similar to (1) I designed "tom" from the TOM RPG comics I posted in a similar vein. He's like the polar opposite of the type of character I'd ever enjoy
or like when played straight. (bumbling hero with a heart of gold who manages to save the day eventhough he's not an expert) By taking a trope I actually loathe
and forcing myself to find a way to make it extremely enjoyable, I designed that character & that comic.
3. In my comics I intentionally avoid having a "cool lizard dude thing" in any significant main-team role for one dead simple reason: I like them too much and it happens too much.
In my webcomic 3/3 protagonists are human and out of their planned extended parties roughly 1 character can genuinly be classified as non-human. This character looks more like a puppet than
a fun lizard-thing. Obviously my story is not devoid of them entirely, but I avoid putting such characters in spots that are .. "easy".
4. I don't design my female characters to be my own personal eye candy: Inverse, flip or scew this to fit your own sexuality: I notice a somewhat common trend in some art/art styles
is that I can quite easily distill what sort of bodytype the author likes by sheer virtue of just looking at their comic. Sadly the most common exception to this rule seems to be the:
"one for everyone"-trope where each girl is designed to pander to a specific audience.
I'll be honest, when your female cast's most distinguishing features are breast size and hair colour, to me it doesn't feel like you're designing characters.
Here's a good way to think about designing females: If they have no hair, no breasts, no clothes and the same vacant expression: how are they still unique?
If your answer to that question is anything but an entire wash list of clearly distinct traits that you barely have to think about, you're dealing more in
simplistic archetypes than an actual unique character design. (the same counts for male characters obviously, but most people are significantly better at getting those right.)
5. A final but important point that I might a longer article on later: I don't see myself as the ultimate arbiter of what is "good"
This might be an odd point to make, but a problem I often see in fiction, especially with protagonists is that they're either in two camps:
1. the author agrees with them and they're extremely self-righteously goody-good. (but can still be seen as awful in the eyes of the audience in the author's morals are questionable)
2. The author disagrees with them and this is shown through an extreme punisher-style personality that we're clearly meant to disagree with but not really. (a lot of dark superheroes fall in this camp.)
I try to do something different: I often think of positions I can imagine a lot of people agreeing
with that aren't necessarily specifically good or evil as much as that they
are simply fundamentally different from my own on important issues.
This goes beyond making your character a fun little project who's grumpy but secretly a lovely-kun or adding a "flaw" to keep it interesting (like having them be much more materialistic than you)
this is about such fundamental parts of the character that you'd probably bang your head in the wall if you had to listen to them rant about morals. If your character can have some epic speech about gay rights, humanity, the human soul, religion or your favourite zelda game guess and you agree with them 100% cause it's so epic, guess what? That's you talking. Not your character.
The tricky part is this: How do you make a character that you can actually strongly disagree with and still treat him or her like a genuinly loveable non-evil protagonist?
To me answering that question is a great way to get the basis for a very unique character set.
Anyway, I'll go into some of my other character-design ideals later on, this is enough for now.
1. I don't think it's wrong/bad to bring up political issues or religion in a comic or story, I just don't think that having a character hold your exact position
leads to the most interesting type of characters. Same for the exact opposite. If you really want gay rights to have a significant role in any story you write
for example, there are such more unique and impactful ways to bring it up than "my straight protagonist is for gay rights and will now shout about it!".
2. Most examples cited of things I wouldn't do myself aren't necessarily things I find the wrongest evilest thing ever, these are just choices I personally
make to try and get to the most interesting designs. They're possible options you yourself can consider, not magical rules that cannot be broken.
3. When I randomly doodle up stuff for the fun of it I'm a lot more willing to pander to myself, almost all things listed here are meant to challenge in a way
that broadens the mind. If you're satisfied with drawing gothy or muscly girls all day long power to you.