master thesis

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From summer until winter 2012 I was writing on my master thesis on the topic: “The development phases in digital character design – an analysis of various practical approaches with following evaluation and classification”.

The abstract reads as follows:

In today‘s media landscape, characters and creatures vary greatly in their type as in their range of application and are usually created in an individual design process. To develop the figure, many design aspects can be considered and changed by manipulation of the various strategies. The development can be roughly divided into conceptual, sketching and final creating phases, the sequence and type of the examination varies. Additional ways to create models and research of various materials can be used according to the individual preferences and the respective creative process of the artist. Modern trends such as the increased use of three-dimensional models and mobile devices for sketching and creating, provide new ideas and possibilities. The artist making use of these technical aids, however, must consider the same basic design aspects, as well as while working with all the other media and techniques that are available to him.

My paper is divided into the headlines: introduction, preliminary considerations, development phases, conclusions, the outlook, a summary and a big appendix where the complete processes for project A and project B are presented chronological together with some additional information.


After declaring my tasks and motivation, I’ve started the preliminary considerations with a short definition of the term and a view on the traditional development of character design in general. Some of the pictures in this paragraph depicting possible inspiration resources for ancient characters and creatures were taken by myself at the Berlin Museum of Natural Sciences and the Museum of Medical History at the Charité during the Long Night of Museums event in august 2012. This part was followed by a view on different fields of application of digital characters, character species and types, different styles of realization and often used archetypes.


The next paragraph, still under the main headline of preliminary considerations, focused on different design-aspects which should be taken into account while designing a character. For example the forms and silhouette of a figure which can hint on certain characteristics of the character, as illustrated on three main characters from the Pixar film “Up”. Further topics regarding the design are the anatomy, the mimic, gesture and position, costumes, requisites and the environment same as color, lighting and material. For the last part of the preliminary considerations I took a closer look at the both studios Disney and Pixar and worked out some more related topics like teamwork, inspiration and research.

For the big chapter on the development phases I worked out the main topics of conception, sketching / modeling and the final realisation. For the conception phase I took a closer look on the frame conditions of a project, different creative techniques and inspiration resources and the research part. For the sketching and modeling part I looked at different sketching styles, the sketching of ideas on the environment, the position and the color moods and the use and / or creation of three-dimensional models during the sketching stage. The final realisation part was divided into the two-dimensional realisation, supporting works for the three-dimensional realisation, the final three-dimensional realisation and the possibilities for further supporting works on the topic.

To illustrate those character design phases I used some small personal works and the developed designs from two projects: project A – the digital Creature Design course with Anthony Jones and project B – the Character Design project for Chris Creatures Filmeffects.


During the Creature Design course of project A I developed a dragon design under the video guidance of Anthony Jones. He showed his personal working steps and style during professional work for the industry. This course was highly informative and I felt like I did not just gathered information for my thesis but also improved personally on my working style as he showed how to push a design further and further.


The creation of the Character Design for project B gave me the possibility to try out all the given information and working methods from the course and also from all the books and magazines in an own project and in my own working style. Although I am not totally happy with the final outcome, the process itself was a great challenge and a big support for my theoretical part.

I divided the conclusions from my analysis into the topics: use for the fields of application, two- & three-dimensional work and analog & digital work. To sum up the final message one can say that the working techniques for digital character design shouldn’t be divided or rated one over another as every artist and every task need its own individual method. But one can surely work out different levels of details as for small or limited projects also the process of creation can be limited but still the artist itself needs to decide where and how he best gets inspired to design creative forms and characters.


For the outlook I took a closer look on actual and upcoming trends, technical developments and the possible scientific use of designed characters. Programs like DAZ Studio from DAZ3D are giving the user the possibility to create characters just by using sliders to change proportions and measurements. The use of mobile drawing and modeling possibilities, like with the app 123D from Autodesk where you can model and paint on three-dimensional models at your mobile phone or on your tablet, gives the artist the freedom to create characters and creatures wherever and whenever he wants. Together with the fascinating possibilities with 3D printing, the future of digital character design still holds many great and exiting chances.

I used many different books, magazines and websites as resources for my thesis. Some of the magazines are listed in the article “magazines” and some of the books are listed in the article “books: character design“. As for websites I did find a lot of great stuff at the “Living Lines Library” and on the “Academy of Art Character and Creature Design Notes“.

Some final information came also from a survey where I contacted some small and big artists working in the industry via email. One of the answers came from Patrick Evrard who summed up also my own positive outlook on the possibilities lying in the future combination of different approaches to design characters and creatures. I was also thankful for the more negative view Stephen Missal shared with me as a contra position to my own one by emphasising the lack in creative freedom while working with programs who limit your possibilities and let the artist just act like a choosing director. I’m very thankful for all the answers who reached me as it helped me to create myself an overview on the different positions regarding the traditional and digital working methods same as the two- and three-dimensional possibilities.

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