Monday, 13 May 2013

5 days with a Master

A large majority of the characters in my upcoming webcomic "A Brigand's Tale" were originated in the 1990's. I realised not long ago that some of the outfits were particularly dated and  uncool (this coming from a guy who has dress trackies to wear at special occasions, you could imagine how dorky these characters looked).

As fate would have it I happened on a tweet by Fil Barlow, for the pittance of a mere $55USD he would help you to design (or redesign) one of your own characters.

So what? I hear you think.

Um, think about your favourite cartoon series, got it? Ok, then Fil was involved in the character design. Here's a list of shows he was Lead character designer for:

I was actually unaware of this signing up, I remember Fil's Zooniverse comic from an Ozcon flyer waaaay back in the 90's and always wanted to get that series, (which has now been rectified I hasten to add, get on it here:, I believe all first prints have been sold out but Fil is taking orders for the 2nd printing )

So when you get a chance to work with an Aussie comics legend AND a veteran of Character design you know you are in for some serious learning!!

Fil is a self taught artist but emphasised that studying nature is one of his favourite methods for getting the feel for the subject.

Since my character was based on a fox we set to drawing from reference.

This was something I didn't do regularly and is a classic rookie mistake

For the longest time I actually thought this was a form of 'cheating' and I should be able to draw straight from the top of my dome so I cant be accused of plagiarism.

The truth is that with the advent of Google, to not draw form some sort of reference is just plain lazy, also your stuff will look less believable compared to someone who has gone to the trouble of referencing, or "art 'reffing" in the industry parlance.

 Fil proceeded to bombard me with 'constructive criticism', crushing my self esteem to a degree but all the while telling me to "have fun with it".

Time is money

Fil's deal is simple - work together over 5 days and at the end have a finished product.

The cool thing about this is the deadline means you just have to get the work done.

After a hard days work, sitting down for 2 hours drawing multiple sketches of foxes and only marginally getting the feel for them was tiring.

About the 3rd night into it stuff finally started to click and we were away!

Mastery of the fundamentals

Fil is big on getting the basic construction right first. How the personality of the character is reflected in how it moves, how its parts all fit together, how the bones support the figure.

A handy thing was looking up an actual fox skeleton to reference things like the underlying structure of the head and how the bones all connect up.

The results 

It was hard to get used to Fil's teachings, because I was such a draw from the hip kind of guy, but working with him really taught me the value of both discipline and really understanding the physical constructs of anatomy.

While there's a way to go in updating the remaining cast and bringing them out of the 90's I am grateful to Fil that he taught me a  methodology I can now go through for all my creations to get both a better look and feel of the characters.

So here's the before of one of the supporting characters, the Sneakthief:

From "what animal is that supposed to be???" to "Oh my gosh, you can totally tell that's based on a fox!!"


Fil has ceased offering this particular class so I feel very grateful to him for taking so much time to give me a recipe for character creation I can take into "A Brigands Tale".

Next Week: Adventures in Digital

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