One thing you’ve probably heard before is how important a characters’ silhouette is. Ideally, when creating a cast of characters, each of them has a shape that is distinct from one another. I suppose this may hold true more so in animation than in the creation of characters intended for comics, but I think there’s a lot of merit to it either way. A distinct character is a memorable character.
I’ve seen artists begin work with silhouettes. Putting down blots of black in Photoshop, then alternating between cutting away and adding shapes, lines and scribbles until the result is an appealing shape. I don’t work directly into Photoshop myself, but I do use roughly the same process on paper. When I’m trying to get a feel for a new design, I tend to doodle tons of forms like the ones above, in the second picture. Eventually you’ll start running into shapes that stand out to you, and you can experiment with piecing them together into a single design. And then those shapes can become bits and bobs of clothing, accessories and other features. (It helps of course to have a rough idea of the kind of character you’re looking to create.)
Granted, what you see above are all supposed to be humanoid female designs, so the shapes aren’t nearly as varied up as they’d be if I showing the difference between like.. hulking super muscle characters, spindly aliens and/or squat koala people. But it’s important to be able to differentiate characters with similar features as well. You won’t always have a cast of such varied, intergalactically inclined individuals.
Try breaking some of your existing characters down into shapes. Incorporate their outfit and features into the shapes themselves, rather than just sticking to their basic anatomy. (Though anatomy is crazy important! Do NOT neglect the basics, or all of this stuff becomes a heckuva lot harder!) Think about how they would look if they were in motion, even if they’re standing still. It’s important, considering you’re going to be drawing them a lot, and in many more positions than just this one!
This is an excellent way of warming up before doing full illustrations, I find. Draw an entire page full of figures. They don’t have to be established characters of yours, either. Half the time it’s better if you warm up with shapes you AREN’T familiar with, as it starts your creative gears a-turning. Don’t get too caught up detailing either, it’s about loosening up with body shapes. They don’t always have to be doing extravagant backflips or Figure Anatomy model poses either. There are many different ways of doing what are normally ‘static’ looking poses, if you find a way of varying up the shapes and curves involved.
More on character design later. It’s a big question I’ve been posed a few times, about designing characters, and truth be told it’s waaay too much to cover in one or even ten posts like this, haha. So I will chip away at the subject bit by bit! Hope anyone out there finds this useful!