Monday, October 10, 2005


1. How do you go about designing a character, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?

First of all, let me tell you that there is no such thing as a silver bullet, not just one way of how to design a character in ten easy steps, every character is different, some are easy to capture and to find, and others are a hard nut to crack. But in any which way : there is no way of avoiding the hard work, no short cuts, you gotta practice a lot, keep a sketchbook, so you’ll be able to draw what’s in you’re mind, and your not limited by your drawing-capabilities.
Once you are able to do that, the rest is being creative about what you do.
And the most important thing for that is, not to simply copy, what you have seen before in somebody else’s movie. I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch movies but I usually beware of using them as my only source of research. I like to go a step or two further back.
Lets say, you’re asked to do a pirate for example, don’t just copy the pirates you’ve seen in other movies, look for example were those guys who did the costumes for Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster got their inspiration from, Look at old illustrations, N.C. Wyeth for example, Howard Pyle, etc, these guys invented the canon of our language of imagery. Look at the real things, what did the pirates really look like, look at old etchings, read books about them, documentaries, try not to be cynical about the subject, feel the thrill of it . Do your research.
What are the pirates in our present reality? When I was doing research for Treasure Planet for example, I had lots of pictures Hell’s Angels-guys pinned up.
In other words: Try to come up with something fresh, do not repeat what others have done before, don’t use movies as reference. Look outside of the gene-pool.

If a director hires you as his designer, he sees something in you, a promise, he’s gotta reason to pick especially you. Find out what it is, he likes about your drawings.. Follow his vision, his brief, don’t go berserk about your own vision, you can still put that on top, but first of all: follow the brief!

If you’re working on a popular story, lets say “Frankenstein” or “Rip van Winkle”, find out what the people’s image of the characters and their expectation it. Pay reference to that and then again: put something on top and surprise them with something they haven’t thought of before.

Go back and try to find out, what the writer’s impression of his characters was. Remember Glen Keane’s beautiful work on Tarzan that was only possible, because he went back to the Tarzan of the books, instead to the ones of the movies..

After you’ve gone through all these stages, you may ask yourself, what you can add, what’s the little touch of genius might be, that you can add to the characters.

Observe a lot, look at people around you and be fresh and honest about it,
If you like something and nobody else does, go on liking it, and make a statement about it in your drawings, be brave and let the people know, that you like it .

Be sincere, love the characters you do, as if there were real people, care about them, think of them as friends as real. They will become real and become alive in other people minds, too. If you don’t believe in them, who else will.
Take you’re job and the characters seriously, you have responsibility for them. Care about them, or, as William Goldman, the writer said: You better give a s###!

Find the contradictions in your character, the weak points. Things they do, although they know pretty well, they shouldn’t. Think of Pinocchio for example.
He knew, he should have gone to school, but he went to the theater instead. That’s a much more interesting character as for example Arielle, who just did as she pleased.

2.What helps you the most in designing a character?

Observing people and getting into their minds. Loving them for their shortcomings. It’s as simple as that.

3.From your own experience, what should we put in our
Portfolio and what should we not?

Put the things you love from your sketchbooks or your work into your portfolio .It’ll communicate to the people.
Don’t copy the work of the studio your presenting your portfolio to. They know how to do Shreks and Donald Ducks, show them sketches, life drawings of humans and animals, quick sketches that show, that you understand people and know about pathos.
On the other hand: present an adequate portfolio to the particular studio, don’t present a realistically rendered 3D human to Krisfaluci, you know what I mean, take the right portfolio to the right studio, show them something, that’s up their alley.

4. What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on several projects , but most notably on a CG-comedy, written by a German comedian, it’s a genre-spoof, think SNL or Naked Gun.
Can’t get more specific, sorry.

5. What part of designing a character is most fun and
easy, and what is most hard?

I enjoy all the stages, I enjoy the research, because you learn a lot, I like the hardship, the frustration and the silver lining, but I guess what I enjoy most is of course the moment , when you know : I got him !!! That’s him !
I find nothing unbearably hard, I enjoy the whole process.

6.What type of tools or media do you use?

99% is pen and paper. Light blue colerase. A bit of watercolor and maybe a bit of photoshop for presentation, but the real work is done rather simply with, as I said, any kind of pen and paper. I’ve been working with ball pens, coffee, tablecloth, red wine, whatever is handy.

7.Could you tell me some of your Good and Bad
Experiences working with companies like Disney, and

They’re no bad experiences, it is a dream come true.
I have a hard time, when German studios, who don’t have that much money as Disney, Pixar or DW try to take shortcuts on quality and sincerity, but otherwise , I consider myself blessed and privileged.

8. Could you tell me about your life?

I grew up on a farm the country, and spent a lot of time in fields, with trees and animals..
They weren’t many other children, and not much TV either, so I spent much time reading and drawing.
I saw Jungle Book when I was 6, the first time I ever went to the movies.
The Lord of the Rings had a great impact on me, I read it when I was 15 or so and I think it was the first time, that I concentrated on just the characters, my< style="FONT-WEIGHT: bold">
9.Where did you go to school, and what classes did you

The art school I went to was the Folkwng School in Essen, Germany, a school for acting, dance, fine art, photography, singing and sculpture.
You had to specialized of course. This is, where I met Andreas Deja and Hans Bacher.
I didn’t spend much time there, basically two years, before I left to the states, thinking that I could learn there best, what I wanted to learn. I think I was right. The School didn’t take animation really seriously, remember we’re in the early 80’s, nothing much was happening.

10. What wisdom could you give us, about being a
Character Designer

Love people, study them, observe them, do your own thing, follow your bliss, do the things that make your heart sing, you’re on the right track then.

11. Who is one of your favorite artists and or character

There are so many of them.
If I had to pick one, I’d say it would be Heinrich Kley .

Thank you Harald, You are an amazing Character Designer.