Concept Art Character Design Archtypes

Originally written April 10, 2016

Archtypes are commonly used in writing. However I feel that they are less understood within the world of concept art, and character design. Concept artists sometimes design for writers. Therefore why not learn the archtypes that a writer would?!

Sometimes the brief may be "Just design a cool hero". It is the job the character designer to use their tools and bring non-existent ideas to life. Archtypes are such a tool.

Without such a tool, perhaps one would begins to tackle the 'cool hero character' using tropes of what they think are 'cool characters'. This would create a cliché design. Though you are to make a 'cool character', sometimes the generic answer is not interesting, nor what the client wants.

At the other side of the design spectrum, the brief "Just a cool hero may be too broad of a definition. You want it to be cool. Maybe a jetpack. Maybe a lightsaber. But ugh. You don't want it to be shallow or generic. You bust through thousands of iterations and feel like you're making slow progress. The brief is too wide for interpretation. When you have no design limits, it can be hard to design a solution.

 

This post will discuss the idea of character archtypes for creating better concept art. It does this by comparing stereotypes and archtypes within character design.

The idea of an archtype is similar to a stereotype. However, an archtype adds extra layers of depth to the character.

Stereotypes are one dimensional. They follow specific trends.

However it is still obvious that there is a filter on the stereotype keyword. The stereotype needs to be specific in order to create a generic representation of a character.

In contrast, an Archtype plays off traits on a character. There is more movement and expression within the archtypes framework versus the generic stereotype.

A common archtype in literature would be the "Regular Determined Unwilling Kid/Man/Woman next door hero". This archtype encompasses Frodo Baggins, Harry Potter, Naruto, etc.

Frodo is soft and always hiding in shadows "the ring oh noes". His face seems indecisive at times. Contrastingly, Naruto throws himself front of the lines! "Dattebayo!" He is naive, eager, and incredibly reckless. He even is a pervert at times.

Frodo was never a pervert in LOTR.

Although there is a single archtype, there is a world of difference between the personality traits and stereotypes of Frodo and Naruto. The archtype gives a framework, but the execution of the characters gives life.

Below is a short list of compiled archtypes:

 

Protagonists:

1. The Everyman, the Orphan, Regular Person, determined normal person.

Sometimes they will evolve into "The hero" as seen below.

1.a The Hero, also called as the soldier, the warrior, the crusader, the superhero or the dragon slayer.

 

2.  The Innocent, also known as the romantic, the mystic, the naïve, or the dreamer.

Essentially the same as the first, except in history has been female. (Sorry, just pointing it out.) You should change this too!

3. The Anti-Hero

These can be a bit more interesting. The Anti-Hero has been jaded in the past. And by the end of the movie what they will become is not as clear as the other archtypes.

They are rebel characters.

Side/Supports

4. The mentor

Villains

6. The Monster

7. Evil Dictator

8. Mad Scientist

Don't forget you can also mix traits/categories of archtypes to create something new. E.g. it's interesting if the monster is actually the protagonist. However when beginning remember to try not bite off more than you can chew. Simplification is one of the names of the game.

Thanks for reading!

Good luck!


P.S. Don't forget to pose your archtyped characters when designing them! Orson Scott Card says, “People become, in our minds, what we see them do. This is the strongest, most irresistible form of characterization.”

P.P.S. Please note at the time of this posting I have never designed a character. Please take what you need, and disregard what you don't. Use logic and reasoning when learning, rather than blindly following.

 

Sources:

 

How to read art (Short Introduction)

This is part 1 in a series. As newer parts are developed I will update links here.

The ideas for this series are greatly derived from Bill Perkin's Composition & Cinematography course at Concept Design Academy.

Art is a language of visual communication.

Many can appreciate art without learning how it's formed. Many create art without knowing what they're doing.

Similarly, many speak English without learning how it's formed. They use it everyday. Fluently. There's no issues.

However, have you ever tried learning a foreign language as an adult learner?

It becomes blatantly apparent that a good way to understand the language would be to break it down and learn how the language constructed.

Many have broken down how a language is constructed.

When you find the pieces of grammar scattered around- pronouns, nouns, verbs, etc.

You may realise that you may have never understood your original language.

Then, after you learn your original language, you further realise how language works.

Something clicks in your mind, and you gain a new rational, structural awareness of the language you have been speaking for a lifetime.

The same may apply for art.

You may already know some words or phrases in art, but have never considered it's grammar.

Out there in this big world, there are people who have broken visual art down. [explained in part 2]

The following posts in this series will delve into how one can read visual art.

It will do this by identifying how different images are made.

'Till next time.
-Mark