NEW! Squads After School for ages 7-17.

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NEW! Squads After School for ages 7-17.

Choose your course, invite friends or get ready to make new ones, and learn together online.

Celebrate National Superhero Day at home with this intro to character design

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Who is your child’s favorite superhero? Impossible question to answer, probably...

Today it’s Spider Man, tomorrow it’s Batman, and next week it will be a character you’ve never heard of before, yet is suddenly all the rage! 

Either way, we thought it would be fun to help you and your kids celebrate National Superhero Day (at home, of course) with a quick tutorial to introduce them to character design, and a brief walkthrough on how they can go about creating their very own story, and potential superhero!

First, what is a character?

Simply, characters are the people within a story who make that story move forward. Meaning, a story can't exist without a character at the center of it.

For instance, imagine a video game without any characters—there wouldn’t be enemies to battle or villagers to talk to... it'd just be an empty world with vacant buildings and environments, with none of the fun you’d expect.

So, to get started, who are some of your child’s favorite characters? We mentioned a couple superheroes above, but what about those like game characters? Mario, Link, Sonic?

Who is this new character?

Next, it’s useful for kids to think about their own story, including the characters and how those characters might interact with the world they want to eventually design.

There isn’t any need to get particularly complicated with this step; just start with the facts:

What world does the character come from? Is it a realistic world, a fantasy world with dragons and castles, a futuristic cyberpunk world run by robots, or something new?

What species is the character? Are they a human, animal, elf, demon, or an original creation?

What role do they play in the story? The hero, sidekick, villain?

Pretty easy, right?

But who are they, really?

Beyond the basics, though, characters are also made up of personalities and motivations, along with their own strengths and weaknesses. 

Meaning, sure, a story could exist with any type of character, but for that story to be one someone actually wants to watch or read, or play as a video game, there needs to be another layer. 

So, encourage kids to answer the following questions from their character’s perspective. 

  • Who is the most important person to you?
  • What is your goal?
  • What do you do in your free time? Any hobbies or interests?

Reference & backstory

Once the main character of the story starts to take shape, it’s now time to create a reference library—which is a collection of photos, history pages, inspirational videos, or influential websites that impact the character.

For kids, this can be as easy as compiling a digital folder library of images, links, and videos that they can refer to as they create.

It's like excavating fossils—you have to dig through image search after image search to find exactly what is needed!

What makes a good reference?

When looking through images, kids will want to use these guidelines to pick the best ones:

Clarity: Find images that are high enough resolution.
Face images: Every character's face is different; notice the details.
Detailed objects: For small items, kids will want detailed photos for max inspiration.
Variety: Encourage kids not to settle on one idea too quickly.

Once they've searched for a while, they've probably run into a lot of concept art and saved a small portfolio's worth. They can now go through and pick only the best references.

Storytelling

Just as a story can’t exist without characters, and a character isn’t too exciting without specific motivations and strengths, the ability to tell a story in a compelling manner is what brings everything together. 

In fact, storytelling is a large part of pretty much any creative medium. So, encourage kids to think about what kind of project they want to make. Maybe it's a comic, game, animated TV series, movie, or something else! Depending on what type of project they’re creating, the story may slightly differ...

Elevator pitch

To help formulate, have them put together an elevator pitch, or one or two sentences to summarize the main ideas of their story in an engaging manner. 

Basic outline

From there, it’s a good time to start thinking about the different conflicts characters will face, and will be required to overcome along their journey. Here is a sample outline:

Three-act structure

Whether you realize it or not, most successful stories follow what is known as the Three-Act Structure. Theater dramas are a little more obvious in telling the viewer which act or scene is happening, but stories in animations follow this same idea. 

  • Act 1: Incitement and setup
  • Act 2: Setback and confrontation
  • Act 3: Climax and resolution

What’s next?

From this point on, kids can plan further with a storyboard, which is a sequence of images that show the action and tell the story visually, like a comic strip.

The ultimate goal is to create a final project, which includes planning that project, and then of course creating it!

For example:

Book: Write a script, storyboard the major elements, and illustrate with Photoshop.
Comic: Pick a style of comic, plan the chapters, and draw in Photoshop.
Short Film: Pre-produce and create a plan, animate with Adobe Animate, and export.

Here is to recognizing heroes of all types

The above provides a solid guideline for any young mind looking to create their own character and story. There are, of course, more steps and detail to consider, but hopefully it serves as an inspirational jumping off point. 

With all of that said, now’s a good time to remember that superheroes are defined as characters who possess some type of superhuman power or specialty skill. But while the dictionary definition also states superheroes are fictional, think about the key characteristic that makes these characters special...

Going above and beyond the call of duty to help those in need. 

When you think about it that way, heroes are among us, on earth, in your community, perhaps even in your own home. Right now, it’s the many medical professionals giving their all and then some to help millions in need. 

And while many of us might think we don’t have much ourselves to give in order to contribute to making a difference, there are opportunities. We referenced it just the other day

Skills + idea + compassion = change

Do you have a skill to help those in need in any capacity?

For instance, young middle schoolers Costa and Niko acquired 3D printing skills when attending summer camp at iD Tech.

They then had the amazing idea that, while many front-line workers are in need of basic medical equipment to make their long hours more comfortable, they could use their skills to create medical mask extenders—and then set a goal to produce 36 extenders every single day. Taking their compassion a step further, they also meticulously detailed their process through instructions for others to follow on how to 3D print surgical face mask extenders. 

So, again, happy National Superhero Day. I hope you can celebrate by recognizing your favorite characters and heroes, in books, on-screen, and in real life. 

A photo of Ryan

Ryan manages blog content at iD Tech, starting with the company in 2008. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn!

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