What does it mean to exaggerate characters for better storytelling? I should probably say more effective or impactful storytelling. To put it simply, your readers should clearly understand what is going on in your story.
There are many ways you can exaggerate a character. You can push their facial expressions, gestures, or even their physical form. Applying any one of these things may improve a story moment by communicating an emotion or action with clarity.
When you are communicating a story moment in your artwork it is important to communicate as clearly as possible. For example, if the atmosphere of the room is to create a feeling of claustrophobia then you would make the composition feel extremely tight. Your character could appear large and uncomfortable in a small space. The characters facial expression should also amplify this feeling of discomfort from being inside the tiny room.
The Power of Exaggerating Your Characters in Illustration
Illustration allows you the opportunity to exaggerate your characters and settings to amplify a story moment to communicate as clearly as possible. You want viewers to know without a doubt the particular mood or action of a scene. In film and animation, they have sound to set the mood. Because illustration doesn’t so we have to use other tools (composition, lighting, color, etc. ) to convey our message and capture moments. Another way to think of it is ‘Showing versus Telling’. What captures the moment better? A caption saying the protagonist was feeling defeated after yet another failure or showing it on their face and body language.
Similar to exaggeration in story moments applying the same principles to character design can help you design unique “actors” for your stories. It’s important to study realistic anatomy and proportions before you dive too far into exaggerating characters. You want to know what goes where before you start stretching, pushing and pulling physical forms. When you approach exaggeration in character design you want their form and their mannerisms to be tailored to their unique personalities, experiences and skill sets. For example, a character that loves rock climbing story might be a athletic monkey or spider-like being versus a stubby round piglet-like character. Unless you’re creating a protagonist that will be the underdog, which could make for a great story. More often than not, you’ll want to make certain features more prominent than others based on a characters specialties. However, giving a character contradictory features to their skillset can make for a unique character that people might identify with.
In another example using the Guyver, a manga and anime series turned live-action film in the 90's, I will show you how I created my own take on the character. After finding a pose to exaggerate I mapped out the proportions of the pose. Then gathered reference images to get a better idea of how to draw the Guyver in the pose I picked. After pencil drawing a sheet of poses based on the two digital poses I chose one to move forward on. Throughout the process I often referred to my reference images. One of the things I find most helpful in reference is to use actual photos instead of art. I find it easy to be influenced by the style of the artists work I'm referencing for my work. Sometimes that can be a good but in other cases the art can end up looking too much like the reference.
Whether you’re capturing a moment or designing a character it’s important to focus on balance and contrast.
Do you have a favorite moment in a picture book or comic that inspires you to this day? Or a favorite comic or cartoon character? If so, why does that moment or character stand out above the rest for you?