Make Your Characters Prop Stars
If you are reading this, then it’s likely you are either building towards a career in the entertainment industry or nurturing one. A place where iconic films, games, tv shows, and so much more are made. In all likelihood, stories in one of those aforementioned mediums will center around an iconic character or two and maybe even one that inspired you to embark on your own journey to becoming one of the best creatives to have ever lived.
Whether you specialize in environments, animation, props, keyframes, look dev, sculpting, materials, VFX, or are an all-around super generalist badass, the chances are that a character will be at the very heart of the story or project you’ll be working on.
Give your Character the Props they Deserve
Characters are the driving force behind stories, experiences, and the perfect vessel for the audience to experience the journey that awaits them. And if you’re a Character Designer (or would like to become one) then knowing how to make them iconic will go a long way to ensuring your audience’s experience is solid (and we have the perfect course for that here).
A Study of Icons
BUT what makes a character an icon? In truth, there are many aspects to this, each varying from one person to the next. Yet as we at Learn Squared are in the business of nurturing creativity, let us take the perspective of a creative and specifically at how props can make your characters pop!
Key Props: Whip, Fedora, Satchel
The character that made archaeology sexy long before Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler ever did and did so whilst embarking on some epic adventures. But take away his Fedora and Whip and would Indy have been such an icon or simply a man who renamed himself after his dog?
The Fedora adds to the silhouette and whether it makes him cooler because cowboys wore hats is debatable but it’s still cool nevertheless. And the whip?! A kind of non-lethal weapon that can inflict pain and get you out of a tricky situation makes him stand out amongst a bevy of heroes who are armored to the teeth!
Design Takeaway – A hero doesn’t necessarily need to compete with the common tropes. Ditch the offense-minded props and instead focusing on usefulness and even oddness can go a long way to making them memorable.
Key Props: Metal Prosthetic Arm
A truck driving badass! Furiosa is Iconic because she is the lead in not only a very good film but also a very good action film. She kicks ass, is determined, and will die for her cause. But for Furiosa she is iconic not because she looks different from your typical female hero but because her look and design are a biography about her life to that point. The shaved head, the tats, and that make-shift bionic arm tell an unwritten tale of a person that’s experienced a lot.
Design Takeaway – Shaping the appearance of your character entirely by their history and experiences can add an authenticity that allows the audience to really invest in your character and gives you the chance to integrate some awesome props in the process.
Key Props: Glider ‘Mehve’, Rifle, Sword, Respirator, Explosives
This aviatic wind riding princess is iconic! And It’s perhaps hard to be a princess in an animated film and stand out these days but Nausicaa finds no difficulty here: A highly capable fighter in her own right yet it is her empathy and peaceful values that shine the most and these are embedded into her design. Her props are cool because they are purposeful and remain true to her nature. From the gas mask/respirator that makes her look like Dr. Robotnik to her fabulous rifle and sword are nice props but her coolest has got to be her glider ‘Mehve’ and the one which receives our highest acclaim. A minimalistic design that looks like a fusion between a great bird and a Manta-ray. It looks lightweight enough to glide – yet robust enough to handle the rigors Nausicaa puts it through and its albatross-like wingspan makes her instantly recognizable on screen.
Design takeaway – Giving your props a specific purpose adds parameters that dictate how your characters can complete tasks. This then gives you the opportunity to create a family of props that can add layers of believability and purposefulness.
GANDALF THE GREY
Key Props: Staff, Glamdring (Sword)
Whether it’s the scorching heat of a Balrog’s breath or the blissful shine of the Shire, Mithrandir never is far from his robes, hat, or staff. Maybe it’s a temperature regulation spell he learned back in wizard school but once again it’s a look that makes him easily identifiable on-screen (and on the page) and adds to his lore.
Design Takeaway – When there are multiple lead characters in a story differentiating them via props that are simple yet effective will help the viewer keep track of everyone.
Key Props: Tactical Suit, Silenced Pistol, Cardboard Box, Eye Patch.
This purveyor of elite-level tactical espionage will forever hold a place in the gaming hall of fame. This Mech-busting badass has been graced with many props throughout the years, but what defines Solid Snake best are his, bandana, tactical suit and silenced pistol combo nicely garnished with a pack of cigs and a cardboard box has got to be the best. I guess you could call it the Shadow Moses Chic.
Design Takeaway – When your character is likely to interact and use a vast array of props heavily. Aim to make the props and details that are a constant as impactful as possible.
Key Props: Ear Piece, Handgun, Sun Glasses, Charming Smile.
What do you do when a program goes rogue? You ensure it has one of the best tailors in the entire world! The agents in The Matrix series are your classic foot soldiers and a complete contrast to the look of the protagonists with Agent Smith being the lead bad guy. Although this might be more a costume design success story than a props one but subtle details like the glasses and the earpiece goes a long way.
Design Takeaway – Make your character stand out from the opposition via contrast and minimalism can help the audience to know who to root for.
Key Props: Buster Sword
Broad shoulders need Broad Swords and when your hair is as sharp as your sword you will go down in gaming history as one of the most recognizable icons ever And it is fair to say that without this prop Cloud Strife’s icon score would lose a few Hit Points.
Design Takeaway – Experimenting with the proportions of your prop and linking it to the nature of your character can lead to a successful design.
Key Props: Shield
This beacon of hope and honor represents integrity and unnerving passion to do what’s right. A protector if you will and the ultimate symbol of protection is a shield. Although cap has caused some serious damage with his vibranium shield (if you apply real-world physics that is) the fact that a leading character doesn’t have a lethal weapon is strong statement.
Design Takeaway – A circle is far from threatening but does invoke feelings of unity and impenetrability and this matches Mr. Roger’s personality and heroic traits to a tee. Use simple shape language to evoke emotions and a sense of what your character is about.
Key Props: Hi-Tech Motorcycle, ARASKA HLR-12X Heavy Laser Rifle.
Everything about Shōtarō Kaneda screams coolness! The clothes, the boots, the motorcycle, the hair, the personality, the whole lot! The bike alone is something that imprints into your visual library almost immediately and to the point where it may possibly require a deep scientific examination to learn why. Better yet when Kandea gets hold of the ARASAKA HLR-12X Heavy Laser Rifle the pose and silhouette he makes whilst doing so are super duper neat. (Check out when Designing Better Characters instructor Wouter Gort shares his love for Kaneda on our podcast here.)
Design Takeaway – The shapes of your props can be very simple and still be successful. Take your time to get it right and you can end up with something that is not only cool but can influence an entire generation.
Former BTS Member
Former BTS Member
Key Props: Bionic Arm, Battery Pack, Badass Weapon.
In our Designing Better Characters class taught by Wouter Gort, the main character he uses to teach you his formidable workflow is that of an ex-BTS bandmate who’s adorned in sweet props such as a bionic arm, battery pack, a beautifully huge weapon, and neat threads. And with one entire lesson dedicated to Prop Design, you’ll learn plenty of techniques to give your characters iconic props of their own. Start your journey today (First Lesson is FREE) and learn all about this character and how to create iconic characters and props of your own.
Design Takeaway – Sharpening your workflow with a solid theory and super-efficient use of tools will change the way to design icons of your own forever!
We’ll leave it here, for now, there are so many iconic characters out there that we know missed a bunch but that shows that there is always room for iconic characters and if you do happen to be designing one don’t forget to give your characters the props they deserve.
Show us your Iconic Characters
Uploading your homework to our gallery and show everyone what you can do! See what others are doing here.