Learning From Mistakes

Project 2 is one project I won’t forget about. Not because I had a great time working on it mind you, its because I learned something from it.

Initially, I wanted to create a project that allows the user to create their own characters. A project that showcases character production as it’s main concept and show how designing a character is more than just visual aesthetics. The origin of this objective is from the use of character design here in the Middle East where a majority of characters made are simply to fill in a niche in advertising and marketing, where the character’s main purpose is to be simply a character, not at the very least a representation of the business’s product and/or service.

My project was initially inspired by the totem pole, where blocks of characters or body parts would be stacked up on top of each other. This form of stacking is what I wanted to implement into my character design, an implementation of kinetic learning for character production.

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Concept art of the second project. 

The project was sound for a point until I had to do research and execution. I used up my time building up on how the character design blocks would work, how their shapes would be, and what the characters would become. But I had my first problem, I was worrying too much on how I am using my time. I ended up spending a good portion of my time researching that I didn’t count in the execution of the project, which would take just as long of a timeframe.

This lead to me cancelling my second project altogether. I kept on working on it for so long that I lost my sense of direction, to put it simply, here are the main reasons why I canceled:

  1. It was too new: The fact that I had to teach myself a new program and figure out how to execute it all in a limited timeframe. It was unrealistic looking back.
  2. There was a great deal of creative limitation: Lego is fun because the blocks could be stacked not just vertically, but horizontally, diagonally, in different colors, different parts, whatever, it was very flexible of a medium. What I was going for was very limiting in the sense that it only allowed so many combinations. Even if you could make 100 different characters from a set, it still won’t be enough and would still be limiting to the user.
  3. It lost its message: The project was meant to be a means to brainstorm. The more I worked on it the foggier the objective became. It just didn’t set well with me in the end, what started out as a fun tool to goof off at ended up being a waste of time that wasted my time altogether.

This was a harsh reminder of how much time I truly have and hindered my progress in completing my thesis. However, this is not purely bad news. I was able to recover and work on a new second project. The new project altered the objective, but it still retains the concept of an interactive piece. I’ll explain it in further detail on the next post.

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I did learn during presentation day…. I just need time to get back up



Hong Kong Field Study

Hello all!
I took a small break from university work last week and ventured out to an eastern counrty, Hong Kong. Here I was exposed to a new yet familiar culture, and exploring the place was a blast and a breath of fresh air.

During the trip, I was also interested how my thesis works on a more distant location. My thesis is about expression through character design, and I was interested to see how a foreign culture would use character design. Surprisingly, a whole lot.

During my travel, I would notice how character design would be used in advertising, common graphic design, and some historical locations. This blog post will be more of a personal observation than a heavily researched post. It would be a tad bit longer than my previous posts, but the pictures and descriptions would entertain you on my observations.

Overall, I recommend a week to go out and explore Hong Kong if you got the chance. 

Public Spaces

One of the more interesting uses of character design in Hong Kong are the uses of characters to understand ads / use of various utilities / and or artistic expression.

This country is full of characters 😀

Certain ads like the one above tend to use characters in order to express ads and safety issues. This ad in particular is meant to showcase a therapy service. The use of two characters, one literally using its ears and the others expressing emotion bubbles with a relieved smile gave us enough information to understand what the service is, destroying several language barriers that would be otherwise encountered from such ads.

“Feed me Seymour!”

At certain public areas, characters are used to blend in with the environment like this octopus above. Despite animal based trashcans would often lead to a tacky look, the one pictured above fits well with the color palette of the park and compliments the environment. Disguising the trash can to blend in with the playful area.

Its the hand gesture that speaks the loudest. 

At the hong kong zoological and botanical gardens, the animals would be displayed with a informative sign that showcases the animal in a stylized illustration. Instead of it being a picture of the creature, the animals are illustrated. Why I brought this up is because they would actually be posed with sometimes a human-like expression on their faces.  Like the Emperor Tamarin pictured above, as it has the most dynamic pose of all the exhibits.

There are also artistic sculptures found around Hong Kong Design Institute. These large mouse sculptures are originally blank and are painted on with art or facial features. It is even hilarious how one of them is a blatant advertising prop of all things.

There was also an interesting art exhibition that housed an ‘objects talk’. Despite most of the objects shown are related to emotional-abstract shape (if that makes sense), some of them do resemble faces and or facial features. This leads to a form of anthropomorphism that is being expressed in other countries. Not that I found it surprising (we are all human in the end), its just interesting to see how objects are arranged to create these faces.

Of couse, as any country, there is a huge amount of propaganda work. 
“Dinosaurs aren’t scary, Penalty fines of $1,500 are”

Inside a design school’s elevator, we noticed that it was decorated with these tiny characters interacting with craft and outdoor activities, like a hipster do.

The Monkey King from ‘Journey to the West’, the character is envisioned in both clothes and acting.

One surprise is to see a ‘cultural appropriation’ of a well known character. The monkey, Coco, that we know of is shown on the left where the one on the right is more monkey like in shape and pose.

Character design isn’t necessarily something new either. The characters here are very dated and maintained. The two statues on the top are from the 10000 Buddhas from 1957, the three on the bottom are from an older time. I bring these up for their use of expressions, and how it follows old traditions to showcase a more basic/primitive form of expression. In the sense that there is no subtly, but a direct and straight to the point expression.

A common comment that would occur is how the gesture would lead to different expressions like: “No thanks”, “Please… stop”, and “Not now”. 
Another example of a regional change “Chibi Star Wars”
Take an inanimate object and simply place 2 eyes, a nose, and a mouth, and you got yourself a character. 

At the same time, I would notice various form of Pareidolia. Now Pareidolia is not limited to Hong Kong, but was an interesting observation I had regarding finding characters in odd locations. This in a way helps me with my thesis as a means of figuring out how character design is a form of expression, as it may be linked to a psychological need to socialise which are integrates into man for generations. 

Overall, I hope to be inspired from my trip in Hong Kong, I was at a dark place where I feel I was not going anywhere with my work with such little time left. Thankfully, I figured out a solution to my second project which I will talk in further detail in the following post.

See you then!


Wynn, Thomas. “Why People See Faces When There Are None: Pareidolia.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 9 Aug. 2016, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/how-think-neandertal/201608/why-people-see-faces-when-there-are-none-pareidolia.

Some Creative Problems Emerge

The more that I work on this project, the more problems emerge. Interestingly they are not major problems, they are my creative problems. It is one thing to say “I am going to fill this poster with characters” and actually doing it.

PROBLEM #1: It’s taking time.

This is taking a good while, but it is expected. I don’t want to rush through this poster so I could retain a consistant and equal quality for the characters I am drawing. So I am seeing myself working on this alongside my other projects. The good news is that I am 80% complete in writing this blog post.

PROBLEM #2: Drawing fatigue.

I get VERY tired after long days of drawing, sometimes it reaches to the point where I feel sick trying to think of another character.

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I drew a triangle at one point because I couldn’t even bother thinking of a character to draw

PROBLEM #3: Seeing the end (but its solved)

This coincides with the previous problems, because of the time and energy it takes for me to work I was asked to stop and not fill out the entire poster. I should stop halfway and crop the final poster to regular A0 size (841 x 1189 mm). This did not bode with me, though I did get the same desire effect I wanted from my peers and passer bys, I wanted MORE. It is similar to me hearing “Where’s Waldo” could only use a single page instead of a spread per puzzle. It technically works, but it doesn’t have the same fun factor as the spread.

Thankfully I am closer to the end, I passed the mid point a while back and I am nearing the complete (1189 mm x 1189 mm) poster size.

And I am reaching some great satisfactory results as I work on my poster:

  1. Characters are getting more creative and interesting as I keep drawing, I am coming up with some characters I wouldn’t think of normally. Also each day is a different batch of characters, one day is cute characters, the next is weird, the next is creepy and so on and so forth.
  2. People are really curious and interested in my work. Every now and then I have people peering over my shoulder as I draw my characters. Asking about the creativity behind some, commenting on others, and picking out their favorites!
  3. I am getting great feedback from my professors and classmates: Their comments are supporting my project, and its a great indication that I am going on the right path and not wasting my time.
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Seeing the save icon filling up makes me hopeful and happy 🙂

Overall, I am pleased on the progress of my project. There is a great variety of characters, the reception has been mostly positive, and most importantly: I am almost done 😀



Working on Project 1

So I discovered A2 is small for a poster size. I kind of noticed that my sense of speculating measurement still needs some work.

New Poster Size
new poster size is 1189 mm X 1189 mm. And I am a big fan of Arcade Fire.

The poster will be a perfect square thats is 1189 mm long from each side. And the intention is that the layout of the characters will be pattern-like, where there is no sense of “↑ This way up ↑”. Initially I started this project as a submission for a texture competition happening in VCUQ. Where they wish to have student work be shown on the couches in the saffron hall, so I took this as a means of hitting 2 birds with one stone and make it my thesis as well.

The creation process of these characters is fun and interesting. I was asked by curious classmates how I make these characters. I first say that these characters are not depicted from other media, so there are no paradies or homages to already existing characters. I also said that these characters are built on questions I would ask. Such examples could simply be “If I were to draw a dragon, what kind of dragon would it be?”, or entertaining like “I think this character would like to pick up a cookie from a hidden cookie jar thats far away, what features would I give that character to help them?”. These characters are meant to be a form of question.

I also was asked why a majority of my characters are not human; that I believe is my personal creative choice. Not to say that it is the right way, but rather its what you’d expect characters to look like if I were to draw them. I like drawing non human characters cause they are more interesting. A person is a person, I see them every where I go. So these characters could be simple to visualize, 2 arms, 2 legs, a single head, and a normal body. I don’t like humans as much, humans are too common, too boring, I am human, and I have to wake up each morning looking at the mirror to see a sad sack of depression that apparently is a common human feeling, THANKS HUMANITY!

However, there is a reason why I enjoy making non human characters, it is connected to a psychological effect of ‘anthropomorphism’. It is a characteristic we have to assign human emotion and behaviour to other living creatures and or inanimate objects. It is what drives us to be more interested in these characters, because of our social natureL we assign human like characteristics without thinking about it to make thing more interesting.

“We tend to anthropomorphize the things we love, not the things we hate. Psychology agrees that the more we like someone or the closer we are to them, the more likely we are to engage with their mind. This proclivity extends to non-humans, too—regardless of whether they actually have a conscious mind.” (1)

And this is uniquely a human characteristic that grows with us:

“Historically, anthropomorphizing has been treated as a sign of childishness or stupidity, but it’s actually a natural byproduct of the tendency that makes humans uniquely smart on this planet,” says Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago. “No other species that has this tendency.” (1)

So I wish to use this to let the viewers search and scan this poster, looking at all these characters and connecting to them. Having non human characters would allow me to include more visual features like extra limbs, different shapes, and varying depths of line weight and filling. The poster is technically just a large flat paper filled with drawings. It is the human consciousness of social curiosity and personification that would make this poster interesting.

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M initial batch of characters are simple in design, and are recognisable from animals, human features, and objects.

Initially I thought I should add inanimate objects in my poster to add visual variety. This then became somewhat of a burden as I started to abandon the idea the further I work into the poster. I am thinking of removing it or turning them into characters afterwards as it is starting to clash with the rest of the poster.


(1)  Fessler, Leah. “People Who Talk to Pets, Plants, and Cars Are Actually Totally Normal, According to Science.” Quartz, Quartz, 31 Mar. 2017, qz.com/935832/why-do-people-name-their-plants-cars-ships-and-guitars-anthropomorphism-may-actually-signal-social-intelligence/.


Project 1: Character Poster

As for my first project, I am interested creating a large poster where I get to fill it with hundreds of characters. The poster itself isn’t just for fun, I was inspired by artistic work that had these large walls covered with doodles and drawings, one such example that comes to mind is the work of The Doodle Man (né Sam Cox). What I find appealing of his work is he would cover large surfaces with his doodles. These are meant to be a fun, artistic expression of the man, and it shows.

There is a quick documentary of The Doodle Man here (1)

‘Book Creation Process’ for the Blurb studio http://www.blurb.com/blog/make-books-doodle-man/

Finding the Doodle Man and his work was an amazing discovery. I myself love to create these doodles that would fill the entire space. Basically attempting to remove as much negative space as possible. I wish to include this into my first project, showcasing how effective character design is if it is done in such a manner.

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Just last semester I was doing something similar to relieve myself of university stress.

To make these interesting, I made some rules for myself to follow to make the project balanced.

• The characters are simple in shape and detail, nothing complex!
• The characters must not interact with each other at all.
• The characters are not aware of each other
• The color of the poster will be in black and white.
• There should be as little ‘free room’ as possible.

There may be more rules as I go on, but these are the major ones. This would allow me to create characters that are given equal opportunity of exposure. I made sure there are differences of course: size, shape, line weight, and filling are some of what would allow these characters to be unique from each other.

The other reason why I wish to go with this is the idea of searching. Growing up I loved books like ‘Where’s Wally? (Waldo for the cookie people)’ and ‘I Spy’. They are books that have a 2 page spread filled with drawings and puzzles.

In Where’s Wally, after looking for Wally and his friends, I would spend a good amount of time admiring the spread and the art made for the puzzle. I was mainly interested in the creative field it took for the artist to create all these characters. One particular spread I fondly love is “Bright Lights and Night Frights” where sailors are protecting the lighthouses from liquid spewing dragons in an all out man vs beast battle. I admired the different forms of characters there are, it is following a system but the large mass of characters wanted me to explore the spread.

You could spend MINUTES scanning the page to look at each character


I believe this works as Waldo has this interesting psychological effect on us to ‘Visual Search’.

“Humans use visual search (the technical term for “looking for something with your eyes”) constantly, writes cognitive psychologist Miguel P. Eckstein.” (2)
Along the way I will have a better idea of where I am going with this project. I’ll aim for an A2 size poster and fill it up with enough characters to achieve a similar effect. I want to show how character design could work on the simple basis of pure looks of the character and see how it influences people to look around the poster. I won’t put a Waldo character for them to find, I want them to find THEIR Waldo character.


(1) ModusFilmProductions. “The Doodle Man – Documentary.” YouTube, YouTube, 24 May 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMWtRPf5eC4.

(2) Eschner, Kat. “The Science Behind Our Search for Waldo.” SMITHSONIAN.COM, SMITHSONIAN.COM, 21 Sept. 2017, www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/science-search-waldo-180964909/.

Why Character Design?

One of the things I love about this project is the birage of questions I keep getting. These questions are varied, but one of the most common of which is “Why cartoons?\character design?”. This is still a good question as I am going for a thesis that is not blatantly addressing problems, but it is more than that. I am doing this not to answer problems in the environment that I am part of nor a large humanitarian problem, but to rather solve the question “What can I do?” and “Can I work with this?”.

My time here in VCUQ as a graphic design student (soon to be designer) has exposed me to many branches of design. And even though I have an experience with a multitude of techniques (packaging, printing, branding, digital, etc…) I wish to cover more on what I had interest in, being animation and character design.

So I am mainly treating this thesis as an opportunity to have a character design/animation class I never fully got. Where I get to create my own set of projects and experiments. See what I am capable of and what more there is to learn.

A follow up question would often arise: “where do you see yourself in the future?”. I would often say “Allah Alim” (Allah Knows) as my answer. Though it could be seen that I don’t have plans in the distant future, I do so out of my own safety. I don’t like setting large goals for the future, because I don’t want to be disappointed if things don’t go my way. So I set smaller short distant goals for myself, so that I could have a higher chance of succeeding in those very goals. And once I do, I get to set another goal to build myself on, continuing where I left off.

My current goal is to succeed in my thesis and graduate. I do aim to create this thesis with the mindset that I could merge my hobby and career towards a character animation driven passion. And that my major goal for this thesis is to deliver the fun I get from this project and expressing it to others: I want my viewers to not only understand my thesis but to have a fun experience with them.

A Slight Change of Thesis

A while back I had a discussion with my professors on how I am tackling my thesis topic. I came in this semester with a thesis in mind, but I had a feeling that it is somewhat unstable for me to continue on with it. I wanted to create a thesis where I get to create designs that are fun to make and lead to a fun experience for others, however I never did feel comfortable on what I wanted to do as it felt quite a broad thesis topic.

This thankfully was addressed when we had our first meeting with Professor Law and Professor Leland, here they would often ask their many questions towards directly at our thesis. At first I was worried that it may make my thesis collapse on itself and lead to me reworking what I wanted to do. This thankfully was not the case. The questions I got were basically testing out my thesis and see if it could maintain the constant barrage of questions; Is my thesis sound?

I did end up changing my thesis, but not too drastically. I ended up changing the main focus from animation to character design. It basically what I was really interested in, I just never noticed it. I went with the idea of my joy and wonder with cartoons, however it never really did hold its ground and it sounds like I was mostly fan-boying instead of actually creating a concrete academic thesis topic.

Expression through character design has a more direct and narrowed down focus of what I wanted to do as a thesis. This thesis would not focus on animated pieces or how to move an object but would focus on the visually vocal expressions of characters and character designs. This is not only limited to cartoons as even art, technology, and common signs would include characters. This will be just as interesting of a thesis topic for me and would allow me to have a stronger foundation to base my projects on.

Now I have better confidence knowing that my thesis path took it’s first major curve ^_^