Character designer Dana Koerlin shares his journey from a passion for cartoons and animation to creating characters that stand out.
Dana Koerlin is a character designer with a passion for animation. As someone who grew up watching cartoons, he loves creating worlds they would exist in. He graduated with a BFA from the Academy of Art in San Francisco and worked in triple-A gaming for six years before breaking out on his own to freelance.
Did you go to an art school or are you self-taught? How did you develop your skills?
Dana Koerlin: I went to art school and studied illustration at the Academy Of Art University. However, I did a lot of my artistic growth after college. Lots of how-to videos on YouTube and Gumroad played a significant role in developing and honing my skills.
Do you remember having a favorite subject to sketch as a kid, and do you still have one now? If so, what makes it so unique?
Dana Koerlin: Yes, as a kid I drew a lot of dinosaurs. I was super obsessed with them! Now it is different, I like to experiment with new and different things. I try to jump around and not stick to one genre for too long.
From the initial concept to the finished product: When you start a project, what goes through your head and what strategy do you use? Could you explain it?
Dana Koerlin: For character design, I have to break up everything into steps. Otherwise, I just get overwhelmed. I start with the design first. I use the lasso tool to block out the shapes and then draw over everything and lock in the design. After that, I move to color and the 3D model which I make with a rig and using some simple textures. Then I can move and pose however I want. Finally, I paint over everything and the character is ready.
What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
Dana Koerlin: I think the best part of the creation process is the beginning. The hardest part is executing it to the end. Due to my ADD, It took me a very long time to cultivate the discipline to see a project to the end. That’s why I break up everything into bite-size steps. You get little victories along the way.
What advice would you give to an artist who is dealing with an artist’s block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
Dana Koerlin: Sometimes all you need to do is step away if you’re hitting that wall. One of my favorite things to do is listen to audiobooks. Watching movies and shows also helps.
You have worked with many different clients and have a diverse portfolio. Do you find it at all difficult drawing in such different styles? It looks like it must be quite a step out of your comfort zone, how do you do it?
Dana Koerlin: I try to push myself to draw different styles. Every time I start a new personal project, I will make a conservative effort to make it look different from my last project. I keep a lot of references for the style I’m attempting to create. It doesn’t always work out, but I just keep at it, that’s what you got to do.
What projects have you worked on in the past? And what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
Dana Koerlin: I’m doing a lot of little personal projects right now. I just finished a few pieces in one of them. The project is called HDZ (Humans & Dinosaurs VS Zombies).
What is something you have designed that you are most proud of?
Dana Koerlin: One of my favorite designs is from one of my projects. I made this bug mech suit that my character pilots. It just looks fun, cool, and silly. Which is just how I like my art to look.
Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, you name it. There are so many careers and when you are very young, sometimes you know only one thing: you simply love to draw. In your opinion, what should a young person take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
Dana Koerlin: I think the most important thing is to keep making art. Be open to learning new tools and processes in the making of your art. If you want to sharpen your skills quickly, learn the core fundamentals. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. That’s what takes a long time to learn.