A 1920s style animation is bouncy, light-hearted and easy to read. The following elements are what largely define what makes the style so unique.

Character Style Goals

When designing characters and other assets try and follow the tennents below to ensure your creations match the style.

Simplicity

When designing characters and other assets try and follow the tennents below to ensure your creations match the style.

1920’s style animation is simple in density and detail. Environments and characters are simple, with only enough detail to get the point across.

The goal of this simplicity is readability!

Line of Action

In the image above, you can read the intentions of each character based on their defining lines, known as the Line of Action. Oswald is surprised, his body leaning back, cowering away from the larger, more imposing form of the villain character. The villains far more imposing and contorted lines help convey that malintent.

Remember! Each critical moment of a character’s animation should convey their emotions. If the character is feeling bold and happy, their pose is open and extended. If they are feeling angry and distraught, their form is twisted and scrunched.

Use the following images as a reference for Line of Action:

Character Expressions and Design Complexity

As mentioned above, readability is one of the most crucial aspects of this older drawing/animation style. At the time, artists prioritized conveying the bare necessities of a characters design in order to optimize the animation process.

These artists and animators avoided unnecessary detail. Designs should lack a layer of texture detail, whether that be clothing material or skin texture (bare skin, fur, scales), or other extra details (like fingernails or shoelaces).

Solid Shapes

1920’s style characters are made up of simple shapes like spheres and cylinders for more humanoid characters, and simple-in-detail forms for in-animate objects (or in this case, animate-objects) like furniture or environment art.

In the image above, you can see how Mickey is primarily made up of a mixture of circles to define his body shape, and cylinders to round out details like clothing and extremities. These simple building blocks are part of what makes his character, so eye-catching and straightforward to read.

Some of the most visual vital aspects of character design are the face/head (eyes & mouth), hands, and the body/torso. These elements are the strongest conveyers of emotion and intent; in that order.

Use the following images as reference when drawing the various elements of your character!

Face/Head

Hands

Body/Torso

Lineweight, Composition, & Other Characteristics

In either Illustrator or Photoshop, in a 512 by 512 sprite cell, line weight should be at least 5 points. Line weight consistency is a very important goal for 2D art as it maintains cohesion when multiple artists are creating assets.

As you can see in the image above,  line weight is very consistent between all characters. Inner detailing shouldn’t overpower outer lines.

In the image above you can see how using recognizable objects as a base for a character design can really make a character unique. Keep in mind though, Monochrome RPG does not feature any human characters.

In the two images above, you can see how the eyes need to be handled. The left image demonstrates the shading that needs to be applied to closed eye-lids (specifically the band of highlight going diagonally across each lid; upper and lower).

The right image shows the pie-without-a-slice shape that needs to be used for pupils or the whole eye (depending on what works best for your character design).

Non-Humanoid Characters

When creating non-humanoid characters, like dancing/talking furniture, appliances and the like; a lot of the same principles apply.

The main goals you should be going for are simplicity and optimizing the design to take on human features.

Perspective Guide

The world of Monochrome RPG is broken up into the Overworld and the Battle.

Overworld

The Overworld consists of all environments/background the player is in, outside of cutscenes and Battles. The perspective the Overworld will employ for both interiors and exteriors is the Frankenstein perspective.

The image above is a 3D mockup of the Frankenstein style. You can see that the walls (and anything attached to the wall) and floor are all drawn with a 1-point perspective (see the clock). All art assets on top of the floor are drawn with a ¾ perspective. This combination of two perspectives is what makes the Frankenstein style so unique!

Binding of Isaac is a great example of this mix of perspective types:

In the images above you can see how the environment is drawn in 1-point perspective but any object on the ground is drawn in 3/4ths.

3/4ths

  • The bottom 3/4ths of the asset will be the front of the “character” 
  • The top 1/4th will be the top of the “character”.

Below are interior examples from Undertale. Notice how for each asset placed on the floor, roughly 3/4th’s of what’s shown is the top of the asset.

Battle

Battles will take place on a stage environment with a 1-point perspective (similar to the environment shown below from Paper Mario).

Characters on the stage can be drawn with an orthographic side view. This is a straight on view without any perspective being applied to the character. Any sense of depth will be from the background/environment.

References

Make sure to look at the images in the following blog post for reference on other important characteristics of 1920s style characters:

http://cartoonsnap.blogspot.com/2007/10/how-to-draw-cartoons-old-school-way-by.html

Important Takeaways:

  • Build off simple shapes
  • Consistent Lineweight

The following link is a fantastic PDF outlining various characteristics of early style animation and the process of creating a memorable and expressive character:

https://animationresources.org/pics06/refpack021-advancedanimation.pdf

Important Takeaways:

  • Guides to creating Hands, Heads
  • Run Cycle Guides
  • Squash and Stretch