John Kricfalusi, a man whom I respect, even if I don't always agree with him, has a few good points about character design.
His five points of character design:
1.) Functional - Understandable logical form
Simple sensible forms
Can be moved easily
2.) Aesthetic - Pleasing Balance of shapes
3.) Recognizeable - Distinct from other characters
4.) Personality - Allowing the viewer to know a character's personality simply by the way they
5.) Original - Not a knock-off of a previous character
Fore more of this post go to: http://johnkstuff.blogspot.com/2007/08/character-design-primer.html
Now, I would like to add a sixth part to that list. It's one that I've been thinking about for awhile.
6.) Believable - Allowing the viewer to believe in the story you're telling or the world your
characters reside in.
Let me explain what I mean. I mean that some designs are better suited for different styles of story. Wouldn't characters looking like these...
would look very strange in a more film noir-like cartoon, wouldn't you say?
On the other hand, animation is all about caricature, and if we lose that element, animation is no longer exciting and it becomes a pale imitation of live-action. It would be a vast and grueling undertaking for animators to try and move character that looked like this
or like these
The question then arises: "What is that right level of caricature where the characters are believable in their environment, but are still fun to animate?"
A great example would be the character designs of the characters in Ralph Bakshi's "Hey Good Lookin'". Each of the characters, even minor characters, has a distinct look to them, different to every other person, just like real people, but they still have a cartoony feel, much like what Jack Davis or Mort Drucker do, a MAD Magazine feeling.
Vinnie (above) looks nothing like Crazy Shapiro (below)
If you want to see what I'm talking, go over to YouTube and watch the movie. You'll see what I mean.
Many of the side characters were designed by the late and wonderfully talented artist Louise Zingarelli. The main characters were done by David Jonas. I wish there was more "Hey Good Lookin'" artwork in the Bakshi book.
Another good idea would be to look at some of the old adventure strips like "Dick Tracy". Chester Gould was a great storyteller, but was also, as he described himself, a "big-foot cartoonist that got side-tracked."
I know that character design is only one step in the animation process, but it should be given careful consideration. From there we can build upon it and make a great film. However, this is only my opinion. I gladly await to hear yours.