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  • Writer's pictureEric Wencel

Aldo, The Abominable Shrub

Updated: May 12, 2021

You can’t say I’m not a character designer

I would be the first to admit that I’m not very good at character design. I don’t have much practice with it. Character design occupies a gap in my skillset and natural abilities. I’m good at coming up with IDEAS for characters. This sort of thing is kind of my bread and butter. I do it in the shower. I do it on the train. I do it at work instead of doing my job. Then once I have an established character to work with, I’m good at working out how they would act in different situations. This is storyboarding phase, which I hope to make a career in someday.

In between these two lives the visual development of a character. While I’m a decent visual artist, my design knowledge and skills really lack when I have to come up with the details and specifics of how a thing looks. This goes for both organic and inorganic. The possibilities are so broad that I get lost. Or rather, I can get paralyzed by the infinite choices one can make.

Somewhat unexpectedly, I’ve ended up doing a lot of character design work this semester, and I will be doing much more in the future. I guess that’s what you get when you demonstrate proficiency in scribbling pictures of cute monsters. This experience has been one of many in my life where I’ve stepped up to a challenge without really knowing what I’m doing. While I am a part of a very talented and supportive team of people, the stakes are still high. Failure isn’t an option. We have to have this character, and it can’t look sucky. So we have to figure it out.

Now that I’ve written enough for an entire blog post, I’ll begin the blog post… (shrugs)

In my previous post I introduced the concepts for our monster roommate characters. One that I was immediately drawn to was the idea of a yeti who is made out of plants. A big, cuddly, walking, talking topiary... With teeth.

We’re pretty sure nobody has done this sort of character before. The idealist in me revels in the idea of treading new ground in an industry that, despite the fact that there are no limits to what is possible, seems to have “done” most things.

So I threw my hat into the character design ring, and wouldn’t you know, the stuff I came up with wasn’t half bad. In fact, my designs for this yeti character are what the group has decided to go with. This character has kind of become my baby, and I’m really excited to see what the other members of the team come up with as they turn him into 3D and bring him to life. Here’s the visual development story of Aldo, the Abominable Shrub.


These are a few very early sketches that myself and some of my group members did. Mine are the ones with the orange fill.


We took some of the forms and ideas that we liked best from our concepts, as well as reference, and did a second pass. These are my contributions.


The team really liked the concepts that I presented, so I took another pass at developing them more.


I came up with the name Aldo. It’s one of my favorite names. I picked it up from environmentalist, ecologist, scientist, forester and writer, Aldo Leopold, whose work gave me a new perspective and love for the landscape. I have a master’s degree in urban planning, and one of the most impactful classes that I took during those studies was an environmental issues and ethics class. The instructor had us read Leopold’s book, A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There (1949). It’s a collection of nonfiction observations, musings, and narratives about ecology and the landscape that are beautifully poetic - almost spiritual. Think short stories about grasses, cedar trees, insects, and the ecosystems they are a part of - written before modern environmental science was really a thing. The book changed my life, and dear reader, it’s definitely worth your time.

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