Animation character designer – Stephen Silver

You’ve probably been watching animations and cartoons most of your life. I’ll bet many of you have watched episodes of “Kim Possible”, “Danny Phantom”, or Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” the animated series. Or “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated”.

Stephen Silver, our guest this week, designed characters for all of those shows – and others.

Stephen Silver That’s not all, folks!

In addition to being a character designer, Stephen is also:

  • Author and artist of seven self-published books on the art of sketching, character design, caricature and life drawing.
  • Freelancer
  • Lecturer
  • Owner of Silver Drawing Academy, an art school, located in Los Angeles, CA
  • Teacher of two character design courses online at

In this special Halloween edition of The Sci-Fi Maker Show, we talk to Stephen about how he became a character designer and what it takes to succeed.

Stephen Silver portfolio

We would love it if you left us a review in iTunes or Stitcher. Thanks!



Episode 10 – Science fiction writer Shawn Kupfer

His name is Shawn Kupfer and he writes science fiction books.

  • He is also a podcaster.
  • He has worked as a magazine editor, defense contractor, and was once a semi-professional kickboxer.
  • In February 2009, he started the Twitter Novel Project (anonymously), where he posted novel-length works in 140-character chunks.
  • Carina Press picked up his second Twitter Novel Project book, 47 Echo, for publication soon after.
  • In June 2012, the sequel, Supercritical, came out.
  • Shawn put out Fear and Anger, the third book in the 47 Echo series, on his own.
  • He is currently working on the fourth book in the series.

Shawn Kupfer

The 47 Echo series is near-future science fiction. It’s about a massive land war between Russia and China on one side and the U.S. and its allies on the other.

Before he wrote 47 Echo, Shawn worked as a defense subcontractor. While working, he would sometimes overhear little bits of conversation which led him to research topics he applied in the book.

47 Echo is a convict unit – we empty out the prisons and put them on the front lines.

He starts his books with a single sentence ideas, such as: there are convicts at war.

Then he finds a character from that idea. That character is going to be the proxy for the reader and bring them into the story.

Shawn shares more of his writing process in this interview. If you’re interested in writing science fiction, you can learn a lot from Shawn by listening to this episode of the show.

Shawn’s links


Episode 9 – Cosplay photography

In this episode of The Sci-Fi Maker Show, Charlie Kristine and I talk about cosplay photography – for cosplayers and photographers.

I’ve done a lot of cosplay shoots as a photographer (never as a model).

Charlie is a professional model who has done a few cosplay shoots.

Two Supergirl cosplayers
I shot this at a ComicCon with on-camera flash pointed behind me and to the left. The light bounced off the wall onto the cosplayers for a soft, flattering light.

If you’re a cosplayer, you probably go through a lot of effort to make your costume, makeup, and hair look great. Don’t you wish you could get some great pictures of your cosplay, too?

How to find a photographer (for cosplayers)

  • Search for photographers on Facebook.
  • Ask other cosplayers with good pictures who the photographer was.
  • Search on Google.
  • Many photographers are listed on Model Mayhem.
  • Look for photographers who are looking for free models – it shouldn’t be hard to find them.

How to find cosplayers (for photographers)

  • The best place to find cosplayers: science fiction conventions (such as ComicCons or Comic-Cons).
    • Give cosplayers your card.
    • Get the cosplayer’s contact information.
    • Do a selfie with the cosplayer at the convention and send it to them right then so you have their info.
  • There are lots of cosplayers on Facebook.
  • Some cosplayers are listed on Model Mayhem.
  • Consider using professional models who know how to pose and express themselves to get spectacular shots.


  • If you don’t own lighting equipment or have the money to buy lights, your best light source is free: window light. Especially if it’s a north-facing window.
  • You can use flash – either on-camera or off-camera.
  • LED lights are easy to use.
    • Nova Light Diva Ring Light
    • Rotolight NEO
I shot this at a park using off-camera flash to overpower the sun.
I shot this at a park using off-camera flash to overpower the sun.

Shot composition

  • I typically shoot a wide shot to show the entire outfit.
  • Be sure to get closeups, too.
  • For variety, move in closer to the model, use a wide-angle lens and get some dramatic poses.
  • Be sure the model’s eyes are in focus.

How I shoot at conventions

  • I shoot with a Canon 7D DSLR.
  • I use an on-camera flash – Canon 580 EX II.
  • I point the flash-head behind me and a little to the side so that it bounces off the wall behind me and onto the model.
    • This bounced light is soft and flattering to the model.
    • I am not blasting the light right into the model’s eyes.
    • I set the white balance to flash and shoot in RAW so I can correct color temperature if needed.
    • I learned this technique on the Tangents blog.
  • If you don’t have a wall or surface to bounce the light off, there are diffusion products you can put on your flash to soften the light.
  • If there is a large glass wall facing north, you’ve got a great light source.
  • I do post-production in Adobe Lightroom – with cosplay, I often increase saturation so the colors pop.
  • If you go overboard with sharpening, it can look “crunchy”. This might work with male cosplayers.

Cameras and Lenses

  • Consider using DSLR cameras from Nikon, Canon, or Sony.
  • Learn to use manual settings on the camera to get better results.
  • Use a wide aperture on the lens to make the background out of focus and less distracting.
  • Shoot in RAW so you have more control in post-processing.
  • If you get a cropped sensor (APS-C) camera, a 50 mm F1.4 or F1.8 lens gives you an inexpensive portrait lens that works very well for shooting cosplay or models.
    • Roughly equivalent to a 75 mm or 80 mm lens for a 35 mm camera.
    • Shooting at F1.4 or F1.8 renders the background out of focus, but focusing on the eyes is more challenging.
Don't forget to shoot closeups.
Don’t forget to shoot closeups.


  • Be on the lookout for good locations.
  • Find a location that complements the cosplay.
  • A good location can make your shots more interesting.

Cosplay raw materials

  • The day after Halloween, the stores selling costumes have great sales.
  • Buy a bunch of costumes so you have raw materials to make your own outfits.

Posing tips

  • If it is a professional model, just tell them what emotion or feeling you’re after and they’ll find the pose.
  • If you’re working with a non-professional, observe what they are naturally doing and encourage those poses.
    • This makes them less nervous and gets their energy up.
    • You can then build from those poses.
    • Keep it fun so they’ll keep going and will want to do it again.
I shot this using on-camera flash aimed behind me and to the left.
I shot this using on-camera flash aimed behind me and to the left.

Cosplay websites

  • There are websites that feature cosplay photography.
  • You can submit your cosplay photos to these websites and get some good exposure.
    • You can do this just for fun.
    • If you’re interested in becoming a professional cosplayer, this is good publicity. It can bring traffic to your website or Facebook page.
  • The Geek Girls website is a good cosplay photography site.
  • Post your cosplay pictures on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Links to photography resources (affiliate links)


We Blab about cosplay photography

Charlie Kristine and I talked about cosplay photography (for cosplayers and photographers) on a live Blab on October  8, 2015.

UPDATE! Right after we finished the Blab, Geek Girls featured one of my cosplay shoots on their website.

We talked about:

  • How to find photographers (for cosplayers)
  • How to find cosplayers (for photographers)
  • Cameras
  • Lighting
  • Locations
  • Posing
  • Cosplay web sites

Links to photography resources (affiliate links)


Episode 8 – Christopher Hart: how to become a cartoonist

Do you want to learn how to become a cartoonist or manga artist?

Would you like to learn from the guy who has sold more how-to-draw books than anyone on the planet? Christopher Hart How-to-draw sherpa

Christopher Hart, a cartoonist and writer, has a staggering list of accomplishments:

  • Sold over 6 million books which have been translated into 20 languages.
  • Hosted How-To-Draw episodes for Comcast’s Activity TV channel.
  • Featured on 20 videos for Howcast.
  • Licensed his work to art kits, board games and sports equipment.
  • Wrote original screenplays for 20th Century Fox, The Showtime Television Network, MGM Pathe’, and Paramount Pictures.
  • Worked as a staff writer on several NBC, prime time comedies.
  • Was a regular contributor to Mad Magazine.

If Christopher Hart is willing to give me advice about being an artist, I’m going to listen! And on this show, we all get to listen.

Do it yourself

Christopher teaches what he calls “pop illustration” in his books. Pop illustration includes:

  • Cartooning
  • Fantasy art
  • Manga

He also teaches realistic drawing. This way, you can learn the basics, such as anatomy, figure drawing, and proportions which helps you learn all styles of drawing.

Many of Christopher’s readers communicate with him regularly on his Facebook page. His readers, who are aspiring artists, inspire him with what they share on his page.

He does a lot

He publishes about 3 or 4 books a year. You can find them everywhere.

He also produces art kits and licenses his books to other publishers.

How Christopher started

Cartooning is something Christopher has loved ever since he was a little kid. When he was 12, he started drawing cartoons.

Even at such an early age, Christopher wanted to do cartoons for a living. When he was 14, he managed to get an interview with a producer at DePatie-Freleng Studios (they did the Pink Panther cartoons) and asked all kinds of questions about how it was done.

He learned to draw from how-to-draw books. He still has all of those books.

When he started, there were a lot of how-to-draw books on subjects such as flowers, watercolor, still life, and anatomy. But there was almost nothing on cartooning or any other style.

Art schools didn’t teach style, either. And this mind-set persists today – that this style, cartooning, is just something you do after you learn the basics.

Christopher believes the exact opposite. He knows if you asked an art teacher to draw Superman, the drawing would not look like Superman.

If I said, “Alright, so you can draw animals realistically. Draw Thumper, the Disney rabbit.” Wouldn’t look anything like it!

Style is art!

Christopher started focusing on different aspects of the art: cartoons, retro cartoons, and superheroes.

There was one book Christopher knew of at that time that taught this: How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.

People get into art because they want to draw a certain style that they love.


He loves Chuck Jones, especially the characters he developed. But, he had a friend who drew like Chuck Jones, so he started drawing a little like Friz Freleng.

The Disney style and its charm is something he really loves, although he also enjoys the wit of the Warner Brothers cartoons.

As a young kid, he loved Tex Avery‘s style because it was wild.

There were also cartoons he liked that used to play on TV in the afternoon such as Rudolf Ising‘s Barney Bear.

Today, he enjoys many of the new hand-drawn cartoons because they are so weird and funny. This all began with Ren & Stimpy.

Advice for aspiring cartoonists

  • Like what you do well and acknowledge what you don’t,
  • Many aspiring are extremely self-critical. Recognize your strengths and focus your efforts and energy on those strengths.
  • If you spend most of your time and energy working on your weaknesses, you won’t bring your skill level up as much as spending that time and energy on your strengths .
  • Value what you do well. If you don’t know what you’re good at, the stuff that you don’t criticize in your work is the stuff you do well.
  • You still have to manage your weaknesses. For example, if you can’t draw hands as well as you can draw faces, work on a few important poses for the hand. Once you master that, the rest will come along.
  • Get advice from successful artists who can tell you the correct way to do things. Don’t waste your time getting advice from unsuccessful artists on social media – much of this advice is wrong.
  • Don’t share your art on social media if it’s something you want to get published. Share it if you don’t mind it being stolen or shared by others.
  • Don’t be afraid of publishers stealing your art. If they like your work, they want you because you are the voice behind that work .
  • Do not put a bunch of copyright watermarks all over your art that you submit to publishers – it tells them that you are an amateur.
  • Learn the correct format for your work before you submit it to a publisher. If you don’t, they won’t even look at it.

Christopher’s website contains links to his Facebook page and his YouTube channel which contains over 200 videos that cover how to draw all kinds of things, from cartoons to manga to figure drawing.

Career options for aspiring artist

There are many paths an artist can take for employment. You can create your own profession or career.

There are the mainstream paths such as graphic novels and web comics. There are also other, less well-known opportunities in markets such as  young adult (YA) or children’s books. Some of these publishers are interested in using manga artists, but don’t know where to find them.

There are opportunities in narrative or nonfiction markets. For example, a publisher might want to do a manga version of a story about Albert Einstein for 6th graders. They might want to do this to attract kids to science or to make a difficult subject more accessible.

You can just draw cartoons and make a living at it – many people have.

But how?

The secret is character licensing.

For cartoonists and especially manga artists, character licensing involves creating a character and a cast of characters with a little back story and an environment that has a specific look and target audience. They then license this out to various sectors of different industries.

You can take a character or piece of work that you have the copyright on and license it, for example, to the sporting goods or food industry.

The Licensing Expo in Las Vegas is the largest licensing convention in the United States. If you attend, you will see many recognizable characters there.

A good example of a licensed cast of characters is Life is Good. They took a simple character on a bumper sticker and turned it into a HUGE business. That is character licensing.

Hello Kitty is character licensing.

You can also use self-published creations for character licensing. Many become very big.

The Simpsons is another example of character licensing that has made a tremendous amount of money.

Another way to succeed: you can create a web comic and produce it in installments. Over time, you can build an audience and get feedback from the audience –  what they like and don’t like about the comic.

This allows you to make changes as you go along – to get the more popular characters and stories going based on the audience’s preferences. You can refine it and hit the target audience.

Then you can do a print version. You already have a built-in fan base and you’ve already market tested it.

If you attend a major Comic-Con, such as the Sand Diego Comic_Con or New York Comic Con, you can find the smaller or mid-size publishers in different media.

You don’t even have to be an artist. For example, you could be an editor for a comic book publisher.

How to start cartooning

  • If you’re younger, go to art college.
  • If you’re going to a different kind of college, take art courses anyway.
  • If you can’t go to college, take art courses.
  • If you are older, there are local art centers where you can learn life drawing or still life.
  • To learn cartooning or manga – learn that on your own.
  • If you’re older, focus on the less complex characters and subjects and hone a slightly simpler, appealing style with appealing characters. This is in your wheelhouse and there are a lot of opportunities for things that are not overly complex.
  • If you’re trying to get work, get a few print credits. Even a small local newspaper or magazine. When you approach a publisher or agent and you show them your credits, it puts you in a different tier. It may only take you 4 to 6 months to get those credits, but they are very important to you.