Character design is simply the look and feel of a character in a story. In other words, the visual aspect of a certain persona – their clothes, facial features, and specific movements. Many storytellers have an innate understanding of how a character should look and can use this intuitive understanding in designing their own works.
The foundations of great design are the same as the foundations of great illustration:
- A solid grasp of anatomy and physiology.
- Physics of movement and posture.
- Attention paid to shading and contrast.
The key to creating compelling characters doesn’t lie in knowing a dozen anatomical postures by name but in understanding the principles at work in their work! The fact you have to know your anatomy and physics may sound overwhelming, but it’s entangled with what you already love.
A similar scenario is that plot writers need to know their grammar! Although there are many concepts, like this fantastic paper writing service, they still need to know how to write effectively.
Let’s now explore the 5 steps of character design and how each one of those will help you create exciting and engaging personas of any kind.
It’s important to know as much as you can about the real-world example before you start designing. There are many ways to research. If possible, you can try to get into nature and see animals or other objects you’d like to portray in person.
This hands-on experience is always valuable. On this journey, try to draw hundreds of pictures and take thousands of photos. All of this will help you understand the world of film and build a library of inspirational art pieces.
You can create a vision board that’ll help you immerse yourself in the subject. Everywhere you look, there’ll be images that tell you something about the real world, and it all goes back to the development and design process!
Start With Structure
Now that you have a good idea of the type of person you want to start a project with, you can define the character’s specific features.
Some of the features will be clear:
- Eye color
- Hair color
- Physical structure (here comes anatomy!)
- Potential movements
Other features may not be as prominent, but they will affect how you illustrate characters. As an example:
- Where does the hero live?
- Are they good or bad?
- Extroverted or introverted?
If you have the freedom to do so, some instructors suggest flipping a coin to make that decision. Head, tall; Tail, short, for example. Sometimes this can cause you to develop a different kind of creativity and think beyond your typical ideas and concepts.
Either way, it’s a good idea for your audience to take the time to really think about your character’s personality and background. They’ll for sure appreciate all the fine detail and work you put into creating them!
Phrases that show your character’s various emotions and describe their ups and downs will continue to shape them in a specific and interesting way. Depending on the character’s personality, their emotions can be subdued and distorted or explosive and exaggerated.
A classic example of overexpression can be found in the legendary work of Tex Avery; his character’s eyes from the Wild Wolf often popped out of his head when he was excited. Another example of how expressions communicate movement is Droopy, which barely registers emotion.
Put It Down on Paper
Now that you know precisely who your person is, both in terms of appearance and background, it’s time to start putting them down on a piece of paper. Your initial character design drawing should be a rough sketch or two outlining their overall anatomy and proportions.
Will they have a solid or slim body? Is the torso long or short? Perfect posture or a bit of a grunt? If you like what you paint, improve it further. If you don’t like it or want to change it, try again. Getting the perfect picture, the one you’ve imagined in your head sometimes takes time.
As you continue to sketch, you’ll get a better feel for your character, which will allow you to create new, more refined versions. You can start adding clothes, accessories, tattoos and move on to drawing them in different postures and positions. If you don’t feel confident with this yet, there’s a trick you could use.
Many artists have started using Silhouettes to create 2D persona designs. Silhouettes are shapes outlined in black, similar to shadows without detail. They’re handy, especially in terms of creating a large number of concept variants in a short time. Not all artists use this method, and it’s certainly not necessary to design creatures or characters based solely on silhouette shapes. But it sure does help some artists in the creative process.
Check, Check, Check
With proper research and visualization, the final design stage will be more than smooth. The nature of the background, roles, attitudes, and actions together form your desired person. So, the final check is all about what can be seen in your character’s appearance and to what extent to the audience.
At this point, you should know their personality, gender, role, anatomy, and style – as well as their background, some beliefs, and purpose they are to fulfill.
For example, if we wanted to describe SpongeBob, we would know that he is a sponge living under a pineapple on the bottom of the ocean, is generally fun and naive, works at a restaurant, has many friends, and his talking style is exciting and voice high-pitched. We know this and more thanks to the extensive detailing done by SpongeBob’s creators.
You still have time to readjust some items. You can keep a checklist of all the ways you can re-adjust a persona, in whole or in part, to perfect your own original idea. Some adjustments could be missed, and the audience is usually pretty quick to catch them. In other words, no time spent on final design and checking is futile.
Creativity is key to every good work—creating artwork for your own work or for clients, advertising your business, or contributing to pop culture. You need to create your own unique style in any type of design while staying true to your vision and values.
One way to achieve this is by picking a topic or style of art that interests you. Break it down into small components—an image, a color, a line—and work from there. You might discover something new about yourself and implement it in your art.
Character design is an exciting but demanding process. It takes time, extensive knowledge, and patience to go around it from beginning to end. But once you do, and once you look down on your beautiful creation, you’ll realize all the work you put in was more than worth it.