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Character Design: An introduction

Fri Jan 25, 2013, 12:29 PM
Arvalis-2012 by arvalis
Arvalis-2012 by arvalis

What does 'Character Design' mean?
The character design is the process  which comes after the characterisation and consists in defining the character  through his/her physical appearance. 
We need to consider a character as a little fictional creature, human or not, that aims to please its creator and the public as well.
While the basic characterization of this fictional creature (his tastes, his fears, his behaviors) may take a little mental effort, as it is a sort of list of emotions, facts and feelings that come and go in the life of a character, the process of visual realization of this creature may not be as simple. That's why many writers and characters creators prefer to rely on experienced hands.
Also many of the mental aspects of the character are not possible to gain by using 'static' visual medium. For 'static' I mean all the illustrations and drawings unable to tell a story, but that's the beauty of writing and reading, isn't it?  Anyway there are also plenty visual media that can graphycally or spatially recreate the emotions of a certain character, his thoughts, his complex mental structure that makes our creature a simulacrum of the human being. I'm talking about cartoons and comics, videoclips, anime and manga art, where the design of the character is a real milestone in the realization of a story of success.

Which are the differences between a design for cartoons and a design for games?
The first one requires a simple shape, highly recognizable at a first glance. The second one requires a higher complexity, able to show the real power of rendering of the console (or the power of your video adapter). The higher complexity design works really well for concept art  and trading card games as well. 

Slugterra Development 6 by CreatureBox
Slugterra Development 6 by CreatureBox

Tips from experts?
  • Take a sheet of paper and write down the psychological characteristics and traits that you want to give to your character. If the character is not yours but you already have a description of the author, the better.

  • It's also important to see the character in proportion to the medium on which the character will appear and the target audience it should have: keep the design simple if it's going  to appear on small media, use more structured design in case of  larger media, use bright colors if the character is designed for children. In any case, the design must be strong and original to make it look interesting to its public.

  • Now you can start sketching. Take inspiration from the world that surrounds you, from fashion magazines, from other original characters. Starts from a successful design and work on how you would change it for the better. Add items to its design and remove others. 

  • In cartoons, the consistency of the line should be the protagonist: use curved lines for good and sweet characters, use hard and sharp lines to  present cruel and evil characters. You may also need to exaggerate the physical features that correspond to mental characteristics: thick arms for a strong man, thick lips for a seductive woman...

  • Colors ay be really important. Dark colors, black and purple (and sometimes acid green) are used to identify the villains. Bright colors, white and pink are for vouchers. Heroes uses yellow, red and blue.

Oriental enchantment by HiOutsider-Studio
Oritental Enchantment by HiOutsider-Studio

  • Add accessories to your character. Animals could work as accessories as well, but their symbolic meaning can be very vast and ancient. New items will help add personality to your character, or they'd give you ideas for their background story. Clothing is a very important accessory to identify the social class and taste of a character. A warrior will have an armor, a mage will have a stick or a scepter, one who wears sandals will not be a great walker unless he/she is poor...They say the clothing doesn't make the monk, but in Character Design the bow makes the archer and the sword makes the knight. 

  • Works a lot on your character behaviours and facial expressions. Is he/she the angry type? Or is he/she curious? Well,  in both cases it will affect his/her appearance!

  • Good designs are well balanced. Doodle many designs without planning but don't add too many oddities to the same character. Just one but a good can be enough. Try to work on the silhouette of your character, make it immediately recognizable.

  • Develop your design both on your computer and using a sketchbook. The world is the best inspiration, especially when you can look at so many human types all together. Look at their make up, hair, facial features, clothing...Everything! 

  • Works on characters with different physical characteristics that can help identify the 'type' at first sight. 

Some good design sketches

Scarlet Empress by your-fathers-belt
Jarael character design by harveytsketchbook norah epstein by AlexPascenko Cha01 by your-fathers-belt knight    s by AlexPascenko
Sketch Character Design. by Nafah Go dark by algenpfleger cornell final version 3.0 by AlexPascenko Brides for Highlandar by JDarnell
  SB doodles by AlexPascenko cornell final by AlexPascenkoMaangchuan Jyh by offrecord Blood moon by offrecord
carmilla 2.0 by AlexPascenkoMaangchuan Yaw by offrecord Carrie v3.0 by AlexPascenko Commissh - Moonhawk by kasai ICHIDO-DOODS. A gang of idiots by kasai 

Items study and different races or types

Rift Necromancer Tank Minions by ArtofTy
Dark Queen by dustsplat  Pathfinder Paladins 1 by Scebiqu Javelin-2012 by arvalis
 Pathfinder Paladins 2 by Scebiqu Tryndamere Concept Art by ZeroNis  offensive combat characters by michalivan 
  Spektre-2012 by arvalis Siege. Characters by Gimaldinov
  Yet another one by Kurunya COTV armor by Reza-ilyasa Lady Kushana by ZeroNis
 II: Athos by IielyZyra Official Concept Art by ZeroNis Sophie concept by anndr
Some Posts by akizhao 

Process: from the sketches to the final version

Sketch Stages by dapper-commissions
Whakan - Characters 01 by Kurunya Whakan - Characters 02 by Kurunya 
Character Sheet: Bianca by DanHowardArtDracula - Character Design by EsbenLash
Lio design process by Ranoartwork X-FEM 3 by ChaseConley Kartel- color experiments 1 by ChaseConley

Some finished character designs

COLD FLAME by offrecord

Demon Hunter Blank BG by ZeroNis character study05 by tahra  Dream Evil by anndr Unicorn by juuhanna
Warriors by naturaljuice  Sombras Divinas: Brianna by telthona Sombras Divinas: Elynin by telthona Reload by AdrianDadich
  <da:thumb id="348982890"/> Mimi by naturaljuice Wraithborne by el-grimlock character study04 by tahra
Admiral Emmerich Kephran by Zephyrhant Michiko Toyoda by dCTb Combat Princess by timmi-o-tool Amalur - Kollossae by Gorrem 111025 jaslyne by bara-chan
Cyber-238 by Rahmatozz Bloodrust by timmi-o-tool  tribal warrior by len-yan Lord of Hatred by ArtDoge
Arthas Menethil by namesjames Amalur - Ljosalfar by Gorrem Amalur - The Jottun by Gorrem Vatori Advanced Version by trejoeeee
APB Stacy James by arnistotle APB Sofia by arnistotle The Entomber by Gorrem Amazon design by PeteMohrbacher Commission: Naraku by Wen-M
Archer by Goshun scorpion woman by SiaKim :Melthelm: Fashion contest winners[D] by azpt Knight Design Male by lorlandchain World of Warcraft Kazuki 1of13 by Meiphon
ZZ by jeffwamester character study 07 by tahra  Traxex by kunkka character study06 by tahra
Gothic Witch by Scebiqu study character by tahra  F i r e P l a i n s by Bluefley Kraun by ionen The Dancing Dragon by bluessence
   Dark and Day: Keiko Kirin age 13 by nJoo Ivae by Charlie-Bowater Tantai Xuan by fangogogo <da:thumb id="254686135"/> ocs - Meral color by krhart
Twilight Waltz by MichelleHoefener Senja dance outfit by Orpheelin assassin-female by Cushart  


All the images belongs to their respective owners. Click on the image to see the fullview from the artist gallery.
English is not my mothertongue. Be gentle. :dummy:

Add a Comment:
gkings29 Featured By Owner Oct 20, 2015
Wow! Nice work. Give me about 100 years and I will be as good as you.
Showlover Featured By Owner May 28, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
i think using certain well known colors for certain roles might be a little stereotypical
soniamanga Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2015
grazie per il tutorial Che E Molto Utile !!!
Typhe Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2015
Thanks for sharing!
Biatravessa Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I have been looking for this for a long time. Thanks for making this!
AnimaVlastaSpiridon Featured By Owner Jun 20, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks a lot. I shall continue to learn
katcho Featured By Owner May 11, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
this is really great :) thank you for posting this :)
StruggBuggStudios Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Thank you for posting this lengthy informative piece.

Extremely helpful!
Valentine345 Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
zeranote17 Featured By Owner Mar 7, 2013
thank you for posting this, it really helps
S-Dragon123 Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
this is so helpful!!! Thanks for making it and giving so many AWESOME examples!
Charanty Featured By Owner Feb 21, 2013
Colors ay be really important. Dark colors, black and purple (and sometimes acid green) are used to identify the villains. Bright colors, white and pink are for vouchers. Heroes uses yellow, red and blue.
-------> Nothing gives me more pleasure than beating the dust out of this one. You have no idea.:iconhurrhurrplz:
Thevakien Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2013  Student General Artist
........Thank you so much for your effort on putting this together! Totally an inspirational and very important advice indeed! I am on a verge of hitting a wall on character designing. I have alien lifeforms and monsters...cause I can't come up with anything new >X(... Need more research, this one has pretty much given me a lot of knowledge.

Just gain a vast majority info of how to use references correctly, and now getting to learn more about solid character design concept is a superb. I've never stopped doing research about it, just feeling a bit slacker so I feel this article here has helped me a lot.

Thanks! 8}
slugette Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Just wanted to say thank you so much for very inspirational article!! :iconloveloveplz:

It inspired me to revisit my old OC for a complete re-design: [link]
I am so happy with how it turned out!! :)
HumbleluluBJD Featured By Owner Feb 2, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Great Article, great timing too! I was thinking about how I'd make my character look for a graphic novel I'm writing. I know her personality, but was a bit stuck on how to bring out her personality in a visual matter. but this has given me some ideas and some insight, so thank you!!
rieke-b Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Artists and writers should be careful not to neglect the story when they concentrate too much on impressive character desings.

The story is everything! Many people can create highly detailed characters with interesting outfits, but they often don't seem real because the design can be very distracting. I just don't like movies, games or comics anymore who try to bowl the viewer over with spectacular design ideas, but have no ideas for the story itself. It's what I call it the "Avatar effect": It seems like they animated every leaf on every tree in the background, but there was nothing new about the story.

Stories should be about people, not details. When you don't have conflicts, topics, some humour and unexpected events that were inspired by real life, the characters designs won't be much more than chess figures moving around a bit.

On the other hand, if you really have something to say, you can just as well use stick figures (as long as they have interesting dialogues, real conflicts, dynamics and some expression).

Artists shouldn't concentrate on design too much. The web is bursting with cool, flawless looking characters, but what we really need are stories with topics that are able to really move people. The design alone will be forgotten instantly unless it's linked with something that enables the viewer to get emotionally attached to it.
FabrykaImaginacji Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Very helpful article, thank you :D
OriJuice Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2013
Currently in pre-prod for a graphic novel (Writing currently) and this helps a ton in what to look for when I start going after some character artists, thanks a ton!


Ilman-Lintu Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2013   Photographer
i got some time to try out your advise here .. and houston, we've got a problem.
paradoxically the hugest problem for meat this moment is choosing a hairstyle. in the dA context it seems so many characters and i totally cant choose a hairstyle. because for example i think: i want a half-mohawk, there are loads of ocs with thgis hair, but this is only a hairstyle.. so why basically not. but as soon as i sketch a half-mohawk on a figure in the character sheet i think 'why my character looks like Nuvat' at once. and looking at a blonde/white longer hair i start thinking that everyoone here looking at him will think that he's apathetic and uke and i dont what that instant impression. gosh i feel stuck now. XD
SirWendigo Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Lol I usually take references from real people when I need a certain hairstyle, but sometimes it looks a little unoriginal as well so I add something from imagination to it.
Ilman-Lintu Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2013   Photographer
well.. the problem is that i think it would look cool on a person but as soon as i try to draw it stops being original gosh. so complicated. but i think i've figured out the hairstyle i like. in fact it turned out really useful to draw a lot of tiny heads and sketch hairstyles and basic expressions on them and compare. i think you've mentioned the 'many expressions' that are sometimes included. i never though it would be so helpful and i will manage that. :dummy:
SirWendigo Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Lol I'm inspired as well. XD I'm currently working on some designs *-* Zo happy!
Ilman-Lintu Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2013   Photographer
cool! :clap: i also decided to think through Odd (and then maybe other OOcs as well) .. because i will have to cancel the art part of the contest. it has one single entry, so i think i'll better run a new one somewhen later (or never). but having clarity inside my head won't harm in any case.
so thanks for writing an amazingly inspiring article! :glomp:
MartyIsi Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Tutto davvero interessante e istruttivo,grazie infinite!!! :)
SirWendigo Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Di niente ^^ Poteva essere più approfondito ma è un argomento veramente vasto.
LAddams Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2013  Student General Artist
There are a lot of these types of things on here and yours stands out, the information is solid and the variety of work you pulled into it is lovely. Good job.
ThisAccountWillDie Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2013
This is really great! As someone trying to get into character design, this is something of a big help to me. GREAT JOB!!! :dummy:
d0ody Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013
I'm trying to enter this field, and I've been in distress with how I would approach this area. I thank you SOO much. If you can do more of these, they will change my life. Once again, thank you!
Chungphantomhive Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013
love the advice given here, thanks for the help
faerismoka Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is a very helpful article. :la: I'll take note of these tips once I refresh my characters. :XD:
tymora11 Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I haven't done any character design yet, but now I'm thinking if giving it a try!
Catnip1996 Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2013  Student General Artist
Very helpful :3 thankyou!!
RTKillustration Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Thank you for posting this, I am in the midst of working on some concept art for a game and had totally gotten out of sorts, this set me right again.
visaga Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Wow. Just, wow. I'm definitely using this for future use, and gosh everyone's character designs are amazing! :D Thanks!!
Elucidator Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
This reminded me that I need to get into characters more. Nice collection.
Nianto Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2013
aaaw. such great collection - thanks duude!
Steroids98 Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Insanely Helpful! I hadn't been faving much
things lately cuz I'm only faving things that
inspire me to create something of my own now...

Not just because the art "Looks Good".

This is just JAM PACKED With Inspiration! Thanks alot :D

Ps. Did you have to ask all these artists to put their work here? Or could you just do this and indicate their names respectfully???
SirWendigo Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
I featured them all without asking. But you can still click on the images and see to whom they belongs.
Steroids98 Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
No biggie! I wasn't worrying about that part. I asked because there are a couple of pieces that I use as inspiration every now and then so I wanted to know if I could just post those...

Or ask every one of them... All the same. Great Help matey
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