Creating a character is a complicated process, whether for a movie, game, comic book, marketing campaign, or brand logo. Characters are big parts of a story, drawing the target audiences and creating certain emotions within their hearts. Good characters create lasting impressions, a fact that is also exploited in marketing.
Creating a character is not easy, but you can start by following this beginner guide.
What is Character Design?
Character design refers to the process of making a detailed artwork of a figure, which consists of physical traits, personalities, storylines, backgrounds, and other important elements. While there are no exact rules for designing a character, the resulting figure must present a clear concept and emotional impacts on the audience, depending on the goal.
Iconic character designs happen when the artists combine skills, ideas, themes, creativity, and visual library, creating strong impressions in the audience’s mind. In marketing, successful character designs become mascots or brand logos that customers remember the most, which encourage consumer loyalty.
Types of Character Designs
There are no limitations in character designs, but you can find numerous design types to build references. Here are several popular types of character designs you can find:
“Odd bodies” are character design types that exaggerate or distort certain parts of the body. The result is uniquely proportioned and shaped figures. Odd bodies are popular character designs in modern illustrations, especially following the body positivity trend. Combining unique designs with bold colors create memorable characters to illustrate various media and products.
Many “odd bodies” designs tend to have either oversimplified or exaggeratedly realistic features. These deliberate choices support the unusual styles of the characters.
Doodle characters use simple, thick outlining to create multiple characters. In the doodling process, the characters are drawn quickly but gradually, creating a large composition. Doodles are usually simple but with recognizable outlines. Artists can add colors or extra details after the doodle is finished, but the unique trait of this design type is unmistakable.
Artistic Flat Characters
Flat characters allow artists to experiment with patterns, colors, and textures. When drawing such characters, artists do not aim for realism or detailed facial expressions. They are canvases for creative expressions and combinations between various design elements. Flat character designs are great for contemporary media.
Realistic Character Designs
Realistic designs, especially with hyperdetailed elements, are still popular as artistic trends. These designs put emphasis on textures, details, gradients, shading, and shapes. They advertise the artists’ skills, attract audience, and create strong emotional responses.
3D Character Designs
3D character designs are often equated with realistic ones, but you can create 3D looks on simplistic characters. Applying this technique when creating characters requires knowledge about photography principles. 3D designs open many creative possibilities, and you can create all types of characters in this style to attract audience.
Caricature designs feature characters that have their main characteristics either exaggerated or simplified. The result is an image that still retains likeness to the model, but with a distorted look that draws your attention to their main features. Caricatured characters are popular for various purposes, from entertainment to political and social critiques.
Modern Cartoon Designs
Modern cartoon designs usually have thick, defined outlines and bold colors. The shapes are simple but notable, and they are usually easy to replicate. This character design is often used in the animation industry, where the artists need to quickly draw them to compose the scenes within tight deadlines.
Where Do You Use Character Designs?
There are so many ways you can use character designs. Here are several popular applications for character designs and concepts:
Books and Comics
Comics and illustrated books require a good understanding of characters to deliver compelling stories. Your characters determine the way readers perceive them and the storylines. When it comes to books, character designs sometimes do not appear on the pages but on covers. As a part of the book cover, this character helps readers imagining them when enjoying the story.
Movies and Animation
Character design is crucial for storytelling in movies and animation. When creating the characters, you must consider their roles in the stories and how they interact with their environment and world.
Advertising materials, especially the ones with storylines of unique concepts, require character designs. They connect potential customers to the storylines that invoke certain emotions or needs.
Imagine the most iconic brand logo you know; some of them must involve unique or memorable mascots. Brands like Pringles, Mr. Peanut, KFC, and The Laughing Cow are recognizable even from afar because of their iconic mascot designs. Consider this recognition point when you make a character design for brands.
Fundamental of Character Designs
Are you ready to make your first character design?
Regardless of ideas, inspiration, or references, you must remember to apply several fundamentals in character designs. They are:
Detailed concepts describe your character’s identity and characteristics, and how they respond to their environment or other people. For example, if your character is a tall, long-haired pianist, imagine them as a figure that sits in a slightly hunched posture when playing a piano. They have long, defined, agile fingers, and they keep removing hair strands from their face when playing.
Add some details such as outfits and accessories that support this character in a logical way. This pianist is probably a student in a prestigious school, but with rebellious streaks, so they highlight their hair with bold color and have a tattoo on places that are not always seen, such as on their chest or back.
Do you imagine a storyline or a clear image of that character when reading the descriptions? Great, because that is the goal of designing this character. You have to create a strong, fixated concept because you need to create specific responses toward them.
Each character has a basic shape, which you can use to compose their personalities and characteristics. For example, characters with square or rectangle basic shapes often reflect strength and strong build. Circle makes characters look soft, friendly, or childish. Inverted triangle can make your character look edgy, intimidating, or dangerous.
These are basic rules, and you can mix or match the shapes to create unique characters. For example, designing a comical and evil character may require you to combine triangle and round shapes as the basic designs.
Colors play important rules in creating the right personalities and characterizations. Some characters use a lot of bright colors in their designs, while others may only have one or two tones. If you draw characters who work at certain jobs, such as soldiers or firefighters, consider the real-life color comparisons. On the other hand, some characters may consist of only bold, primary colors, such as the personified emotions in the movie Inside Out.
Personalities and Backgrounds
All characters must have personalities and backgrounds relevant to their appearances. Every artist usually has notes for each character, which they use as a point of reference to draw the characters in various situations. The personalities and backgrounds must be relevant with how they look and act.
For example, a character who feels anxious all the time probably has habits or ticks that affect their looks. They may bite their nails or sweat a lot. When waiting for something, they may shake their legs or tap their fingers impatiently on the nearest vertical surface.
Simplicity here does not mean simplistic designs, but an image that is easy to replicate whenever you need to. Simplicity also means applying enough restraint to keep your drawing in a clear direction. When you draw so many details you no longer recognize your characters, you need to simplify.
Just like other forms of arts like, character design needs cohesiveness. It is something that brings all the design elements together, making your character looks fit and perfect. For example, when designing a pair of t-shirt and skirt for a character, make sure you pair the right colors, patterns, and models, just like fashion in real life.
You can also create a cohesive look with small things. For example, if your character has bright blue eyes, try adding the blue as accents, such as hairband or earrings.
Unique Traits or Looks
Finally, characters may have something unique that make them look distinctive. They can be anything, such as hair color, accessories, tattoos, or unusual hobbies. These unique traits or looks can also be important points that affect their storylines.
How to Create an Attractive Character Design
Now that you understand the basic concept, it is time to draw your first character!
Making a new character from scratch can be intimidating. Here are some useful tips to make character design process easier.
Start from General Ideas
You cannot make a fully fleshed character without multiple efforts, adjustments, and revisions. However, you can start by creating general ideas about your character. Ask these questions to create a rough character draft: What do they do? What do they look like? What is their personality? What is their general role in the story? Once you answer these questions, you can start adding details on this vague character.
Create Small Doodles
When you are adding details of the character’s concept, try doodling the visual representations of your ideas. Start from the basic shapes, add some lines and textures, and create visual cues based on your character’s personalities and job. These small doodles will give you basic visuals to start composing a whole character in better drawings.
Mark the Best Character Versions
After doodling several versions, mark the parts or the drawing versions that you like the most. You can incorporate these visual cues when creating more detailed versions of your character. Make a list of special drawing sheet to describe your favorite elements and traits of your character. Keep this as a point of references for future drawing.
Create More Detailed Backstory
When the character starts to get more detailed, create their backstory. Develop the general ideas and add logical extensions of their origins, professions, and personalities. You can use references from existing characters to create your own versions.
This is also an opportunity to create a unique character, someone who is rarely mentioned in real life but could exist. For example, you can create a big, stocky character with scars, and make them a former wrestler who become a daycare owner; their physical strength works nicely to deal with active children.
Draw Different Variants of the Character
Do not get satisfied with one version. Try playing with different variants to see the best combinations. Play with elements like hair color, facial expressions, outfits, accessories, and many more. Sometimes, the best design concepts happen after you draw several times and use more references.
These variants are also useful if you need to draw different versions of your character within the same storyline. Remember, you treat them like real people, which means changing their outfits, hairstyles, and other common items when necessary.
Explore the Character with Different Drawings
Your character is not a static figure. As a part of a story, they need to show wide range of expressions, forms, and movements. Once you create a fully fleshed character, explore them in various facial expressions, postures, emotions, action shots, quiet moments, and emotional states. You may end up with multiple sheets of drawing for one character only!
Do Not be Afraid to Discard Character
Remember, during the process, make sure you do not get too attached to the character. Strong attachment often makes artists hesitate to create major changes or even discard their characters when necessary. Eliminating your character that does not feel fit, no matter how detailed they look already, will make it easier for you to develop a good character design.
Designing a character requires you to get creative, willing to explore and study references. Despite the creativity, you still need to follow basic guide in drawing a fully fleshed character. Follow this guide to start creating a new character, and bring them to life with the right appearances, traits, and personalities.