What is Character Design — Tips on Creating Iconic Characters (2022)

Some of the most memorable characters in television and film come from the world of 2D and 3D animation. Before these characters are even animated, however, they are designed.

Iconic characters are much more than great drawings. They are given personalities and details that make them iconic and serve as the vehicle of a story. This is the goal of character design. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the purpose of character design, what makes a character design so great, and what the process of designing a character entails.

what is character design?

First, let’s define character design

Character design is used to create characters for the best animated movies, comic books, toys, commercials, and books. To get a better idea of what all character designers aim to do, let’s take a look at the character design definition.


What is character design?

In visual arts, character design is the full creation of a character’s aesthetic, personality, behavior, and overall visual appearance. Character designers create characters as a vehicle for storytelling. This means that every aspect of a character such as shapes, color palettes, and details are chosen for a specific reason.

The details of a character’s personality often inform character designers on the visual attributes of a character. Principles such as color theory, shape language, and even general psychology all help an artist create an effective character design.

Key components of good character design:

  • Silhouette
  • Color palette
  • Exaggeration

define character design

The Purpose of Character Design

Video games, animated television shows, and movies are all driven by story. And stories are driven by character. Character design aims to make these characters engaging, visually stimulating, and memorable.

In the world of visual arts and animation, artists have the opportunity to create characters from absolute scratch. This allows them to use every aspect of design to create a unique character. Check out the video below to better understand how character design is geared more toward storytelling rather than solely creating a great drawing.

(Video) GOOD vs BAD Character Design: Tips and Tricks!

What is Character Design?

Character design aims to create iconic characters that serve as vehicles for a story. Great character designs are memorable and iconic. But what exactly makes a great character?

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how to make good character design?

Components of Good Character Design

Good character design is all about clarity. This means not only having a stimulating design, but one that is distinct no matter how we see the character. Here are the three components to good character design.


To put it simply, a silhouette of a character is what is left when you remove all colors and details and fill the outline of the character shape solely with black.

A sign of good character design is a character being recognizable solely from their silhouette. For example, take a look at all of the silhouettes below. How many characters can you name just from their silhouette?

What is Character Design — Tips on Creating Iconic Characters (1)

GOOD vs BAD Character Design: Tips and Tricks!

If you’re like us, quite a few of these characters are recognizable from their silhouette. Sure, many of these characters are iconic, but they became iconic because of good, clear character design.

When creating a distinct character silhouette, it’s important to have a solid understanding of shape language. Take a look at the video below to learn more about the language of shapes and how they contribute to great character design.

(Video) What Makes A Good Character Design?

Use Shape Language to Create BETTER Character Designs!

In addition to shapes, character designers have to be intentional and strategic with their use of color.


Palette refers to a character designer’s use of color. And when it comes to color, selectivity is key. The last thing you want is a character that is full of countless colors with no hierarchy or intentional use of palette. This will end up distracting the audience rather than engaging them.

It’s important to try and use one color as the dominant color of a character and try to minimally use other colors to support this color. Try to use colors that support each other rather than compete. To understand the effect of various color palettes, check out our video breakdown of color theory in film below.

Color Psychology for Directors • Subscribe on YouTube

When designing a character, it is easy to get carried away with color creating vibrant and complex color palettes. But remember that typically, the simpler your color palette is the better.


Out of all three of these fundamental components of character design, exaggeration is arguably the most important as it pertains to storytelling. Exaggeration utilizes specific characteristics to purposely elicit emotional and psychological responses from an audience to a character.

These exaggerated characteristics can be the difference between an audience perceiving a character as heroic or menacing. This video by BaM Animation explains how and why exaggeration is the ultimate storytelling tool in character design.

(Video) Level Up Your Character Design with Knight Zhang

GOOD vs BAD Character Design: Tips and Tricks!

Silhouette, palette, and exaggeration are three fundamental components of good character design. While there are plenty of details a character designer must consider, these three elements are often at the core of what makes a character design memorable or completely forgettable.

how to create character design?

Character Design Process

Now that you understand the purpose of character design and the fundamental components to good character design, let’s take a look at the basics of the character design process.


Before any line can be drawn, character designers must study and prepare. A huge part of this preparation is having a comprehensive understanding of things like anatomy, shape language, psychology, color theory, and story. This video below on anatomical shape language is one of many resources beginner character designers have on improving at their craft.


Preparation is understanding the theoretical principles that go into great character design. Putting these principles into practice, however, is where the real magic happens.

Write a prompt

Creating a unique and memorable character from scratch can be difficult. There are a million possibilities to consider. A great character designer always begins with the story. To narrow in on a character’s purpose to a story, consider writing a prompt.

A prompt will give you a clear, distinct direction as to where to take a character. For a prompt example, take a look at the video below where you can learn more about how a prompt leads to a clear and effective character design.

(Video) How Do Disney Artists Create Such Iconic Characters?


Gather resources and references

Like any form of art, inspiration is essential. Gather various references from different resources to get character design ideas going. These references can be from any medium like animation, photography, cinema, comic books, or paintings. Many character designers even have their favorite references on hand as they take on the next step — creating a thumbnail.

Create a thumbnail

Creating a thumbnail is the first time a character designer starts to put their ideas onto paper (physical or digital). This is a safe space where artists experiment and create loose sketches to get an idea of what direction to take.

There are various approaches to thumbnails. A common and effective approach is to begin by sketching silhouettes. Silhouettes give character designers a blueprint that can be iterated on with more detail. This video below by kimby arting demonstrates this thumbnail trick along with a few others.

Improve Your Character Designs with these Thumbnail Tricks!

Finalize details and linework

Once artists are satisfied with their thumbnails and sketches, they begin finalizing the character design. By adding linework, color, and detail, character designs are flesh out and are brought to a more finalized state. Character design is often about refinement. This does not necessarily mean adding, but improving upon a character design.

What is Character Design — Tips on Creating Iconic Characters (2)

Character design from Inside Out

Creating a character is never simple. Afterall, character designers are essential creating a full fleshed personality with distinct visual characteristics out of thin air. The character design process is incredibly intentional and requires equal amounts of artistic and storytelling skill. The next time you see a great character design, try to narrow in on what makes it great and the choices a character designer made to make it so.

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(Video) How I Create and Design Original Characters! (OC's)


What is Animation?

Character design is usually a precursor to animation. Studios like Disney and Pixar all have talented character designers that are geared toward animated storytelling. There are, however, various types of animation that character designers design for. Learn more about animation and the various types that exist in our next article.

Up Next: What is Animation? →


What makes a character design iconic? ›

An iconic character is essentially someone whose presence is so desirable that it independently elevates their story. Someone who you want to spend time with and go on any adventure with. They don't always have to be relatable, or even heroic – just really interesting, and by extension, probably really cool.

What are the 5 things to consider in designing a character? ›

5 Tips for Creating a Winning Character Design
  • Consider your audience. Is the audience for you character children, industry professionals, international citizens? ...
  • Consider how the character will be used. ...
  • Carefully choose a color palette. ...
  • Research real-life examples. ...
  • KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!)
10 Mar 2016

What are the 7 Steps to Great character design? ›

The step-by-step character design process
  • Develop a concept. Create a character profile. ...
  • Do your research. Research the target audience. ...
  • Choose the best tools for your project.
  • Start with thumbnails (a lot of them) Work small and fast. ...
  • Finalize your sketch. ...
  • Render your character design. ...
  • Add the finishing touches.

What is the character design process? ›

What Is Character Design? Character design is the process of developing and illustrating a character for any kind of visual story. Those characters are often used on screen (e.g., in a video game, movie, or TV show), but could also be designed for a comic book, illustrated children's book, or graphic novel.

Who is the most famous character designer? ›

The Top 25 influential and inspiring Character Designers
  • Pouria Ehyaie. Character Designer.
  • Luciana Oliveira. Character Designer, DH,LO Creative Boutique.
  • Mariano Gabriel Vidal. Character Designer.
  • Zuriñe Aguirre. Character Designer, Zuriñe Aguirre illustrator.
  • Kim Griffin. ...
  • Piotr Knabe. ...
  • Ibrahem Ghareeb. ...
  • Scott.

How do you develop good character development? ›

8 Tips for Character Development
  1. Establish a character's motivations and goals. ...
  2. Choose a voice. ...
  3. Do a slow reveal. ...
  4. Create conflict. ...
  5. Give important characters a backstory. ...
  6. Describe a character's personality in familiar terms. ...
  7. Paint a physical picture of your characters. ...
  8. Develop secondary characters.
26 Aug 2021

What skills do you need to be a character designer? ›

Strong drawing skills, with a specialization in character design. Ability to draw in a variety of styles. Knowledge of anatomy and zoology, costuming, physical settings, and history-related references associated with a character. Solid awareness of facial expression, pose, posture, gesture, and movement.

How do you simplify character design? ›

Vary your character's shape, play with their proportions, use large shapes with small ones, see how much you can push into your designs. Try out with sketching your designs in different proportions, push it further by exaggerating their anatomy, their face shapes. Make some parts small and some parts bigger.

How do you practice character design? ›

Character design can open up boundless commercial possibilities when twinned with specialist skills in illustration or motion graphics.
  1. Draw every day. ...
  2. There's no substitute for practice. ...
  3. Don't focus on style. ...
  4. Know the story. ...
  5. Don't follow trends. ...
  6. Do follow your gut. ...
  7. Real-world observation is key. ...
  8. Eyes give life.
14 Aug 2015

How do I spice up my character design? ›

Well, let's take a look at what you need to do in order to create great character designs in the 21st century.
  1. Don't Use Too Much Color. Image source. ...
  2. Be Inspired When Designing. Image source. ...
  3. Give Them a Distinctive Shape. ...
  4. Keep Everything Simple. ...
  5. Make Sure You Can Draw Them Again. ...
  6. Exaggerate! ...
  7. Make Them Expressive. ...
  8. Accesorize!

How long does it take to design a character? ›

The key to the answer is the artist's hourly rate and the time it takes to create a 3D character. It takes about twice as long to create a 3D model as it does to create a 2D model. Modeling, texturing, skinning, and rigging of an abstract character takes over 150 hours in total.

What is shape in character design? ›

Shape Language is a concept used in art and animation to communicate meaning based on shapes we are familiar with. When used in character, object, and background design, shapes can tell a story, show personality, and illicit an emotional response in the viewer without using any words.

What do you need to consider in creating cartoon character? ›

When you're designing your character, consider the colors and tones that you want to use when you depict them, such as their hair, clothing, skin, and eyes to help illustrate their personality. Consider coloring the skin of your characters a distinctive color to accent their moods and temperaments.

What is character design and why is it important in animation? ›

Character designing is the art of creating the entire concept , style artwork of a character from scratch. This often takes into account a thorough look into the characters personality, to get a visual idea of the characters physical looks. It is not an easy idea to create an entire character from scratch.

Why is learning the principles of character designing important? ›

Character designing forms a crucial part of any game and is often overlooked even by the most experienced game designers. The role of a character designer or artist entails creating the entire concept of creating a character, its style, visual appearance, personality, and many more throughout the entire game.

Why is character concept art important? ›

Concept art helps to convey the look, feel and mood of a design idea. It is used to capture and convey the overall design vision of a project before anything goes into production, versus trying to express everything in specific terms at the very beginning of design development.

What makes a character interesting? ›

They Want Something—and Do Something. A content character is not going to shake things up and bring about a compelling situation. But characters who yearn, desire, lust, ache, crave—those are characters who make fascinating choices.

What do you need to make a character? ›

Things You Should Know
  1. Create a profile for your character that includes things like their name, personality traits, and strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Give your character quirks and vulnerabilities to make them more dimensional.
  3. Give your character a motivation to help propel the story. What do they want and need?

How do you describe a character in detail? ›

To describe a character, use creative and specific details to give the reader a clear picture. Note their unique physical characteristics, like eye color, hair, body type, and scars, as well as their personality traits such as hobbies, moral beliefs, and temperament.

Is character designer a job? ›

Character designers are needed in a number of industries outside of animation, including games, illustration and advertising. See if you can get work experience or a paid role in an art department for one of these fields and develop skills which you can transfer to a job in animation.

Who invented character design? ›

The Character Designer Charlie Thorson was a character designer or, as Schlesinger termed it, a character model man. In the assembly-line method of cartoon production refined by Disney Studios in the early 1930s, and later copied by all its competitors, the position of character designer was of utmost importance.

How much does a character designer make? ›

As of Sep 26, 2022, the average annual pay for a Character Design in the United States is $58,313 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $28.04 an hour.

What makes a strong character? ›

People with strong character: show compassion, are honest and fair, display self-discipline in setting and meeting goals, make good judgments, show respect to others, show courage in standing up for beliefs, have a strong sense of responsibility, are good citizens who are concerned for their community, maintain self- ...

How do you analyze a character? ›

Being mindful of subtle hints, like mood changes and reactions that might provide insight into your character's personality, can help you write a character analysis.
  1. Describe the Character's Personality.
  2. Determine the Character Type of Your Protagonist.
  3. Define Your Character's Role in the Work You're Analyzing.
29 Sept 2018

What makes a good character design portfolio? ›


How do you make original characters? ›

Pick an archetype that works for your character, but add unique traits that make your character original. Describe your character's physical appearance in a list or paragraph. Ask yourself how your character will look. Then, describe their basic physical features, how they typically dress, and how they move and stand.

What should I study to become a character designer? ›

Character designers must study and prepare before drawing any lines. A thorough study of anatomy, shape language, psychology, color theory, and the story is essential for this training. This video on anatomical shape language is one of many resources available to new character designers looking to improve their skills.

How many colors should a character design have? ›

According to the Cleveland Institute of art, a character should have three primary colors, but you can go beyond this number only if you know why you pick more colors. Try this to see if you have used too many colors: Do you feel confused and dizzy when you look at your character?

How do you shape a character? ›

7 Steps to Shape Great Character
  1. Decide your high-level values. What is character? ...
  2. Define what “excellence” means to you. Understand exactly what your definition of excellence is. ...
  3. Organize your actions. ...
  4. Decide what you want for your family. ...
  5. Keep focused. ...
  6. Shape your own character. ...
  7. Take action.
7 Oct 2014

What is character concept art? ›

Character concept art is the creation of an entire concept, style, and artwork of a character that does not yet exist, from scratch. To build a character design concept art the artist needs to capture the essence of a character through concept art, including their personality traits, background, and more.

How do you start a character drawing? ›

  1. Character Drawing: 10 Beginner Tips To Take It To The Next Level. Great characters make great stories. ...
  2. Know Your Character's Story. ...
  3. Use Other Character Drawings As References. ...
  4. Give The Pencil The Power. ...
  5. Divide Your Character Into 3 Different Sections. ...
  6. Mix And Match Your Shapes. ...
  7. Try The Silhouette Test. ...
  8. Show All Their Sides.

How do you write a good character sketch? ›

You want the reader to have a strong mental image of the person, to know how the person talks, to know the person's characteristic ways of doing things, to know something about the person's value system. Character sketches only give snapshots of people; therefore, you should not try to write a history of the person.

How do you write a good character backstory? ›

How to Write Compelling Backstories for Your Characters
  1. Build a timeline of your character's life events. ...
  2. Make sure backstory details are relevant. ...
  3. Draw inspiration from real life. ...
  4. Show, don't tell. ...
  5. Don't overload your first chapter with backstory.
8 Sept 2021

How can you tell what your character looks like? ›

10 Tips for Writing Physical Descriptions of Your Characters
  1. You don't always have to be specific. ...
  2. Use figurative language. ...
  3. Describe facial expressions. ...
  4. Make the descriptions match the tone. ...
  5. Scatter physical descriptions throughout the prose. ...
  6. Describe actions that reveal physical characteristics.
23 Jun 2014

How do you exaggerate in character design? ›

When you approach exaggeration in character design you want their form and their mannerisms to be tailored to their unique personalities, experiences and skill sets. For example, a character that loves rock climbing story might be a athletic monkey or spider-like being versus a stubby round piglet-like character.

Can I sell character designs? ›

Legally, you cannot sell paintings of characters that other artists have invented. Due to trademark, copyright, and art plagiarism issues, selling paintings of characters is stealing the work of others and selling it as your own, even if you created the painting yourself and put a unique spin on it.

How much should I charge for character concept art? ›

How much to charge for concept art? The concept artist rates for 3D photorealistic characters are about $5,000 – 6,000, for a 3D cartoon – $4,000 – 5,000, for a 2D photorealistic character – $1,000 – 1,200 and for a 2D stylized character you will have to pay from $600 to $800.

What is important to a character when it concerns appeal Why? ›

Creating appeal comes from not just the way a character moves, but the very building blocks of how they are visually designed. In amongst all of this, it's imperative to keep in mind the purpose and intended audience of the animated work, and how your character design will fit within that context.

Why is color important in character design? ›

In character design, the application of a complementary colour is a key aesthetic consideration, as it can create a pleasing contrast and can be a sense of balance. From a practical point of view, complementary colours also provide a high degree of visibility and dynamism.

Why is shape important in design? ›

They may used in a variety of ways, such as to organise, connect or separate elements and content. Shapes may also symbolise or represent a concept, create movement, provide depth or texture, and a lot more. Shape creation has become much easier and faster these days with the help of modern graphic design tools.

What does a triangle mean in character design? ›

Triangles may give a sense of action, tension, or even aggression. They can symbolize strength on the one hand, while conflict on the other. Circles have a sense of freedom in terms of movement. They may also represent power and energy in their movement.

Which of the following do we use to create cartoon characters? ›

Answer: Cartoon avatar creator is a very powerful and fun avatar maker app. You can still easily create your own cartoon avatar by combining various face parts. Cartoon avatar creator design comic characters very easily.

What are the steps in cartoon character making? ›

Here's an overview of one method for drawing cartoon characters.
  1. Step 1: Doodle the Basic Shape. The first step of drawing cartoon characters: doodling your heart out. ...
  2. Step 2: Refine Your Shapes. Refine your characters with C and S shapes. ...
  3. Step 3: Add Details. ...
  4. Step 4: Check the Silhouette. ...
  5. Step 5: Polish and Finalize.
15 Sept 2021

How do I create a cartoon image of myself? ›

Turn Yourself Into a Cartoon Like a Pro (EASY) - YouTube

How do you draw an OC character? ›

How I Create and Design Original Characters! (OC's) - YouTube

How do you develop an animation style? ›

4 Ways to Develop Your Own Animation Style
  1. 1) Use Real Life References. Image by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash. ...
  2. 2) Copy the Work of Animators You Love. GIF via GIPHY. ...
  3. 3) Create Your Own Animated Character. GIF by The Bachelor via GIPHY. ...
  4. 4) Practice Drawing Everyday. Image by KOBU Agency via Unsplash. ...
  5. Summing It Up.

How do you create an animation character? ›

When designing your character, start with shapes and build the details on top. Once you have your character's basic form, try redrawing it three times – each one being more exaggerated. This helps to clearly convey your character's body and personality – making them as noticeable as possible.

How do you make an original character to draw? ›

Pick an archetype that works for your character, but add unique traits that make your character original. Describe your character's physical appearance in a list or paragraph. Ask yourself how your character will look. Then, describe their basic physical features, how they typically dress, and how they move and stand.

How do you draw the same character consistently? ›

Practicing is a great way to draw your characters more consistently! By purely drawing them over and over again, you'll be able to draw your character consistently and keep them on model. It's only natural: the more you draw them, the more you'll memorize them until you don't even need a reference anymore!

How can I improve my OC? ›

Creating a Well-developed OC
  1. Get the term "Mary Sue" out of your head right now before reading this. ...
  2. Don't name the character after you. ...
  3. Try not to make up a name. ...
  4. Keep the fandom/settings in mind. ...
  5. Meanings are important, but let's not take it too far. ...
  6. Multiple names…? ...
  7. Modesty, let's not go overboard now.
21 Jan 2012

What makes a good story for animation? ›

A story is all about its characters; if you don't have a good character, you don't have a good story. Developing characters for animation is about creating the illusion of a full personality with usual human complexities. Give your characters a unique voice and opinion; challenge them, force them into making decisions.

How can I get story ideas for animation? ›

Simple Animation Ideas
  1. Make a drawing come to life. ...
  2. Use a book or story you are enjoying and make a movie of it. ...
  3. A day in your life. ...
  4. Make an animation showing something in nature - a plant growing or an animal hunting. ...
  5. Show an historical event. ...
  6. What about animating a natural event?

What style of animation is most popular? ›

3D animation is also known as computer animation and it is currently the most commonly used form of animation.

Who invented anime? ›

That man is Osamu Tezuka, frequently nicknamed the "god of manga," the "godfather of anime," and the "Walt Disney of Japan." At long last, a new biography of Tezuka has arrived in the US — 14 years after its Japanese debut.

How can I be cool like an anime character? ›

Try learning something new every day, especially the basics of the Japanese language. Be imaginative and ponder life's biggest questions. Adapt your style to mimic the bright colors of anime. Try a few new things like karaoke, going on adventures, or visiting an onsen, which is a Japanese hot spring.

How do you simplify character design? ›

Vary your character's shape, play with their proportions, use large shapes with small ones, see how much you can push into your designs. Try out with sketching your designs in different proportions, push it further by exaggerating their anatomy, their face shapes. Make some parts small and some parts bigger.

How do you practice character design? ›

Character design can open up boundless commercial possibilities when twinned with specialist skills in illustration or motion graphics.
  1. Draw every day. ...
  2. There's no substitute for practice. ...
  3. Don't focus on style. ...
  4. Know the story. ...
  5. Don't follow trends. ...
  6. Do follow your gut. ...
  7. Real-world observation is key. ...
  8. Eyes give life.
14 Aug 2015

What should be in a character design portfolio? ›

  • Use ArtStation For Your Portfolio.
  • Continue Your Personal Studies.
  • Remove Old School Projects.
  • Only Show Your Best Work.
  • Show Breakdowns of Your Real-time Characters.
  • Choose your Discipline/Style.
  • Cater Your Portfolio to Studios.
  • Research other Character Artist's Portfolios.
27 Jun 2020


1. Improve your Character Designs in 10 Minutes! [Tutorial]
2. DESIGNING A CHARACTER (My Process and things to keep in mind)
3. 3 PRACTICAL Tips for Character Designing
4. 5 Ways to Make a Character More Likable
(Brookes Eggleston - Character Design Forge)
5. Story Driven Shapes: Character Design Tips with David Colman
6. Tips for Designing Unique Characters

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