What is Character Design?
What is Character Design? Definition of Character Design
First off, let’s start with the basics. What is Character Design? What is the definition of a Character Design? What does a Character Designer do?
What is Character Design? Character Design Definition: A Character Designer is an artist that creates new, original characters (sometimes shortened to “OCs”) for a purpose. It can be a character based on a definition from a story or script as would be the process in Feature Films, TV Series, Video Games, Children’s books, Web animation, Comic books, Comic strips, or even Licensing or Toy Design.
Purpose and Style of Character Design
Style comes into play dependent upon which format the character is needed for. The range of character design hierarchy can go from extremely graphic (like “Hello Kitty”) to very photo-realistic (as with CG animated characters like the “Hulk” in the Avengers film series). The basis of creating a character design is still first and foremost dependent on drawing ability. Weather it is with pencil and paper, or drawing digitally on a tablet or Wacom Cintiq (often called “Tradigital” art), computers or programs are not at the heart of this beginning phase of the process. The character designer must have a strong knowledge of all the drawing and design principles to create an appealing character that best fits the needs of the story at hand. Once approved, the concept artwork of the character can then go on to be modeled in the computer to create a 3D version that can then be used in video games or CG animation. In the larger studios, another person, not the character designer, creates the character modeling.
What Does a Character Designer Do?
What does a character designer do? As mentioned in the definition, the character designer is usually the first person on a production (film, video game, TV series, etc.) to begin visualizing the characters from descriptions given to them for a given story.
Character Design Steps in Animation
Traditionally, because there are different knowledge bases and talents involved, there is an environmental or layout concept artist that creates the look and style of the backgrounds (or “world”) while the character designer will concentrate on the character creation only. A good character designer never takes his/her eyes off of the end goal: To create the best character design/ attributes needed for that specific character for its role in the story at hand.
After immersing themselves into the script or story, the next step for a character designer is to thoroughly research any anatomical, costume, historical, style, or theatrical references needed to create the character needed for the project. Next step is drawing. Lots of drawing. Depending upon the whims of the director/ art director and timeline for the project, anywhere from 4 to hundreds of versions of a single character can be created. The idea here is to not settle on your first version. Create many varied versions of the same character so you and your team can analyze the best features for that character. Showing character personality through poses and facial expressions is important even in these early stages. An important part of the character designer’s job is to bring something more than just visual design to the character he/she is creating. They must begin the process of imbuing them with personality and life.
Once a final design is chosen, the character designer (or in large studios, a secondary or assistant character designer) will often times be called upon to create model sheets of the character. This will often times include an ORTHOGRAPHIC (sometimes called an “Ortho” or “Turn Sheet”) model sheet that shows the character from multiple angles (usually 4 views- side, front, ¾ front, and back). This Orthographic model sheet is used for multiple purposes depending upon if it is a traditionally animated or CG animated character moving forward. If traditionally animated, then teams of animators will need this sheet to understand how the character (and its costume) looks from different angles while the are hand drawing it. For CG animation, that Ortho sheet will be used by the CG modeler to create the dimensional version of the character in the computer. Lastly, some larger productions may want “Expression” and/or “Posing” sheets that show the character in a range of emotions and/or poses for reference and for licensing images down the road.
And that’s the basics. While this is a simplified version of what is involved in the job, I hope it is helpful to give you a glimpse of what the process and needs are for the job of a character designer. Remember, there are no short cut or “tips and tricks” that will get you hired as a character designer. This job is all about having good ideas, strong draftsmanship, and a great eye for design and the only way to gain those abilities is to draw every day. Good luck!
Animator, Character Designer, Instructor, Author
See Tom Bancroft’s Online Character Design Courses for more information and instruction on Character Design