11 Tips For Creating Characters

A lot of working in animation is technical skill, consistency and a bit of individual flair. When it comes to character creation, it’s often one of the most challenging tests of your creativity throughout the whole process. This is much more than just drawing memorable characters – they have to look great in motion, too.v

Think about some of the most famous and well-recognised characters ever designed: Mickey Mouse, Fred Flintstone, Betty Boop, Woody & Buzz; their simplicity masks the lengthy and complex process behind their conception.

Even for a business, simple, effective characters such as the Michelin Man and Tony the Tiger have gone through many permutations before the version we recognise today was settled on.

So whether you’re a budding character animator or a business looking for tips on how to create a character for your brand, here are some decent, simple tips from our animators.

Beginners:

Stick to human characters at first

As we already said in our Top 5 Rigging Tips post, if you stick to a humanoid character it makes the whole process throughout the animation production pipeline much easier, especially if you’re trying to learn

Know what else is human? You, hopefully. This means you’re able to use yourself as a reference. It’s no wonder that when you can just glance in a mirror or record yourself, creating humans comes a bit more naturally. Human characters make expressing emotions and animating actions much easier.

If you really can’t stomach the thought of designing another boring human, as long as your characters are humanoid, a lot of the basics will be the same. So go nuts and do elves, zombies, gnomes, whatever.

Keep your design clean

Like artists, animators can really struggle finding a unique style. Make things easy on yourself by creating your characters with clean lines and clearly readable features. If you struggle to use 10 strokes to convey your character immediately, consider simplifying them.

Unique characters are interesting

Don’t make the only thing that stands out about your character their clothes or accessories. You may not want to for some of your creations, but draw them as if you could recognise them even naked and bald!

You can create something unique by experimenting with their height, body type, weight, scars, posture, skin tone, the length of their limbs. Beyond this, you can also switch up the shape and position of their mouth, nose, eyes and ears to create your own unique and instantly recognisable characters.

Experiment with perspective

Replicate your character in many positions, from different perspectives and try lots of angles. Inconsistencies and issues will begin to present themselves this way pretty damn quick.

Make sure you’re not sick of drawing them after a couple of goes, too. Apparently this was one of the things that was most annoying about when The Amazing Spider-Man comics blew up for Marvel comics. The artists had to draw the intricate webbing pattern on his suit over and over and over.

You’re going to have to draw these characters lots of times and in lots of positions, so it’s a good idea to stay away from elaborate patterns on clothes or tattoos.

Switch up your medium

If you’ve been sketching, try jumping into Blender or Harmony and create your character digitally. Sometimes a change in medium can inspire you, or help with the discovery of issues you hadn’t spotted during your sketching.

Intermediates/Advanced:

Exaggerate to show personality

Now it’s time to put what you’ve learned creating a series of human (or humanoid) characters into sketching out some animals, creatures, monsters or aliens.

Pixar tend to imbue their non-human characters with a relatable layer of humanity, enhancing their personality and making us invest in them emotionally. This is a reliable way of making them more appealing and memorable.

They usually pull this off by deciding which elements of their anatomy to exaggerate and which to reduce. By adjusting their proportions, you can make them stand out and more readily communicate their dominant character traits. As a nice little bonus, focusing on how to convey personality in non-human characters will also sharpen your skills for your human creations!

Show your characters expressions using more than their face

So you’ve exaggerated the eyes or the mouth to show emotion on your characters face? That’s great but some of the best characters use other aspects of their design to support displays of emotion.

For example, Bugs Bunny has his notorious pair of ears and Studio Ghibli characters often have hair looking like it’s been rubbed against a balloon and made static to express anger or fright: Ashitaka from Princess Mononoke.

During my research, I found out that ‘Expressive Hair’ is apparently its own trope. Even Shaggy from Scooby-Doo is at it, look: Shaggy.

By exaggerating their features to display their personality visually, your characters will be more fun to animate and your audience will find it easier to identify their key qualities.

Use their personality as inspiration

The main traits of your character should inform the finer elements of their design. Think about what your characters traits are and use these to decide on a body shape. Are they reserved, sly even? A wiry, agile frame will suit them. Less intelligent or brash characters tend to work best as muscular or heavy set.

Mix up these stereotypes to create humour. Make your evil boss character tiny like The Brain or perhaps your scientist should tower over your other characters and flex his rippling muscles as he adjusts his glasses like Beast from X-Men.

During your experimentation here, remember to try and keep it unique. Aim to keep your character recognisable from silhouette alone.

We get that this is a challenging aspect of character design, so check out some of Preston Blair’s (Disney, MGM) tips on character creation. He goes over the basics like squash & stretch and line of action, as well as showcasing some of the basic proportions behind classic characters like The Screwball and The Heavy.

Keep colour design in mind

For simplicity and recognisability, we suggest using no more than 3 base colours if you can manage it. Again, think about the personality and motivations behind your character before picking colours.

What about some classic colour connotations? Darker colours like black, purples, greys and browns often twig your character as a baddie, whereas light colours like white, yellows and pinks will express innocence and purity. Judging from Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man and a slew of other classic superheroes, yellows, reds and blues can signify heroic qualities.

Who is the character for?

Consider your audience and what traditionally appeals to them. Children’s characters are usually based on basic, regular shapes and bright, simple colours. Look up other examples of the types of character you’re designing for inspiration.

If this is a commissioned character, you’ll probably have to stick to a brief but don’t let this stifle your creativity! Remember what you’ve learned by designing your own characters, and create a broad range of samples to discuss with your client – after all, the more you like your designs, the better you’ll be able to sell them when you present them. Your enthusiasm will be contagious.

Utilise the community to get feedback

As with most things animation – just ask the lovely community! We’re a helpful bunch and there’s bound to be some folks out there who will offer you honest feedback about your characters. Ask them to guess the personality traits of your characters and what your intended audience for them is. These directed questions will probably much more helpful than “do you like these?”

Definitely shoot us over some of your character designs, too. Our animators are always happy to give their opinion! Reach us on hello@fudgeanimation.com otherwise check out facebook.com/fudgeanimation and @fudgeanimation on Twitter.

Or maybe you’re a company thinking of creating a character for your brand? Hey, we can do the heavy lifting for you. Like any trustworthy person, we love fresh briefs, so do get in touch with your ideas: hello@fudgeanimation.com