What is Character Design?

Filmmakers and animation artists create some of the most memorable characters that audiences can connect with on a deep level and ultimately come to love and adore. In fact, some of the most amazing characters from films and television are the result of talented character design, but what is character design?

How do filmmakers create characters that they know and audience will relate with and love? Does the animator know that the character they create is going to act as the start of the story? As we take a closer look at character design and the steps that must occur in order for a character such as Spongebob Squarepants or Batman or Shrek to come to life on the screen, we’re going to cover the general process of character design in film.

What is Character Design?

Character design represents the visual process of creating a character from scratch. This includes more than just a drawing or sketch of the character. It’s the creation of:

  • The character’s personality.
  • The character’s behaviors.
  • The character’s visual appearance.
  • The character’s aesthetics.

When you think of your favorite character from television or from an animated film, what stands out most? While the visual attributes of a character are important, the personality of the character is often what the audience grows most fond of. Thus, character designers create characters that represent vehicles for storytelling.

Why is Character Design Important?

Character design is a vital element to any animated film, movie, or television show. In fact, character design is also important for video games. Character designers build characters that are engaging and memorable so that they attract the audience and make a lasting impression. This is achieved generally by creating characters that an audience can relate with or resonate with in some manner.

It’s not to say that the best characters are relatable. Some characters are so farfetched an audience can’t even imagine the character being present in reality, and yet there’s something about them that the audience will still love – this is because of the character design! Characters are visually entertaining and unique.

Important Elements of Exceptional Character Design

In order to make good characters, a filmmaker or character designer must think about how the character will visually tell the story acting as a vehicle for the dialogue driving the story forward. Great characters are designed with absolute clarity in mind. There are no questions about who the character is – a great character is the result of:

  • A memorable silhouette that even void of color or other characteristics can still be recognized.
  • A unique color palette with a dominant color as well as basic use of any additional colors. Character designers must understand the psychology or symbolic meaning behind colors, too.
  • A sense of exaggerated characteristics. Great characters have something about them that’s “all-out” “extra” and “over-the-top.”

What is character design? It’s the process of creating an entirely unique, entirely entertaining, and entirely memorable character from scratch such that everything about them is memorable. Their looks, their colors, their shape, their behaviors, and their exaggerated elements are all important and work together as the character himself acts as a vehicle to share the story. 

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