Character Design: 5 Tips on Creating Personality


In any story, a character is the most important subject. If the character is well-written, then the story will be able to effectively move or entertain its audience. This is why characters, before production or before it is presented, is carefully studied. But how do you create a character? How are you able to create a face no one has seen before? You are creating a “living-breathing” thing that has its own history, personality, and purpose. All that, from scratch, from your imagination, and from thin air. Where do you even start?

I am still practicing and studying character design, and I can name you many great animators and artists who exemplifies in their field. But these are some tips I’ve gather throughout my practices and studies. Mainly, these are practices when you are beginning to design and imagine your character, this will be focused on creating your character’s personality. I’ll do the other techniques some other time time. For now, here are 5 tips on creating personality!

1. Know Its Story

When does a character begin, when does it end, and what does it do in between? There’s an entire story behind it, and even if you’re just practicing designing a character, or let’s say someone gave you an entire story and asked you to create a visual study of its hero, his or her story becomes its backbone (and I mean that metaphorically, and possibly literally).
Let’s say you’re on your desk, and you want to design a character, just for practice. What will you ask yourself first?

“What does my character look like?”
That’s usually the first question, but how ’bout asking yourself this instead:
“What’s my character’s story?”

This is similar to how you would read a book. Your own visual interpretation is directed by the author’s description of the character, that’s true, but notice how your imagination somehow changes the character over time the more you read his or her story. That’s how you apply your own impression to that character.

This helps you understand your character’s image more. It doesn’t have to necessarily be an entire story; this can be its occupation, maybe its current status in life, or even just thinking about what his or her personality is. Is she happy? Is he a positive type of guy? Does this person have anger management issues? Is this person a romantic or a realist? It is up to you. And this is sometimes difficult to visualize, mainly because you’re staring at a blank sheet of paper.

But a friend of mine once told me:

“The characters are already there, somewhere in your paper. You just have to find time to meet them.”

2. Focus on the Form

Practice this, while you are searching for that character of yours, play around with shapes. Shapes can show more character than you think, because shapes already show a particular personality. Here’s an example:

In many ways, shapes can be used to show a character’s feature, internally and externally. Visual information is so important when perceiving a design’s characteristic. Allow your viewer to wonder, but guide their impression with simple curves and tilts in your design. A circle looks softer than a square, and there’s something interesting about characters that resemble these qualities.

Do not solely limit yourself with changing the hairstyle of your characters in order to distinguish them from another. Change the form of their eyes, the form of their jaws, their nose, and maybe even their teeth, whatever works to show more personality.

3. Learn its Lines

There’s something I particularly love about applying lines and movement in characters. For me, it makes the character somehow more appealing knowing their shape is familiar and their movements are smooth. A practice for this is to create the lines first so that your character will have a direction. Lines can show you not only the motion of the character but how the character’s personality reflects their gestures and movement. Take a look at the next cartoon you watch and notice if there’s one or two lines that seems to define the character, watch its relationship towards each other and how those lines communicate to you as the viewer.

4.  Detailing

I once had this bad habit of forcing material objects to define my characters. Sounds familiar? This means I would tuck a pencil on my character’s ear, this already was supposed to say she is an artist. I would use the same form, change the hairstyle and outfit and make this character a backpacker by placing a backpack behind her. After sometime I grew tired of this, this is when I started understanding how details should work.

During my formal studies in college, I came across a professor that told us something very important. He said:

“Your character’s details can make or break its design. Details don’t necessarily mean objects around them, or what they carry; rather how they carry themselves. Take note of their color theory, their scars, facial hair, maybe how they stand as well, and their posture”

5. Draw Less, Draw Fast

There’s this study I really want to practice. When studying the movement and shape of the body and also its gestures, it’s called “Figure Study” or “Gesture Drawing.” And I admire people who have mastered this because not only is it a good practice, because you must draw fast, but it also helps the artist develop her sense of identifying the basic form of the subject. Through this practice, the artist can train his or her brain in understanding how certain parts of the subject move with its relationship towards the rest of it.

Now let’s imitate that study. Draw less, and draw fast. Practice finding the basic line and shapes of your character first before moving on to detailing it. Practice filling up an entire page in 10 minutes with as many characters as you can. Have enough features in order to make sense of your character, but surprise yourself later on when you choose to pursue his or her character more in detail. Add a certain flair to each individual, or maybe play around with possible shapes and slowly let the character reveal itself.

When making a character, remember that wether it has a story or you’re just practicing, believe that they are alive. Look at them and find its own soul through the tips of your pen. Nurture your character and have it come to life, even if it’s just for practice. Let it introduce itself and let yourself meet your character. And who knows? Maybe you’ll like this character enough to tell its story!

TIP JAR: Send Some Love!

As simple as a tip of $1 you, my dear reader, would be supporting me, Paper Pirate, in making more art, writing more content, and creating more learning materials for everyone! This would mean so much to me, and I will be forever grateful for your kindness and generosity.


Paper Pirate

Paper Pirate (Mary Cruz) is a teacher by day, artist by night, and an entrepreneur in between. Inspiring others to keep making art and taking on adventures. The is the official site and blog of Paper Pirate, showcasing the art and illustration of Mary Cruz.

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