Also known as: 2D character designer
What does a character designer do?
Character designers visualise and create the look of individual characters. They work from descriptions given to them by the director. These might include notes on a character’s personality as well as physical traits. Character designers take inspiration from the script and concept art to design characters. They communicate the characters’ personalities through artwork of facial expressions and physical poses.
Character designers carry out research into the anatomy of characters and relevant fashion styles to inform their work. This role relies heavily on drawing ability. Characters are drawn on paper or digitally. Character designers create a variety of designs, usually including multiple designs for a single character. They present these to the director and address any of the director’s feedback to achieve a result that they are happy with.
Once a design has been approved, character designers create ‘model sheets’ which show the character from different angles. In 3D animation, these will be used by the modellers to create the characters. In 2D animation, the animator uses the model sheets to ensure each frame of animation is “on model”. Storyboard artists will also look at these designs to incorporate them into their work as the project progresses. Character designers are often employed by an animation studio rather than freelancing.
Watch and read
- Inside Out: designing characters for Pixar – Variety Artisans
- Inside Sony Pictures Animation – character designer Patrick Mate
- Mastering character design: what is good character design?
What’s a character designer good at?
- Drawing: have a very high level of technical skill, be able to create work in a variety of styles showing strong attention to detail
- Creativity: use your imagination to come up with original and innovative ideas and create work that sparks the director’s imagination and that helps to tell a story
- Collaboration: understand what the director wants and be able to take and act on feedback to alter your designs, and work well with other artists and designers
- Understanding of the pipeline: know the capabilities of the animators and create designs appropriate for the medium of the project
- Watching animations: have a passion for the medium and a love of the industry
Tools of the trade
These are some of the tools used by professionals:
- Image editing software (Adobe Photoshop)
- 3D modelling, sculpting and painting software (Blender, 3ds Max, Maya, Mudbox, ZBrush, Substance Designer, Quixel)
- 2D animation software (TVPaint, ToonBoom Harmony, CelAction)
- Physical art materials: pencil and paper, paint, ink, chalk
You can learn how to model using free software. Go to build your animation portfolio for a list of what’s available.
Who does a character designer work with?
How do I become a character designer?
Character designer can be an entry level role. Character designers will often have a degree in graphic art, fine art, illustration or a related discipline, but this is not strictly necessary. The vital thing is that you can demonstrate very strong drawing skills. You need a portfolio which shows talent and creativity and a wide knowledge of and love for animation.
At school or college:
You can take A-levels or Highers in fine art, art and design, graphic design, or film studies. Or you might want to take any of the following Level 3 vocational qualifications:
- BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
- UAL Applied General Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
- NCFE Applied General Certificate in Art and Design
- BTEC National Extended Diploma in Creative Digital Media Production
If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:
- BTEC National Diploma in Graphics
- UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
- OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (Graphic Design)
- BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Visual Effects
- UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Creative Media Production and Technology
- OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Moving Image and Audio Production)
Get an apprenticeship:
An apprenticeship is a job with training, so it’s a great opportunity to earn as you learn. See if you can find an apprenticeship as a junior 2D artist or 3D artist. Even if you can’t find a role in animation, if you keep up your passion for the industry, you might be able to transfer your skills into animation at a later point. Check out What’s an apprenticeship? to learn more about apprenticeships and find an apprenticeship to learn how to find one in your region, or approach companies directly.
Hone your drawing skills by practising a lot. Draw people frequently, as well as non-human characters. Carry a sketchbook with you.
Build a portfolio:
Create work that you can show off to employers. This can comprise your own independent drawings as well as work you’ve done towards any larger projects you have been involved in and build a portfolio. Watch ScreenSkills’ advice on animation showreels for help and inspiration.
Get a degree:
There are a growing number of junior animation jobs for graduates, so it may be worth getting a degree. A degree in art, design or a related field will equip you well for this job. Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses and select one in design. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the animation industry.
Get work experience:
See if you can get work experience in an animation studio. This way you can make connections and learn what goes on in the art department.
Take a short course:
Hone your skills by taking a specialist course. Go to the list of training courses recommended by ScreenSkills and see if there is one in animation. This will help to develop your understanding of the whole animation process to inform your character designing.
Get to know people in the animation industry by attending events. Meet character designers as well as producers and animators and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest and knowledge in the industry. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to how to network well to learn how to do this.
Search for jobs:
Research animation companies that you’d like to work for. Animation UK has a directory of animation companies. Go to their websites and check if they are advertising for junior roles in character design. You can also send in a speculative CV and ask employers to keep it on file so they can consider you if any suitable jobs come up. Search job websites for character design roles and apply for positions.
Look outside the industry:
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.
You might also be interested in…
- Aaron Blaise Reveals The Seven Steps to Great Character Design
- Character Design for Animation Class with Nate Wragg
- Live – Character Design & Animation Demo
- Character Design References
- CG Spectrum – Free Resources
- Bloop Animation – Video Tutorials
- Understand Disney's 12 principles of animation
- Cartoon Brew
- Skwigly Online Animation Magazine
- CGI Dreamworks Animation Studio Pipeline | CGMeetup
- Any-Mation (video essays) – YouTube
- ScreenSkills resources directory