5 Ways to Get Creative with Character Design

Why is character design one of the hardest things to get right in concept art? How can we improve? Let's explore how to get creative (and stay creative) in character design without coming up against one of the most notorious enemies in the field - CREATIVE BLOCK!

Have a look around you in your daily life - everyone around you is a character. This is why character design is so fun - successful characters are relatable to us. When we look at them, we can see parts of those characters in ourselves!

This makes the field of character design an ever-evolving art form, as there are so many ways to go about character design. Some people will prefer to do silhouettes (see Fheng Zhu) where some will prefer to do the rough outline of the human body and fill in the gaps.

One thing I've learnt, however, is that when I focus on the outcome before I've even designed my character, I can get overwhelmed with how much there is to do. That's why it's often useful to design your character before you put them in their world, allowing the context to be secondary. Let's break down the process into some useful steps, so you can do what you do best - create!

  1. Choose your method! There are two ways to design a character, one is to design a world and put your character into the world - or you can design the character, and fit the world around them. Choose whichever you prefer, and get going with it.
  2. Who is your audience? When you’re pitching a character design or concept, you are effectively trying to sell people on who and what that character is. Are you creating this character for a film, a video game, or for your own private audience?
  3. Research and thumbnailing - always make multiple iterations of your characters! There is no such thing as perfection in character design. Let your mind reign free! What you’re trying to accomplish by creating a character concept is providing as much visual information about that character to someone that hasn’t been exposed to them yet. Try keep the design asymmetric to introduce visual interest. Think about visual signifiers - details that communicate visually to your audience.
  4. Take your thumbnails (whether they be silhouettes or outlines) and start filling in the smaller details. Keep asking yourself the question - does this communicate well with the audience? Never be afraid to go back to square one. If you're working professionally you might want to budget some time to run your rough designs past some close creatives who understand the design process.
  5. Once you've decided that this character is as badass awesome or gentle as you would like them to be, you are ready for the next step - placing them in their world and... posing!