The goal of this article is to help you with the process of character design. We will talk about a character I conceived for my next game, and I’ll show you everything behind every step of the creation, from the first concepts to the final result. My main objective is to help you build your character with the tips and explanations I’ll provide on the process.
Step 1 – The reference
To create a character, and actually to create any kind of art, one of the most important things to have in mind is that you need good references.
For a character, you can seek inspiration from other ones to define the race, clothes, personality, powers, etc. Is your character a robot? Try to get some references on sci-fi series, you could look into the Cyberman of Doctor Who, or the droids from Star Wars, for example.
For the personality, you can get inspiration from a character that you like from a book that you’ve read and make some changes to fit your needs. Does your character have a great sense of humor and find the most intelligent solutions to everything? Or is it a very calm and timid type?
If you’re planning a big story for your character, like developing a game or writing a book, try to anticipate where your character lives and the location of their adventures. Thinking a little bit about the future characters that you plan to create to interact with the one you’re creating now is also a good tip because they need to make sense together. If your character interacts with people from a city, start imagining the culture of this place, what do they eat, what are the habits, how they interact with each other, which laws does the city have?
Having all these things in mind will help you give some depth to your character, and open your horizon to new characters, maybe a whole new universe of your imagination.
Step 2 – The role
Now that you know the appearance and the way of living of your character, it’s time to plan their actions. What’s the significance of this character to your story?
My character is the protagonist of the game, and as such, he needs to fit some requirements to make my story flow as intended. Knowing what my story is and which requirements I need for my character, made my life much easier from the beginning of the process.
I know that my story isn’t finished yet, and yours doesn’t have to be complete either. Still, I know that I need my character to be ludic, lazy, funny, and indifferent about people and what happens around him because these are traits that will help me tell the story and provide some knowledge to my public about the reckless actions of him.
Also, I can work with these traits to make a maturation process of the character, making him improve over time with the events of my history. At first, what you can get of him is that he just wants to be in peace, having his fun alone in his forest. But in subsequent events of the story, as you get closer to his heart, you may notice that the truth is that deep inside, all he wants is someone to care for.
Step 3 – The design
You could get satisfied with what you have already developed so far. Still, if you’re developing a game or an illustrated story, you will need some visual representation for your character.
When I first conceived the appearance of my character, I was sure that I’d like him to have a very pale skin tone, blue outfit, a wizard-like hat, white hair, and look like a magical creature, but still have human traits so the player can relate to him (making the player relate to your character is very important for protagonists). I didn’t use references for that design, but I think I was inspired by Legolas in the Lord of the Rings movies, Link from The Legend of Zelda, and of course, some magical creatures like gnomes and halflings in general.
For the first design, I’ve made a very simple pixel art portrait, and also a version of him in-game. With the skill I had at the time, this was the result:
The portrait was terrible in a lot of ways, and the in-game version was missing a lot of details, and it was hard for the viewer to relate to his appearance. The lack of details made me miss the opportunity to tell more about his personality.
Recently, I decided to remake this character with much more detail, and with another palette, because I’m planning to work on a game for him for the next couple of months. With the skill I have now, this was the result:
It was a good attempt. I chose to present the character as an adventurer and give him an optimistic look by adding a smile. Also, I’ve contributed to the magic feel by adding elf ears and a yellowish iris.
But, since I’m planning to make a top-down game, I needed to adjust his perspective and make him shorter. After a lot of attempts, I’ve come to this result in the following days:
A very cute design that maintains the essential elements of the character, and still tells the same story. He’s just shorter now, maybe younger too. I was sure that I was getting closer and closer to my objective.
Then, I decided to animate him, change the color palette used, and in the process, I’ve made some improvements to his hair and face, and made him even shorter, as you can see below.
The creation process of a character is something fantastic that happens over time. You start with some references, then you define the character role, and design it accordingly. Also, you need to revisit it from time to time to evaluate whether you have achieved what you really desire.
You can smooth that process by enriching your mental references and practicing it regularly. Read some fiction books, look at some characters that you like, and get some inspiration. I wish you success with your creations, thanks for reading!