Brainstorming & Sketching a Character Design

See a demo of sketching an original character design. It starts with pencil sketches to brainstorm, the inking process with a dip pen with India ink, and Photoshop to add color.

Topics include discussing the importance of writing your own original stories in order to inspire original character designs. See how the personality and narrative of a character develops from scratch, and how story affects decisions on the development of the character.

Demo by Teaching Artist Cat Huang and Guest Teaching Artist Julie Benbassat.

Video Walkthrough

  • Character design is everywhere: in movies, animation, illustration, comics, and more.
  • Anywhere there is a narrative, there is a character design.
  • There is a gigantic spectrum of people you can base your characters on.
  • The settings really make the character.
  • A common challenge in character design is creating characters that all look the same.
  • How to do image research when creating characters.
  • Attending figure drawing sessions is a great way to understand the human form for character design.
  • Character design starts with an original story as a starting point.
  • How to design a boy character, drawing children is hard!
  • Developing the hair style for a character is part of the narrative.
  • Consider the specifics of the clothing and how that relates to who the character is.
  • Drawing a broad range of facial expressions is a great way to explore the character’s story.
  • Facial expressions are also in the gesture of the body.
  • Reference photos are important when figuring out the specifics of a character.
  • Starting the inking process with pencil on Bristol Paper.
  • The dip pen allows you to vary the width of the lines you draw.
  • Tape down your ink bottle to prevent spills.
  • Have a paper towel to help with cleanup.
  • Dip pens can be intimidating because they are
  • If you’re right handed, start in the upper left and work your way towards the lower right.
  • Importing the ink drawing into Photoshop to do digital coloring.
  • Digital coloring can be very fast.
  • Cleaning up the ink drawing in Photoshop is really helpful
  • How to use layers, multiply, and the lasso tool in Photoshop to fill in shapes.
  • Figuring out a color palette for the character design can happen quickly in Photoshop.

Prof Lieu’s Tips

When designing characters, prioritize the overall shape and silhouette and make them dramatic! Your characters should look incredibly different from each other, consider their dynamic as a group and how they contrast against each other.

Take the time to play with the big shapes. The problem with details is it’s really easy to get sucked into rendering details. You can lose track of the bigger forms in the character which are so fundamental.


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