The Character Design Pipeline

This section covers the work process that I have used when working with my production (the case studies) and explain how I have approached the task in each step of the production pipeline. The section is followed by the case studies and ends with the results of the survey.

Work Process

There are many ways to create a character design and there is no set formula. It is essentially up to the artist how they decide to approach the task, but it is sometimes constrained to the nature of the project: If you are designing characters for a smartphone screen it is important to focus on creating characters that are able to read on a small screen; or if the character is very stubborn and constantly crosses their arms, it is important that the design makes that action possible.

The character design process basically consists of three steps: Research, concept and final design. These steps vary in how they are branched out and approached. After looking at different artists’ work processes, by viewing various instructional videos  and reading literature on the subject, I have developed my own pipeline for this study. Each of my steps are summarized below.


The production pipeline used for the production part of this study.


The research stage of character design refers to getting to know the character that is going to be developed; because it is important to understand who the character is before putting the pencil to paper. For this study I consider some of the following questions: Why is this character good/evil? What is the character’s emotional mood? How old are they? What are their strengths and/or limitations? What pose does the character strike and what does this say about them? There are plenty of questions that could be asked about the character in order to get to know them, and it is important to keep the “why” in mind throughout the development process.

From this, appropriate keywords are assigned to the character and adjectives are preferred over nouns as they return a larger variety of results. These keywords are then used to find references: Images that are categorized as either a personality trait or a visual cue, most of all images that inspire me. It took approximately two hours for me to search for references, but in the end I decided to pick a maximum of four pictures for each character, that I felt represented the personality in general.


Depending on what visual cues the character is based upon, it might be useful to begin the development process with expanding the visual vocabulary by studying and drawing the gathered references. For this study I specifically studied existing characters in each of the games in order to get a feeling for the style and use of shapes.

Based on the references I think about the major shape of the character and get some initial ideas out prior to doing any thumbnails. Once I have some ideas on paper I switch between exploring the design in thumbnails, with focus on shape and proportion, and sketching out further ideas. I look for ways to work tilts and opposing angles into the pose, in order to create more visual interest. I regularly cast an eye on the silhouettes of the original game characters and strive towards designing a character that maintains the overall style. I also take some time to explore the character’s face, as it is an important aspect of the character. I lay out previous design ideas in front of me in order to make sure that I am on the right path and that I am not neglecting any good ideas.

Concept Once I feel that I have explored the character enough (or that time is running out) I pick my favourite ideas and combine them in a final rough concept. This step focuses on pushing the design and exaggerating important areas in order to enhance the character’s traits. More details may be added and a clear silhouette is sought. I try not to be arbitrary with any of my design decisions, and keep in mind to not just draw the various elements that shape the character but actually designing them.

Value and colour studies could be done in this step of the process, but since my focus is on the element of shape and how it conveys specific personality traits, I will not be doing it for this study.

Final Design

I create a clean version of the final design in Adobe Photoshop, a digital image manipulator and drawing software. I do not trace the final rough, but try to keep it loose in order to avoid that the drawing becomes too stiff. The idea is not to copy the final rough but always keep working on the design; to refine and further enhance it.

This step would preferably also involve creating a final coloured version of the character design, but as stated before: This study focuses on shapes and I have limited myself to only creating the final line art.

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