Character Designer

The role, salary, software and skills of a film and game Character Designer

Student work by Mikhail Macaranas

What does a character designer do?

A character designer (or character artist) is a type of concept artist who conceptualizes characters, showing action, anatomy, and costumes from different perspectives that define and actualize them. They interpret a character's personality and physical traits from a brief into an expressive illustration, using subtle cues of facial expression, pose, gesture, posture, etc.

A good Character Designer will have a keen eye for detail in human expression and the ability to understand the story of a character. Creating memorable and iconic characters is often based on simple shapes and ideas — think of Mickey Mouse’s round ears and how instantly recognizable they are.

Part of a Character Designer’s role is to imagine the character from different perspectives, showing action, anatomy, and unique expressions that define the character and bring it to life. In 3D animation, these articulations of a character will first be used in the 3D modeling process, then later in the animation itself. In 2D animation, these will be used as reference points from which to animate, and Storyboard Artists will refer to character design to express the story.

Character designer job description

The role of a Character Designer is to visualize and develop the look of animated characters for film, television, and video games. They work from the script or storyline to turn descriptions into images, to give form to personality and characteristics.

Breathing life into abstract ideas is the primary focus of a Character Designer. They excel at creating fun and iconic characters that will animate well and will resonate with players and audiences. Drawing ability is key, and personal style will factor heavily in the execution of concept art. 

Role & responsibilities of a character designer in film and video games:

  • Liaising with scriptwriters, designers, and developers on the look of the character/s and what style they are to be drawn in (such as anime, comic book art style, or realism, etc.)
  • Researching the look, style, and genre of the film or game
  • Developing various versions of the character looks and other design ideas
  • Infusing characters with personality using visual cues, unique expressions, and distinctive body language
  • Create characters that are relatable and possess human traits that will engage an audience
  • Understand the character’s role in the script and draw it accordingly
  • Collaborate with directors and other concept artists to create a visual consistency with other characters, and overall look of the animation or game
  • Revise artwork according to feedback and teamwork
  • Create model sheets showing characters drawn from different angles and showing different expressions
  • Can tackle a creative challenge head-on, and enjoys problem-solving with the team regarding design issues
  • Working with Storyboard Artists on how to incorporate the concept art into scenes and sequences
  • Adhering to production schedules


Skills required to become a character designer

Character designers must excel in taking direction, visualizing from abstract concepts, and communicating their ideas. They produce the initial designs and set the tone for key imagery within a film or video game. 

Employers may look for the following skills in character designers:

  • Strong drawing skills, with a specialization in character design
  • Ability to draw in a variety of styles
  • Knowledge of anatomy and zoology, costuming, physical settings, and history-related references associated with a character
  • Solid awareness of facial expression, pose, posture, gesture, and movement
  • Visual storytelling skills
  • Solid understanding of visual language - texture, color, dimension, scale, perspective, shade, composition, depth of field, proportion, spatial awareness, etc
  • Good communication skills, ability to explain concepts and support artistic choices
  • Technical drawing skills
  • Excellent time management skills, ability to consistently meet deadlines
  • Team player, skilled at working independently
  • Knowledge of the animation and/or game development process

What software and tools do character designers use?

Character Designers may work with physical materials such as pencil, paper, ink, chalk, mixed media, etc to produce their primary sketches, or create completely digital art using computer software. Eventually, all artwork will be presented digitally. The software used will depend on whether the project is in 2D or 3D.

Character designers may need knowledge of a combination of the following software:

  • Adobe Photoshop (industry standard), Illustrator
  • Blender
  • 3D Studio Max
  • Maya
  • Mudbox
  • Zbrush
  • Substance Designer
  • Quixel
  • TVPaint
  • ToonBoom Harmony
  • CelAction

How much does a character designer make? 

The average salary of a Character Designer ranges from USD $45,000 to USD $83,000. (Source: Glassdoor)

To learn more about this field, visit: What is Digital Illustration? or What is Concept Art?



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