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'An in depth study of the development of Character Design.'


  • Introduction

  • Chapter 1: Historical Perspective

  • Chapter 2: The Workings of Animation

  • Chapter 3: The Connection Between Animation and Intended Audience

  • Chapter 4: Characters Within the Music Industry

  • Chapter 5: Technology and the Future of Character Design

  • Conclusion


This dissertation will look at the journey into the world of character design, focusing on character design within the entertainment industry. In particular, I will be looking in detail at the following areas: animation, comic books, music, and gaming. There are many complicated aspects that must be considered when designing any character, it is a complex process that requires a lot of patience, planning, and practice in order to achieve a high quality and convincing character which displays personality in the final result. Here are some things that will be discussed in the body of this dissertation. What qualities are needed in order to become a successful character designer and are these skills transferable to areas outside this industry? I will also focus on the importance of researching the intended audience and existing characters to suit the concept or story.

This dissertation will show that the point of character design is not simply restricted to drawing figures, if this were the case there would be many unsuccessful characters around us now. The key is to look deeper and figure out step by step how to infuse characters so that even the most unlikely image, for example, can come to life right off the page because of the detail the artist has gone into to make it look convincing and believable. I will illustrate the differences between great character design and poor character design, for in order to be successful an artist must be able to recognize the difference and constantly improve on the negative things.

Sometimes all that is needed is a fresh opinion, and seeking constructive criticism from other sources can be a huge eye-opener as to the best and worst qualities of a character. This would be beneficial because of too much time and focus on one character design and the artist could be missing the bigger picture. 'Keep on drawing' is advice frequently given by artists to apprentices, in order to focus the skills required, and this will also add a dimension to a drawing or character.

Characters are all around us, iconic examples can be found in everyday life, especially in marketing or advertising campaigns, for example, Tony the Tiger on Frosties cereal packets or Mr. Men books for young children are instantly recognizable pieces of art. It is incredible how simple some of them may seem at a first glance, but they are brilliant and examples of very successful character design because they actually generate more interest in a product because the character captures the audience's imagination and is remembered.

In the areas I have chosen to focus on, there tends to be the main storyline that holds it all together, for example, the characters in comic books are hugely important, if not more important than the plot because they are living the storyline. In order for this to be believable they must be well-developed characters; able to display emotion, interact with one another, and respond well to events in the story. The characters hold everything together, without them the plot would be uninteresting to the audience as they would not feel they can connect with the characters.

The dissertation will begin with a short history of animation, including the applications for animation and how animation has changed over the course of history. Moving on from this, the importance of a connection being made between character and audience will be discussed. I will briefly touch upon examples of characters within the music industry and show how this has been done successfully. This dissertation will observe character designs

within console games and how we can benefit from using them.

Chapter 1: Historical Perspective

Do you know what kick-started the golden animation in 1928? It was no other than Walt Disney! Walt Disney was the creator and godfather to the world of animation, most well known for his character, Mickey Mouse, easily the World’s most recognizable cartoon character, even to this day. However, Disney’s first animation was in black and white and was given the title of “Steam Boat.” It was that first animation that paved the way for future artists and indeed helped him establish his own career.

A problem Disney faced was that back in 1928, animation lacked imagination, many drawings were created from simple thinking and showed nothing like what he wanted to achieve. It was very hard for him to find examples of work to use as references. So Disney took it upon himself to change the way animation was created and invented what is known as “Live Action.” This is where an artist or character designer can film an actor or an animal who is performing scenes and use this to create cartoon characters later on. So the character is actually designed before there is any animation involved. This is very different from “regular animation” which begins with the artist's imagination. Disney was quoted on this as below:

“This is a very important thing. There are so many people starting in on this, and they might go haywire if they don’t know how to use this live-action in animation” by Walt Disney (p. 319, The Illusions of Life, Disney Animation).

Now, thanks to Walt Disney embracing and implementing new ideas, almost every animator across the world started to use the same technique, but the question still remains as to why? The reason for this is because the movement of the characters or their expressions can really help someone relate to those characters because they are much more convincing and lifelike. For example, if you closed your eyes, could you picture a horse? Can determine how big it is? How it reacts to events around it? Can you picture its bone structure, and hair, and how the horse moves, how the muscles, bones, and hair react to movement? Can you picture the horse from every angle? To begin with, you may only have a simple idea of the animal, and only start to visualize the rest once you believe it is becoming real in your mind, but this may still be inaccurate. Trying to draw the same horse would have its own complications because the image could change in your mind and you may struggle to get it down on paper. There is controversy surrounding similar images created by Walt Disney and Warner Brothers, depicting characters as shown below. They are clearly created using the same character design technique.

The top one is an image of Max Hare drawn and created by Walt Disney. The bottom one is one of the most well-known cartoon characters Bug Bunny, the copyright for Bugs Bunny is now owned by Warner Brothers. There are few differences between the two and no one knows which was created first. A confrontation took place between Warner Brothers and Walt Disney, and they competed against each other to see who would have the most successful characters and storylines. Both sides released a constant stream of animations and this is how the Golden Animations began. This had a huge impact on the World as more and more people started to watch these releases and enjoying the wonderful new characters.

Bugs Bunny in particular made Warner Brothers a lot of money, as the humour was found entertaining and fun to adults and children alike. Between 1940 and 1961 Bugs Bunny was voted as the top animated character. However, Mickey Mouse was not far behind, and it won a massive 22 precious trophies, more than any other animator.

In sketches of Mickey Mouse, many drawings were made from each angle showing how the character works and moves, from details such as facial expressions and even the character's height. Disney produced thousands of sketches for each character to get a deeper understanding of the characters.

This example has allowed character designers from across the World to start similar processes and helped them to think about the characters they are creating in much more detail than ever before. This is applicable not only to character design but other areas of design too, for example, interior design, packaging, and so on, because it helps the client and audience get a good perspective of the product from all angles

This is an example of some planned sketches On the left is an example of so

of a car; it shows how the car moves by giving it actions and looking at the shape of the car from all angles. This will help the designer to visualize how the car will look when it is produced. Showing things in more detail, like the tires and headlights will help the designer understand how each component adds up and where everything goes.

The beginning of a simple character sketch or design is not really any different from any other sketch. These skills are really applicable to many other industries; you could work in almost any area of design and there would still be very similar rules.

Designs like this came from artists following Walt Disney and Warner Brothers' example. It was their way of capturing the figure and designers have then used this technique and refined it to apply to almost any product or audience.

Leonardo Da Vinci is well known for his unique sketches that have helped artists through time and across many cultures.

He was a genius who was influenced by his obsession with nature and anatomy, which led the World to understand his work, and by seeing his way of working other designers have used nature and the environment to produce fantastic pieces of art. It is for this reason that nearly every student who attends art or design courses must complete life drawings at some point, it helps to improve your drawing skills and to appreciate nature.

Chapter 2: The Workings of Animation

Animation shot to fame and millions of people watch it on television, or at cinemas across the World. I will now focus on Japanese animation, more commonly known as 'anime.' Japanese animation was not created for children, it was instead targeted at teenagers and adults. They have changed almost everything by exaggerating the characters and sometimes having a futuristic approach; for example Gundam Wing.

Because of the advancements that Japan has made, the character designers wanted to go further with these improvements, and Dragon Ball Z, Gundam Wing, Speed Racer, Digimon, Pokemon, and Sailor Moon were born.

As Walt Disney was the Godfather of all animation, it was not long for Tetsuwan Atomu to be hailed as the Godfather of Japanese animation. He was the artist who created Astro Boy, one of the most popular cartoons even to this day. His style of illustration comes from German and French Cinema, yet he was influenced by Disney’s animation as they created high-quality animation. But Tetsuwan’s characters exploded with life and emotions as the story started to unfold on hundreds of pages, which kept the audience at the edges of their seats to find out more.

After the success of Astro Boy, Tetsuwan decided to release another piece of work; Jungle Taitei is also known as 'Kimba and the White Lion'. The problem here is that Disney released one of the most classic movies, 'The Lion King' with the main character, 'Simba' which was followed by more controversy than Disney stole the idea.

This lead to two of the most leading industries going head to head to become the best. The reason they were both successful is that they used characters that capture and retain the audience's attention, and they also used imaginative backdrops to the storylines. The majority might be fictional or entirely imagined settings, but animations do sometimes include iconic buildings and landscapes that surround us, and this is worth remembering because it makes the audience relate to characters more and helps them stand out. Here is an example.

The beauty of animation is that there are thousands of characters available for us to draw examples from. This is because shows are mostly televised on a weekly basis, which interests more and more people as it might be an old favorite or something new to begin watching. As interest in the shows increase, so does the interest in the characters, we as designers can show our personalities and creativity to wider audiences. Japanese animation is not just about futuristic landscapes or characters; in fact, animations have helped some people across the World to extreme lengths because they are exposed to educational

material, or sports which might be very interesting to them.

Eyeshield 21 is based on American football and even though American football is not very common around the World, it is good that because of animation more people can learn about it, for example how it is played, using simple drawings to get the viewers’ attention.

Also, drawing attention to a sport may encourage members of the audience to actually play them in real life. Another good example of sport in animation is Oliver y Benji (Captain Tsubasa) as it shows not only how the game is played but how it makes you interact with those characters. Football is the most dominating sport of today, through animation you can start to see how some people might visualize themselves as those players and want to try hard to train to be just like them, so it is inspiring.

Japanese animations often have taken away messages which might help you to understand the characters even more, alongside having a strong storyline to back it up.

Chapter 3: The Connection Between Animation and Intended Audience

One way in which a designed character can influence the audience is that fans of animation can get involved by dressing up as their favourite character from that show and socializing among like-minded people or 'cosplayers' at conventions, for example, Comic-Con. Character designers must think of things like costumes and this is interesting because when a fan is copying the style of a character they might look very much in detail as to what they are wearing.

Here is a questionnaire presented to two 'cosplayers' who like to create their own costume

designs; Rachel Church and Chloe Juliet Warburton.

Why do you like to cosplay?

  • "I love cosplay because I love to create the costume from scratch, becoming other characters gives me confidence because I'm not entirely me, I seem to become more myself when I'm in costume." ~ Chloe

But how do you know what character you want to cosplay as? Is there something specific about the character itself that makes you want to make that costume?

  • "I have quite a variety of costumes, because I'm very specific about who I like from certain the things, I choose characters either because I get an attachment to them, or because I love the design, I also like picking characters that are rarely done, because I don't like to have my costume compared" ~ Chloe

Do you think characters have had an effect on you, on the way you dress?

  • "Cosplay hasn't at all influenced the way I dress in real life, the only way it has changed me is how I see myself and I'm far more confident now since starting cosplay." ~ Rachel

Do you think you're influenced by characters from a game, anime, or from comics or etcetera? If so how does it influence you?

  • "I feel Lara Croft has always influenced me, I've always wanted to be her so I'll sometimes try to think like her in some situations. She's very strong, intelligent, and quick-witted and will do anything to get what she wants. She's also very loyal to her friends and will defend them." ~ Rachel

Questions were asked to other cosplayers during the London Comic Con recently, and they answered very similar things, saying that they feel like character designs have influenced them to make them better people in one way or another, and helped them to understand themselves or boost their confidence.

So anime has had an effect on the public audience on such a large scale that there are events where people choose to dress up as their favourite characters and even pretend to be those characters, and this helps them feel better about themselves. What made all this possible was the fact that animation tends to concentrate on all types of people, giving them all different themes, looks, styles, personalities, and characters, which are created through design. Throughout the storyline, you can find out about the humour behind the characters and slowly but surely you start to relate to that character, or see yourself as the character. The more you watch the animation or show, the more you start to see the characters grow.

A great example of this has to be an animation called Naruto. In the beginning, Naruto was only a young child who was clueless about everything, he felt unloved and not acknowledged by anyone, and to show this emotion, the character designers worked hard to display Naruto's pain, and to give the right impression to the audience.

Is this sort of emotion that makes you fall for the character and understand them, so there is a lot more of a connection on an emotional or personal level, rather than simply a character being appealing because you like the look of it.

Chapter 4: Characters within the Music Industry

Character design has had a large impact on the animation industry, but making use of characters in the music industry, while a strange idea, has come a long way too. Let’s start with one of the most popular bands, Gorillaz, followed by another well-known band, Linkin Park.

Gorillaz are well known across the World for making contemporary music, they reach across a wide range of multiple music genres, with a large number of influences, for example,

alternative rock, hip-hop, electronica, dub, and pop. They are most memorable for their totally unique band members: characters that have been created and set within a two dimensional World. Their videos are instantly recognizable for being a mixture of reality and a “virtual band” world which is a fictional universe. People love listening to Gorillaz, and all of their videos have been made about those characters.

Being the character designer for something like this would be an enormous challenge but would be a fantastic opportunity for those designs to reach so many people. The actual singer's identity is never revealed, even when performing live at concerts or festivals, holograms are used to make the band look real. In 2001, the debut album Gorillaz sold over seven million copies worldwide and earned them an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the Most Successful Virtual Band.

As you can see from this image, the simplicity is one of the most noticeable things about these characters. However, they do display a mixture of emotions, such as apathetic or arrogant. They look like gorillas, but also human, which is the look the designer was hoping for.

Moving on now to focus on Linkin Park. Linkin Park has released many albums to this day, and they are still going strong. One of their most amazing songs from a character designers' point of view has to be “Breaking the Habit.” Why is it so powerful and influential? Because the theme of the song is negativity, to do with things going wrong with our society, that life is harder to live, and even that the World is falling down. You can tell from the lyrics alone that the singer wants to escape this mess, having dealt with abuse and the fear of it when he was younger.

Without even listening to the song, if you simply watch the video you can still understand what is going on in those dark scenes. Their anime-stylization of the music video was created and supervised by Kazuto Nakazawa, who had previously directed the animation segment of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1. The characters in the music video are involved in violent scenes and show strong emotions, in particular anger, which the audience can relate to, and this has made the character design in this example so successful.

One last example to show how successful character design has been made use of in the music industry is Vocaloids. Vocaloids all started with a simple software application developed by Yamaha. The software allows users to input a melody and a lyric, which allows singing to be produced without a singer. This new form of technology has shown great advancement in recent years because the quality of the sound is so impressive that it can be hard to tell the difference between the program 'singing' and human being singing.

What made this all the more popular is that acute simple animation of Miku is used. The creators of this application wanted to take Vocaloids to the performance stage and have the characters right in front of the audience, so they created a large screen where the characters can come to life.

A newspaper article taken from Metro shows how successful Miku has truly been, a character that does not exist, not even the voice is real, has taken the World by storm. A

concern was held in Japan, then the phenomenon spread across Singapore and further still, to America. The idea originated with Gorillaz using projectors, but even so this little star has become one of the most famous pop stars on the planet.

Chapter 5: Technology and the Future of Character Design

The gaming industry has surpassed the music industry and the film industry, in terms of audiences, not by a large margin but enough to be the dominating industry of today. The reason is that games and consoles have been increasingly popular and become, through modern technology, much more interesting to play. As such, the world of character design has taken a challenge to portray realistic characters, and because there is much more interaction from the audience, who is playing 'as a character' rather than just watching one, the pressure is even higher.

It all started with bitmap games, and now we have the most amazing 3D graphics ever to be produced at our fingertips. Like never before, it is entirely possible to create an entire city in high-quality detail. Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario, is another godfather of character design.

It all started with bitmap games, and now we have the most amazing 3D graphics ever to be produced at our fingertips. Like never before, it is entirely possible to create an entire city in high-quality detail. Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario, is another godfather of character design.

Mario began life as a character in an arcade game, who was supposed to look like a carpenter. Mario is still popular today, although technology has changed him completely and you can see this by this example of his 'evolution.'

Mario has gone viral through Facebook and the Internet; a wonderful platform for making things popular. Mario is a character made from many different cultural building blocks, and this is one of the things that makes him popular with adults and children alike.

Games have always been about playable characters. With time and technology, you can revolutionize a character, so it stands to reason that creating a new character in the 2nd Century would be more challenging than ever before. With the advancements, if things like 3D television and laptops, it is harder to make characters seem more real. Little details are picked up on much more quickly. With the tools to create better characters than ever before, comes the pressure of living up to higher expectations.

Games are now widely reviewed across the World, by the media or individuals, and these reviews can be accessed by many more people using the Internet. This can be great if a game is good, a lot more people will buy it if it has good reviews. However, it means that if a game's quality is not up to scratch, or the characters are flawed in any way, many more people will think twice before buying it.

The gaming industry wants to reach a level of such high quality that when you play a game, what you are doing is played out right in front of you. The gaming industry looks to the film industry for inspiration, for example, the film Avatar is very technologically advanced. Sometimes the gaming industry and the film industry collaborate. However, a game can only ever be as good as the console it is played on. It takes a lot of power and graphics to create 'lifelike' worlds and characters, one of the best games that have achieved anything close to this so far was 'Skyrim.'

It is time-consuming to be a character designer, more so in the gaming industry than any other industry. This is because a lot of information goes into building a character from scratch. You have to cater to a large number of people playing the game, and using the characters you are creating as extensions of their own personalities. There are games available now where you can customize the character to look like anyone, by changing hairstyles, skin color, clothing styles, mannerisms such as how they act or move, speech, for example, accents or different languages, piercings or tattoos, and the characters own personality.

There are games where the characters are not even human and must be customizable. These are just a few examples but the list of possible customizable features that are available are endless. As a character designer, you must foresee and surpass every eventuality of what a person playing the game might want in any given character, and build this into the character. You must design in a lot of detail in order for all these features to be available and to flow seamlessly.

And information takes time to gather, and time is money because of the constant competition and needs to turn over a profit. Some of the information required might include:

  • How a character moves

  • How their clothing moves

  • Vehicles they might use

  • Weapons they might use

  • Facial expressions

  • Interactions with other characters

  • Involvement in their environment

Whether or not a character must be historically accurate is sometimes important, for example with the game “Assassins Creed 2”, it is based in Italy with historical characters and references to real events. A lot of time and money was spent researching the local history, looking at clothes, how Italy use to look hundreds of years ago, including any landmarks, and what characters did with their time.

So there is more pressure to succeed due to reviews, it is expensive to gather information and time consuming to a character designer for a game than any other industry. You must have patience and persevere through hard work for it to pay off as a career.


We have looked at some of the different areas within the entertainment industry and now we need to answer the following question with a short summary of it all. 'What does it take to be a character designer?'

There is not a huge amount of drawing or technical skills needed to become a character designer, but instead, it is more to do with understanding how to produce characters that people can connect on an emotional or personal level, regardless of the industry you choose to work in. Understanding the difference between appealing and connection is important. Anyone can find something appealing, it is much harder to make a connection with something fictional.

To do this, we have looked at some of the histories of character design, which has helped us to understand what made Walt Disney and Warner Brothers so hugely successful in the first place. Then you must look into themes and areas that people can connect with. If there isn’t some sort of real element in the fiction that people can easily pick up then your characters will fail.

Can your skills of character design be useful for other industries? As we have seen, being a

character designer in one industry is going to be completely different from being a character designer in another industry, and they each have positive and negative sides to pursuing them as a career. It is possible to be successful in each, but success might be defined in different ways too.

You can make skills from any industry applicable to another industry with a bit of effort, you can be an Anime artist and then decide to go into gaming and your skills can still be transferred because they have similar roots. The only difference is in how the work is presented. With gaming, you might be focussed on textures and ensuring a realistic look. The animation is totally different, instead choosing to focus on cartoons that can capture your attention and emotions. Again with music, you might focus on the music theme or genre itself, and knowing how to connect fictional elements to the music production.

What is the key to becoming a successful character designer? The only way for you to become a successful character designer with successful characters is by understanding the field are you are working in because it will be important to know what the public audience wants in any given area. You must understand the characters the same way you understand yourself, because if you don’t know who you are or what you’re doing, or even the limits as to what can be done then your characters will not reach their potential. It is very hard work but it is rewarding when you reach a level of success that your work is still being talked about in one hundred years' time because it could be a timeless classic by then.