Introduction to Character Design

Learn how to create your own character designs in this 6-week workshop

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Good character design artists create inspiring and lovable characters

Character Design artists—also called Character Concept Artists—have a huge impact across the entire entertainment industry, from comics and manga, to animation, to live-action films, to video games, and beyond! Their artistic visions help to bring some of the most iconic characters to a global audience.
Nolen-Lee Shapes and Design

Understanding Shapes and Positive/Negative Space in Character Design

Nolen Lee

Drawing by Nolen Lee

Character Concept Artists determine the look, mood, color scheme, and more for all the characters in comics, films, games, or TV shows. They dream up completely new beings and bring them to life in the form of concept art, drawings and paintings that embody the values, emotions and ideals they represent. Learning the fundamental principles of 2D character design is an important first step. The foundation of character design is exploration and iteration. Understanding not only the importance of designing with visual language that supports the story, but also how best to use shapes, reference, anatomy, and imagination to actually create what you’re envisioning is important.


$899 USD

Starts Wednesday
August 7, 2024
Register By
August 4, 2024

Pro Artists Mentor You to Be Successful

Our character design course allows you to learn, practice, and get 1:1 feedback and reviews from our mentors. You will have the chance to learn from them in live conversations as they share insights about what studios are working on and what qualities they look for in an visual artist. Our mentors will work directly with you to grow and improve your skills.

Nolen Lee - mentor character design instructor

Punching Pandas Logo

Nolen Lee

Freelance Artist Punching Pandas

Nolen Lee is a freelance illustrator, artist, and author based in the Seattle area. He is the creator of his own whimsical and humorous brand, The Punching Pandas, and has self-published two books, The Panda is Fat and The Panda is Still Fat.
He has also worked on numerous freelance projects including comics for Disney and commercial illustration for clients such as US Bank, AARP, US Census, as well as various charities. His background in structural engineering informs his art teaching style which emphasizes practicality and simplicity. He continues to develop his own projects including animation and children’s book illustration. You can view more of his work on his website.

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Wednesdays | 11:00 - 12:00 PM*

Examples of Nolen’s Work

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1-on-1 Feedback from a Studio Pro

During this 6-week workshop, you’ll have live Q&As with your mentor each week in addition to receiving an assignment designed to develop your skills in character design. Plus, your mentor will review and critique each of your assignments and provide you with a video of their feedback so you can improve your work. This is a project based learning experience, where each week you’ll have a specific assignment to help develop and explore key learning goals. Throughout the workshop you will develop and iterate your own character design!

How the Pros Design Characters

Contrast, visual language, and appealing shapes are all important components that go into creating effective character designs. At its core, character design is about understanding visual communication principles, and how to create emphasis to make your character designs unique and interesting. Understanding drawing concepts such as thumbnailing, gesture, and volume help a design feel believable and allow the audience to connect with your characters. Ever wonder why Grogu in The Mandalorian has big ears and big eyes? Or why do some notable Disney characters like Iago and Cruella De Vil have sharp edges?  Find out why this 6-week workshop.

Student Gallery

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What You’ll Learn in this Course


The Basics

Before we start designing our characters, we need to understand our tools. In this first lesson we will discuss basic principles of effective drawing to help prepare the beginner to design their own characters. This will include gesture, form and volume, and the importance of thumbnailing. Students will also be introduced to the workflow of creating character designs to get a broad understanding of the process. From initial idea, to research, thumbnails, refinement, variation, and color. In this first session, students will explore the ideation and rough thumbnailing process.


Humans, Creatures, and Reference

Before we can create characters from imagination, it’s helpful to study and observe the real world around us. In this session we’ll focus on the role of reference, and how to distill down what you see into the essential elements you can include in your design. Students will be introduced to techniques to understand and break down complex human anatomy into simple to understand shapes, as well as beginning to study the differences between human and animal or creature designs.


Proportion and Shapes

Effective character designs are all about contrast. In this session we’ll focus on ideas of how to use proportion, shapes, asymmetry, and more to push our character designs further. We’ll also explore how those concepts can be applied to the face of your character to create an expression sheet.


Value and Color

Color and presentation play a large role in the character design process. Many iconic characters have specific colors associated with them, such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In this session we’ll explore these concepts and see how to incorporate value structure, and color, to push our designs further.


Gesture and Story

We touched upon the ideas of gesture in the first session, but we’ll explore that more in-depth and see how it can help us create compelling stories with our characters. Gesture can help you explore pose ideas with your characters, and make sure your characters read visually from different angles. Students will apply these concepts by creating a three panel comic with their character to tell a specific story.


Wrap Up and What’s Next

In this final session we’ll review the main components that make up effective character designs, regardless of what genre or medium you’re designing for. Additional topics will include how to embellish your characters with clothing choices, and presentation of your designs through lighting and camera choices. Even though we’re working in 2D, thinking about those components is still important.


Course Details

LIVE Q&As | A Total of Six 1-Hour Q&As

ASSIGNMENTS | 5 Character Design Exercises

SOFTWARE | Painting software for assignments (Adobe Photoshop, Clip Studio Paint, Krita or equivalent software). Students may work traditionally if desired, but must be able to photograph or scan assignments.

HARDWARE | Meet Minimum Requirements

AGE | 18 Years or Older

LANGUAGE | English

Skills You Need Before You Start

This workshop is open to students with basic drawing skills but is not graded so that you feel comfortable learning the concepts at your own pace. It’s a good fit for animators wanting to learn more about the visual development stages of the animation pipeline, and anyone interested in a career in concept art or visual development.

What You’ll Learn

If you’re interested in pursuing character design, becoming a concept artist, or you’re an animator hoping to strengthen your thumbnailing and overall design skills, mastering the fundamental principles of character design is a worthwhile goal.

The techniques, theories, and skills you’ll learn in this workshop can be applied to any visual or spatial medium: animation, games, comics, manga, virtual reality, illustration, you-name-it.

After finishing our workshop, you will have gained the following skills, which are essential for any character design artist or visual designer:
  • Improved drawing skills
  • An understanding of the process to take a character design through ideation to refinement
  • An understanding of how to use reference to inspire, inform, and refine your character designs
  • Stronger understanding of posing that can be applied to visual mediums from character design, to painting, to 3D animation
  • Fluency with shape language and design, allowing you to create interesting and unique visual imagery
  • Ability to simplify designs down to their essential elements for clarity and appeal.
  • Fundamentals of character design and presentation, allowing you to create appealing and unique characters

FAQ for Introduction to Character Design

What’s the difference between a visual development artist and a character designer?

The main difference between the two is that character designers are specifically focused on creating and animating characters. Visdev artist may be tasked with creating characters or they may work on creating props, sets, environments and backgrounds.

What do character designers do?

A character designer is specifically focused on creating how the character looks. A character designer will handle all parts of the character from their wardrobe to hairstyles, makeup, tools, weapons, and accessories.

Is character design a sub-category of visdev?

Yes, visdev artists work on character design, environment design, and the overall style and feel of the project.

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