Visual Development Course: Principles of Design

Create a character based on shape design principles in this 6-week workshop


Character design artists—also called character concept artists—have a huge impact on the entire entertainment industry, from animation, to live-action films, to video games, and beyond! Their artistic visions help bring 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 artists determine the tone, mood, and color scheme for all the characters in a film, game, or TV show. They dream up completely new beings and bring them to life in the form of concept art, drawings, and paintings. Learning the fundamental principles of 2D character development is an important first step for any aspiring character artist.

The foundation of character development is shape design. Understanding not only the importance of designing with shapes, but also how those shapes convey emotion and character is a crucial skill set. Shape design is among the most essential foundational skills used by character designers.


$899 USD

Starts Tuesday
June 27, 2023
Register By
June 25, 2023

Pro Artists Mentor You to Be Successful

Our visual development 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

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, 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, and the 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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Tuesdays | 6:00 - 7:00 PM*

*All times are in Pacific Time

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 build your skills. 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.

Learn How the Pros Design Characters

Good shape design can help enhance a character’s personality and appeal. By understanding how different shapes guide character story arcs, successful concept artists create heroes, villains, and sidekicks that audiences love. Ever wonder why The Child in The Mandalorian has large eyes and ears? Or why do notorious Disney characters like Iago and Cruella De Vil have sharp edges? Find out why in this 6-week workshop.

Visual Development: Principles of Design Student Gallery

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What You’ll Learn in Visual Development Course: Principles of Design

Week 1

Why: Seeing Shapes

Before we can design, we must learn what it means to see. In this first lesson we will learn how to train our eyes to see shapes in the visual world—developing observation skills and learning to see shapes within complex forms.

Week 2

What: Shape Types

In the previous session, we learned to visualize shapes in the world around us. In this session, we will explore the different varieties of shapes and how to search for them. We’ll also learn how to simplify complex objects into simple shapes.

Week 3

How: Design Basics

We learned how to look for shapes and the different types of shapes. Now it’s time to apply our analytical skills to our designs. In this session, we will learn the basics of visual design and how to apply them to our art.

Week 4

Who: Emoting with Shapes

Not only can shapes create a unified design, they can also add emotion and personality into our work. In this session, we will cover the psychology of shapes and how to incorporate that into character design.

Week 5

Where: Using Shapes to Create a Simplified Environment

We learned how to inject personality and emotion into our characters using shapes, now it’s time to apply the same principles to environments and compositions.

Week 6

Taking Shapes Beyond

In this final session, we will cover how shape design can be applied to multiple applications such as illustration, animation, games, and beyond.

Course Requirements for Visual Development: Principles of Design

Course Details

LIVE Q&As | Weekly 1-Hour Q&As

ASSIGNMENTS | 5 Design Exercises

SOFTWARE | Painting software for assignments (Adobe Photoshop 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 | Taught in 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 character design.

What You’ll Learn

If you’re interested in pursuing character design or becoming a concept artist, or you’re an animator hoping to strengthen your poses and overall 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: video games, virtual reality, animation—you name it.

After finishing our workshop, you will have gained the following skills, which are essential for any character artist or visual designer:

  • 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 Visual Development Course

Do visdev artists create characters?

Yes, a visual development artist can create characters. Character development is one of the many skills a visdev artist must have.

What does a visdev artist do?

A visual development artist is the person who creates the overall feel and mood of the project. While visdev artists have many responsibilities, their main tasks are to create and document the color palette, mood, and tone of the entire world of the project.

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 designing characters. Visdev artists may be tasked with creating characters or they may work on creating props, sets, environments, and backgrounds.

Can visdev artists work on anything else besides characters?

Yes, in fact a visdev artists will almost certainly work on other parts of the project in addition to character development.

What else falls under visdev besides character design?

Environment design, backgrounds, buildings, sets, props and assets are all parts of the visual development of the project.

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 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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