Character Designer Career: Behind The Magic

Photo of author

When you buy through my links, I may earn a commission which will support me in creating more helpful content for you.

Character designers are growing in popularity. What used to be a thankless job is now an important position and one that gains a lot of followers. You get the opportunity to work in animation and create many characters similar to the ones you have possibly grown up loving. 

However, the job isn’t as easy to get as it may seem. Not just anyone can do it. You need experience not only with physical drawing but digital drawing and art as well. Most companies prioritize those with experience as well, so it can be hard for those getting into the field to get the job they need. 

Check out this article to learn more about the Game Designer Role

What Does a Character Designer Do?

A character designer is someone that creates the physical appearance of characters. They work in various fields involving animation, including animated movies and TV shows, games, and shorts. 

They take the next step from concept artists. A concept artist will come up with a rough sketch or description of a character. They can base it on descriptions in books the show or movie is based on, or make it up in cases where new characters are being created. 

Character designers then take this rough sketch, and bring the character to life. They turn a simple drawing into a character with dimensions and solid design. They have to make sure their anatomy and clothing fit the setting, and make sure it fits what the creator wanted. 

Concept artists usually focus on the concept as a whole, such as environments, buildings, and settings. Character designers are a much more niche category, only handling the characters that will be in the story. 

Before, character designers were not that big. They were often hidden in the background as a minor person in the team despite literally making up and designing the character.

Now, however, people are pushing for character designers to get the attention they deserve. Some people will even follow character designers specifically for their work, rather than a show or director. 

Differences Between a Character Designer and a Concept Artist

Character DesignerConcept Artist
Flushes out characters and gives a lot of references until clients are happy Not only designs physical appearance of a character, but clothes, behaviors, expressions, and movements Focus specifically on characters Mostly works on 2D and 3D software The job is available anywhere a character is neededFocus on all visual aspects, including scenery, people, and objects Works a lot with rough sketches on tablet or pencil and paper Are part of the whole art process The job is mostly for the movie and game industries Does the early visuals for the story

What Are the Different Types of Character Design?

There are dozens of different types of character design. It is essentially a kind of art style. You will either have to adjust your style per client or your team’s desires. If you are a small group, you may even have a unique style that brings clients to you and is easily noticeable by your followers. 

Small details can make your character design unique, such as the shape of the face, details in the eyes, the ways the clothes move, or even the colors you pick. However, sometimes, it is the character design itself that makes you stand out. 

There are plenty of options to choose from. Perhaps you make your characters look as realistic as possible, despite being computer models. Some people use irregular proportions, such as very skinny waists, large heads, or even just large hands. 

There are also simple, abstract, minimalist, just outlines, thick outlines, 3D, 2D, ones that look like claymation characters, unique textures, animalistic, mechanical, and much more. 

How to Become a Character Designer?

For the most part, there aren’t any specific character designer classes. Instead, you will have to get a degree in something like fine art, illustration, graphic art, or something similar. 

Check out this awesome crash course on Character design – Link Here

However, plenty of people have taught themselves what they need to know and show off their skills by designing their own characters. 

Most of the time, character designers should have experience in certain software. Some common software includes:

If there is a certain field you are trying to get into, such as video games or movies, it is a good idea to look up what they use most and go with those as far as learning first. You also want skill in making physical sketches, using different mediums like pencil, paint, chalk, and pen. 

Character Designer Career Path

Once you get a degree or teach yourself the basics, you have to start promoting yourself. To get hired anywhere, you should have a portfolio. Initially, you won’t have a portfolio full of companies you have worked for in the past and the characters you created for them. 

However, you can start to create a portfolio by creating your own characters. This shows what you are able to do. It is a good idea to start off by trying several different styles and characters to show you have a range of skills for a future job opportunity. 

You also should practice almost daily, to make sure you keep your skills and improve where you can. You’ll probably try and get a few apprenticeships first, or take online classes. 

As you get more experience and create your portfolio, you will be then ready to start applying for jobs. You may have to start outside the industry where you are wanting to build a career and take various jobs at the beginning. 

Most character designers have at least two to four years of experience before getting a decent job. 

What Is a Character Designer Job Description?

When looking online, you will see most job descriptions for character designers include things such as:

  • Collaborate with script writers and designers
  • Create a style for the character and develop it fully, including personality, gestures, and looks
  • Gather inspiration from the setting and story or script
  • Make several versions of the character initially and then develop the one the team agrees upon 
  • Revise the character’s description to fit feedback from the clients and team
  • Actively participate in milestone planning and bids
  • Work with creative leads to conceptualize and model new characters

In simple terms, a character designer brings the character to life. Not only do they make the character look right and flushed out, but their movements, clothes, and body language are also all accurate and in character. 

What Skills Are Important for a Character Designer?

The first skill that every character designer should have is excellent drawing skills. You can’t flush out a character and make them look right if you can’t even draw. You need to be able to draw on a variety of mediums and with various tools, including on paper and a tablet. 

Then, you will want to have experience with at least some 2D and 3D tools. This shows you know how to make characters on the tools that the company will likely want. While every company is different, if you can show that you know how to use multiple tools, you can at least demonstrate your ability to learn. 

Tools like Unreal Engine, Mudbox, and ZBrush are the best. While you are in the process of getting internships and apprenticeships, you can start with the free options or cheaper programs, and then gain experience with the more expensive and detailed software later. 

Of course, you will also want the ability to work on your own and in teams, and to be able to take feedback. You will also need to be creative and innovative, and be able to understand what someone wants from vague or minimal information. 

Character Designer Essential Software and Tools

There are dozens of different kinds of software and tools that companies and teams will use for their character design and modeling. Every company seems to use something different. However, there are ones that are pretty standard across the board. 

You will want a mix of 2D and 3D software so that you have a wide range of experience. 

If you want to know where to get started, consider software such as:

  • Autodesk Maya
  • ZBrush
  • Blender
  • Poser
  • MakeHuman
  • Unreal Engine
  • Unity
  • Quixel Mixer
  • Photoshop
  • Procreate
  • Sketchbook 

Some of these offer demos or free versions until you make money off of them, while some are made expressly for larger corporations and can cost quite a bit of money.

How Much Money Does a Character Designer Make?

On average, a character designer can make between $30 and $40 per hour. This means that you can start out making around $60,000 a year. There is also potential for growth and raises as you get better and more experience.

Additionally, every state and job field you can work in offers different pay. A director for a movie may provide more than someone wanting a character for an ad. However, this gives you a general idea of what you may be making. 

All Courses You Need In One Place.

Check Out