Character creation is your chance to let your imagination run wild. If you already have ideas, it’s easy to hit the ground running. If you don’t have ideas….well…. That can be a different story.
We’ve put together a brief beginner’s guide to tutorials that will help you create characters. Some offer ideas for finding inspiration, others offer sound advice for developing technique or workflow.
We recently had an opportunity to sit down with a freelance illustrator who’s working on a hush-hush indie game right now. Now, she doesn’t have a full-blown tutorial for us, but she does have some tips and “guiding questions” she uses to create and inform her own characters.
Her name is Lauren Walsh, and you can check her stuff out here.
1. Tips From an Illustrator
Her first tip? References, references, references.
Even the designers of the most fantastical creatures will start with references. They will take the skeletons of different real-world creatures and pull them together, building this amazing monster by first designing its skeleton. The foundation is everything.
The best way to ensure the strong starting point for your character is to reference the real world.
Walsh says history can be a huge help. She recommends collecting from history as much as you can, both images and information. Certain things around today once served a different function, and tracking that progression can lead to cool ideas for intricate character decisions.
Take, for example, high heels. In today’s age, we understand them as an elegant footwear option for almost exclusively women, or men dressing up as women. Or men who are also rockstars.
Anyway… way back when heels were used exclusively by Persian men while they rode horses–it was easier for them to fire arrows with the extra stance-security the heel provided.
When Europeans caught a whiff of Persian culture through an emissary trip, the high-heeled boot caught on with the aristocrats.
When the plebeians started to wear heels too, the aristocrats did the only logical thing…Jacked the heels even higher (since they’d be useless if one actually had to walk in them on cobblestone streets!
Fashion is a tricky beast to track, and you can find more to this story here. The short of it is, eventually, women start wearing the heeled boots to make their outfits more masculine in the 1600s. Then, another hundred years after that, men weren’t wearing them and women’s heels had grown taller.
Today, we think of high heels as a women’s shoe. Hundreds of years ago, it was worn by men to shoot arrows. It’s that kind of function to form thinking that can lead to really innovative character designs.
Here are some other questions to consider:
- How do you convey personality through appearance? (Think Overwatch)
- How do you convey rank or hierarchy?
- How does the environment impact your character’s physical features? Posture? Skin? Height? Weight? Body language? Stance?
- How do religious or cultural influences impact your character’s features?
When it comes to character creation, observation can be your best friend. Observe the world around you and pull from it what interests you.
Oh, and also observe the tutorials below.
Learn to Design Characters Online
2. Creative Bloq: Art and Design Inspiration
The team over at Creative Bloq put together a list of 100 Amazing Adobe Illustrator Tutorials. Page 5 of that list has 12 tutorials tackling character design.
The character design tutorials cover quite a range of topics, from “How to Draw Happy Tree Friends Characters” (for those of you who are familiar with that grisly series) to create comic book style or hip hop style characters.
If you’re looking to do some illustration work in Adobe Illustrator, this tutorial selection is a good place to start. The selection is broad enough that you’ll be able to find a tutorial that walks you through the steps to design a character you’ll actually want to design, and it’s free to use.
3. Envato Tuts+
The contributors over at Envato Tuts+ never take a break, it seems. Posting new tutorials anywhere from 1 to 3 times a month, the newest content is constantly being updated with new tutorials dealing with character design.
Since January 9th, the site’s been updated to include how to create a cute rooster in honor of the Chinese New Year using Affinity Designer. In December? They added tutorials on how to create a reindeer character construction kit or a unicorn in Adobe Illustrator.
If you go further into their database, from May and March of 2016, you can learn how to draw creatively using photo references–a tactic highlighted in our artist interview introduction. There’s another tutorial for “10 Top Tips for Creating Unique Character Designs.”
These tutorials are great if you’re looking for help turning your real-life inspiration into fresh characters, or if you’re looking to develop your skills by copying successful illustrations.
If you want to start with the basics you can check out their Easy Character Design tutorial collection. This section features a similar variety at a more accessible skill level.
4. Vandelay Design
There are tutorials for creating pirates, monsters, grumpy bears, and cute red-haired boys. It’s all in there, and it’s a great place to find a tutorial for the kind of characters you hope to design in the future.
The only downside here is that there’s no search feature, and every tutorial is listed in a single column on a one really long page. Since there are about 60 tutorials, it can be a little tedious to search through and find the one you want.
Still, a little extra time searching is a small price to pay for a character design tutorial that can unlock your skills and kick your creative juices into gear.
5. Autodesk: Make Games Campaign
Autodesk’s Make Games Campaign has video tutorials that walk you through creating characters (and environments) in 3D. It will show you how to take your concept art and render that as a 3D model. It also shows you how to add colors, textures, and lighting to give your 3D models a unique look.
An important element in 3D rendering is rigging. This is the concept of building a “control structure” for your character. When you build this structure, animators can then give them movement and bring them to life in-game–or you can animate them yourself!
These tutorials will show you how to add movement to your characters and objects after the rigging process. You’ll learn how to bring your characters to life, all by yourself.
The tutorials focus on MAYA LT. If you don’t have it, you can download a free trial to get through the tutorials and see if it’s the kind of software you could see yourself working in. The game kit is also available for download on the site.
And if you’ve never worked with Maya LT before, don’t fret. They have a handful of Maya LT 101 tutorials to get you started.
Some Indie Game Characters We Love
- Sans is the loveable, mischievous skeleton who interacts with the player along with his brother, Papyrus.
2. Meat Boy
- Super Meat Boy
- Meat Boy is a dedicated boyfriend, vanquisher of evil, and an all-around good dude.
3. Cuphead and Mugman
- Cuphead in Don’t Deal with the Devil
- These two brothers are the playable characters from Cuphead in Don’t Deal with the Devil. After some hijinks in a casino, we find the two ceramic-based brothers fighting for their very souls.
Top 4 Female Indie Game Characters
- Telltale’s The Walking Dead
- Clem’s been through a lot. Introduced as a young child in the first season of Telltale’s famous series, she quickly grows to be a dynamic and captivating character as the years go by.
- Toriel acts as one of your first guides in the mysterious and quaint world of Undertale. She has an innate ability to care for the main protagonist and goes as far as to stand in the player’s way if they want to explore the world’s depths, basically having you fight your surrogate mother.
- Life is Strange
- Chloe is the brash, punk rock chick best friend of our hero, Max Caulfield. Throughout the game, Max bends over backward to save Chloe’s life by using her strange new abilities. The dynamic between the two friends is fantastic, and fighting for Chloe’s life feels essential, scary, and monumental.
4. Mae Borowski
- A Night in the Woods
- Mae’s strengths lie in her quintessential ‘normal-ness.’ That may sound not very interesting, but it actually makes her more relatable than any other indie game characters. She’s going through a weird time in her life; who hasn’t?! This adds a sense of reality to an otherwise more cartoonish-looking game.
Create Your Own Character (Websites)
- The Character Creator – Build visually stunning avatars
- Create Your Own Character – Character Creator
- Avatar Maker – Create Your Own Avatar Online
- How to Design Characters // 6 Tips & Tricks!
- Live Drawing – Character Design Tutorial!
- Character Design Design & Illustration Tutorials by Envato Tuts+
- How to Draw Video Game Characters
- How to Draw Popular Video-Game Characters | Speed Drawing compilation by HooplaKidz Doodle
- How to Draw Video Game Characters: How to Draw The Characters & Environments of Video Games (Drawing Basics and Video Game Art)
- Creating Characters with Personality: For Film, TV, Animation, Video Games, and Graphic Novels
- Drawing Basics and Video Game Art: Classic to Cutting-Edge Art Techniques for Winning Video Game Design
- How to Draw Video Games: Create Unique Characters, Worlds, Levels and More!
- Costume Design & Illustration: for Film, Video Games and Animation
- More Heroes and Heroines: Japanese Video Game + Animation Illustration
How Can I Create My Own Character?
You can use multiple pieces of software, like Photoshop, Maya, and more. You can also utilize free online character creators, like The Character Creator, which gives you many options to customize and build a fully-fleshed character.
What Is the Best Free Avatar Creator?
There are a ton of options out there (and many based on your preference of art style), but for overall quality, go with Face Your Manga for a more unique and fresh internet presence.
Where Can I Create My Own Avatar?
There are tons of free avatar creators out there for you to experiment with and see what clicks. There are manga-based ones, and even one based on the hit AMC show, Mad Men.
Is the Character Creator Free?
Yes, and the creators have stated that it will remain free to use for as long as it’s up.