Have you ever wanted to design a character for animation? Creating characters for this purpose is a little different from what you may be used to when it comes to illustration. To help get you started, here are a few great tips on designing character model sheets for 2D and 3D animation!
A character design sheet, model sheet, character board, character rotation or study is a document used as a guide for the appearance, poses, and gestures of an original character in animation, comics, and video games. This guide document is typically illustrated during the concept art, or pre-production phase of a project. When working collaboratively, all the characters in your project should have their own model sheet created by your character designer.
Character model sheets should be used as a guide for any members of your creative team who will need to work with a character. They should have a simple layout that is easy to understand without any additional guidance. When it comes to drawing characters for design sheets, it is important that you keep things relatively neat to avoid any inconsistencies in the characters’ design further down the line.
When you think of 2D animation, your favourite cartoon or classic Disney film may come to mind. This style of animation was one of the first methods seen used in popular media and it is still used in lots of awesome video content today! There are 2 main variations of 2D animation used: frame-by-frame and 2D puppet animation.
This animation method requires the animator to draw each frame of the animation by hand, illustrating small changes between each frame to create the illusion of movement!
This style of animation requires animators to create a puppet rig of their character. This is done by illustrating all of the characters’ body parts and props on different layers and attaching them together to create joints.
When it comes to designing for 2D animation, keeping your designs relatively simple is the best way to ensure an easy conversion to animation. Small details that do not add much to a character’s personality should be removed during this simplification process. Using basic shapes for your characters will also really help your designs work effectively for 2D animation! As you can see in the below example from ‘The Character Designer‘, it can help to think of the human body as a series of relatively simple shapes when you are starting your design.
Once you have solidified your design, you will be able to start developing a model sheet for it! To illustrate a character model sheet or turn-around sheet, you will be required to draw your character from 3-6 angles. These angles will typically include: front view, profile, back view and three-quarter views.
One of the most important things to remember when drawing your character turn-around is that each part of your character should line up exactly in each angle. A good way to make sure you are getting your proportions correctly is to draw guidelines that correspond with key elements of your character, e.g. top of the head, eyes, nose, mouth, shoulders, and other key parts of the body and costume.
Once you have completed the design you can hide the guidelines and you should be left with something that looks a bit like the above model sheet!
However, turnarounds are not the only type of character model sheet you may want to create for animators to reference. Some other common design sheets include: expression sheets and pose sheets!
Creating an expression sheet is a great way to provide your animators with a basic guide on the way a character expresses different emotions. Try to include a combination of extreme and subtle expressions in your illustrations for these model sheets! Expression sheets are super fun to sketch as you can really explore a range of personalities for your character.
Similar to expression sheets, pose sheets are used to show the type of gestures a character is likely to make. These can be really important to provide your animators with information on the way a character moves in accordance with their personality! Whilst traditional character turnaround sheets can feel a bit stiff, pose sheets allow for a much wider range of motions to be expressed. Disney animator Tony Bancroft does an amazing job of teaching you how to create these kinds of illustrations in his course ‘Drawing Character Poses with Personality. If you are creating a pose sheet for your character I highly recommend checking it out!
Another thing that can improve the effectiveness of your character design sheet is a color guide! To do this, all you need is a simple key of all the color swatches used in the character design, alongside an example illustration of the character in full color. This is really helpful when you are handing off a design for a whole team of creators to use as it ensures all of the colors remain consistent.
Creating a character model sheet for 3D or CGI animation is similar to the process for 2D with a few key differences. To help the artists who will be creating the 3D model of your character design, it is best to illustrate characters in a T-pose, using only line art and no colour. This is because the character modeller will import the design into their CGI software as a guide, so the character’s outlines need to be easily visible.
When illustrating the front-facing angle of the character you will need to make sure that both sides of their body are perfectly symmetrical. This is because CGI characters will usually be modelled with one half first that is then mirrored to create a whole 3D puppet. You can still add some asymmetry to your designs, just make sure the overall forms of your character’s bodies are illustrated symmetrically.
Hopefully, these awesome tips have helped you gain an even better understanding of character model sheets. If you are looking to learn even more about character design, check out The Fundamentals of Character Design by amazing artist Randy Bishop!
Are you ready to start creating your own character model sheets?
When choosing the best size for your character design sheet, you will want to pick a resolution that is at a minimum of 3300 by 2550 pixels. If you are printing your designs, choose a canvas size that is double your intended printing size. These rules will help you ensure the details of your designs don’t get too pixelated!
Yes! Character design sheets and model design sheets are typically the same thing. You will hear ‘model sheets’ used more often in 3D animation than in 2D animation.
Your character design sheet should include all of the design details you want your production teams to use for the character. This means illustrations with multiple angles, poses and expressions.
Rhea is an Australian concept artist who is currently studying at Griffith University. She is passionate about spreading her love of art to others.