Characters for Animated Film

Daniel Arriaga
9 Lessons (10h 54m)
9 Week(s)

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Course Description

Character designs for animated features need to be strong enough to capture the audience's imagination for two hours and dynamic enough to tell an excellent story. In this course, Daniel Arriaga, will teach you his creative process for designing an animated film cast that will spark a connection with your audience and tell a riveting story.

You will learn about shape language, developing "character", and enhancing your characters through expressive emotions, body language, and animated gesturing as well as many other principles vital to creating great characters for animated film.

This course consists of 9 lectures presented over 14 weeks.

  • Adobe Photoshop

Lesson Plan

In my first lecture, we will talk about shape language and how it applies to character design. We will examine the silhouettes of iconic cartoon characters and talk about why they read well. We will further discuss the use of shapes in various cultures throughout history, and how shapes affect character.

In this class, we will tackle the quintessential question: what is "character"? We will look at the works of more great designers to try to find the answer. This is a class for character design for film and storytelling, not television or illustration; we will talk about what the differences are, look at examples of designs with and without "character", and discuss more about the importance of finding good reference before you even begin to design your characters.

In telling an effective story, we need to understand lines of action and how to use them. We will break down shapes and talk about what to look for when drawing from life. I will help you create a clear silhouette and stage your characters so that their moods and gestures read clearly and easily.

Exaggeration is a vital component to character design, but it must not be done at random. In this lesson, we'll examine intelligent and tasteful exaggeration -- how to identify the key defining features of a character and push them. We will also cover the importance of good drawing and staging.

In "Breaking Bad", when Jesse and Mr. White cook together for the first, these respective characters have cinematic moments that add "true" character to their designs. In this lecture, we will discuss how dynamic story moments (body language, acting, staging, emotion, attitude) add "true" character to character designs.

Good expressive emotion means conveying clearly to your audience what your character is thinking or feeling through their expressions. In this lesson, I will do an expression drawing demo and talk again about the effective use of reference, including using a rough sculpt to help us draw expressions from multiple angles.

The best caricature artists can often draw a person with a better likeness than taking a photo because they can take character into account. In this lecture, we will talk about how caricature applies to character design, look at examples from great caricature artists, and do a caricature demo.

Finishing touches are our last opportunity to eliminate generic qualities from our character designs. I will demonstrate how to use texture and value to simplify shapes and enhance visual interest in a character.

In my final lecture, I will do demos of characters successfully finished to a clean up. We will talk about overarching issues for character designers: the many ways in which we can finish a design, how to avoid getting stale or bored, how to avoid insecurity and lethargy in your designs, and more.


Daniel Arriaga

Daniel Arriaga is a character designer and sketch artist at Pixar with over a decade of industry experience. Daniel has worked on such hit films as Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, and Toy Story 3. In 2009, Daniel moved to Disney where he art directed on Prep and Landing: Naughty vs Nice and contributed designs for Wreck-It Ralph, before returning home to Pixar.

A rising star in the industry, Daniel loves to share his knowledge and teach new students who are passionate about characters. Daniel currently lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and kids.