Effective Principles for Animation Character Development
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 11 min read


  1. Study the Basics of Animation Character Design
  2. Create Detailed Character Profiles
  3. Incorporate Emotions and Expressions into Character Design
  4. Use Color to Define Character's Personality
  5. Design Distinctive Silhouettes
  6. Develop Characters with a Backstory
  7. Experiment with Character Styles and Forms
  8. Use Reference Images for Inspiration
  9. Ensure Consistency in Character Design
  10. Test and Refine Character Designs

Animations are a form of art that hold the power to bring life to even the most mundane of stories. At the heart of every animation is the character, and effectively developing these characters is key in creating a compelling narrative. This blog will guide you through the effective principles of animation character development, starting with the basics of character design and extending to more intricate details.

Study the Basics of Animation Character Design

Before you dive headfirst into the world of animation character development, it's important to understand the basics of character design. This foundational knowledge will help you create characters that are not only visually appealing but also capable of conveying emotions and driving your storyline forward.

Here's what you need to know:

  • Body Structure: The character's body structure plays a pivotal role in defining its overall appearance. For example, a muscular character may suggest strength and courage, while a slender figure might portray agility or speed. It's all about using body shapes to tell a story.
  • Facial Features: The face is the mirror of a character's soul. It's where most of the emotion is conveyed. Pay close attention to details such as eyes, eyebrows, mouth, and even wrinkles. Each of these elements can dramatically alter a character's expression.
  • Proportions: In animation, you're not always bound by realistic proportions. However, it's still important to maintain balance. Exaggerated proportions can be used for comedic effect or to further emphasize certain character traits.
  • Movement: How a character moves can say a lot about their personality. The way they walk, talk, and even sit can provide a deeper insight into their character.

Now that you've got a grasp on the basics, you're ready to explore the more complex aspects of animation character development. Remember, practice makes perfect, so don't be afraid to make mistakes along the way. Keep experimenting, and eventually, you'll find what works best for you and your characters.

Create Detailed Character Profiles

Once you have the basics down pat, it's time to delve deeper into the character's core. And the best way to do this is by creating detailed character profiles. This is where you get to know your characters intimately, diving into their personalities, their likes and dislikes, their fears and their dreams. In essence, you are building their backstory, which will help in defining their behavior and reactions in different situations.

Let's break down what a typical character profile might include:

  • Name: A character's name is usually the first thing your audience will learn about them. It can hint at their personality, origin, or role in the story.
  • Age: The age of a character can impact their perspective, their wisdom, and their physical abilities. For example, a teenage character might be more impulsive, while an older character might be more patient and wise.
  • Physical Description: Besides their body structure and facial features, think about other physical traits. Do they have any distinguishing marks or features? What about their style of dress? These details can further enhance the visual appeal of your character.
  • Personality: This is where you define the core of your character. Are they introverted or extroverted? Are they adventurous or cautious? Their personality will greatly influence their actions and reactions.
  • Background: Where does your character come from? What kind of environment did they grow up in? Their background can influence their beliefs, values, and behavior.
  • Strengths and Weaknesses: Every character should have strengths and weaknesses. This makes them relatable and helps to create conflict and growth within the story.

Creating detailed character profiles is a crucial step in animation character development. It allows you to fully understand your characters and makes it easier to maintain consistency in their behavior throughout the story.

Incorporate Emotions and Expressions into Character Design

Emotions and expressions are the heartbeat of any character. They add life, depth, and relatability to your animation. This is why it's so important to incorporate them into your animation character development process. But how do you go about it? Let's find out.

Firstly, understanding the basic emotions is key. Happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust—these are the core emotions that psychologists believe we all experience. And guess what? Your characters should experience them too. But remember, it's not just about the big emotions. Subtle emotions like confusion, curiosity, and embarrassment can add a lot of depth and realism to your characters.

Now, how do you show these emotions? This is where expressions come in. The face is the main vehicle for showing emotion—especially the eyes and the mouth. For example, wide eyes and a big smile can show excitement, while furrowed brows and a frown can show anger.

But don't forget about the body language. A slumped posture can show sadness or defeat, while a straight, tall posture can show confidence. Even the way your character moves can reflect their emotions. A character who's angry might move quickly and sharply, while a character who's scared might move slowly and hesitantly.

When it comes to animation character development, it's all about the details. So, take the time to study emotions and expressions. Watch people around you, study films, and even look at yourself in the mirror. The more you understand about emotions and expressions, the more realistic and relatable your characters will be.

Use Color to Define Character's Personality

Color is a powerful tool in animation character development. It can say a lot about your character's personality even before they utter a single word. It's like a secret language that speaks directly to the viewer's subconscious. Let's explore how you can use color to define your character's personality.

Think about the colors you see in everyday life. Red is often associated with passion, anger, or love. Blue can symbolize calmness, stability, or sadness. Yellow might bring to mind happiness, energy, or caution. By applying these associations to your characters, you can give the audience clues about their personalities.

For example, if you're creating a character who's energetic and cheerful, you might choose bright, warm colors like red or yellow. On the other hand, if your character is cool and composed, cooler colors like blues or greens might be more appropriate. And don't forget about neutral colors—browns and grays can suggest reliability and practicality, while black and white can symbolize contrast, balance, or simplicity.

But remember, it's not just about the color itself—it's also about how you use it. A character dressed entirely in red might come across as aggressive or overwhelming, while a character with just a touch of red might seem passionate or determined. So, play around with different color combinations and see what works best for your character.

Keep in mind that color perception can vary between cultures, so do some research if you're creating a character for a specific audience. And remember, the most important thing is to stay true to your character's personality. After all, a color is just a color, but a character is a whole world of emotions, experiences, and stories.

Design Distinctive Silhouettes

When it comes to animation character development, one aspect that often gets overlooked is the silhouette. But trust me, it's more important than you might think. A distinctive silhouette can do wonders for your character's recognition and appeal.

So, what is a silhouette exactly? Imagine if your character was completely blacked out, leaving only their outline visible. That's their silhouette. It should be clear, recognizable, and interesting—even without any colors, patterns, or details.

Let's say you're creating a superhero. You might give them a broad chest, a slim waist, and a cape billowing in the wind. That creates a dynamic, powerful silhouette that viewers can instantly recognize as a superhero. But what if your character is a timid, awkward teenager? In that case, a slumped posture and a smaller, less imposing silhouette might be more fitting.

How do you create a distinctive silhouette? Start by emphasizing the unique features of your character. If they have a giant sword, make it prominent in their silhouette. If they have a long, flowing hair, use it to break up their outline and add interest. And don't be afraid to exaggerate—animation is all about pushing boundaries and breaking rules for the sake of storytelling.

Remember, your character's silhouette is one of the first things viewers will notice, so take the time to get it right. A distinctive silhouette will not only make your character more memorable but also help to convey their personality and mood. So next time you're working on animation character development, don't forget to consider the silhouette. It might just be the key to creating a character that viewers will fall in love with.

Develop Characters with a Backstory

We've all heard the saying, "Every character has a story to tell." Well, it's not just a saying. It's a fundamental principle of animation character development. Crafting a backstory for your character is like laying the foundation for a house. You can't build anything solid without it.

So what's a backstory? It's the story of who your character is and how they became that way. It's their history, their experiences, their triumphs, and their failures. It's what makes them tick.

For example, let's consider a character who is terrified of water. That's an interesting trait, but why are they afraid? Maybe they nearly drowned as a child, or perhaps they come from a desert planet where water is unknown and frightening. Those are backstories—and they add depth and dimension to the character.

Now, you might be thinking, "But my animation is only two minutes long! I don't have time to explain all that." And you're right. But here's the thing: your audience doesn't need to know the whole backstory. You do. It will influence every decision you make about the character, from their dialogue to their design. And even if the audience never learns the full story, they'll sense the depth and consistency that the backstory brings to the character.

So next time you're working on animation character development, dig deep into your character's past. You might be surprised at the ideas it sparks for their present—and their future.

Experiment with Character Styles and Forms

Animation offers a world of limitless possibilities—especially when it comes to character styles and forms. Animation character development is not just about what your characters do or say, but also about how they look. The style and form you choose can tell a story all on their own.

Consider the classic animation film, "The Lion King." Simba, the protagonist, starts as a playful and naive cub, grows into a confused and lost adolescent, before ultimately maturing into a wise and confident king. Each stage of Simba's life is not just portrayed through the storyline, but also through changes in his physical form and style.

Now, think about your own characters. What form and style would best represent their personality or journey? You might start by sketching out several different versions of your character. Don't be afraid to get creative. Try different body shapes, facial features, clothing styles, and more. You might even try different animation styles—like 2D versus 3D, or cartoonish versus realistic.

Keep in mind, though, that consistency is key in animation character development. Once you've decided on a style and form, stick with it. Your audience needs to recognize your character every time they appear onscreen, even if they change and grow throughout the story.

So go ahead—start doodling, sketching, and experimenting. Who knows? You might just stumble upon a style and form that brings your character to life in surprising new ways.

Use Reference Images for Inspiration

Ever heard of the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words"? Well, in animation character development, it could be worth a thousand ideas. Reference images can serve as a goldmine of inspiration when designing your characters.

Think about the environment your character lives in or the era they come from. Are they a futuristic robot living in a space colony? Or a Victorian lady in a bustling city? Collect images that reflect these settings, and use them to shape your character's appearance and behavior.

For example, if you are creating a character from the 1920s, you might look at photos or paintings from that era. Notice the fashion trends, the hairstyles, and even the body language of the people. These details can help you accurately reflect the time period in your character's design.

Keep in mind, reference images aren't just for historical accuracy. They can also help you with the little things, like how to draw a convincing smile, or what a surprised expression really looks like. Even professional animators use reference images or videos to capture the subtleties of human (or animal) movement.

So, start collecting. Save images from the internet, take photos, or even sketch from life. You'll find that with a library of reference images at your fingertips, animation character development becomes a much more colorful and detailed process.

Ensure Consistency in Character Design

Consistency in character design is one of those things that seems easy enough until you're knee-deep in the animation character development process. Imagine, you've got a great character design. It's unique, it's expressive, and it fits your story perfectly. But then, as you start animating, you notice that your character looks slightly different in each scene. Oops!

Consistency is key in animation character development, not just in the character's look, but also their behavior, speech, and even their reactions to certain situations. This is what makes the character believable and relatable to the audience.

Think about your favorite cartoon characters. What makes them memorable is their consistency. For example, consider SpongeBob SquarePants. He's always optimistic, always ready for adventure, and his design remains consistent throughout the series. This makes him instantly recognizable and memorable.

So, how can you ensure consistency in your character's design? One way is to create a character sheet or a model sheet. This is a document that includes multiple views of your character, including close-ups of important details like facial expressions or accessories. It's like a guidebook for your character, helping you maintain consistency as you animate.

Remember, consistency isn't about stifling creativity—it's about maintaining the integrity of your character's design and personality throughout your animation. It's what makes your character, well, your character.

Test and Refine Character Designs

Once you've created your animation character, it's time to put them to the test. A key part of the animation character development process is refining your designs based on feedback, performance, and your gut feeling. It's like making a batch of cookies—you make the dough, bake a test cookie, taste it, and then adjust the recipe based on what you learn.

Let's say you've created a character who is meant to be a charming rogue, but your test audience keeps describing him as "sneaky" or "untrustworthy". This could be a cue to refine your character's design or behavior to better convey their intended personality.

Remember, it's okay to make changes. Even the most iconic characters, like Mickey Mouse, have undergone changes over the years. The key is to make sure these changes serve your character and your story.

To effectively test and refine your character designs, consider the following steps:

  • Get Feedback: Show your designs to others and listen to their impressions. They might see things that you didn't.
  • Use Animatics: These are rough animations that can help you see how your character moves and interacts in their environment.
  • Revisit your Character Profiles: If something isn't working, go back to your character profiles. They are your roadmap to understanding your character.

Refining your character designs is a continuous process. Keep tweaking, keep refining, and eventually, you'll arrive at a character that not only looks great on paper, but also performs well in your animation.

If you're eager to dive deeper into the world of animation character development, don't miss out on learning from our 'Daisie Original Animation Course' with none another than Alex Jenkins who will you take you through his complete animation process. Dive in and take your animation skills to the next level!