Character Appeal

Before jumping into mocking up a few character designs I decided to take a look at what makes a character appealing -how the visual design of the character affects the audience’s perception within the first few frames of meeting the character on screen.

Pixar’s Approach to character design


“Character is what drives the story and breaths life into a film”

Pixar believe that a vital component of their character designs is the connection the audience makes with the character, and that the humanity of the character is an important detail to making this connection.

“Think about the meaning of the word ‘character’ you’re supposed to breathe life into these things, make them appealing and give them the magic that will allow people to imagine what they’re like to meet and how they might move” -Neil McFarland, Pixar.

Designing Carl and Ellie:

A demonstration of how Pixar designed Two characters to whom the audience made a huge connection with, the audience believed in Carl and Ellie’s relationship and became emotionally involved.

These were two of the most powerful characters, and the audience believed in their relationship; despite the fact they only had the first eight minutes of the film Up to create this connection.” –

Pixar’s tips for Designing a Successful Character

  1. Research and Evaluate: look at already existing characters and their personalities. Look at why they appeal to you, what works and doesn’t work about them.
  2. Who is it aimed at?: Who is the audience? If it’s young children, think about the colours used, basic shapes and bright colours keep children interested.
  3. Visual Impact: There’s probably already characters existing that are similar to your design, your’s needs to be visually strong and interesting to keep the audiences attention.
  4. Conveying Personality: Colour is important, typically dark colours depict villains with brighter colours representing innocence and purity. A personality is also revealed through the character animation, keep it interesting.
  5. Express yourself: Showing a characters range of emotions through expressions helps to flesh out their personality.
  6. Beyond the Character: The environment helps cement the believability of the character, the world they live in should makes sense to who they are.
  7. Fine-tuning: Question every aspect of your design, the slightest alteration made could have a huge impact on how the character is perceived by the audience.

Appeal is important. It is what decides how the character is perceived by the audience, how they connect with them and if they will remember them after the film.

Notes taken from The Art of Designing Appealing Characters for your Animation.

Shape Theory:

Most characters are easily broken down into one or more simple, familiar shapes. Squares and rectangles represent order, robustness eg. A robot, a heavy set man – usually represented in caricatures by rectangles, sturdy character shapes. For example, Carl, who is stubborn by nature is represented through squares and rectangles which are perfectly suited to his personality.


Circles are friendly, they usually represent a protagonist, characters that are fun and friendly. In comparison to Carl, Russell is of a circular design, he’s fun, friendly and harmless.


Triangles are dynamic, athletic characters are of a downward pointing triangle, with the female hour glass shape being represented by stacking triangles on top of one another. Johnny Bravo represents the fit, athletic character meanwhile Helen, the mother from the Incredibles is an example of the hourglass figure.

Combination of Shapes, the personality created depends on the arrangements of the shapes. A dimwitted character is usually represented by a large rectangular body with a smaller circle representing the head, eg. Mr Smee, Hook’s side kick. A mastermind is usally represented by a large head on a small body, eg. Stewie, Family Guy.

Combining a circle and a triangle creates a fast and active personality whereas a square and rectangle combination creates one of a strong and good nature. A good example of the combinations just mentioned is within the Incredibles, particularly the father and son. Dash is fast and active, Mr Incredible is strong and good, although he can also be seen representing the Athletic shape of the downward facing triangle.

Colour can also play a huge part in how the audience interprets the personality of your character. Universally some colours have their own established symbolism. Red is a sign of alert, it’s an energetic colour, with white being recognised as pure and innocent, a neutral colour. Warm colours mean action, cool colours are calming. However we are creating our animated short in black and white so colour and colour theory won’t really be much a concern for us.

The Bancroft Brothers provided an interview with character designer, artist and supervisor Jin Kim –  Jin Kim: character design at Disney – Jin Kim’s website

Jin Kim worked for Disney in the Art department and Animation department:

  • Big Hero 6: Character design supervisor
  • Tangled: Character designer
  • Tarzan: Animator
  • Frozen: Character designer

along with many other films. In the interview Jin Kim discusses his work for Disney, what he contributed to the projects –  he started out as an animator and eventually moved onto character design – how his experience with animation helped him transition through this move.

Some of his model sheets and designs:

Early designs of Mother Gothel from Tangled, through to the final design.


A couple of expression sheets for Frozen and Moana:


Another interview which provided some useful material was the Bancroft Brothers interview with Daniel Lopez-Munoz, character designer and environmental artist for Pixar. –

Daniel Lopez-Munoz worked for Blue Sky and Pixar with credits as an Art director and Character artist. Working on productions such as:

  • Up: Art director
  • Brave: Character artist
  • Ice Age, the Meltdown: Visual Development Artist

Brave, Character art:


The research above will be useful when designing our character, with helpful points from studios and artists that have successfully created characters that the audience has connected with and become emotionally involved with. Depending on the type/ shape of our character there may be specific artists and existing characters that could prove useful to the design process.. so more research may be required, but not right now.

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