Animated Video Production

A Quick Guide to Animated Character Design

Shawn Forno 03.16.2017

You’ve finally decided to make an animated explainer video. Congratulations! One of the first steps to making a great video is creating an engaging lead character for your video. Don’t panic—animated character design is tough, but you’ve got a lot of options. We’ll even help you narrow your search for the perfect video star with this guide to common animated character design styles.

Animated Character Design

Animation is all about choices—whiteboard animation, traditional 2D, sleek 3D, CGI, and text and motion graphics—but no matter which style you choose, you still have to design the stars of your explainer video. You want a character that fits your message, tells your story, and aligns with your brand, so let’s dive into the character design process!

A few questions to get you started:

  1. Do your characters appeal to your target audience? Are they too serious, too childish, or not enough of either?
  2. What is the overall tone of your product and brand?
  3. Do you want your protagonist to be an icon, symbol, allegory, or an everyday joe?
  4. Does your character represent an idea or your ideal customer?

animated character design

Those are just some of the questions you should ask when designing your animated characters, but hopefully they’ll get you pointed in the right direction. To get you the rest of the way, we’ve compiled a comprehensive Guide to Animated Character Design with a look at three popular character styles for your animated explainer video.

Iconic Style Animated Character Design: Simple & Universal

Iconic, simplified animated characters are exactly that—simple. They’re typically monochromatic, blocky, and faceless. The strength with these template characters is that they don’t distract from the message of your video. Iconic characters are almost more “prop” than “character,” but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting. Heck, we loved the simple storytelling power of iconic characters so much we used them in our own explainer video!

When you simplify your animated characters, you make it easier for people to climb into the character’s skin, regardless of their age, race or gender. Iconic characters also have a sober, adult presence that many businesses like.

In this video for CEB, we even went so far as to make simple geometric shapes the “characters” of the video. The viewer quickly identifies each “employee” as a unique shape—triangle, square, circle. After that, viewers easily follow along as the video moves through the discovery process of identifying “high potential employees.”

The character design is clean and perfectly compliments the numerous transitions from stats, bars, charts, and graphs back to the narrative elements of the video.

animated character design

Iconic design is a great choice for corporate videos and information heavy voiceover explainer videos. Sometimes, the best characters blend into the background. Iconic characters get your message across without hogging the spotlight.

Editorial Style Animated Character Design: Clean & Professional

Editorial style animated characters draw a lot of inspiration from publications like The New Yorker. The characters run the gamut of styles, from minimalist to realistic, but typically editorial style characters are cleanly drawn and convey some elements of realism, albeit highly stylized.

The seeming simplicity of editorial character design is actually deceptively sophisticated. Editorial characters age well, and can live and breath on screen for years to come. Use editorial characters if you want to convey elegance, sophistication, and a sense of presence.

Pop Style Animated Character Design: Energetic & Fun

You’re probably the most familiar with pop-style animated characters because they draw inspiration from comic books and cartoons. Pop characters are typically inviting, expressive, and well…animated! Pop characters are vibrant and dominate the screen when they’re in view. Their actions can be as big as your ideas, and can convey a lot of energy and motion.

At IdeaRocket, nearly all of our animators, illustrators, and designers have worked in children’s television or comics at some point in their careers, so these are some of our favorite characters to design. The best part about pop characters is that they can be anything! It all  depends on the tone and subject matter of your video.

animated character design

Pop character design can be loose and approachable or robust and modern. The final look really depends on you.

Animated Character Design: Design the Star of Your Story

Characters tell the story of your video. They can be bold and vibrant, stylized and subdued, or simple templates that encourage viewers to see themselves on the screen. No matter which style you use, remember that your characters are the face of your brand and your product. Choose wisely!

Contact us today to create the perfect characters for your next video.

Shawn Forno

Shawn Forno is a massive Studio Ghibli fan who does content marketing. In that order. Find his other writing and extensive travel blogging here.

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