2020 | Winter Registration now Open!

Registration for our 2020 Winter Term is now open!

Character Design For Animation

An 8-week course designing characters with an industry-experienced character designer; develop a strong understanding of the elements that make strong, compelling characters

Course overview Course overview

Course Overview

Bring your characters to life

This course will cover a lot of reference and breaking it down into the importance of things to consider regarding animation design. Allow your imagination to push what we can do in design and to push our boundaries in what we are comfortable with and what we feel we can do in animation. Beginning by using shape as a building block for building characters, we will start with simple shapes and push the design to its limits. We will also discuss what it takes to become a professional designer.

Course Format:   Standard
Lecture Type:   Pre-recorded
Feedback:   Individual recordings
Duration:   8 weeks
Assignment:   Due each week. Expect to spend 8-10 hrs/wk viewing lectures, q&a, and time on assignments.
Q&A:   Once a week
Materials:   Photoshop (any), wacom tablet or equivalent
Skills level:   Intermediate
Prerequisites:   Foundation & Design Program or good understanding of analytical figure drawing

Character Design For Animation WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

What you'll learn

The more you know, the better.

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The relationship between shape and character design | Focus on building our designs from simple shapes | How shape affects our designs
The importance of character silhouettes: how clear silhouettes in design and character posing can help shape our character designs and make them stronger and more functional
How shape and silhouettes are important to creating a unique and strong character line up
How to bring an individual identity to a character's face
Designing contrasting characters and placing them in a story telling moment
As a designer, every film you will work on will have a style linked to the way it's designed. It's our job as designers to be adaptable and flexible enough to design in whatever style we are asked to design.
Designing an animal using simple shapes, much the way we started with characters in the first week
Transitioning into what we will be covering in the next course (Character Design for Production): what a character turn around is, why it is important in character design, and how it is applied in designing for a production

Taking your skills to the next level

Nate Wragg was born in Davis, CA in 1983. He took an interest in drawing and painting at an early age. After graduating high school, he studied animation and design at The California Institute of the Arts in Southern California. Since then, Wragg has gone on to work as an illustrator and designer on various projects-including Ratatouille, Toy Story 3 and Puss in Boots. He was one of the primary character designers on the Pixar Feature Toy Story 3. As well as designing characters, Nate was also the Production Designer of Pixar’s short film Your Friend the Rat and has been involved in designing several main title sequences, most notably the animated end titles for Ratatouille. Most recently he was the Production Designer on Captain Underpants.

Student interviews


January 26th!

winter TERM Registration

Oct 21, 2019 - Feb 3, 2020




January 26th!

Pricing & Schedule

Even though our courses are the most affordable for the quality of education.

These Finance Options allow you to focus on your goals instead of the barriers that keep you from reaching them.

Employer Reimbursement

Animation Guild CSATTF

Payment Plan

Companies that hire our students

  • Naughty Dog
  • Luma Pictures
  • Google
  • EA Games
  • DreamWorks Animation
  • Blizzard Entertainment

environment design Benefits


What makes this learning experience unique?

Personal Feedback

Receive personal individual feedback on all submitted assignments from the industries best artist.

1+ Year Access

Enjoy over 365 days of full course access. This includes all lectures, feedback, and Live Q&A recordings.

Certificate of Completion

Earn a Certificate of Completion when you complete and turn in 80% of course assignments.

Flexible Learning

Learn anywhere, anytime, and at your own pace with our online courses.

Speak to an advisor

Need guidance or course recommendations? Let us help!

Have you taken a course with us before?

Show us your skills

Not sure if you have the skills, or are you proving you do? Show us.

Have you taken a course with us before?

Letting the Character Shine Through

Interview with Laura Gómez

Character artist Laura Gómez walks through her creations — from timid crusader to lazy dragon — crafted over 8 weeks for Nate Wragg's Character Design for Animation course.

Letting the Character Shine Through



My name is Laura Gómez and I’m from Guadalajara, Mexico. I graduated from UDG with a Visual Arts Bachelor Degree where I learned traditional arts and techniques. I work as a freelance artist for independent animated short films, mostly in my own country. Currently I’m working on an independent shortfilm titled Nemi.


I have taken a lot of self-directed Character Design courses over the past years, but I was looking for one which provided personalized feedback. After some research, I decided that the CGMA courses were my best option. As a mostly self-taught character artist, I was getting concerned about my development, and I wanted to get a professional opinion about my work and the opportunity to open myself into a global market.


Focusing on Design Silhouettes — The Timid Crusader


My knight isn´t the bravest man in Jerusalem: he is not that young anymore and he isn´t in the best physical shape either, which makes him a little bit insecure about himself. He was never much of a fighter—he actually wanted a quiet life inside his little castle—but you can't stay at home when all your friends and the king are going to fight in the Crusades so, yeah, life is hard.



While I was working on this assignment, I wasn’t focusing on this character specifically. Instead, I started playing around with different shapes: circles, triangles, etc, and thinking about which kind of personality matched better with each of them. I sketched a circle knight, a rectangle knight, an old curved knight, etc. (see above). Finally, I decided to go with the "nervous" triangle. After making a general sketch I started adding some detail to his costume, props and facial features. As you might notice, I tried to put a triangle in every single detail of this character—that was the most time-consuming stage of the designing process. For the pose, I often checked my design as a solid color block, just to make sure that everything was clear and in place.



Character Line-ups — The Pirates


I love pirates, so I really enjoyed this assignment. For these characters I wanted to display a mix of toughness, silliness, and dirt. These guys are sailing the seas stealing things, fighting and drinking… and they don’t really have the time nor enough spare clean water to think about taking a shower that often.  They are like eternal teenagers with the whole “you only live once” and “nothing to lose” attitude.


For the design of these characters, I started the silhouettes with solid, flat, simple shapes. At this stage I was more worried about shapes and proportion. A short while after this I started adding props, like hats and weapons. At that point I was playing with basic shapes to make sure that every pirate looked different from the others. I kept asking myself questions like: what if I make this thing bigger or smaller? How can I make this character stand out from the others? what will happen if I use a different basic shape?  It was a really fun and playful part of the design process.




After that, I picked 3 out of my 6 original pirates and began to refine their designs by thinking more deeply about their personalities and how to show that up through the design. For the girl, I wanted a personality that’s sharp, fierce, and a little vicious, so I added a lot of pointed shapes, like her hair, bandana, eyebrows, nose, fingertips, and obviously, her dagger.  For the short guy I wanted a wild and fun-loving character, so I added a lot of rounded shapes and circles and really crazy eyes. The big one was stoic and massive, so I went for big square shapes. For this assignment I didn’t add the basic shapes to every single detail as I did with the knight. Instead, I experimented with using a wider variety of shapes while still trying to stay focused on the basic form that I picked for each character. 



The Story Moment — "Hello, Sailor!"


For the story moment we have this old, lonely and tired sailor, seated on a bench, passing the time with the good company of smokes and booze when this little posh kid with his little boat and a big lollipop (who is a great fan of the sailor), approaches him like “Hey! I’m a sailor too, let´s hang out!” The little boy feels like he is meeting with a hero, while the old man is surprised and maybe a bit uncomfortable.



I started this assignment with an idea about a thin lady eating nuts at the park, with a squirrel trying to steal a nut from her, then I changed it to an old lady feeding birds at the park being interrupted by a little girl with a lollipop full of dirt, and finally I changed that to the little boy and the sailor.



I picked this moment because I wanted to have a closest connection between the characters in the scene. For me, a little boy who wants to be a sailor and tries to catch the old sailor’s attention has more backstory potential than the other two options, that feel like more casual encounters.


Style Matching — Searle & Ward Dragons


Both of my dragons are quite silly-looking: one is distracted watching a moth while the other is telling a really bad pun to someone. I didn't want to draw them as fierce and dangerous dragons. For both of them I was thinking more about a creature that’s chubby, lazy, and not that bright.



The more challenging style was definitely Ronald Searle. I finished the Jay Ward dragon (above) in like a single day, but Searle’s dragon took me a whole week. His style is super detailed and loose, with a lot of pen drawn textures. I have never tried to emulate anything similar to his style and it took me a lot of effort. I started with the general, basic shapes, and then I gradually started to add more, and more, and more detail. I had lots of thumbnails with his drawings pasted on my canvas during the whole process because I had to check the references really often in order to stay close to the style.




Animal Design — The Sleepy Anteater


For the animal design, I picked an anteater because it is one of my favorites animals. I think they have a really funny looking shape, with the long nose, the big fluffy tail and the huge claws. In my opinion that’s a really neat mixture of features to have in a single animal. My anteater is a nice, cool guy, but quite sleepy. 



The approach to this design was really different to the first assignments of the course. For week 1, the assignment was to design an alien or monster and those can be easily based on any shape and look like anything. Since in this case we are working with real animals, I had to use a lot of references. After all, people should to be able to recognize the animal that I’m drawing. I took a really close look at the real animal in order to really understand the basic shapes that I had to use before pushing them into a more stylized version of the same animal. In the sketch you can see the two passes I did before the final version of this design.






The course was all I was expected and more. Nate Wragg’s comments about the assignments were really helpful, and always clear. Sometimes you get lost in your own work and start doubting if you´re doing things the right way, so being able to get the kind of advice that tells you exactly what you need to improve on is priceless. It’s amazing how making a little change here or adding a small detail there can take a design to a completely different level.  Also, Nate wasn’t only giving us advice about the classes, he was always open to any kind of question about the industry. He has really, really helpful in so many ways. I highly recommend to take this course to anyone who wants to improve as a character designer.