2020 | Winter Registration now Open!

Registration for our 2020 Winter Term is now open!

Art Direction for Character Designers

An 8-week course on adapting and designing characters for unique productions; learn what it means to be art directed as a professional character designer

Course overview Course overview

Course Overview

Adapt and design unique characters for productions

One of the biggest challenges in working as a professional character designer--whether in a studio or freelance--is being able to adapt and design for all of these unique looks and productions. Character designers work on a wide variety of projects throughout their careers, and each project has its own unique look. Every movie, TV show, short, & series is designed with a different look and style. This course focuses on cultivating the adaptability to work in a variety of different styles and looks. The assignments and lectures are each designed to focus on different art direction concepts for character designers and will require students to focus on their creative and stylistic adaptability. Think of this class as 8 weeks of freelance and professional production assignments. This class will focus on what it means to be art directed as a professional character designer; and the work from this class will add variety and demonstrate versatility in any character designer's portfolio. (Only available for the Winter Term)

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:   Advanced
Prerequisites:   Character Design for Production

Art Direction for Character Designers WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

What you'll learn

The more you know, the better.

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Three of the biggest elements of design are line, shape, and color and in our first lecture, we focus on using all three to create our first designs of the semester. The concept here is trying to find the balance between letting certain details of your character be only described by line, others only by shape, and allowing color to help set the mood and tone of your character’s personality.
In our 2nd lecture, we explore the concept behind owners resembling the pets that they own. This idea can be a really fun way of thinking about similarities between people and animals and finding fun design elements to build off of. We will want to focus on design elements like hair, size, and also thinking about how a similar personality can be portrayed in to different characters.
An abstract shape or piece of line work on its own can be anything you want to imagine. But designing a character around abstract elements can ground that element and make is an abstract interpretation of a character’s features. For example, a squiggly line is just a squiggly line, but if you put it around a character’s mouth, now it’s a beard. This kind of design adaptability is critical in terms of thinking about different ways to vary up your design work.
Designing gross and creepy characters is always fun, but when you have to design the gross to be cute and sweet, while still being gross, you have a real challenge on your hands. As designers, sometimes we have to make contradicting concepts work together, and in this case, we will be focusing on making two different designs different ideas work as one single design concept.
As designers for animated projects, it's very common that at some point in our careers we may design a character that advertises a product. And the more that we can think about why a certain character might be good to advertise a certain type of product, the better our design will play alongside the product it’s advertising.
One of the coolest aspects of movie making is designing a title sequence. It's usually stylistically bolder than the movie, but still shares the same design language. And when a title sequence showcases a stylized version of the main character from the film /TV show, then as designers we have to make sure that the character is recognizable, and the title sequence fits with the design of the film.
In our 7th lecture, we take on the task of bringing life to an object that is not alive. And by this, we don't mean zombies, but think about what an appliance would look like that came to life. What type of character would a fruit or vegetable be? Whatever isn't living, it's your challenge to make it a living, breathing character.
One common element in movies, comics, & TV shows are the rivalries that exist between characters. Good vs. bad, hero vs. villain—there are hundreds of examples in thousands of movies. It's these rivalries between the characters we love that make their stories and personalities stronger. And in many cases, it takes both characters to showcase that contrast which fuels the rivalry. In our final week of art direction for character designers, you are to design a rival for your character from Week 7.

Real heroes don't wear capes - they teach

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 25th!

winter TERM Registration

Oct 21, 2019 - Feb 3, 2020




January 25th!

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

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Imitation and the Art of Finding Your Style

Interview with Linh Bui

Animation student Linh Bui tells us about his experiance adapting to various art styles and how he learned just how different he could be in Art Direction for Character Designers.

Imitation and the Art of Finding Your Style


Hello, my name is Linh. I am a 3D animation student in Canada. When I was a little kid, I always watched cartoons on the tv screen of my neighbour through my window. Cartoons always make me feel happy.  Unluckily, my parents did not allow me to draw until 2015 April, when I was really making an effort to explain to them that art for televisions, games and movies was a professional career. After days and nights of learning through free tutorials on Youtube, buying many many books and practicing, I realized something was missing - I needed solid feedback. I started looking for good quality online schools, and I was very thrilled when I discovered CGMA. 
After I improved my drawing skills as well as my design thinking through fundamental courses, I decided that I wanted to become a character designer. After three character-design classes, I have improved more than I can imagine. However, I had just one style for character design. So, I was really looking forward to taking the last class with Nate Wragg, which is Art Direction for Character Designers, to learn more styles. Unfortunately, that class is offered only one time per year. I wanted that class so much, and I finally attend that class Winter 2019. 

*Art Direction for Character Designers if only offered during CGMA Winter Term


Line, Shape, & Color / Characters & Their Pets  


The style of Week 1 & 2 was a different way of thinking for me, so I have to plan ahead before I commit to my design and make sure everything is consistent to the style. The style only allows to have one color (middle value), solid black and white (black line wrapping around). 


I wanted to tell a story for each of my Character designs. She is a Baroque Aristocrat, she is really arrogant, and she does not care about anything else but herself. Moreover, I gave her a white poodle companion to emphasize her arrogance. For the main character herself, I emphasized the hair, bow, flowers and dress to give my character a noble look. I combined a skinny body with a chubby face to give her beauty. Also, to describe the arrogant characteristic of my character, I designed square ears, sharp eyebrows, and well done eyelid and beauty-spot.



I had some challenges with the environment. I asked Nate Wragg for his advice before and during the Q&A and his advice really made my design a lot different. One of Nate’s advice was that my shot was far away, he told me to bring the camera closer so the viewers can see the characters more clearly.


Animated Title Sequence


My choice for Animated Title Sequence was Game of Thrones because I am a big fan of Game of Thrones, as well as the way they tell the story, the way they develop their characters. I did think about the specific moments such as the first time Arya has needle, Arya’s reunion with her wolf and training with Brienne.  However, I wanted to capture more about Arya’s journey--What Arya had been through and where she is now. So, I chose this confident pose because before, she was a confident, brave but miserable kid. She lost her parents and one of her brothers, struggled to survive, and was being bullied during her training, but now she comes back to her home with confidence and ready for everything that will come next.

Additionally, the style for this assignment is combining Alexander Lindberg’s style and oil painting texture. I noticed that the style of Alexander Lindberg has curves versus straight line and I used just a few lines to describe details and indicate the form. After I finished with my design I applied the oil painting texture (which Nate Wragg provided). The texture not only added texture but also made every single element of my design have the same tone and it really put a more epic look into my design.


Bring Life to an UN-Living Object / Rivals 

After watching Nate Wragg’s lecture of week 7, I always wondered what object would be interesting. So, I took a lot of pictures of daily objects that surround me and drew faces on them to get the feeling and inspiration. It was really fun.  

My first Character was a Matcha ice cream. He is a dashing and confident kid and he likes a Lollipop, which is a little girl who just likes to hang out with other girls doing girly things.  

In each feedback, I got direction to improve my designs. For example, when I first designed the Matcha ice cream character, he looked skinny and funky not exactly the look that I wanted. I wanted for him to show his confidence and dashing personality, but after the feedback I recognized what I did not do well and fixed his look.


After the first character, I was having a very difficult time choosing his rival, because I spent 5 days focusing on what is opposite of an ice cream, but I realized that I do not have to focus on that. I just needed to focus on what story I wanted to tell. So, I came up with a story of an ice cream who likes a pretty Lollipop and follows her everywhere and tries to win her over, and he starts to annoy her. I wanted to give the Lollipop the look that she wants to say: “someone lick this guy, please!”



Final Thoughts

The reason I took this course was to be Nate Wragg’s student again. He is a very good instructor and he provides good and early feedback and even helps us with our portfolio and our personal work without hesitation. The main skill I have learned from this course is that to be able to adapt to whichever styles in the industry and developing my own style. Now I can share my portfolio with confidence that that is says “I am versatile. I can adapt to your style as well.” Thanks to this course, I have more than one unique style in my portfolio. Before, I had only one style and was scared when applying to companies because I was afraid that I could not adapt to another style. This course helped me not only to adapt to a new style but also to know how to combine styles together to make unique styles. Now, I have a process to learn more and develop my own style.  

Through this course, the most fun assignment for me was Animated Title Sequence and Line, Shape, & Color / Characters & Their Pets because they were new ways to approach design for me. After the course, I still do some work for my own in those styles and have had good response. Nevertheless, I have some difficulties with Make Abstract...Not Abstract. The task was combining between 3 styles: An Abstract element, a specific Bulky & Chunky style and Ronald Searle’s final line. I was having a very difficult time matching with the Bulky & Chunky style because at that time I was still too attached to my own style.

The CGMA courses helped me to develop my own process for designing, strengthened my weaknesses and I found what I am really interested in. I would like to recommend this course to people who want to further their character design. This course will definitely help character designers have a unique portfolio.

You can see more of my works here: