Character design sheets — the basics
Character design sheets — also known as model sheets, character studies or simply ‘studies’ — provide an important reference point for animation and design teams.
Using a model sheet, the original designer can provide exact visual specifications of a character to other animators. These help standardise a character’s key gestures, style and appearance so the team can create a consistent visual.
In a sense, these sheets act a bit like an instruction manual or even a brand style guide. Just as a logo might be derided as ‘off-brand’ if it’s out of proportion or incorrectly coloured, drawings inconsistent with the specs of the character model sheet are called ‘off-models’.
However, it’s important to remember that character design sketches aren’t merely for reference. They’re also used in pitching sessions and with storyboards and animatics. As a result, they can actually have the potential to make or break a production — so it’s important to get them right!
Model sheet types
There are number of key types of sheet that concept artists commonly use when designing characters. You could think of these as individual chapters of your character study.
- Character expression sheets cover facial expressions and emotions. This is key to building a rich personality and temperament, whether your character is jittery, bristly, kindly or cunning.
- Pose sheets specify the key poses of your creation. Motions, gestures and gait are integral to storytelling. In Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear would bomb without his hands-on-hips bravado, while Woody just wouldn’t work without his exaggerated gestures of disbelief.
- Character construction sheets are all about proportions. They regulate the spatial dimensions of your character and give animators a how-to of its basic structure.
- Turnaround model sheets offer a 360-degree character visual. This provides consistent specs from every angle and gives animators the chance to add extra layers of detail to their design — like a rucksack, a trailing dress or spots on the back of the head.
- Colour sheets outline the palette of the character, from clothing to complexion. You might not be thinking Simpsons yellow or Smurfs blue for your creations, but laying down a basic scheme is still essential.
- Write ups. Finally, a quick description can help you to reiterate key elements of your character. Here, you can provide reasoning for your design choices — backing them up with details from your narrative. You can also give specific instructions if needed.