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Character Animation: Design, Acting, and Expressions

Since these 3 asks were really popular and I’ve had some requests to make them rebloggable, I thought I’d compile them. :)

Q: Do you have any tips/resources for how to get the “acting” in animation?

Getting personality in the character is probably one of the toughest things to accomplish in animation. And since every character is different, there’s no set formula either, so this is definitely a good subject to bring up.

A lot of it boils down to what they talk about in that article:

  • Believability - i.e. emotions, thought process, reactions, and consistency in attitude.
  • Personality - we usually have characters that fit into the archetype (hero, villian, love interest, etc) but we also have to think about how they bend archetypes. What makes them different/interesting?

A really good way to learn about this kind of acting is to study it.

A lot of the acting comes from characters’ interactions with each other and seeing their different responses to the same situation.



Also the character silhouette and pose is really important.


Take a look at the photoset from Cats Don’t Dance. You can see the extreme acting differences between Danny and Sawyer in the scene outside of the casting office.

You may also want to look at these: 

Q: I’ve been trying out different styles as well as expressions for character’s lately and I’ve been having a hard time. Figuring how to make the expressions and actions look more natural on the character, I was wondering if you had any good advice or knew of any books.

One of the best things you could read on this subject is Tracy J. Butler’s Lackadaisy: Notes on Expressions

You may also want to pick up Tom Bancroft’s Creating Characters With Personality

But first and foremost, think about the character’s personality—that shapes the expressions the most. Each character has their own set of expressions.




And one last thing—I wish I could have found the video from the Beauty & the Beast DVD where Glen Keane talks about his process of creating the Beast and his expressions, but I couldn’t find it online. So if you have it on DVD, I highly suggest you watch the behind the scenes stuff. In the meantime you can read this and this on it. :)

Q: Do you have any advice on how to start designing/creating an appealing character?

Appeal can be very much “in the eye of the beholder,” but that’s not say there aren’t some principles we can all agree on. Things to focus on are line quality, straights v.s. curves (line style/variety), proportion, and shape.


Freddie Moore, who supervised the dwarves in Snow White, is known for his appealing drawings. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston even said he was huge influence on the overall Disney style. The Freddie Moore Girl

Freddie didn’t really have a formula; it’s just how he drew. So, creating appeal can be hard to figure out, especially if it doesn’t come as naturally to us as it might to someone like Fred Moore.

But we can look at what we think are appealing characters and try to pull something from them.



Nico Marlet has some really appealing designs:


As well as Chris Sanders:


  • Character Design Notes - one of the biggest, most helpful blogs on designing characters. Lots of different styles and artist interviews. Bookmark it!

I could put more, but really, what’s appealing in my eyes may not be as appealing to you or others here, so the best way is to go out and look for what appeals to you and to read up on the artists who drew them. Hopefully this helped! :)

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