'Alive Character Design for Game, Animation and Film' by Haitao Su

‘Alive Character Design for Game, Animation and Film’ by Haitao Su

Character design is to design human or humanlike characters of distinctive uniqueness and rich features for all kinds of visual media (Su and Zhao, 2011, p.12)

Haitao Su is a Character Designer with 20+ years of experience in the industry. At present time, he’s working with his team on commissions for character designs. Regular clients include Perpetual FX Creative in America, Betsoft Gaming in Britain, BIRKE, Creative Network in Germany, and Storyboards in Netherlands.

The book starts out with the definition of Character Design. It discusses approaches, sources of inspiration, development of concepts, the process of sketching and drafting, as well as ways to discuss a design with a client. It also explores the available softwares that are currently used in the industry.


No matter which medium is employed and what changes have taken place, “to highlight the uniqueness” will always play an overriding role in character design (Su and Zhao, 2011, p. 17)


Su’s character hierarchy consists of 5 levels of detail:

  • Logo-style: mostly simplistic. Characters have big eyes, small (or no) noses and are used as mascots. Example: Peanuts cast(Charles M. Schulz, 1950-2000).
Image source.

Image sourcePeanuts characters: logo-style.

  • Simple-style: simplistic detailing, but more extensive than the logo-style. These characters are often used in Flash animation, in comic strips and in advertising. Example: Stitch from Lilo & Stitch (2001, dir. Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders).
Image source. Stitch.

Image source. Stitch: simple-style.

  • Ordinary-style: associated with a rich variety of expression, and suited for animations that use exaggerated expression and humour. Example: Donkey from Shrek (2001, Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jenson).
Image source. Donkey.

Image source. Donkey: ordinary style.

  • Complicated style: proportions are closer to reality, but still with a caricatured influence. Commonly used by Disney, DreamWorks and other big studios. Example: Rapunzel and Flynn from Tangled (2010, dir. Nathan Greno & Byron Howard).

Image source. Rapunzel and Flynn: complicated-style.

  • Realistic-style: commonly found in Hollywood live-action (VFX) films and high-definition games. Example: Bumblebee from Transformers (2007, dir. Michael Bay).
Image source.

Image source. Bumblebee: realistic-style.


Su’s approach to character design:

– The concept stage –

  1. Thinking: ask yourself about your character, get to know it. What level of detail does it belong to? What makes it unique? Who are its friends and enemies? What will happen to the character?
  2. Make thumbnail sketches. Never start off big.

From this point, the book separates into categories of characters, where each character type is explained in precision.