character study animations of a scientist

Animation: What Is a Character Study?


What is a character study? The character study is a series of illustrations that have been created to shed more light onto the traits of an animated character, after the character has been conceptualized. The character study acts as a comprehensive guide to map out the following things in regard to the character:

  • Its personality
  • Its mannerisms
  • Its thought processes
  • Any other delineations that set it apart from other characters

While the process of completing a character study can seem a little elaborate, it’s a necessary step to take in order for everyone to understand and support the character. 

What Is Proof of Concept in Animation?

Proof of Concept in animation is the first stage of any character study definition. It is called such because, as an animator, you must prove that the character can emote in a way that would make an audience care. Empathy and pathos are key here. Simply put, if an audience can’t empathize or relate with the character, they won’t feel a connection to it and their attention will be lost. An audience can easily lose attention when they are distracted by issues with animated characteristics that, deep down inside, they know are fundamentally wrong. Ultimately, this means that the audience’s focus is no longer on the story, so the story fails. 

On the other hand, just the opposite is true. If an animator can succeed at developing a personality that “makes sense” (if the character embodies a type of quality that viewers believe), then you have succeeded at designing an appealing and memorable character.

Why are Facial Expressions and Body Language Important in a Character Study?

Facial expressions and body language are important parts of any character study because these express the personality and emotions that make a character believable, as well as keep the audience focused on the story.  

One way to come up with and communicate what a character is feeling is through pantomime. Create as many full-facial expressions and full-body gestures as possible that communicate what the character is thinking and feeling. 

Sample Questions

Before you begin, ask yourself the following questions about your character:

  1. What is the best pose that upholds the integrity of the character’s nature?
  2. Is the character an introvert or an extrovert?
  3. Depending on the answer to question #2, how would the character react to being surrounded by people who are (and are not) familiar?
  4. What would be the character’s demeanor during a subway ride home? Would they prefer to stand or sit? If they like to stand, would they grasp tightly to the overhead handle to prevent themselves from falling over? Or, are they the adventurous type who refuses to use any support because they are so confident in themselves? If the character prefers to sit, would they pull out a book to read or put on headphones to block out the chaos surrounding them?

It might seem odd, but by asking and answering these types of questions, your character will begin to solidify to the point where they begin to feel very familiar to you, like a sibling or best friend. And of course, these are just examples. Any questions that you can answer that give insight into the character will help.

Animate What You’ve Learned

Once this happens, you will be able to illustrate the character with confidence, knowing that whatever gesture you come up with is the one that’s most suitable. This is the point where things get really exciting because you can start to communicate the character’s behaviors when confronted with a variety of situations, from excitement to fear and anxiety. 

Again, doing this well is utterly important because if there’s a message that you’re trying to convey through your story, your character will make it either difficult for the audience to comprehend or crystal clear. Crystal clear stories win everyday. 

What Should You Do If You Have Artist’s Block?

If you are suffering from artist’s block and can’t come up with any genuine, unique, or magnetic facial expressions and body language, a good tip is to study the people around you. Put down your pencil, mouse, or stylus and take a stroll through the park, lounge, or mall. Places like these are filled with all sorts of personalities and you’re bound to come away with a few great ideas. 

Another great suggestion to overcoming artist’s block? Read articles and take courses on animation! This will not only help give you fresh ideas, but will give you the skills required to design and animate them as well. 

Finally, have patience. Make sure to put an extensive amount of time and effort into your character study. In the end, you will find that the time spent was worth it because you’ll come to truly enjoy the character and will support it through the long haul of the animation and production of your story.