How to create an animated character?

The world of branded animations is filled with charming, memorable and engaging characters - there’s the Michelin Man, the Jolly Green Giant, Aleksandr Meerkat, Tony the Tiger, the Duracell Bunny and many, many more.

Written by Jack Last

But, why is it that brands choose to create a character for their videos? Surely, when it comes to adverts, less is more and simplicity is king?

Well, in reality, animated characters are extremely important to brands. Not only do they engage the audience and create a strong connection between the consumer and the brand, but these characters can act as the face of the business - and who wouldn’t want their brand to be associated with a friendly, fun-filled character?

What’s more, the presence of a character can even help your target audience understand the animated video animation better. As a result, these characters are a great way to guide your audience through the intended call to action.

So, to help you create an animated character that reinforces your brand identity while engaging your audience, we’ve shared our expert’s guide to designing an animated character.

What is character animation?

First things first, what does character animation actually entail?

Character animation is an area of animation, which specifically focuses on the creation of animated characters. The process of character animation includes designing the character, giving the character a profile (including name, background and personality) and then bringing it to life, through movement.

Specialist animators can then give these characters smooth, super-realistic movements. Finally, audio is added to give the character a voice.

Animating characters can be achieved using a variety of animation techniques. These include (but aren’t limited to) 2d and 3d character animation, stop motion, claymation, cut-out or hand drawn animation.

If you’d like to find out more about the process of character animation, and how some of the big screen’s most famous animations were devised, we highly recommend watching the following:

●     Behind the Scenes of 'The Great Sofa Caper' - Wallace& Gromit

●     Behind The Scenes Of Disney's Animated Movie Luca

SYFY WIRE interview with Josie Trinidad, Disney Animation’s Head Of Story

Important questions to ask yourself about your animated character

For many brands, animated characters will not only be extremely important to this video, but they’ll continue to be important well into the future. Ideally, your character will continue to be the face of your brand for the next few years, at least.

So, in order to future-proof your character, you need to consider their role from all aspects.

When designing your character, we recommend asking yourself the following questions:

What target audience will be seeing the animated character?

What are the demographics of your target market (including age, location, gender, interests, etc.)?

Once you know who will be seeing your character, you design it in a way that best engages your target market. For example, if you want to create a character that appeals to older people, you want to give your character a slightly slower speed, a timeless design, and a sense of trustworthiness.

Alternatively, if your target market is young professionals, your character design needs to prioritise professionalism over goofiness.

What does the character need to look like to match the brand?

Your character needs to be clearly linked to your brand, sot hat the two appear to come hand-in-hand.

There are a number of ways that you can do this, such as:


●     Incorporating your brand’s colours in the character’s outfit or appearance

●     Uniting the character’s origin story with your service or product (Aleksandr Meerkat’s educational video about the difference between Compare the Meerkat and Compare the Market was anunforgettable advertising moment)

●     Creating a character with traits that tie in to the brand’s product or service (think the speed and energy of the Duracell Bunny)

●     Creating a strapline that ties your character with your brand (Frosties’ ‘They’re grrrreat!’ is a prime example of this)

●     Ensuring the character’s dialogue parallels your brand’s tone of voice and style of communication

●     Featuring the character across your brand’s digital presence, including your social media channels and website

What does the lead character need to look like to represent the business?

Building on the point above, this question is all about pinpointing the character’s purpose, and the impression you want it to create.

When they see this character, what will your audience think about your brand? Is this the impression that you want them to have?

For example, bold and colourful characters create a sense of fun, creativity and youthfulness.

While these traits are great for some brands, they certainly aren’t desirable for all businesses. It’s doubtful that your law firm would have these perceptions as their top priority.

So, think about whether or not your character is representing the right attributes of your business. And, if not, tweaking its design will ensure your character is fit for purpose.

Steps for creating your animated character

1. Design your character

The first step is to get your character designed. Working with an illustrator, you can sketch out initial ideas for the appearance of your character.

They will work with you to create, review and edit a series of drafts. They can also recommend ideas for its key features, background story and extra elements to help boost audience engagement. Finally, the client will approve a final design for the character.

2. Prepare Character Artwork

Then, once the character design has been confirmed, the illustrator will create a series of finalised character designs. This step is undertaken before movement is added to the illustration.

This character artwork will include detailed drawings of the hair, eyes, month, arms, legs, hands and so on. This will ensure that your character has all the necessary artwork created to form its animated movement.  

Plus, by creating each of these elements as separate elements within the character artwork, this will make it easier to implement the animation, and ensure that the approved artwork is altered as little as possible.

3. Plan and Prepare for Character joint movements

The final step before animation is added is planning and preparing for how your character will move.

Rather than jumping straight into animation, it’s important to carefully consider the character’s joint movements. This preparation is essential, as it ensures the movement looks natural.

In fact, this step is used by all of the big animators. This behind-the-scenes footage of Disney’s reference videos for Alice and Wonderland features Kathryn Beaumont (the voice actress for Alice) performing the scenes in person. This footage was then usd by the illustrators and animators, to help them keep Alice’s movements as believable as possible.

A great method that helps animators establish joint movements is using the opacity tool in their chosen animation software, while ensuring the character and all its artwork is implemented. Opacity helps them to establish where the character's joints will be. From there, they can determine what the movement would look like, and what areas of the body would need to move.

4. The animation can begin

Now that the joints and movements have been planned, the animating can begin.

The animator will create movement by creating a series of keyframes.

If you’ve not heard the term before, animators use keyframes to give videos a smooth and even movement.

As an example of how keyframes work, let’s use the classic movement of a character waving:

● The animator will create two blank keyframes, and then set the speed of the animation (by adding a specific number of blank frames in the middle of the two).

● Then, they will feature the animated character in the first keyframe. This image will feature the character with its hand raised, positioned towards the left.

● The second keyframe will feature the character with its hand raised, positioned towards the right.

● Once played back, this will create the effect of the character’s hand moving.

● The animator can then repeat the process by adding extra keyframes, which parallel the initial layout so that the hand is moving right to left. This will complete the wave.

As you can see, these keyframes act as signposts for animation software.

The job of the keyframes is to direct the software. Once the two keyframes have been set, the software will note the differences between the two images, and fill in the gaps. This will appear as an even, realistic movement.  

The animator can keep building on this series of keyframes, and extend the story by adding additional movements and building up the background.

The beauty of keyframes is that they save animators a huge amount of time. Traditionally, movement was given to animation by creating frame by frame drawings. This took a huge amount of time, as even short videos would require hundreds or thousands of drawings to be created.

But keyframe technology reduces this process down to a fraction of the time. From the perspective of brands, this also means that video animation is a lot less costly than it once was.

Animated character considerations

Keyframe animation gives video creators a huge range of flexibility.

You can create a wide variety of poses and types of movement. These movements will be what gives your character its lifelike and personable qualities.

So, think carefully about what movements you’d like to give to your character. You need to consider this based on both what movements would match your character’s identity and personality, and what movements would support the goals that your company has for this video.

With that in mind, here are some examples of movements to consider:

● Key poses

○ How are they standing?

○ What pose should they take to start and end the video?

○ How should they pose when sharing the scene with your product or logo?

● Key movements

○ Walking

○ Running

○ Talking

○ Moving

○ Characterful movements - for example, if your character is an animal, how does that animal move?

○ Story movements - for example, if your character is on a jungle adventure, what movements would this involve

● Facial expressions

○ Smiling

○ Winking

○ Emotions

Why work with an animation agency like OK Social?

While the creation process is a whole lot of fun, it’s important to remember that there’s a lot of areas in which your new character could fall short.

The line between realistic and artificial is super thin. And, if your audience doesn't fully buy into your character, they’ll completely lose engagement with the video.

Plus, your new character needs to stand out amongst the crowded marketplace, without becoming too complicated to understand, or losing relevance to your brand.

As you can see, it’s a lot to juggle.

And that’s precisely why the help of an animation agency is invaluable.

At OK Social, we work with brands to devise an animated character that covers all bases. With the help of our expert team, you can create an on-brand, engaging, dynamic, relevant and on-trend animated character. We’ll then work with you to create super realistic animation, which engages your audience and achieves real results for your company.

To find out more about our specialist animation services, or to get our specialists to create a stand-out character for your brand, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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I’m Jack, the Motion Director here at OK Social. I’ve been working in the world of motion design and animation for nearly 10 years. I had the pleasure of working with leading agencies and brands around the world, such as Samsung, Ford, Shell, Deliveroo, and Starbucks, to name a few.

From a young age, I’ve always been interested in animation, from making stop-motion films in my room as a kid to learning animation on my first computer. It started as a passion and still is to this day. Part of what I do now is more than just animation. I help craft the narratives of the stories we tell to ensure they make an impact to the audience and remain worthy of their attention.

So how do I do that? It starts with asking the right questions, leading to solving the right problems. First, diagnose what the problem is. Then, we can start to see if we can help. I believe that communication plays a key role in delivering a smooth and successful project. Looking into the future, I’m excited to expand my knowledge into creating more engaging stories that make a difference.