Animation Character Sheet/Character Breakdown Basics

Ink pen on paper of sketch book

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 A character sheet is a simplified breakdown of more detailed character concept art. One key that most great concept artists subscribe to is reducing your character to as few lines as possible. This is a basic example character sheet, with the very minimum of lines for the sake of this demonstration. Before opening any animation program, you should try to build a large sheet with more detail for your character.

In the steps below, we’ll take a closer look at the various breakdown poses.

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Animation Character Sheet / Breakdown Basics

Vin character sheet

Adrien-Luc Sanders

Meet Vin. Vin is a character that is about to be animated, and as a result, we've done a character sheet/character breakdown for him. Character sheets let you create a reference for your character, covering the basic views and making sure that your proportions match from drawing to drawing. It’s good practice for keeping things in proportion (even if your proportions include a tendency to freakishly long limbs, like Vin) and getting used to drawing your character’s facial expressions.

 

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The Side View

Adrien-Luc Sanders 

The side view is usually the easiest to draw. You only have to worry about one of each limb, and the side view usually helps settle the positions of the facial features relative to each other.

If your character has distinguishing markings on one side or another that causes him or her to look different from either side, you’ll want to do two side views to illustrate the difference.

While we’re looking at this, take a look at those lines that are behind each view. You’ll notice that save for minute shifts due to pose, those lines join corresponding places on each pose: the top of the head, the waist/elbows, fingertips, pelvis, knees, shoulders.

After drawing the first view, it’s usually a good idea to pick your major points and use a ruler to draw lines from those major points and across the entire sheet, before sketching over them for the other views. This way you’ll have reference to make sure that you’re drawing everything to scale.

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The Front View

 Adrien-Luc Sanders

For your front view, try to draw your character standing straight, legs together or at least not too far apart, hands hanging at his or her sides with little deviation, face turned straightforward. You can save the attitude poses for later. Right now you just want to get the basic details down and clearly in sight. The front view generally proves the best view of the major character points.

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The Rear View

 Adrien-Luc Sanders

There’s nothing wrong with cheating a little for the rear view and just retracing your front view with a few details changed. Don’t forget that if anything is oriented to a specific side, it’s going to reverse on the rear view – e.g. the part in Vin’s hair, the slant of his belt.

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The 3/4 View

Adrien-Luc Sanders 

Most of the time you won’t be drawing your character straight-on, either from the front or from the side. A 3/4 view is one of the most common angles that you’ll draw your character at, so you’ll definitely need to include one of these in your character sheet. You can be a bit more free with the pose here; try to capture your character’s expression and attitude.

Along with the 3/4 shot, you should also draw some action shots – various poses caught mid-motion, detailing how clothing or hair might move.

You’ll see that the various key reference points don’t perfectly line up with the guidelines anymore, because of the angle. Instead, they should cross right at the midsection of the point being measured. For instance, the one shoulder would be above the line marking the default height for them, while the other shoulder would be below. The hollow of the throat, a midpoint for the shoulders, should rest almost exactly on the guideline.

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The Close-Up

Adrien-Luc Sanders 

Lastly, you should try to draw a detailed close-up of your character’s face, as it can tend to get minimized and a little sloppy in full-body shots. These expression close-ups should probably capture the face in the 3/4 view, but it may be beneficial to include a couple facing forward. It's also a good idea to draw close-ups of any other important parts, too — like perhaps an engraved pendant, hands and feet, tattoos, or any other markings that might normally be drawn without details in full-body shots. Don’t forget to draw ears. Ears often get overlooked.

There are only two facial expressions drawn here for this example, but you should draw at least ten of the most common expressions for your character – whether he or she is generally smug, fearful, excited, happy, angry, etc. Keep drawing until you think you’ve covered their entire range of emotions.