Learning to Draw Game Characters

Posted by Lisa Galarneau on November 26, 2013 in Game Art -- Share:

DrawnGreat characters are fundamental to just about every type of media, and games take the options to entirely new levels.  If you’re an aspiring game artist, or artist of any variety, learning to draw characters is a great set of skills to develop. I’m an artist, but I don’t really know much about drawing, so I’m eager to learn, as well. My kid, though, is a pretty good illustrator already, and has learned more or less on her own (with some input from her artist best friend!). Her method is to put on a show she likes, pause it, then copy the character she likes. Her efforts usually turn out pretty well!

But drawing is one of those things that relies on useful fundamentals. Once you can learn them, you can apply them to all sorts of permutations. Drawing takes a lot of practice, so buy yourself a sketchbook and some inspiring pencils and (and an eraser!) and keep working till you are happy with your results. Pencil drawing means you can continue to work and re-work your attempts until they are just right. Then you can color your creations using markers, pastels or even water colors.

This article includes some great resources online for inspiration and learning to draw heads, faces, hair, bodies and poses. I’ve included some realistic characters and some in other styles, like animals and monsters. Even if you prefer the fantastical over the realistic, tutorials that teach you how to draw realistic characters can provide a useful set of basics.

To start with, here is a tutorial that covers drawing styles:

 
You might have to play with a few different styles in order to determine which ones suit your aesthetic and skill levels the best. If you’re a beginner, you might want to begin with simple characters and progress to more complicated ones as your skills develop.

The Inspiration

Some of the best art in the world originates from video games or video game interests.  Check out the articles (How to Be a Better Game Artist, How to Become a Successful Game Artist- Interview with Brian Thompson, Big Fish Studios Art Director) from our recent series on video game artistry and you will be able to see just how interesting a career track it can be.

There are a huge range of options and styles, including cartoon/animated, historical, realistic, futuristic, kawaii (Japanese for cute), and many more. As I said previously, you can always start simple (just about everyone can manage to draw Pac Man, for instance!).


Once you’ve decided what kind of characters you’d like to draw, you can follow along with the following tutorials.  When you have the basics nailed, you might also consider progressing to digital drawing (using a drawing tablet from a company like Wacom) or progress to 3-D modeling using Maya or other tools.

Heads and Faces

I’ve been trying to draw faces since I was a kid and I’m still not very good.  I did try a tutorial the other day that involved drawing the face in a grid and I found that helped quite a lot.  It was a big pain to erase all the grid lines afterwards, though, so since then I have been using guiding dots.  It really helps getting the symmetry and perspective right and the end result is much, much better.

Drawing a female face, step by step:

 
How to draw a head or face from any angle:

 

Hair

Hair is surprisingly tricky, but these step by step tutorials can get you on the right track.

Male hair:

 
Female hair:

 

 

Bodies and Body Parts

Like faces, body illustration benefits from focusing first on shapes (circles, triangles) or even stick figures, then filling detail in later.

If you can find a figure drawing class, go for it, but you can also learn a tremendous amount online.  A basic knowledge of anatomy doesn’t hurt (even Leonardo da Vinci thought so!), as it will help you understand the biological responses of skin, muscles, bones and connective tissues.

Form into anatomy:

 
Drawing hands:

 
Drawing male and female bodies:

 
Sketching the outline of a female character:

 

Clothing and Armor

Here are some tutorials on drawing a variety of character clothing and armor:

 

 

 

 

Animals and Monsters

Learning to draw animals is good background for video game characters, as many of the world’s best characters have animal elements.

Here’s a tutorial on drawing a red angry bird, and this cute anime cartoon puppy is easy for a beginner.

 
There’s even an app for learning how to draw singing monsters!  Or if zombies and undead are more of your thing, there’s an app for that, too!

Head-to-Toe

Once you understand the various parts, you can start working on putting them together.

Speed drawings of video game characters (several more, as well, on the YouTube channel):

 

 

 
Drawing Master Chief from Halo 4:

 

Poses and Scenes

Learning how to invent a variety of poses for your creations is a next crucial step. Investing in a wood body model or mannequin (found at your local art store or online) is a great way to avoid having to constantly ask people to pose for you. Or, pose yourself the way you’d like your character to be posed and have someone take a photo or three, then work from there.

Sketching poses:

 
Link and the Skyward sword:

 
This one is good practice for complex poses with other characters:  Mario and Peach kissing.  And this easy tutorial teaches you how to draw Mario in an angled pose.

Other Resources

There are a number of good books for artists looking to learn how to conceptualize and draw game characters:
How to Draw Anime & Game Characters, Vol. 1
The Art of Game Characters
ZBrush Studio Projects: Realistic Game Characters

I hope I’ve given you some inspiration for your own character projects! In a future article, we’ll offer some step-by-step tutorials for drawing some of Big Fish’s best game characters, and explore the realm of 3-D modeling more deeply. Feel free to make suggestions!

Written by

Dr. Lisa Galarneau is a socio-cultural anthropologist, futurist and games researcher. She's been playing video games since 1981 (Pong!) and loves adventure-style games, RPGs, online games, simulations and anything novel. Her love for games has been passed onto her gamer kid, and she spends a lot of time observing and pondering the future of games.

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