Character design: Bringing iconic characters to life

Explore the infinite possibilities of character design. From legendary heroes to unforgettable villains, create characters that inspire awe and use character design software to optimize the process.

Image courtesy of Anushka Tina Nair and Lauryn Anthony

3D character

Character design software improves the depth and quality of animations, image courtesy of IGNITE Animation

What is character design?

Character design is the process of crafting a character’s visual appearance, personality, and aesthetic for film, comics, TV shows, video games, and other visual mediums.


Screen capture of 3D animation rigging and character design, from Mkali's Mission.

Character design software can be used in the entire design process, image courtesy of Charles Wardlaw

From ideation to creation with character design software

Character design follows a structured process from ideation to final creation, using software tools like Maya or 3ds Max. It begins with brainstorming to define the character’s purpose, role, and visual attributes, supported by concept art and research gathering visual references. Subsequent stages involve sketching and iterative development using software tools for 3D modeling, sculpting, texturing, shading, rigging, and animation. Feedback, testing, and iterative refinement are integral to the process before rendering. The software facilitates each step, providing essential tools for artists to create and refine efficiently, guiding the entire design process to bring characters to life.

Producer using ShotGrid in a media and entertainment studio.

Character design software provides artists with tools more realistic character animations.

How has character design software changed animation?

Character making software has significantly transformed the animation industry. 3D digital content creation tools have enhanced character designer’s efficiency by expediting the design process, enabling quick iterations, and easing the transition from traditional 2D to sophisticated 3D animation. They offer the versatility for character designers to experiment with several styles — from hyper-realistic to highly stylized — while also providing tools for rigging, movement, and physics-based simulations that result in more realistic character animations. Collaboration and workflow optimization features streamline production, ensuring consistency and facilitating iterative improvements. Ultimately, 3D character design software has increased the quality and depth of animations and improved cost-effectiveness in the long term.

Female Astronaut - White Suit views a civilization from a crash site. Image courtesy of Tim Burroughs.

Build immersive worlds for your characters using Autodesk 3ds Max. Still image of Grand Space Opera courtesy of Tim Burroughs.

Exploring the mechanics of character design software

Powerful 3D character design software, like Autodesk Maya and Autodesk 3ds Max, offers many features to create memorable characters and worlds for them to shine in. With Maya, artists can model, rig, and animate digi doubles or lovable cartoon characters and craft mesmerizing effects with Bifrost, its visual programming environment. With 3ds Max, creatives can build immersive environments for their characters, shape intricate props for them to interact with, and even visualize designs with a powerful modeling toolset. And the integrated renderer in Autodesk’s Arnold, Maya, and 3ds Max helps artists easily render photorealistic or stylized character moments with intuitive shading, lighting, and texturing tools.

Benefits of character design software

Character design software offers many benefits that significantly impact the creation and development of characters in media such as animation, gaming, and visual storytelling:


Character maker software streamlines the design process, allowing faster iterations and modifications while eliminating the constraints of traditional methods.



The software offers a range of features for diverse design possibilities and easy modifications for a more adaptive design process.


3D capabilities

Character design software enables artists to create detailed and realistic three-dimensional characters with unique textures and details.


Advanced animation tools

The software includes rigging and skeletal animation features that help create lifelike character movements and expressions.


Special effects and dynamics

Character design software incorporates tools for creating special effects and physics-based animations, allowing dynamic elements like hair movement, cloth, and environmental effects.


Collaboration and workflow

The software supports collaboration for a smoother workflow using file sharing and integrating various elements in the animation pipeline.


Autodesk software for character design

3D animation, modeling, simulation, and rendering software for film, games, and TV

3D modeling, animation, and rendering software for games and design visualization

Digital painting and sculpting software

Customers using Autodesk’s 3D character design software

Still of Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3


How to create believable character animation in Maya

Award-winning studio shares an exclusive look into the development of visually stunning creature and character animations for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3


Image of Rocket courtesy of Framestore.

Giant sandworm image from the lighting process


Bringing a giant sandworm to life

Leading educator in game development, VFX, and animation creates a Dune-inspired commercial entirely in-house.


Image courtesy of CG Spectrum

Hogwarts dining room still image from Hogwarts Legacy video game


Crafting an immersive open-world RPG

Video game publisher creates breathtaking characters, animations, and cinematics with Maya and MotionBuilder.


Hogwarts Legacy game still image, courtesy of Warner Bros Games Avalanche

Character design resources

Learn how recent additions to Maya can help you unlock performance gains when designing characters.


See how Axis Studios created viral cinematic trailers for new Magic: The Gathering card sets with Maya and Arnold. 


See how Adrian Bobb uses Maya and Arnold to design thrilling creatures for captivating short films.


Frequently asked questions (FAQs) on character design software

What makes a character design stand out?

A unique and memorable appearance characterizes standout character design, reflecting distinct visual attributes that set the character apart. It encompasses depth and personality, creating a compelling backstory and individual traits that engage the audience. Visual appeal through balanced colors, shapes, and proportions is crucial, as is functionality for clear movement and expression. A cohesive and consistent design, combined with the ability to evoke emotions or create an emotional connection, distinguishes a character and helps ensure a lasting impact.

How can software help design characters?

Character design software greatly benefits designers by offering efficiency, speed, and a versatile toolkit for exploring multiple design possibilities. These digital tools enable the creation of three-dimensional, detailed characters with depth and realism while incorporating animation features to bring characters to life through movement and expression. Additionally, software like Bifrost for Maya includes tools for special effects and simulations, enhancing a character’s visual appeal. Collaboration and workflow optimization features simplify file sharing and integration, streamlining teamwork on larger projects.

How long does it take to design a character?

The time needed to design a character can vary widely based on the design’s complexity, the artist’s experience, the project’s scope, and the character’s intended use. Simple character sketches might take a few hours, while more intricate, detailed characters for 3D animation or games could span several weeks or months. Experienced artists might work more efficiently, but extensive revisions and iterations are typical in character design and can extend the timeline. The tools and technology used, like specialized character design software, can significantly impact the speed and efficiency of the design process.