Character Design for Film and Games

An 8-week course structured like a studio and freelance workflow focusing on character design

Course overview Course overview

Course Overview

Develop what makes a quality character

This course will teach you basic as well as advanced techniques in character creation. Students will explore the essence of a character by developing that character’s attitude and digging deep into what makes the character feel real and grounded. Visual storytelling is key in the video game and cinematic worlds, and students will learn how to portray all aspects of a character in their attire as well as the small details, such as pose, attitude, and flavor. Students will learn how to execute a powerful character from start to finish, with focus on details, lighting, communication, and clarity.


Course Format:   Standard
Lecture Type:   Pre-recorded
Feedback:   Individual recordings
Duration:   8 weeks
Assignment:   Deadlines each week
Q&A:   Once a week
Materials:   Photoshop (or equivalent), Wacom Tablet (or equivalent)
Skills level:   Advanced
Prerequisites:   Analytical Figure Drawing, Head Drawing & Construction and Costume Design classes or a strong understanding of human anatomy and gesture

Character Design for Film and Games WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

What you'll learn

The more you know, the better.

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Working from a character description, students will begin collecting references as well as creating their first page of sketches. To get ready for the later weeks, students will be practicing rendering forms, lighting, and materials.
How to make a legitimate page of sketches for a client, whether on paper or on screen | How to use lighting and basic rendering techniques to create a readable and concise thumbnail image
Students will learn about the process between client and artist and learn how choices will be made about narrowing the selection to one or two sketches. Students will take two of their chosen selections and use the information given about rendering, choosing a light source, and making their sketches believable.
What makes a character have character? Here we will go over the basics of head and face construction, and how the head of the character can adequately describe the mood of the character.
Students will take their chosen characters and begin working on a pose that shows what the character is about, as well as create the base sketch for the final render of their character. They will learn how to add items to their character to tell an adequate story.
Students will learn how to go from a thumbnail sketch to the first pass of a glamour shot of their characters. They will be working on a larger version of their images and implement different materials and facets to the character’s silhouette to make the design adequate for handing to a 3D modeler and refine the character’s face.
Students will keep refining their image and begin implementing the head from previous weeks. They will also work on making the face pretty through polish and attitude.
Students will learn to submit their finals (in color or black & white) to the client. They will add notes and clarify ideas for their client, by neatly attaching reference images, texture swatches, and call-outs.

Real heroes don't wear capes they teach

Lectures by Marco Nelor

Marco Nelor is from a small town called Shreveport, Louisiana. After attending college for 2d studio art, he furthered his art education at the Massive Black Safehouse Atelier. Shortly after, he was recruited to Ensemble studios where he worked on his first video game, Halo Wars. Upon closure of Ensemble studios, he fled to Netherrealm studios, where he would work on his dream game, Mortal Kombat. During the weekends, Marco freelances for Magic the Gathering, creating card art, and is an avid foodie and gym goer.

Student interviews


July 13th!

summer TERM Registration

May 6, 2019 - Jul 22, 2019




July 13th!

Pricing & Schedule

Even though our courses are the most affordable for the quality of education.

These Finance Options allow you to focus on your goals instead of the barriers that keep you from reaching them.

Employer Reimbursement

Animation Guild CSATTF

Payment Plan

Companies that hire our students

  • Naughty Dog
  • Luma Pictures
  • Google
  • EA Games
  • DreamWorks Animation
  • Blizzard Entertainment

environment design Benefits


What makes this learning experience unique?

Personal Feedback

Receive personal individual feedback on all submitted assignments from the industries best artist.

1+ Year Access

Enjoy over 365 days of full course access. This includes all lectures, feedback, and Live Q&A recordings.

Certificate of Completion

Earn a Certificate of Completion when you complete and turn in 80% of course assignments.

Flexible Learning

Learn anywhere, anytime, and at your own pace with our online courses.

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Show us your skills

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The Warlock

Interview with Samantha Combaluzier

VFX artist Samantha Combaluzier branches out into character design, taking us through the process of how she crafted her spell-slinging Warlock over 8 weeks in Marco Nelor's Character Design for Film & Games course.

The Warlock



Good day everyone! I’m Samantha Combaluzier. I grew up in the South of France near the Mediterranean sea. I have worked in the VFX industry for around 10 years and I had the privilege to work on various films and TV series (Fantastic Beast, Game Of Thrones, etc.). My artistic background comes from graphic design, illustration, conception, and 3D. Creativity is a fuel that needs some guidance and CGMA has helped me improve my artistic skills and techniques. I chose the Character Design for Film & Games course with Marco Nelor because I wanted to achieve a more realistic look in my art and speed-up my process.



Research & Development


The first pass of research and development is important to familiarize yourself with your subject. Marco acted as an Art Director and gave us quite a few character descriptions to pick from. I selected the “Warlock” as I wanted to depict a magical male character with the power of lightning (or something else) in his hands. As an imaginative backstory, he is a Warlock who worships the Thunder Wolf as his deity. His prop is inspired by the Vajra: a weapon of the Indian Vedic rain and thunder-deity Indra. The research helped me to figure out the character’s essence.




Developing some silhouettes was key to help visualize the his iconic figure and presence. I was inspired by werewolves, shaman designs, medieval armours, and magicians. The goal is to create something that feels right for you. The first sketches and doodles were just to work the materials altogether (from the research) as well as experiment with variations. Thinking of the story behind your character will ground him in some sort of reality. And the research phase is extremely important to nurture your designs and find the right shapes.



Narrowing Down the Selection


Afterwards, we narrowed down with Marco the silhouettes, focusing only on the costume design this time. There was still space for development and detailing; it was really a matter of selecting the most interesting sketch, and I totally agreed with Marco’s insightful comments, as we were evaluating the potential of each silhouette. The development of shapes was quite promising and it was easier to imagine the character this way. Then, we selected three possibilities to create a gesture from.



Head Explorations


As we continued to work on the Warlock, another pass of research was done only for his Head. I wanted his face to resemble and share some facial properties of a wolf. With this approach, he was going to wear those distinctive attributes : long hair, big ears, a well furnished beard (fur) and clever eyes. Among all the references, five actors were the most influential in the design development.



Playing with different facial features was very interesting and fun. The idea was not to copy an existing character face, but to use it as inspiration to reach a design which felt right. I started with a serious expression and then softened it, and gave it more definition.



With Marco, we selected three versions and placed each face over a rough sketch of the shoulder pads. I finally chose version B with the eyes of C and polished a final version. The salt and pepper hair look was a design choice because it reminded me of a wolf bicolour fur.




Character Through Gesture and colour


Finding a gesture for him was a challenge, so I had to pose in order to feel what kind of presence he should portrait. Drawing him with this physical awareness made him more realistic. In his action pose, he is not wasting any movement or energy since he is like an older wolf that knows what he is doing and waiting for the right moment to pounce.


Then, it was time to test a few colour palettes over the black and white sketch. I used overlays and colour layer effect in Photoshop to test some colour palettes over the detailed black and white render.



Final Glamour Shot


For the final design, it was a journey to paint and to push the final rendering as far as possible. Most of the modifications were painted in black and white before applying colours. It was a very dynamic back and forth with Marco to make sure I learned from my mistakes and improve on that. I followed and re-painted all the design elements that were off, and I used a few photos for texture and detailing.



The biggest challenge for me was the armour and cape, but Marco gave me detailed advice to help me finalize the look. In general, I had to redefine some of the key elements of the character to give him more readability. The armour was implemented with the “Thunder wolf” theme as you can see from the shoulders pads. From the original designs until the last steps, the improvement was huge, Thank you Marco.






The piece ended up very well for the Warlock and I’m very pleased with the result. The dynamic and flow of the character works because he seems alive. I learned a lot by exploring various possibilities, by sketching, rendering, and how to push the quality up into the final work. I want to thank CGMA for being such a wonderful resource for artists and teaching us how to improve. I had the chance to learn from their fantastic teachers and I enjoyed their wisdom. Thank you CGMA!