How do you turn an animal into a character?

Animals can make fantastic characters to illustrate stories and ideas. They are full of unique personality, symbolism, and come in almost limitless varieties! This article will teach you a few concepts to apply when you want to turn an animal into a character.

Watch the full tutorial below and read on to learn three tips for turning animals into characters.
Play Video

1. Exaggerate defining characteristics

Think about what features are most characteristic of that animal and exaggerate them.

In doing this, you are taking what is most recognizable about that animal and magnifying it. This will enhance the overall silhouette of your character, make it more interesting, and also makes it undeniably THAT animal. Start by thinking about what the animal’s most distinguishable features are. For example:

  • A crab has large claws many legs
  • A flamingo has it’s signature pink color, long thin legs, and a large beak
  • The Pomeranian dog breed has it’s tiny legs and extreme fluffiness!

Next, take those features and exaggerate them! Below are some examples. The first sketch is the animal in its natural proportions. It’s fine, but a little too scientific and no personality. In the second, I have exaggerated certain characteristics and simplified others. Much more interesting!

2. Employ Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism means giving human characteristics to non-human entities.

Basically, you want to make your animal a bit more human-like to help your human audience to relate to it as a character. You can do this in a number of ways. Here are some things to consider:

  • How will this animal character move? If it’s a four-legged animal, will it walk on all fours, or will it stand more upright, like a human?
  • How does it interact with objects? Will you give it more functional hands? Does it possess fingers to pick up and hold things? If they don’t have hands, what other creative ways can they interact with their world? A horse does not have fingers to hold objects, but they could pick things up with their teeth.
  • What other features can you make more “human-like”?
  • Does it wear clothes like a human? How much of it is clothed? Some animal characters are depicted only wear a shirt and no pants.
  • What does it eat and drink? It’s natural diet, or will it chow down on hamburger and fries?
  • How about the animal’s habitat? Does it live in a tree, cave, or burrow, or does it live in a city apartment?
  • What other aspects of it’s life come from the human world? 
Decide “how human” you want to make your character.

It’s up to you how human or animal-like you make your character. In the image below, the character on the left is very similar to a rabbit in the wild, while the character on the right is basically a human with a rabbit head. It’s your call how human your character is — there is no wrong answer!

3. Amplify Expressiveness

Strongly defined facial features will allow your character to be more expressive.

Creating expressions and emotions is all about manipulating the facial features, especially the eyes, brows, and mouth. In real life, most animals have small, beady eyes. They don’t give you much to work with when it comes to being expressive. Consider making the eyes larger, showing the whites of the eyes, adding eyebrows, and giving it a mouth with a wider range of motion. All of these things can help make your character more expressive. 

Play Video

Also check out our Table of Expressions!

Time to Draw!

Before you start working on your character, it’s essential to define WHO your character is! Download our free Character Profile Template below to get started. Be sure to read our article, How to Develop a Character for Illustration. And if you are having trouble coming up with character ideas, try our Random Character Generator!

For the example character in the video tutorial above, I chose to draw a duck that loves summertime (and is a little clueless).
To learn more about how to draw animals by reducing them to basic shapes, check out the tutorials below.

Want to learn more about drawing characters?

Time to go to…

Character Camp is a series of prompts, guides, and tutorials to help get you familiar with designing and drawing your own characters. This series was created in conjunction with the Making Art Everyday challenge. Each day for four weeks, we’ll have a different prompt to get you learning how to draw characters. We’ll be exploring human characters, animals and creatures, even inanimate objects as characters.

mary Joseph at 6:18 pm

Amazing site. Thank you so much for this, your examples and explanations are great.
Thank you for sharing

John at 5:12 pm

Very useful! many thanks.

Sara at 4:57 pm

I’m loving this series!


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