1. Design & Illustration
  2. Character Design

Designing a Character’s Lifespan


In this tutorial you'll learn how to create a character that spans a lifetime. We'll learn the features that define the various life phases of a character. We'll look at lines of action, shapes, and characteristics that define: childhood, teen, adulthood, maturity, and old age.

Step 1 - Childhood Line Of Action

In our first example we see our line of action bends to the back, which gives the impression of energy and youth.

As the years go by for our character the line of action is going to go in different directions, but since most young children have a lot of energy on them, our character's line of action is real energetic.

Step 2 - Childhood Basic Shapes

In my characters I like to exaggerate those special characteristics. In the case of children I like to think of them as really chubby and compact characters...lets say I like to exaggerate the cuteness of the character.

There are no evil children, even if they ate little troublemakers, kids always have that innocent special vibe. Thats why this character and most of my infant characters are composed of circles and very rounded shapes.

Step 3 - Childhood Characteristics

As I said earlier, in our young character the basic shapes are rounded so most of the body parts are going to be chubby. Notice that the head is really big, almost half the size of the body, kids have big heads...but of course we are going to exaggerate this. A chubby big headed character is going to look cute me!

Step 4 - Childhood Head and Facial Features

Again with the same theory, rounded shapes will appear on the face of children.

  • Eyes: Big rounded eyes make our character look alive, our character looks like a bright young girl.
  • Nose: Rounded noses look cute on kids, again they make our character look innocent...kind of like a piglet.
  • Mouth: Since our character its going to grow to be a woman, we need to make her changes very visible, and thats why her lips look cartoony and cute at first.
  • Face: The circle theory continues for this first character. The cheek of our character its slightly rounded, as for the chin...she has no chin, at least not yet.

Step 5 - Teen Line of Action

In the teenage years our line of action bends a little more to the front, the reason is the age, as the character gets older the line of action becomes older and tired too.

Step 6 - Teen Shapes

Since our character became a young lady, her body shape has to change, but notice that the head is still a circle. She's still a child in development, a combination of woman and child. That's why the body is composed no longer by rounded shapes and has a slightly pronounced hip, though the head still has a rounded shape.

Step 7 - Teen Characteristics

As i mentioned before, we have to do a child/woman combo in this one so, let me explain a little the composition.

When we are teens we make a very dramatic change in our appearance and all the baby fat gets out of the way from one day to another. I always make this change notable.

  • Head: We still need the big head, meaning she's still a child.
  • Neck: Since all the baby fat is gone, one of the areas were we most notice is in the neck. From being chubby and short we make it long and slim, it makes her look kind of elegant too.
  • Shoulders, Arms and Hands: We need our teen to be noticed and now we have long arms with pointy shoulders and fingers, sings she's maturing.
  • Boobs: We don't want to make our character look like a woman yet. We do want her to look like a young lady. The best way to do this is to put little pointy boobs on her.
  • Hips: We give her a slightly pronounced hip, so we can give the idea that she's turning into a woman.
  • Legs: Along with the hips comes the teenage legs.
  • Feet: In this part we return to a child reference, as we still need innocent rounded feet.

Step 8 - Teen Head

  • Head: The head still has the basic shape from the childhood form, there are some slight changes though.
  • Eyes: Eyelashes make her look more like she's no longer playing with dolls, instead she uses a makeup kit.
  • Nose: Her nose is no longer "piglet like," she now has a semi-rounded one.
  • Lips: Since our character is a young lady now, the same with the eyelashes, she now has a woman lips, she's no longer "child cute."
  • Chin and Cheeks: Her cheeks are still rounded and childish, but her chin's starting to develop.

Step 9 - Adult Line Of Action

Now that our character is an adult woman, there are a lot of changes on her body.

The line of action is now going in very irregular directions. This because she has a lot of curves and even tough she's just standing, she has to look sexy.

Step 10 - Adult Shapes

Now all shapes in our character are pointy mostly, meaning she's now in full womanhood. Not that she's no longer innocent, the structure of the character has to give this vibe. The most important of this shape is the hip, we now have to do a very pronounced hip in order to resemble her womanhood.

Step 11 - Adult Characteristics

Like I said before, in this stage the body is fully developed, and even though there not to many changes from the teen years, the ones that exist are more exaggerated.

  • Head: It's not like the head is smaller, actually the body is the one that is bigger.
    The proportions look more in order.
  • Chest: The chest has to be bigger now that our character is a woman.
  • Hip: A very pronounced hip makes her look fully grown.

Step 12 - Adult Head

Now we have the face of a woman with pointy eyes, nose, cheek, and chin. If you compare past heads, you will notice these changes and how they make the character look older.

Step 13 - Mature Line Of Action

As we get to the final stages, some of the past characteristics start to fade away.

This line is starting to go forward, like being tired.

Step 14 - Mature Shapes

It's basically the same structure from the last example, the only difference in maturity is that her posture looks more respectful and some of her youthful qualities are starting to fade, like her hips.

Step 15 - Mature Body Characteristics

  • Breasts: In real life it's probably that women get a bigger breast as they get older, but in this occasion it's not reality, and we want to start showing some other features in our character and not the sex appeal.
  • Reduced Hip: Again, we are looking at a mature woman and we exchange the sex appeal for a less provocative structure.

Step 16 - Mature Facial Features

In our final stage of our character there are some interesting changes, in this example we are trying to make our character look tired and some kind of innocent and sweet again.

  • Head: Here we have a very important new feature, which I'll mention shortly.
  • Eyes: The eyes are now more tired and they give the impression of more experience.
  • The Wrinkles: This is the new feature I was talking about. By putting a wrinkles on her mouth sides we see a very different character than without them. Also to add more to the effect, put one under her eyes and on her chin.
  • Chin: We are returning to the same shape as a child and a teen, meaning that our character is getting sweet, mellow and peaceful, in other words, she's getting old.

Step 17 - Old Age Line of Action

In old age, we now see that line of action is tired and completely bending to the front.

Step 18 - Old Age Shapes

We now see that the shape of the body is no longer curvy and all her youth features have disappeared. It looks more like her teenage years, only more thick.

Step 19 - Old Age Body Characteristics

Since we are trying to make this character look kinda tired, we take reference from gravity, what once was up, it must come down.

  • Shoulders: We see now that the shoulders go down and kind of blend with the neck.
  • Chest: The law of gravity strikes again.
  • Belly: We need a belly for our grandma, this kind of features helps us achieve our goal in our design.
  • Feet: We need comfortable shoes for grandma, so no more sexy high heels.

Step 20 - Old Age Facial Features

Now we have completely closed eyes resembling how tired our character is, also we add some wrinkles around her eyes, and we keep the same ones aside her mouth. The ones on her eyes makes her look older, also the on her chin is more visible.

Finally, her chin becomes completely rounded again.
This mix of rounded and pointy objects gives us the impression that our character is a sweet, but very experienced person.

Final Character Lifespan

Hope this tutorial helps you to create characters that span a lifetime.

Looking for something to help kick start your next project?
Envato Market has a range of items for sale to help get you started.