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How to Create a Game Character Sprite Sheet in Affinity Designer

This post is part of a series called Easy Character Design.
How to Create a Character Kit in Adobe Illustrator
How to Create a Cute Gingerbread Man in Adobe Illustrator
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

If you've ever wanted to try out game development and character design, then this tutorial is for you! Today we’ll be creating a sprite sheet for a fancy bird-like creature for video and mobile games, using various tools and functions of Affinity Designer. We’ll go through the full process, from outlining the sketch to coloring and creating a set of poses that can be used for animation. Let’s get started!

1. Draw the Basic Parts of the Character

Step 1

I usually start making up a character by sketching and trying to find the proper image, an interesting form, and an unusual appearance. Try combining some fictional details of animals or objects that you meet in real life, searching for original and extraordinary solutions. You can get inspired by browsing through the game characters or game sprites sections of Envato Market or searching game character sprite on Pinterest. Try to make up your own original ideas, creating unexpected combinations.

When you’ve made several variations, select the one you like most and continue working with it. Try different poses and facial expressions.

I make a lot of rough sketches, which help me to understand how my character moves, whether it looks interesting and original, whether it fits the surrounding environment or concept of our future game and so on.

making sketches

Finally, I’m quite satisfied with the fantasy mysterious look of this little guy, and here’s the sketch we’ll be working with in this tutorial. You can download it directly from here—just right mouse click on the picture and save it to your PC.

character sketch

Step 2

We’ll be working with the Drawing Persona of Affinity Designer, using its vector features to create our character sprite for video games, which can be easily animated in different poses.

Let’s create a New Document of 600 x 800 px size. Use the Place Image Tool to import our sketch and position it in the center of the canvas.

And let’s start outlining the character. Take the Ellipse Tool (M) and make a shape, fitting the size of the face. Arm yourself with the Pencil Tool (N) and draw a beak, tracing the sketch. You can edit the stroke using the Node Tool (A) to make it more smooth and flowing.

outlining the sketch

Step 3

Select both shapes that we’ve created and use the Add Operation in the upper context toolbar. This way we’ve merged both elements into a single shape.

Now use the Ellipse Tool (M) to make an eye and add a couple more ellipses to make it more detailed. Follow the lines of the sketch, making the shapes fit the sketch.

merging the shapes with add operation

Step 4

Use the Pencil Tool (N) to draw a long, curved line across the face and edit it, if needed, using the Node Tool (A). We can change the Style, Width and other parameters of our line in the Stroke panel (you’ll find it in one of the tabs next to the Colour panel). 

From here, let’s set the Width to 11 pt and move down to the Pressure drop-down window. Here we can vary the width of separate segments of the line, using the graph. Select the right point of the curve on the graph and drag it down to make the right part of the stroke (which is at the nose of the character) thinner.

adding details with Stroke panel

Step 5

Now take the Rectangle Tool (M) and let’s move on to the body. Make a rectangle, aligning it to the body, and Convert it to Curves in the top context toolbar. Switch to the Node Tool (A) and start moving the bottom nodes away from each other, making the bottom part wider. 

Select both upper nodes and drag them up to cover the head of our character. Then select the top right node and use the Convert to Smooth function from the top context toolbar, making the right part of the rectangle smooth and rounded.

shaping the body with rectangle tool 1

Step 6

Now use the Node Tool (A) to modify the left side of the body, adding more nodes, making the corners smooth and making the outline fit the sketch.

shaping the body with rectangle tool 2

Step 7

Let’s add the feathers to the bottom part of the body, forming a kind of skirt. Take the Ellipse Tool (M) and form a squashed shape at the bottom left side of the body. Press Option-Shift and drag the shape to the right, making a copy. Repeat the same action, making more copies and filling all the bottom part.

Finally, select the body shape and the feathers, head to the top context toolbar and apply the Add Operations. Great! Now we’ve merged the elements into a single shape.

add feathers with ellipse tool

Step 8

Now we move on to the leg. Let’s make it simple: draw a straight vertical line with a small foot at the bottom. Head to the Stroke panel and let’s add more dimension to the leg by making it thicker. Set the Width value to 60 pt and use the Pressure graph to make its bottom part thinner, as shown in the screenshot below.

make legs with stroke

Step 9

Now we need to turn the stroke into a shape so that we’re able to edit it, to add details, outlines and so on. Keeping the leg selected, go to Layer > Expand Stroke. The shape looks good enough, although it might have a bunch of nodes.

expand stroke of leg

While the shape still looks smooth, it may become very tricky and time-consuming to delete all the unneeded nodes manually. We have two options here: either to leave the shape as it is with a bunch of nodes, or, if you’re particular about quality, to make a new shape. 

We can use one of the drawing tools here—either the Pencil tool (N) or the Pen Tool (P). I prefer the Pen Tool (P). Just trace the created leg above, making a smooth, rounded shape, and using the Node Tool (A) to move the nodes around.

Copy the leg to add another one.

use pen tool to outline the leg

Step 10

We have a two-layered feather “skirt” on our sketch, so let’s add a second feathered body layer. Copy the body shape and extend it down, making the shape tall, so that it fits the sketch. Delete the top part of the extended shape, leaving only the skirt. You can do this with the help of the Node Tool (A) by selecting all the unneeded upper nodes and deleting them. 

As an option, you can also erase the upper part of the shape with the Vector Crop Tool. However, I prefer the first method, because the Vector Crop Tool leaves the erased part hidden inside a clipping mask. This can be quite helpful in many cases, when you need to restore the shape, but we won’t need to do it.

add second feathers layer

Step 11

Now let’s form a stylized arm or a wing for our bird character. Make an ellipse, fitting the wing on the sketch, and Convert it to Curves. Drag both side anchor points down a bit, making the shape wider at the bottom. Add another ellipse, making the arm bent at the elbow.

make arm from ellipses

Step 12

Proceed by Converting the second ellipse to Curves, and use the Node Tool (A) to move the lines around, making them fit the sketch. Use the Add Operation to merge the shapes and make all the nodes smooth.

make arm from ellipses 2

Step 13

Finally, use the Pencil Tool (N) to draw a small tuft of feathers at the elbow and merge it together with the arm as well.

Great! The outlines are ready. Now let’s add the colors!

add feathers to the arm

2. Applying Colors & Varying Poses

Step 1

We’ll be working with a dark-purple palette. I usually pick the colors with the help of the Colour panel and the Eyedropper Tool, which can be found right above the color wheel in the Colour panel.

character color palette

Try making the top parts of the character lighter than the bottom parts in order to separate the elements from each other, making them pop out. Make the face light beige, creating a striking contrast in order to make it the main element of the character, which attracts the viewer's attention.

apply colors to the body and face

Step 2

Now let’s work with the face. Apply the colors to all three ellipses of the eye, making its inner part darker, creating a hole. And let’s edit the red line across the face. Make it thicker, increasing the Stroke Weight in the Stroke panel. Cut (Command-X) the line, select the beige face shape and go to Edit > Paste Inside. Great! Now the line is inside the face shape, like being inside a clipping mask, and we still can edit it, if needed.

paste the stroke inside the face

Step 3

Let’s add some shadows to our character, making it more detailed. Take the Pencil Tool (N) and start drawing a shape, partially covering the left side of the body. It doesn’t have to be perfect, because we’re going to Cut (Command-X) it and then Edit > Paste Inside of the body shape. Make the shadow a bit darker than the body.

draw the shadows

Step 4

Use the Ellipse Tool (M) to add a group of small circles along the edge of the shadow, overlapping each other and making the shadow textured. Hold down Shift to make the circles perfectly even.

Add a darker-purple ellipse for the shadow beneath the face (press Command-[ several times to move the ellipse beneath the face shape). Make more details, forming a dark shadow on the lower “skirt”, and add a blue overtone with speckled circles at the right side of the character’s body. Finally, make the arm much lighter than the body, separating it from the rest of the elements.

Don’t forget to add two small, rounded shadows to the legs, making them more three-dimensional.

add details and shadows

Step 5

Lower the Opacity of the bright-blue highlight in the Layers panel to make it more subtle.

If you want to play around with the colors, making them more vivid, use the Eyedropper Tool to pick the color from one element and apply it to the other. If you haven’t tried this tool in Affinity Designer yet, it may be a bit tricky but still very convenient. 

Find the Eyedropper icon in the Colour panel and drag it right onto your image. You will see a magnifier that helps to select the desired color, which appears next to the Eyedropper icon in the Colour panel. Now you can apply it to any shape you select, simply by clicking the tiny colored circle in the Colour panel.

edit the colors with the color box and opacity

Step 6

Let’s add more details to our fancy guy. Add the shadows to all the body parts, including the head and the arm (if you haven’t added yet) and make some more spots on the face to make it more textured.

Place a couple more ellipses inside the eye, gradually brightening the colors to make it look glowing. You can see my Layers panel in the screenshot below, demonstrating all the parts of the eye group.

add details to the face

Step 7

Our character already looks good at this stage, but if we imagine putting it above a detailed video-game background, it might blend with the background if the color palettes of the elements are similar. We need to make our character more distinct above any kind of a background. It must be attractive and clearly visible at first glance. And here is a simple way to visually separate the character: we should use outlines! The thicker the outline around the character is, the more distinct it becomes!

Select the arm, go to the Colour panel and apply a black Stroke with 3 pt Width value. Add the outline to the face and legs as well. You might need to select the elements inside the group using the Layers panel, in order to apply the Stroke.

add outline strokes to the body parts

Step 8

As for the body, I want to apply a single outline to the whole shape. However, the body consists of two elements, so we’ll do a little trick. Select both body parts and duplicate them (Command-C > Command-V). You will see the copies in your Layers panel. Select the copies and merge them into a single shape using the Add Operation.

Now we can actually set the Fill color of the merged shape to none in the Colour panel and apply a nice thick 4 pt Stroke, keeping the outline shape on top of the body.

add outline strokes to the body parts 2

Step 9

Let’s see what we have so far. We’ve created a fancy fantasy character, which consists of the body (together with the face), a pair of winged arms and a pair of funny legs. And that’s actually all we need to make a moving game sprite! Make sure you’ve Grouped (Command-G) all the parts properly in the Layers panel, keeping your work neat and consistent.

group the body parts in the layers panel

Now we can make a certain set of poses that can be performed by our character during the game. You can browse the game character sprite sheet section at GraphicRiver to see what poses are usually used in games, or make up your own.

Here I’ve presented the basic poses by simply moving the parts of our sprite, making it stand, run, jump or faint. Notice that I’ve removed the glowing eyes in the faint pose to make it look more unconscious.

character sprite sheet poses

Victory! Our Fantasy Game Character Sprite Is Ready!

Great job! We’ve just finished creating our fancy bird creature and made a sprite sheet of several simple poses that can be used for animation. I hope you’ve found some useful tips and tricks that will help you to get to know Affinity Designer better or will inspire you to create some new unique characters and sprite sheets for PC, browser or mobile games.

If you want to get a ready-to-use vector EPS file with our fancy bird, including the detailed frames for each pose, check out this bird creature sprite sheet. It can be used for simple animation.

Have fun designing new characters, and don’t forget to share your results!

game character sprite sheet in affinity designer
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