5 ways to give your character personality

Chris McCabe examines 5 ways to inject personality into your characters, from clothing to some of the smaller details...

Chris McCabe examines 5 ways to inject personality into your characters, from clothing to some of the smaller details...

My name is Chris Tulloch McCabe and I am a concept artist. I will be going through some things to remember when making a character, and how I try to inject some personality into mine. So, lets get started!

Weight distribution

Okay, so weight distribution is a basic fundamental in the depiction of the human body. At the very least, the minimum needed is for a character to look balanced and with a sense of weight and reaction too gravity. Ideally, weight distribution can also be used to say something about the character. For example, you wanted to give your character a sense of predictability or reliability? You could give them a very central and stable stance with equal weight distribution. Or a playful and energetic personality could be shown with a more dynamic distribution of weight, possibly with all the bodys weight put on one small point.

For my version of Dragonball Z's Bulma, I wanted her to seem very relaxed and confident, so she is poised with most weight on one foot. With the torso compressed and leaning over to counter the weight, head directly over that foot. Stability is given with a foot leaning her bike. This also says she has a connection with the motorbike, and her leaning on it shows her familiarity with the machine, which in turn adds to her relaxed confidence.


Hands are a big one for giving personality and believability to a character, especially if using 3D as a base where they tend to look like inflated rubber gloves if attention isn't paid to them. Its something that is easily overlooked, but hands are beautiful in their structure and say a lot. We ourselves use them constantly to communicate. They say something about us even when we are unaware. Hands are incredibly complex and it stands to reason that they can be used in all manner of ways to convey something about your characters. I spend quite a bit of time posing mine. I will sit at my computer looking at my own hand posed and explore possibilities.

For my character, again, I show a relaxed confidence and a feminine elegance with a sense of reality. In the Manga and Anime, she is a mechanic and engineering genius, and at the same time feminine to a degree. So her right hand holds the dragonball with an elegance and balance. The dragonball is extremely valuable so not holding it with utter reverence also says confidence. The left hand rests on her leg and is posed to look like she is picking at her nails or maybe some skin on her fingers. Something that a person who either has their hands in engines constantly, or is out all over the world gathering dragonballs for would mostly do.


Eyes are simple and really can give a sense of reality. Its normally the first place a viewer will look and as a result its a good place to say something about your character. If you are trying to give an intense serious personality, maybe a stare directly to the viewer would be a good option, or if you wanted to give the character an unhinged or crazy feel, you could have the eyes placed at different heights in the head or each eye going different directions. Subtlety is the name of the game here (unless you are doing something more stylized). Humans are experts in facial structure and extremely slight changes make a big difference for us, so yeah, be subtle. With mine I wanted to say that there is a feeling or satisfaction with acquiring a dragonball. She stares right into it even though it is emitting a light that is making her eyes squint.


It seems obvious but clothing is often overlooked as a means of saying something about a given character. Its something that a character gets up in the morning and chooses to put on, so that is a statement if you make it one. Does your character need to move freely? Are they rich or poor? Do they make their own clothing? Does the way they look matter to them? These are the sort of questions you ask yourself. Clothing really is one of the biggest tools you have to tell a viewer something.

With Bulma, I like the idea that she is a mix and contrast of a utilitarian and self-aware, fashion-conscious young women. She wears biker leathers with pads on the knees, but also her footwear isn't what you would normally associate with the safety conscious; this give you the idea that there is an element of recklessness to her. She wears bright colors too, she is outgoing and doesn't take herself too seriously.

Small details

This is something I normally do towards the end of the process. I look over the painting and start to think if there is anything I can add to either enforce the desired personality or reject something I am not happy with. Swapping a weapon for a tool, or checking the hair color, or the rust of what was perfectly polished armor. I added oil marks to Bulmas face, hands and shoes to suggest that she had to stop and possibly fix the bike at some point. To her hair I added non-dyed roots.

In the Anime, Bulma's actual hair is cyan, why? Because its anime, there is no reason! But I like the idea that she chooses to dye her hair that color. This supports the confidence coming from her clothing choices. She has a silly little happy face badge because well she is generally silly and happy, and also scratches over the bike let us know that there is adventure on her travels that sometimes could include danger.

Related links

5 composition mistakes to avoid
Check out Chris McCabes website
Grab a copy of Ultimate Concept Art Career Guide

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