If you have ever found yourself rescuing a princess from the dungeon in the middle of the night, you probably know that most players are very emotional about the game characters. The main character is crucial because people identify with this avatar and live and breathe the hero.
Flawless or weird, pixel or realistic, 2D or 3D – unique characters are vital for the game’s popularity. The importance of character design for the game industry finds a solid prof in the designer’s salary. Glassdoor estimates the Junior Game Designer’s average salary of $64,288 per year in the United States.
At Whimsy Games, we have been making engaging game characters from scratch for more than seven years. In this article, we share our thoughts about the main factors that influence the character design cost, explain the nuances of 2D and 3D character modeling, and give some referent values of designer`s rates.
Factors Affecting Character Design Cost
Characters are the heart of the game. The plot and the locations of the game serve as a frame for the active hero. The latter often embodies the player in the game world. Therefore we don’t advise trying to save money on that part of your game creation.
On the other hand, it’s good to know what determines the 2D and 3D model price and rationally reduce it. Not so many factors directly affect the cost of character design.
Character type: 2D or 3D
The main parameter that influences the character design cost is the number of its dimensions.
2D character design
The 2D character will cost less than a 3D model. The designer works with flat 2-dimensional images that can not be rotated 360 degrees.
In the Whimsy ART Project #5, shadows and textures create the illusion of three-dimensionality, but the dwarfs and the magic cave elements are 2D drawings. If you need several postures, such as a dwarf with a treasure chest or the one who is watching TV, these will be separate drawings.
Decide beforehand how many looks you really need. For example, if you have ordered seven costumes for your visual novel anime character and then used four of them, your expenditures are excessive.
Although 2D characters can’t “move,” designers have used sprite sheets to animate flat images since the first days of computer games. A sprite sheet is one big image that contains the character walking, running, smiling, or feeling embarrassed. Usually, one or two sprite sheets come along in the basic package of services.
3D character design
A three-dimensional character has a width, length, and depth and requires more working hours and technical skills with Maya or 3D Max. If you want to make 3D characters of people, robots, animals, or other creatures, it will generally cost more than 2D alternatives. But there are still ways to reduce the price to the optimal level.
Let’s look at two main approaches to 3D model development: spline and polygon modeling.
Polygon modeling is a process of shaping objects with small connected surface areas. These elementary pieces are called polys. They look like a patchwork of hundreds of elements and define the designer’s work complexity.
You can influence the cost of the 3D character design by choosing high poly or low poly methods.
- High poly contains many polygons, which allow adding details and result in the realism of your hero.
- Low poly models need fewer polygons. They are good for basic models with a low level of detail.
Needless to say that the second type is cheaper.
Spline modeling uses other principles to create 3D characters. Instead of polys, models are made of numerous curves and points that unite them. The resulting creatures look pretty smooth but it might be difficult to edit them because of the mathematical formulas and calculations involved.
The character’s technology, complexity, and price depend on your vision. You might imagine your `first player` as a realistic, cartoon, pixel, anime, minimalist, or abstract figure. The designer’s work and payment would differ in all these cases.
The main character needs more attention than the secondary. You might want to add enhanced detailing with fluttering hair or ask for advanced texture sets for eye creation. Such fine strokes make the character look alive but cost more.
Creating characters for the NFT game is slightly different from 3D modeling for traditional games. Character models should be developed on a blockchain base so that players could buy and sell them.
A freelancer or an agency fee would differ in case you need the result for tomorrow, in three days, in a week or anytime the designer chooses. Note that some companies might refuse to accelerate because they wouldn’t like to risk the quality.
As a rule, the character goes through several stages of alterations and additions until it complies with the client’s expectations. This might take two or three changes to the initial concept and a number of revisions in the final stage.
An adjustment that takes a few minutes, like flipping the image or swapping a single color, will not necessarily need an additional fee. But anything more complex that will require redrawing a character deserves extra payment.
Game engine specialties
Developing characters for the Unity game engine can be significantly different from modeling for Godot or Unreal Engine 4. The last one is the most professional engine and the character design will take much longer and cost more.
While searching for talent on Upwork, you could have noticed the decrease in rates from west to east. The hour of work of the UK designer costs $50 while the work of a freelancer from Europe rates $15-25, and the specialist from Pakistan would do the job for $8-25 per hour. Nevertheless, the communication difficulty and mindset diversity should also be considered.
What is Character Design? Main Stages Of Work
Character creation is a multi-stage process that implies the use of different drawing techniques and software tools. Our whimsy team shares observations about each stage of character design.
1. Vision and Brief
It all starts with the designer’s prayer for a task
`What do I need to start?
I need a clear brief. What kind of character? animal or object or human? Give me some information about its traits, personality, or some unique feature. It will help if you tell me the context for the game character, if I have experience doing what you want we can work it faster. Images are the most important. This way I can understand what you have in mind.
The clear task for the game hero can become the first impulse to successful collaboration and outstanding results.
When the genre of the game and the type of character is set, it’s time for the designer to learn the game’s setting and the plot. These parameters will affect the main character.
There are more things to explore such as engaging game worlds of the same type, remarkable designer works, and gamers’ preferences. In the research phase, it’s better to ‘steal like an artist‘ than to reinvent the wheel.
3. Character concept
Sketching the first outlines is the next step for the video game character drawing. The artist creates several possible options to choose from and agrees on the final sketch with the client.
In this stage of conceptualization, the legend of the game character can hit the insight for figures, styles, and palettes. Here is the story of two brothers from the Whimsy ART Project #4.
`Two brothers Matek and Miksha are on their quest to find the missing sister Eliora. Their journey takes them through abandoned and dangerous lands of the ancient Roman Empire, where heroes face their deep-rooted feelings of unworthiness and rejection.`
And here two figures step out of the sand swirl stroke by stroke.
You can download our free 2D adventure game ELIORA from the PlayMarket, and find inspiration in other Whimsy 2D characters.
A 2D designer continues working on poses, clothing options, and characters’ emotions. There might be a sprite sheet for pre-animation or multiple poses required. But generally, here the work on 2D ends, whereas the development of the character 3D model continues.
5. Character blocking
A 3D character can first consist of primitive blocks like cubes or cylinders which stand for the future body shapes. This simple awkward model gives an idea of what the character will look like later.
6. Character sculpting and topology
If you have ever worked with clay, you can imagine the sculpting process as finger movements to form smooth character features. The designer presses deepenings for the model’s eyes, adds material for the chin, strokes cheekbones, and a pure sphere shape becomes a worried face of a blonde secretary from the Whimsy Art Project.
The game character topology makes the details of the face voluminous with the help of poly elements. Multiple corners of polygons allow editing and animation of the individual parts of a figure separately. And so a smile and surprise fill the face with a human spark.
In another case out of Whimsy portfolio, the character topology helped sell pizza. We created an entertaining game for pizza delivery service with a cute delivery boy 3D character.
7.Model rigging and skinning
The rigging process is the designer’s term to create the skeleton of the character while skinning means connecting the skeleton and surface of the model together so they can move as one during the animation.
8. Character rendering
This is somewhat a photo session for the ready 3D figure. An artist designs a scene, adjusts the lighting, and the camera’s direction, then puts the character inside this frame and makes a shot. The output 2D image is called render. It is often used for advertisement and promotion.
3D character animation
This is the final step to animate the body movements and facial expressions of the model. The character starts to live and breathe.
Simple Calculations Of The Character Design Cost
When you make a rough estimation of character design cost, two factors matter:
R – the rate of the 2D or 3D modeler per hour
H – hours to create a model
A multiplication: R*H – will give us a character price.
2D character design cost
The rates of 2D character design freelancers in Europe range from $25 to $100+ per hour.
Creating the concept and the initial design of the flat character takes around 40 hours. Making additional poses, outfits, and accessories requires another 40 hours. Together this will make 80 working hours.
Simple calculations show a price corridor for a 2D character design from $2000 to $8000.
3D character design cost
Similarly, the hourly rate of 3D artists starts from $30 in Ukraine and Polland and goes up to $150 in the U.S. 3D character modeling process needs double the time of 2D character design or more. And so the price will vary from $4000 to $20000.
|Character type||Hours||Character cost|
|2D character concept||8-24||200-1000|
|2D realistic character||40-60||1000-2800|
|2D stylized character||24-50||600-2000|
|3D realistic character||80-120||1800-3500|
|3D cartoon character||60-100||1500-3000|
How To Choose A Character Design Company?
Choosing the right partner to embody your vision of the character is not an easy task. Here are some basic recommendations to do this from the first attempt
- Find a studio that specializes in your game character type 2D, 3D, or both.
- Explore the portfolio and see if it matches your aesthetic requirements.
- Check out previous clients’ reviews. Do they speak for the company?
- Contact the studio and ask about the stages of the work. Can they help you choose the right poses and additional elements for your hero? How many reviews are included?
- Estimate the character design cost in comparison with the other market propositions.
Your Stunning Game Character with Whimsy Team
The Statista forecast for 2025 estimates the growth of the global gaming market to be $ 268.8 bn in comparison to an annual of $178 bn in 2021. This rapid development of virtual worlds makes it hard for a new game not to get lost among hundreds of representatives of the same genre.
A well-crafted character requires time, research, skills, and technology to become the heart and soul of the new gripping game. The Whimsy team has completed over 500 game projects with 2D and 3D characters of different styles and complexity and can help you bring an outstanding and convincing hero to life.
Let’s talk about your stunning game character creation!