One of the most exciting elements of creating a new story, whether it’s for a writing project or game, is seeing your characters come to life. But they have to start somewhere. That’s where a character mood board can help.
A mood board is a way to visualize concepts and ideas, either on paper or digitally. It can be made up of quotes, art, photos, and even objects, pulling together different elements to form one unified picture. The goal is to put all of your inspiration in one place so that you can reference it as you work on your project. Mood boards are typically found in interior design, fashion, video game design, and fiction writing, the latter usually featuring both a setting and character mood board.
In this tutorial, you’ll learn what a character design mood board is and how they can be used to take your fictional friends from your head to the page or screen. We’ll show you how to create a character mood board and some of the best ways to get started on your own.
What Is a Character Mood Board?
A character design mood board, sometimes also called an aesthetic board, is the best place to start before you begin working on your story. It’ll be where you lay out the inspiration for your character as a whole, from their personality and traits to what they wear and how they look. Think of it like a collage of ideas for who your character is. It’s a chance for you to brainstorm and gather your thoughts before diving into the writing or drawing part of your project.
You can find inspiration anywhere. A catchy song that you heard online might be the spark for your antagonist or villain. A piece of art could conjure an image in your mind of your lead character’s love interest. Even if you’re starting from the smallest idea, gather photos or quotes that can answer some basic character-trait questions:
- What do they look like?
- What clothes are they wearing? What kind of style do they have?
- Where do they live?
- What do they like to do? How do they spend their time?
There are plenty of tools out there with mood board templates for characters to help you get started. Pinterest and Google Image Search are ideal for inspiration, whereas Adobe Illustrator or Spark, Canva, and Milanote are helpful digital platforms for collecting everything and building a defined mood board.
Why Should I Make a Character Mood Board?
The most memorable characters are the ones that make an impression, so getting their attributes and personality right is key. Think about some of your favorite characters from film and literature—they all started as an idea that was built out and designed with careful intention and hard work.
Mood boards are the perfect place to work out what the foundation is before you start building the house around it. Knowing basic details about your characters that you can reference on your board throughout the writing or drawing process will keep you focused. It will also help you to create believable characters because the small details about them will always be the same.
Another great reason for making a character design mood board is to streamline the process of working with collaborators. The whole team can reference the same mood board while building out characters in both written and visual mediums, keeping a consistent feel to every element.
There are specific considerations to keep in mind when you’re learning how to make a video game character mood board compared to one for a written story. With writing, all of the imagery is in the reader’s head (unless you have illustrations alongside the text). In a video game, you’re showing the character to the viewer and leaving no room for their own interpretation.
You’ll want to have a good level of detail for both, but if you’re working with a graphic designer to draw your video game, you’ll want to include more visual inspiration like colors, facial expressions, and clothing. They can still add their own flair, but having a detailed visual direction from you, the creator, can be useful in translating your vision to them and cutting down on revisions.
Whether you’re new to creating your own characters from scratch or have plenty of experience under your belt, taking some time to understand why and how to make a character mood board can completely change the way you conceptualize and develop your creations.
Ready To Make Your First Mood Board?
Creating Mood Boards with Adobe InDesign.
How to Make a Character Mood Board
Step 1: Find a Template and Decide on a Platform
You’ll want to decide upfront which platform to use for your mood board so you know where all of your inspiration is going to live. This is especially crucial if you need to share it with others. Tools like Canva offer simple share settings where users can work on the same board in real time and not have to think about sending draft versions back and forth. Most of these tools also come with pre-designed mood board templates for characters that you can copy and edit for your own work.
Step 2: Look for Inspiration
This is where the fun begins! You can start anywhere with your research, depending on the type of content you want on your mood board.
If you’re looking for more visual imagery, photo sites like Unsplash and Flickr are great for copyright-free snaps. For quotes, Brainyquote and Quotery are excellent resources, while Goodreads is handy for any literary references you might need.
If you’re looking for a way to incorporate music or videos into your mood board, digital tools like Notion allow you to create customizable dashboards with embeddable content blocks—perfect for adding your favorite Spotify character playlists.
Step 3: Add Any Final Touches
If your mood board is mostly images and graphics, consider adding a few descriptors that can help you when you’re referencing. Why did you choose these images? What do they say about the character?
If you know basic demographic information about your character already (think age, gender, family situation, likes, and dislikes), these can be useful to add into the board as text rather than visual references. They’ll serve as helpful reminders when you’re writing or drawing.
Step 4: Print Your Mood Board
When you’re happy with your final design, print your mood board and keep it with your story notes or pinned above your desk where you can always see it. The whole purpose of your character mood board is to be a helpful reference source as you work on your project, so make sure it’s clearly visible and accessible for when you need it.
Now that you feel confident in how to create a character mood board, it’s time for the most rewarding part: starting your story and bringing your creations to life!
Turn Your Mood Boards Into Living Characters!
Storyboarding for Animation: How to Illustrate and Design for Successful Motion.