What makes a character look older?

There are many visual cues that can make a character appear older. Some key factors that influence perceived age include wrinkles, gray hair, receding hairline, changes in skin texture, posture, and costume choices. In this article, we will explore the primary ways character designers and visual artists convey age and maturity through visual design.


One of the most recognizable signs of aging is the development of wrinkles on the face and body. Wrinkles form as a result of decreased elasticity and moisture in the skin over time. The first signs of wrinkles usually appear around the eyes, mouth, and forehead as expression lines. As characters continue to age, wrinkles become more pronounced, deeper, and spread across the face. Highly detailed wrinkles around the eyes, mouth, cheeks, and forehead are a clear indicator of an elderly character.

Wrinkles can also develop on the neck, hands, arms, and other areas of exposed skin. Thin, crepe-y skin that has lost elasticity and collagen will wrinkle and fold more readily. Strategically placing wrinkles across different parts of the body helps convey the age of a character.

Quick Answers:

Q: Where do wrinkles first appear as people age?

A: Around the eyes, mouth, and forehead.

Q: What causes the development of wrinkles?

A: Decreased elasticity and moisture in the skin over time.

Q: How do wrinkles indicate an elderly character?

A: Deep wrinkles across the face and body demonstrate advanced aging.

Gray Hair

Graying or whitening of the hair is another obvious way to depict an aging character. Human hair gradually loses pigmentation over time, turning silvery, gray, or fully white. Many characters start to develop gray hairs around their temples and sideburns in middle age, then progress to fully gray or white hair in old age.

Artists can strategically add gray streaks throughout a character’s hair to indicate they are mature without fully graying the hair. Fully gray, white, or balding hair indicates an elderly character. The gradual shift from dark to light colored hair parallels the aging process in people.

Quick Answers:

Q: Where does graying of the hair usually start?

A: At the temples and sideburns.

Q: What causes hair to turn gray or white with age?

A: Loss of hair pigmentation over time.

Q: What do gray, white, or balding hair signify about a character?

A: That the character is elderly.

Receding Hairline

Hairloss and a receding hairline are other ways artists depict male aging. The receding hairline usually starts at the temples, then the forehead expands and the hair thins out. Continued hair loss leads to a bald spot or patch on the top of the head. Extensive balding symbolizes a very mature male character.

To demonstrate a receding hairline, artists can show a distinct indented curve on the sides of the forehead and sparse hair growth on top. Strategic bald spots or combing over thin hair gives the impression of aging for male characters. As hair fades away, the scalp beneath becomes more visible which emphasizes maturity.

Quick Answers:

Q: Where does male pattern hair loss typically start?

A: At the temples.

Q: What are signs of a receding hairline in male characters?

A: An indented forehead curve and thinning hair growth on top.

Q: What does extensive hairloss or balding indicate about a male character’s age?

A: That he is likely an elderly male.

Changes in Skin Texture

As people age, the texture and appearance of their skin goes through changes as well. Skin loses elasticity, collagen, and moisture over time. Dry, thinning skin that lacks tone appears looser, creased, and papery on older characters. Liver spots, age spots, moles, tags, and other skin blemishes can indicate aged skin.

Artists might depict thin, translucent skin that sags gently around the cheeks, jawline, neck, arms, and other areas. Skin texture changes help convey the looseness and fragility associated with elderly skin. Discolorations and uneven pigmentation also give skin more visual complexity.

Quick Answers:

Q: What causes changes to skin texture and tone in older people?

A: Loss of elasticity, collagen, and moisture in the skin over time.

Q: How does aged skin differ visually from youthful skin?

A: It appears thinner, looser, and more fragile with spots and discoloration.

Q: What are some skin textural elements that signify elderly characters?

A: Loose jowls, thin crepe-y skin, liver spots, moles, and skin tags.


Posture is another critical way artists convey age. As people grow older, muscles weaken and joints stiffen. Common aging postural changes include forward head tilt, hunched upper back, and flexed hips when standing. Movement becomes stiffer and slower with age as well.

Showing an older character with forward neck and head tilt demonstrates the effects of aging on the spine. Depicting a concave chest and upper back signifies reduced muscle strength and osteoporosis. An elderly character might strain, struggle, or wobble slightly when moving to depict age-related changes.

Quick Answers:

Q: How does posture tend to change as people get older?

A: Forward head tilt, hunched back, flexed hips when standing.

Q: What causes changes in posture in elderly people?

A: Weakened muscles, stiff joints, osteoporosis.

Q: How can posture indicate an aged character?

A: A forward lean, concave chest, and limited mobility demonstrate aging.

Costume Choices

Costume design presents many opportunities to emphasize character age. Clothing styles, fabric choices, and accessories all influence the perceived age of a character. Outdated or old-fashioned clothing and accessories indicate an older character. Mixing in elements from different eras can suggest a mature character who is set in their ways.

Fabrics like felt, fleece, wool, and flannel tend to read as older. Frayed, damaged, or oversized clothing gives a worn appearance. Jackets, vests, hats, shawls, and jewelry signify generational styles. Showing unbuttoned clothing and layers indicates difficulty dressing oneself.

Quick Answers:

Q: How can costume choices help convey a character’s age?

A: Through old-fashioned, dated styles and fabrics.

Q: What clothing fabrics tend to appear more aged or mature?

A: Felt, fleece, wool, and flannel fabrics.

Q: How might disheveled or oversized costumes indicate an elderly character?

A: It can show difficulty dressing themselves.

Facial Features

The shape and size of different facial features can be exaggerated or enhanced to convey an aged appearance. Elderly characters often have larger ears and noses as collagen in the face weakens over time. Sagging jowls, heavy lidded eyes, prominent crow’s feet, and enlarged pores also denote maturity.

Aided by wrinkles and skin texture changes, the facial features take on characteristics shaped by gravity and time. Heavy, hooded eyelids give a weary appearance. Deep nasolabial folds that extend down beside the mouth enhance the look of wrinkled skin. Bushy eyebrows and mustaches lend a seasoned look.

Quick Answers:

Q: How do ears and noses change visually with aging?

A: They tend to get larger and longer.

Q: What aspects around the eyes indicate more mature characters?

A: Heavy lids, prominent crow’s feet, and sagging brows.

Q: How do facial hair choices influence perceived age?

A: Bushy eyebrows and mustaches add to an elderly look.

Voice and Speech

Vocal qualities provide important aural cues about a character’s age. Elderly voices tend to have more pitch variation, hoarseness, and breathiness. Slower speech patterns, changes in tone and volume, and imprecise consonant sounds convey advanced age. Characters might pause to cough or clear their throats more frequently as well.

Actors can mimic vocal features of aging like creaky, unstable voices and weariness in tone. Slurred or blurry speech suggests cognitive decline. Quavering voices that crack or tremble fits with common aging vocal changes. Adding background sounds of heavy breathing or sighing emphasizes maturity through voice.

Quick Answers:

Q: How do voices change with old age?

A: More pitch variation, hoarseness, and breathiness occur.

Q: What speech and voice patterns signal an elderly character?

A: Slower, slurred, and unstable voices with age-related raspiness.

Q: How can breathing sounds enhance the aging effect for voices?

A: Heavy breathing and sighing in the background.

Movement and Body Language

Another way to demonstrate age is through restricted, stilted movement. Stiff gaits, limited range of motion, and unsteady balance give the impression of advanced years. Labored, shuffling walks and difficulty standing up or sitting down portray the effects of aging on mobility and motor skills. Shaky hands that fumble with objects also indicate mature characters.

Subtle ticks like rocking in a chair, rubbing arthritic hands, or leaning on a cane help build the illusion of an aging body. Wearing down movements and making actions more challenging for an elderly character emphasizes their physical situation and mindset.

Quick Answers:

Q: How does movement change visually in elderly characters?

A: More stiff, unstable, and restricted physical motions.

Q: What gestures and behaviors demonstrate aging?

A: Labored walking, unsteady balance, rubbing sore joints.

Q: What mobility aids might an older character use?

A: Canes, walkers, wheelchairs, reaching tools.


In summary, artists and designers have many techniques for developing an aged, elderly character. Strategic use of wrinkles, gray hair, receding hairline, textured skin, slumped posture, generational costumes, time-worn facial features, mature vocal qualities, restricted movement, and related body language are key. Combining these visual, vocal, and kinetic elements creates a believable, multi-layered depiction of later life. With careful attention to anatomical changes, expressive subtleties, and slowed mobility, artists can shape compelling elder characters that enrich storytelling.

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