Transforming Character Design With Proportion | Brian Shepard | Skillshare

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Transforming Character Design With Proportion

teacher avatar Brian Shepard, 2D Game Artist and Illustrator.

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

7 Lessons (26m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Your Assignment

    • 3. What Big Teeth You Have...!

    • 4. Body Builders

    • 5. Facial Features

    • 6. Negative Space

    • 7. Funhouse Mirror

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About This Class

Fantasy characters come in all shapes and sizes, not unlike real people. Some are tall and lanky, others short and squat, some have huge eyes, and still others have incredibly exaggerated features. Have you ever stopped to wonder why that might be?

This course is about proportion and learning how this element of character design is used to emphasize or downplay certain features. We'll be exploring various well-known characters and examining why they are built the way they are, as well as doing some drawing exercises of our own to understand the importance of space on a character.

The lessons are designed with beginners in mind, so you don't need to bring any prior knowledge to this course. I'll be performing demonstrations with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, but all you really need is a simple drawing instrument to follow along. Your assignment is something that can be completed with digital or real-world tools as well -- the choice is yours.

This class is the third entry in an ongoing series about character design and art style. Be sure to check out the previous courses on color theory and shape language!

Meet Your Teacher

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Brian Shepard

2D Game Artist and Illustrator.


A slightly-above-average illustrator and character designer for video games. Trying to improve my understanding of character design, storytelling, and how we culturally respond to visual cues like shape and color in everyday situations. Making an effort to help anyone else who wants to learn the same things!

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1. Introduction: if you've been following along with this series, and you already know that characters are made up of lots of different things, they have dominant shaped the impact, their personalities, and they were unique color combinations that define their identities. Shape on the color are factors that apply not only to fantasy characters but all sorts of designs, from electron ICS to furniture toe logos. There's another often overlooks factor that plays into character design, which is what we'll be exploring in this course, proportion. Proportion are first to the relative size of different features on a character. Are the legs longer than the arms? Do the eyes take up most of the space on the head? How neatly does the character fit into a square? My name is Brian Shepard. I create characters and all sorts of art related things on a regular basis. Most of my work pertains to video games, but I tried to study characters from all kinds of sources, from live action television to film two. Sequential art Proportionate can be a tricky subject when discussing our styles. That seems to be mentioned far less often than other topics like color or shape, but it is a very important thing to understand when designing characters, and this course will teach you how to do just that. On that note, It's about time we got started, so I hope you'll join me in the next lesson. 2. Your Assignment: characters coming all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some of them have long arms or flathead or big eyes. The fun thing about fantasy is that you can shape character, however you want for the course assignment. I want you to think about your favor of fantasy character. Anyone at all. Take your pick. They could be from a cartoon, a film, a video game, a comic book in a medium from any time period. Make sure the character you feel comfortable drawing because it's going to take them and mess of their proportions. Imagine that you're putting the character in front of one of those wonky funhouse mirrors. They're going to end up looking a little weird by the end. The point of the assignment is to show how changing the size of features can have an impact on how we perceive a character. So if we make Superman is hair really big? Suddenly it becomes hilarious. We make the horns on bows of small. He's a lot less scary. It seems pretty simple. That's because, in a way it is fried half one with the assignment. The idea is to deliberately not draw them as they're supposed to look, think about your characters, most important features and how you can change those alter how they're defined. Once we've learned a bit more about how proportion works. I'll go over this assignment again in a lesson at the end of the course and walk you through an example Project. 3. What Big Teeth You Have...!: Let's say you wake up one day and you want to make a character, Ah, scary one that eats people. Other characters are terrified of this monster because it devours any and everything in his path. So naturally, if you're going to create this monster on paper, the obvious thing to do would be to give a really, really big ears, right? No, you probably give a giant state of start teeth. It would be the first thing that audience would notice. Bigger features are, well, just more noticeable to the human eye. From a distance. Jump out at us as being especially important and take up more space. And I cone of vision dumbbell, for instance, has big ears, for obvious reasons, his ability to fly as what separates him from ordinary elephants so the ears communicate this At first glance. Now look at the following characters and think carefully about what they're. Most prominent features are. Why do you think the creators chose to emphasize them to their audience? In our culture, at least, eyes were seen is the most important identifying characteristic on a person's face. It's no surprise, then, that they're often huge and exaggerated art styles the person to unveil wire range of expression. Often they will be drawn in more detail than all the other features. To further emphasize their importance, smaller features are more likely to be seen as cute, unimportant or even non threatening. All right, now, look at these characters. Why did their creators choose to play down certain things to their audience? Proportions can have all sorts of positive and negative effects on our perceptions of what characters are, what they should be. And how would you used to thinking about them of the top heavy bottom heavy. Do they have noodle limbs? Do they live? Proportion offers you an endless variety of character bills toe work from Let's try a few for ourselves just to see how it works. You don't need to be a master of draftsman for these exercises, as long as you can communicate simple, recognizable shapes. In fact, we're going to keep it simple so that it's easier to understand how proportion works on his own. Let's try out three different body types for human shaped characters. For the 1st 1 tryout, whichever body proportions come to mind, don't think too hard and don't spend more than 60 seconds on it. Leave out the face and hair and clothes and everything. Think of it as one of those still elects you see on a road sign. - Okay , now let's try a new in. Remember 60 seconds. If you can't focus on the basic stuff, everything you put on top will fall apart. Okay, so this time I'm going to give you a few guidelines to follow. Make sure that a arm's reach all the way to the ground and be make sure the character doesn't have a visible nick. Okay, one more this time I want you to a make the legs twice as long as everything above it and be make the next longest lender as well. Forget really isn't. For now, we're trying to loosen up and see what's possible with proportion. - Chances are, you already has some subconscious notions about what type of character these are, even though they don't have many apparent features. That's because you've seen body types like these and many times in fiction and have associated them with the personality and recurring features of those specific characters. All of you who are watching this will have different solutions to the first exercise, the so called default proportions that come to mind. Some of you may have made the torso some within with the soldiers and certain with or the legs of, certainly because of the way we're conditioned to think about what a normal body is supposed to look like. As we progress throughout this course, you'll see that by proportions can communicate ideas about characters in the way that they reinforced and diverge from what we see as a cultural norm. 4. Body Builders: at the end, the previous lesson. We explored a few different body state for characters. Typically, the ones that take up more space are immediately seen as being physically strong or imposing out of the two of these, which one of you more terrified to face in a fight, the big one or the one with the noodle arms? I probably don't need to tell you that giant arms and an exaggerated upper body or commonplace on masculine characters due to certain beauty standards, you're more likely to see feminine characters with tiny waits whose leg ling is emphasised much more than their arm size. But as I always say, once you learn about stereotypes, you have control over whether or not you wish to subvert them. It's not just arms and legs that determine proportion. The fact is, we pay a great deal of attention to faces. It's just a thing that happened. Faces are how we recognize people. They're the most common answer to how we know what someone looked like. This is probably why, and video games, where the camera is often far away and the character takes up a very small portion on the screen. The characters. Proportions are typically such that a face will be visible, even if it means that other features, like fingers of sacrificed the face is almost always emphasized in great detail because culturally, it's important for us to identify someone that were interacting with putting a face with the name. In some cases, the only thing we can make out on a character's face is a pair of eyes. Pac Man and Kirby are basically walking faces, even when they're not Strunk and down on a screen. Other features have been omitted because they're unimportant to the characters. In order to fit a recognizable head on a small character, it has to take up a huge chunk of the body proportions. Typically, a fully grown man's head takes up about 1/6 of his total height, the halfway point from head to toe of roughly around the pelvis. An infant's head, on the other hand on Lee, takes up about 1/3 of their entire body, so it seems big by comparison. Not only that, but the naval is at the center of the body instead of the pelvic area, so the legs take up less. Space proportions changed all kinds of ways. It will be mature from childhood. But remember that in real life no one has built the exact same way. And there's a wide spectrum of variation between people. Characters with huge heads are often perceived as having this underlying infantile quality . We can make The face is scary or intimidating as we want, but as long as we see that particular relationship between head and body, there's no escaping the inherent charming or acuteness factor. So let's go back to Kirby and Pac Man and make their heads not take up so much space on their bodies. They're not cute characters anymore. In fact, they're getting much closer into frightening territory. Look at how much blank space there is on the characters Designs now on a similar note, think about the difference between a fictional character and a real person wearing a mascot costume. Based on that character, the discrepancy can be striking in some cases, depending on how unrealistic their proportions of the character are. The characters from the franchise animal crossing our young adults that are living on their own for the first time in their lives. But the games are style makes them look like Children again compare head size to the rest of the body. The games would have a very different feel. If they were normally built adults, it would be more realistic. But that realism is out of place with everything else going on. Not only that, but the game was likely created to be played and marketed towards a younger audience. Incidentally, the characters proportions have been slightly modified in recent games to make them look more like adults. Maybe this was done to reflect a changing audience. You can see how body proportions can heavily impact the character design. It really depends on what you decide to use them for. Equipped with these studies, I recommend trying MAWR exercises like we did in less than one to see what variations you can come up with. 5. Facial Features: It's not just body proportions that changed with AIDS. The way features are arranged on the human face also change slightly as we get older babies . Features are mostly collected closer together in the bottom half of the head, leaving a huge round forehead as a prominent feature. Big foreheads can make care for his look. Young samurai Jack's features comprised the upper half of his entire head, and his chin is the bottom half. A strong jawline is a prominent feature and lots of heroes, so this particular arrangement is something we've seen many times before. He looks a lot different when his forehead takes up more space by emphasizing the forehead , we give the impression that he is younger or perhaps even more intelligent. The adult faces anchored in the center by the eyes and can be divided into approximate thirds before head, nose, bridge and chain make up the major areas of the face. But as with body proportions, this is not a formula to be strictly applied to every single adult face. There are millions of various school of face shapes in the world, based on ethnicity, gender and other factors. This is more of a guideline to understand why some characters appear more or less mature based on how their features are placed. Now that we understand how arranging all the features can affect our perception, let's look at how one or two that are exaggerated by themselves impact the characters. Appearance Morrow's noses. Well, enormous, for better or for worse. In fact, all the human men and the Mario universe have oversized, cartoonishly exaggerated noses. Princess Peach and other Women and Mario games don't share this trait. Why do you think that might be? We can see that proportion is often used to convey acuteness as well as to tell the audience where's types of characters are supposed to be cute. It also boils down to different standards of what qualifies as cute or beautiful for men and women. But that's not to say that all female characters are beholden to beauty standards like that . The characters and snowboard kids all pretty much had giant cartoon noses. Regardless of gender, there are always exceptions. The point of learning about common patterns is to understand how and why certain combinations appear over and over, so proportion is not always about shrinking or growing things. At the exact same race you, as I mentioned earlier, proportionate can be seen is how neatly something fits into a square. Sometimes flattening or pinching features can have a bigger effect between tall eyes and flat eyes, which is closer to real life. Also, consider the fact that vertical lives tend to induce tension or excitability, so tall eyes make characters appear more upbeat or tense by default. Flatter eyes appear more calm or understated if we keep the mouth shape the same in these, but also the orientation of the eyes, the entire expressing changes with them. Nest and other characters and the mother franchise have tall, black button eyes, which could be generally regarded as cute. But what if there a flat now? They're a bit closer to realize, but suddenly there a little creepy looking. Because now everything about the shape is pretty normal, other than the fact that they're blacked out void. Let's go even deeper. Consider pupil to square proportions. This is a pretty important one again, considering that eyes were usually emphasized more than anything else on the face. You can not only play with how much space they take up, but how tall are flat. They are just like the overall I size tall, thin pupils can add. A monster is quality to a human character. You could even study various types of pupils from real life animals to see how much of a difference it makes. If you look at different Pokemon, you can see a wide variety of I proportions. See how they impact these ones imply personality. Even something as minor is this plays a fundamental part in their design. Why do you care? Because I strength to show fear. It's true that the people can contract when a person is shocked by something. But also consider this in real life that I lead normally covers the top half of the I. When you're surprised the lead pulls back, which in turn throws more of this clearer or the white space. But on a character who under ordinary circumstances, doesn't have eyelids, you can't do this. The only way to mimic this effect, and so more of this clearer, is to make the pupil and IRA smaller. It's hard for a character like Homer Simpson to look more surprised by only changing his eyes. Eyes are often given the most attention of any facial feature, making them big and details that can allow you to give your character a wide range of expressions. Conversely, reducing them two little dots make them a lot less important. You can apply similar principles to any facial feature. However, from nostrils to your love to teeth, you have to decide when and why these things are important for your audience to notice. 6. Negative Space: So far, we've been looking at big arms and small noses and stretching characters and all kinds of ways. But proportionate can be used in a much more subtle manner and still have a significant impact on appearance. We can also examine the proportion of nothingness or negative space between features. Why do I Z that are close together feel different than eyes that are far apart? Remember, most of the time when we see exaggerated features were sub cautiously, comparing them to what they're supposed to look like. Human eyes have space in between them naturally, so I that are stuck together immediately come off his cartoonish. On the other hand, I was gonna be spaced very far apart. What it seems to portray youth. I'm not entirely sure why this seems to be the case. My guess is that the space makes the forehead appear more pronounced, which, as we saw earlier, reminds us of infantile proportions. Let's see how we can arrange the space between the eyes and the mouth. We can create a huge gap for the nose or line them up perfectly. Notice that typically cute characters also have less space between the eyes and mouth. Remember how the face architecture changes as we mature from infancy? Putting space between the nose and the mouth is another way to rearrange the features on the face. Think about different faces you can make by stretching or mouth around or scrunching up your nose in real life. Consider how these facial expressions have their own proportions and how that can influence the character of supposed personality. A character whose mouth is perpetually pulled downward looks like they're always frowning. A character with a wide mouth and flat eyes appears to be always grinning. You can think about different facial expressions and create proportions based off of those . Negative spacing can be used anywhere, but typically, I think you'll see the biggest difference by applying it to the head. If that's often where we place a lot of importance in regards to someone's identity, 7. Funhouse Mirror: If you've ever seen caricature art, you'll know that those artists are very good at altering the face of proportions of well known people without diminishing how recognizable they are for the course assignment. Your job is to choose your favorite fantasy character and pretty much do the same thing. Don't worry about your drawing a skill too much or staying on model. The point is to see how changing proportions can drastically affect our perception of a character. As long as we can recognize who the character is, that's more than enough for the purpose of this assignment. It will be your job to figure out how far you can go with your alterations without diminishing the subject identity. OK, so let's walk through example project to see how it works. The first step is fairly simple. You need to figure out who your fantasy character is going to be again. Have fun with this part, and she was someone that you're comfortable drawing. I'm going to go with Spider Man's rival venom. I think we can all agree he's a pretty classy ah alien parasite. Once you've decided on your subject, the first thing used to do is find the good reference image of them and upload that to the project gallery. This way we can all see your thought process from the beginning and how your project involves from start to finish. It also helps us see what the character normally looks like, just in case you're not familiar with who they are. Next thing to do is to plan out how you're going to rearrange the characters proportions. I recommend just taking a moment to study the character before drawing anything. Think about the points we discussed in this class. What your character is most at least emphasized features are and what sort of personality their appearance suggests. If you're not sure what to do, try some body type exercises like the sort we did in the beginning of this course Experiment and see what stands out to you is most interesting. You could also look at which features stand out most on your character and try to reverse the formula. For instance, if they have a small nose, try making it long and pointy instead. Once you have a general idea is time complain that your proportions on paper. The second step is to upload a blueprint of source to your project, this image to show us a basic skeleton of how you're going to build your character, leave out details like hair and clothes. Right now, you're on Lee, showing us the basic proportions you plan to use if you need to, you can create separate blueprints for the face and the overall body. Venom is a burly, frightening thing, so it might be fun if we made him the opposite of that. Maybe we could make him a little more endearing. I think one way to do that is to make his head take up much more space on his body. We can also make the scarier mouth in the eyes a lot smaller and clipped his overly long fingers a bit. What if we kept his facial features in the bottom half of his head? Once you have a character and our reports and blueprint, it's time to put everything together, uploaded J Pay or PNG, that social transformed character. Your final product can't have color if you want, but is not necessary. You're free to use any medium in this as well, so don't feel restricted to digital tools wall. Ah, you put an entirely different spin on the familiar character, so it off to your friends and see what they have to say. That's the long and short of proportion, but these are only basic principles. I hope that this course has introduced you to the subtle and almost invisible ways that artists employed in their designs. You will leave discussed here and be on the lookout for other, deeper ways that this aspect is used to build characters. I like to think each of you who took the time to complete this class, proportion and safe language are close cousins, and there's quite a bit of overlap between them. So please check out my class on safe language. If you haven't already, I hope you all continue to explore and expand your knowledge of proportion in your own characters.