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Feb 9, 2024

Stylized characters 101

This article explores the captivating world of stylized characters, breaking down some of the proportions, coloring and tips that we have learned

This article explores the captivating world of stylized characters, breaking down some of the proportions, coloring and tips that we have learned. This article serves as an entry point to those who want to start or explore this style.

The mission

Lately we've begun to design a lot different characters, some of them more realistic, others far more stylized.

In this first article I want to talk about stylized characters and what it takes to make one.

Resources

  • Maya LT 2018
  • Zbrush
  • Substance Painter

Brief explanation of a Stylized character

An stylized character, in short is character that has its proportions deformed and exaggerated in someways to create a "softer" or cute look in characters that in other ways look way rough.

Final Fantasy XV vs Pocket Edition

There are many ways to approach how you want your character to look. You can try creating a Chibi version (a term derived from Japan) or a stylized character similar to those seen in contemporary animated movies. The main distinction between them lies in the level of deformation these characters undergo. Chibis, originating from already stylized characters in manga or anime, exhibit significant deformations.

Currently, these types of character find use in several applications, primarly in animated pictures or video games. Their visually appealing aesthetics easily capture the attention of younger audiences, but their charming appearance also attracts adults.

Example of several stylized characters

However, there are numerous ways to create stylized characters, making them one of the most challenging aspects to achieve, not only in 3D but also in paper. They can be used ironically for a cute or humorous effect.

Looking at a broader perspective, these characters share common characteristics that can help you achieve the desired look for your character.

Proportions

When it comes to proportions, the process can be divided into three parts: head, body, face. Depending on the proportions you choose, you can achieve a more realistic impression similar to Fortnite or a more cartoonish character.

  • Head: the bigger the better. The head, along with the face, is the most crucial aspect of these models. Not only do you need to enlarge the head, but you should also make it rounder to give the character a softer appearance. If there are special features on the head that are characteristic of the character, such as scars or wrinkles, include them, but exaggerate their appearance.
  • Face: the face, together with the head, is one of the most important parts. The face should be proportionate with the head, so maintain balance in their proportions. Pay special attention to the eyes, making them rounder and larger than the other facial features. Even if you are aiming for a more realistic proportions, consider enlarging the eyes slightly to enhance expressiveness.

Big head and big eyes

  • Body: in contrast to the head, the body tends to lost its shape and become smaller, often as small as two and a half heads. Additionally, the body tends to lose its landmarks on the muscles. To create the desired shape, you will need to exaggerate the basic forms of the body. For instance, you can use a triangular shape to emphasize a muscular body or a rectangular shape to create an slender body.

Body proportions of a Chibi or superdeformed character
Different body shapes, rectangle vs triangular

Colors of all kinds

There are different ways to paint these kind of characters, and it usually depends on what you want to use the character for and what you want to express with them. Although you can use any method you prefer to paint the models, I want to offer some tips that have helped me start creating hand-painted models.

As a rule of thumb, try to use a small color palette, ideally with no more than five colors. This will help you focus on your artistic goals.

Consider incorporating a color that contrasts with the main ones you intend to use in your project. This can help accentuate specific parts of the character that you want to highlight.

Selected color palette

Also, it’s important to note that even though you can use as many colors as you want, it is recommended not to span the chromatic variance of the characters too much due to the simplicity of the models.

Example of the colors in the characters of Paranorman from Laika Studios

Conclusion

Mastering stylized art requires a thoughtful blend of proportion and a limited yet impactful color scheme for charming character design. With these small tips, hopefully, you can start designing your own characters. As you continue to practice and refine your skills, you'll discover your unique style and approach to character design. Always remember, the devil lies in the details. Remember, every artist has their own journey, and every character you create is a step on your path of artistic discovery and growth.

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Laura Usón
Creative Art Director

Passionate about videogames, movies and creatures. Artist by day and superhero at night.

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