Making Faces

Photo by Irene Strong on Unsplash

3 toon-up tips to evolve your characters

A good cartoonist is one who can the extract the essential details of their subject matter and project them in a manner that delivers a greater or more heightened impact than the original. The goal, after all, is to create interest and attraction — but how do we give our designs that X-factor? Where do we start in developing the right visual sense and style?

I’m Gary Choo, Senior Artist at Mighty Bear Games, and in this tutorial I will demonstrate how easy it is to further develop your current designs with some quick tricks!

Playing with Facial Layouts

When designing a face, we have an innate tendency to equally distribute and evenly space most facial details . To start making your style a little more distinctive, try pushing the features around. This creates more points of interest to focus on and will also open up spaces where the the eye can rest. This makes your design more interesting as the viewer’s eyes will be able to dart back and forth between the scattered facial details. See above for some examples of focal shifting in cartoon faces on a rectangular base.

Try and work outside of your usual constraints — loosen up and don’t be afraid to explore something that might be aesthetically uncomfortable at first!

Taking Cues from Nature

Now for a really fun practice: Let’s take cues from nature and try capturing its essence in some faces! Among other uses, animal features are great for conjuring well-known character archetypes:

  • Large bulbous nose from an Elephant Seal: A Company Manager. In comedic portrayals, managers usually sport one outstanding facial feature — this could be his nose or a 1000 dollar haircut. Either way, he’s got to be loud and proud, and a scene-stealing schnozz often does the trick!
  • Visibly thin neck, eyes close to the top of the head and a visibly keen nose evoking a Snake: A Quick-Witted Salesperson. Cartoon salespeople are quick to sniff out a customer and stretch their neck out to push a sale — or retract quickly in retreat. Serpentine features show they are cunning, reactive, and good at reading a situation.
  • Thick neck and strong angular facial structure from a Tiger: A Bouncer. Bouncers should sport a thick neck and a strong jaw to show they can take a real beating — and dish out a good one too.

Working Within Primitive Shapes

Some of the best cartoon faces comes from bounding facial details within a primitive shape. Pictured are some designs of cute, old sage characters I’ve created using this method. I’ve allowed gravity to do its work by imagining how loose skin would behave when draped over the primitive shape.

Go ahead and combine all methods and discover new ones — the possibilities are endless!

Keep pushing the envelope and remember to have tons of fun in your visual development. I hope you’ve found this short tutorial useful!

If you have any questions or comments on these methods, feel free to share them in a comment below!

Making Faces was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.