Some thoughts and practical advice on what you should keep in mind when designing cute characters. See the illustrations below.
Cuteness and Human Instincts
One might think what you find attractive or cuddly is very subjective, depends on personal taste.
However, cuteness in general mostly based on our instincts, our animal-self. We are wired in a way that we find baby or toddler proportions and expressions of shyness cute and adorable. We feel babies need to be cared, cuddled and saved. One key feature of surviving as species.
Some easily noticeable features of babies are:
- huge head, compared to the rest of the body I real life a baby's head is approximately a quarter of his height.
- relatively big eyes, small ears, small nose
- notice the place of the eyes nose and ears on the lower part of the face. (If you draw an imaginary horizontal line approximately in the middle of the head, that is where the eyes are sitting.)
- roundish face soft and roundish limbs and body
Reasons for ExaggerationIn character design, cartoony, realistic or 3Ddesign, these are the features we exaggerate even more to get the audience's "aaw".
One of the most popular proportions for cartoons is the half's rule. It means the head of the character is a half of the height. The body and legs share the rest. You can play a little bit with the body and legs, sharing the place evenly or making one or the other bigger. Juts for comparison, if we draw a realistically proportioned adult human, the head is somewhere between a fifth to an eight of the height.
Expressing Age with Proportions
Designers, illustrators, animators have a good reason to enlarge the head at an almost ridiculous scale.
While when I design a character almost always start with a light scribble of the whole body, looking for a pose that expresses the personality, human or humanized animal characters's face conveys too much information to neglect. Facial features and expressions have a priority when designing characters. Remember, how we "read" each other's faces when having a conversation. The smallest unconscious movement of the eyebrows or little tremor of the lips a shake of nostril can give away us. How the lack of this information when we do not see the others leads to misunderstandings in correspondence or sometimes even when on the phone.
Scientist say the mother's face is the first thing that a baby recognizes.
Here are some doodles to show humans with the half -half proportion. In spite of the fact the all the characters have the same size heads as the baby has on the left, he looks like a very young little fellow, a couple of weeks or months old only. From left to right, it is not difficult to tell the age of these little guys.
What makes the first character look so much younger and the others older?
One key factor is where the eyes, nose and mouth are situated. See the purple line halfway of the baby's head. The eyes are slightly under it. Also notice the curvy lines, short limbs and cute bean-shape roundish body.
Placing the eyes slightly higher on the face, the next little guy he looks older as he is wondering what his older brother doing with the measuring tape. Notice the measuring little fellow's eyes, they have higher position, face is less chubby and he has slimmer body. Next to them, the boy with the football looks about 9-12 years old. To demonstrate that it is possible to draw even adults, keeping the same proportion, I made a young man and woman too. Their heads are slimmer, though still same length, notice how their bodies are proportioned closer to an adult's.
Apple in My Eyes, Add a Little Spice
Another example can be the pretty redhead sitting on an anvil holding a welding equipment. She has large head, huge eyes, with big pupils, small nose and lips. Pupils, also play an important role in character design. They can change size from 1.5 mm to over 8 mm depending on the light or darkness around us and also according to the emotions we feel. They get smaller when we are afraid or angry and extend when we are excited, happy and when in love. Large pupils mean experiencing positive emotional stimuli, no wonder we find them attractive.
The redhead's face is somewhat Disney type cute and innocent. To make the girl a little bit more special, spice her up, I decided to tattoo her. Not wanting to use the most popular cliches (rose, heart, skull) I went for a motif from an older sketch of mine. So she got flowers and an octopus wriggling on her arms.
A Handy List to Summarize
Here is a handy list about what you need remember to create a cute human character:
Do not forget to start with the pose and the general shape of the whole character, then you can work on the details.
- big head, big eyes, (big pupil)
- small nose, ears and mouth
- roundish shapes, the younger the character the more roundish it is in general
- avoid pointy or sharp shapes
- to express age watch the proportions on the face (high forehead, keep eyes under or around horizontal midline)
- watch proportions of the body
- find something to spice it up (tattoos, clothing, props, weapon, jewelry, something unexpected or funny, something that adds extra flavor to your character's personality
There are certainly many other versions of lovable characters, what I showed you in this short intro is just a few examples of them. In the next part, I am going to bring examples to show cute animals or other creatures.
Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment or ask questions.