Have you ever had that moment when you lose your company in a crowd, you look over people’s shoulder and you just can’t find them? You try remembering what color they’re wearing or what they’re wearing at all but you can’t remember; so suddenly other people start looking a lot like them. The crowd is suddenly a pool of confusion because now you associate almost anyone remotely close to how you remember them to them. This is because we rely not in memory, but in what is easy to remember.
Our mind works not in detail but in feeling and familiarity. When we see a form, we can immediately tell what it is even without any of its other features like color and texture. This is because our mind already knows what it is seeing; the shape is enough for our imagination to put in details we have gathered to conclude what it could be.
The same way, iconic characters such as Mickey Mouse (Walt Disney Animation) and Darth Vader (Star Wars franchise) can be easily identified even just by their silhouettes; be it the entire body or just even the head. This is because of how unique and simple their silhouettes are; the viewer’s mind can easily remember it because its character design is memorable and effective.
Effectivity in character designing is not just about uniqueness, a simple character silhouette can already be solid and iconic because of how easy it is to remember in terms of its weight. An example would be how we can easily associate a reverse triangle to a confident superheroes like Mr. Incredible (from Pixar’s The Incredibles), or a circular shape to characters such as Sadness (from Pixar’s Inside Out) or Kirby (from Nintendo).
It is how we use these shapes that help define the character even just with its form. This also taps in our own instincts as we creatives are observant in nature. The language we address and place in them can help us not only create the overall form but express personality.
Body language is key here.
In this image we can see how truly different Superman is from Clark Kent (no, not just the glasses). The pumped muscles turn into sluggish looking weight with just a quick shift of how his posture is. Making this into a silhouette, you can already see the same change even with the absence of detail.
It is the way you as character creators express your character’s likeness in a visual sense. Being able to understand the language of silhouettes and form can help us not only be effective designers but also creative illustrators as well.
Think about character silhouettes as the first impression you will be giving to your audience, so ask yourselves what does your character feel like before thinking about what they look like. Like how simple a dark shadow in the mist can create a sense of eeriness almost immediately; or how a familiar form can provide comfort to us as we are lost in the crowd.
And with that sense you can then make an effective design that does not only cater to one sense; when that is achieved then that’s when we can say we have created an iconic character.
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