By: Dave                Categories: AnimationBooksGeneral

By Bryan Tillman

Now I want to talk about shapes. I know what you are thinking:

Well, I’m glad you asked that question (if you didn’t, you should have). Shapes are what we fundamentally use to define what certain things are and what they possibly can be used for. If you don’t believe me, look at it this way. If cavemen had decided that a square was better for mobility and movement, we would be using squares on our cars instead circles. Luckily for us, they decided to go with the circle. But as long as we are talking about squares, let’s look at one.

So what do you see here? I hope you see a square, but what does this shape tell you about itself? If this shape was the dominate shape in your character, what would it say about the character? Any ideas? Generally, when we look at a square, certain terms should come to mind:


These are the most common things people think about when they see a square shape. It is important to know this kind of information when making characters because you don’t want them to suggest something they are not.

Here is an example of a square shape being used in character design. This character has a so-called square jaw. Now that you know some of the meanings behind a square, do you see any of them in this character? At this point you are probably going through all the shapes you know and trying to figure out the meanings behind them. Or you might be trying to figure out if this works with any other shapes. Let’s try it.

What do you see here? That’s right, it’s a triangle. What do you think the triangle is trying to convey? Once again, generally speaking, a triangle conveys the following:

I don’t know how many triangle people or character designs you have seen, but the triangle shape is present in people’s faces.

Let’s do one more for good measure.

What do you see here?

Can you think of some of the meanings behind a circle? What do you think a circle could possibly be telling us about itself? If it could talk, it might tell you that a circle can be viewed as

Do you see the circle shape in this character’s face? Do you see any of the meanings in this character?

Some students have told me that these meanings aren’t really the focus of a character. That is fine, but you have to know that, depending on what shapes you use, you might be telling a different story with your character designs than you think you are. So it’s a good idea to remember the meanings behind different shapes for future reference. Trust me; you’ll be glad you did.

Excerpted from Creative Character Design, by Bryan Tillman. © 2011, Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.

Bryan Tillman is currently the academic director for Media Arts and Animation, Game Art and Design, Visual Game Programming and Visual Effects and Motion Graphics at the Art Institute of Washington, DC. He has an MFA with a focus in sequential art and a minor in drawing. Bryan is the owner and CEO of Kaiser Studio Productions, a production studio for comics, toys, animation, and games and published author of Creative Character Design, Focal Press, 2011. For further inspiration, visit Bryan’s website: www.kaiserstudio.net or follow him on twitter: @kaiserstudio.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  •    Arfat said on May 24, 2012 at 3:41 am

    Ken Hultgren, in “the art of animal dawirng”, draws some “forbidden arching” in the horse spine, and the result is excellent (“better than life”). Just to say that, when you know perfectly your subject (he did), you can modify or enhance reality.He’s one of the best draughtsmen I know.

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