Lets get those creative juices flowing.  This week’s post is dedicated to the power of silhouettes.  A silhouette is the solid image or form of an object, be it person, place, or thing.  When I start on a character design, this is the place that I always start.  Why?  The silhouette is always going to be the first read.  That first read has become an important part of an IP’s visual language in the last few years.  A driving factor in this is video games.  Players need to know if an in game character is friend or foe.  With a lot of first person shooters, that read needs to happen when the character is far away and only represented by a limited amount of pixels.  Another reason I start here is time management.  If your character does not have a good silhouette no amount of detail work will be able to save it.  Silhouettes are quick.  I usually do this stage outside of the computer with Faber-Castell’s Pitt pens.  I love the marks and shapes that I can get and will mix brush and regular tips for variation and detail.  Below are some explorations of the Seishuku Elves from the IP: Shattered Seas.

Market Silhouettes

These six figures represent possible variations of the same text.  They took between 30 seconds to 2 minutes to sketch.  During this process I was looking for a visual solution to a specific elf, Hayabusa.  Each form has an unique read and, through exploration, answers a lot of visual questions.  Some have long hair, some are draped in fur.  One is long and narrow.  And even though I am not worried about details at this stage it doesn’t mean that I do not get details into the design.  And details and subtleties can make a difference.  Through this process I was able to see what I liked and did not like.  Eventually that led to the design of Hayabusa.  But the process also ha some extra millage in that it created a lot of shapes and forms that might not have been right for hayabusa’s character but could lead to the design of other characters.  

My case study is limited in that it is a character unique to my IP.  To prove that silhouettes really work, I want to share the following images of some famous characters just to demonstrate the power of first read:

Ship Captain

Relic Hunter



Most of you recognized these characters right away even though the three images all portray the same actor. 

Lets continue with a couple more iconic characters:

A Mouse

A Girl Mouse


A Duck


A Girl Duck

I am guessing that the last four images were recognizable too.  While I mentioned earlier that silhouettes have become an important element of design due to in game situations let me say that Walt Disney was keyed into their importance from the beginning of his animation ventures.