Making character faces look distinct
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Author:  tepples [ Sat Jan 21, 2017 10:36 am ]
Post subject:  Making character faces look distinct

So I was trying to make character portraits when I ran into a face problem. The only way to tell Gileina, Lottie, Darcy, and Civona apart above the neck is by their hair decorations. That's because I used copy and paste to make the school-age girls' faces. What can I add to make them more distinct, other than skin color? Or is there a good reason for portraits at this size in the same art style of characters of similar age to look this similar?

If it matters: Gileina and Civona are supposed to look more girly, and Lottie and Darcy are more tomboyish.

See also Only Six Faces; You All Look Familiar

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Author:  Drag [ Sat Jan 21, 2017 2:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Making character faces look distinct

Try looking at some of the things the Mega Man artists did to make the robot masters all look distinct. It's mostly posture and body type that differentiate them, but other than that, head shape (long, short, pointy, round, etc) also makes a difference at such a small resolution, and pseudo facial expressions on the sprite (some have visible mouths, some don't even though the area is exposed), as well as actual facial expressions when you look at the stage select portraits.

Author:  Espozo [ Sat Jan 21, 2017 2:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Making character faces look distinct

Reminds me of how the boy and girl faces in Splatoon are exactly the same, except for the boy having larger eyebrows. The faces are simply too small at that resolution to make a difference. You can't move any facial features to make the character look more like a boy or a girl without the picture looking terrible. I tried making the face broader, but it looked awful. Frankly though, at the age I'm assuming they are, male and female faces (and body shapes) are practically identical. Hell, even with many crossdressing adults, I often can't tell from the face unless I'm told (I usually go by cheekbone width, but that doesn't always work, especially considering makeup can help alter appearance). The body shape is what usually gives it away.

Unique character design is something I've found almost impossible. For fun, I tried making my own character I could use for something and went away from humans and anthropomorphic animals because they've been done to death, but tried to think of something else that was still humanoid for gameplay reasons (so blobs like Kirby wouldn't count). Basically, I was left with either aliens or robots. Any somewhat unique alien design turned out being not at all likeable, often scary, so I tried robots then, and the same thing happened. I even tried to make a more human looking one, going so far as to add clothes (why not?) but it still didn't work. The mouth is what killed it. A robot really doesn't need a mouth, but it looked really freaky without one, so I tried the classic nutcracker jaw type thing, but that leaves no room for emotions that help make characters likeable. Any other mechanism I thought of didn't make sense, looked scary, or both. Rubber is really the only option, but I feel that kind of defeats the whole point.

I remember someone here posted that Nintendo said they think of the gameplay, then characters that go along with it. How they heck did they think of the Star Fox team then?

Edit: Drag finished his post before I did. I was thinking the same thing.

Author:  FrankenGraphics [ Sat Jan 21, 2017 2:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Making character faces look distinct

You can try imagining a geometrical shape for each face, and alter a few outer pixels of the face to approach those geometrical features. Distances between objects in the face can matter just as much, w/o changing the common style of how you draw them

If you have wii or wii u you can do a Mii character and play around with the alignment of noses, mouths, eyes. You might get some inspiration. You might need to elongate one or two faces by a pixel to make this work.

Author:  Espozo [ Sat Jan 21, 2017 2:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Making character faces look distinct

That's almost impossible given the resolution; I tried, and failed.

Author:  FrankenGraphics [ Sat Jan 21, 2017 2:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Making character faces look distinct

Gileina has 1px elongated face with different a more pronounced chin and different jaw. Neck and shoulders are also 1px lower.
Darcy got a similar treatment but with rounder face and lowered mouth/nose combination.
Civona got different ears.

You can also change the overall height by a pixel or two.

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Author:  Drag [ Sat Jan 21, 2017 2:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Making character faces look distinct

I gave it a try really quickly. Gileina's head shape is altered (very easy thanks to the hair), Lottie has a wider mouth, Darcy gets eyebrows, a longer face, and a more sideturned mouth, and Civona gets some pseudo-eyebrows since there wasn't enough space to give her separate eyebrows that didn't just look like more hair or look too similar to Darcy.

You don't have to go with this, this is just an example of some of the stuff you can try.

(Wow, posted right as WheelInventor posted :D)

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Author:  Espozo [ Sat Jan 21, 2017 2:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Making character faces look distinct

I guess I'm just uncreative. :lol: I knew eyebrows would help though.

Author:  FrankenGraphics [ Sat Jan 21, 2017 2:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Making character faces look distinct

A wide jaw may mean a wide smile (but doesn't have to - contrasts in face symmetry can work great)
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re espozo: i'm glad you wrote "almost impossible", otherwise i wouldn't have been spurred to try for myself at this time. :wink:

Author:  Espozo [ Sat Jan 21, 2017 2:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Making character faces look distinct

Nothing is impossible! :lol:

Author:  FrankenGraphics [ Sat Jan 21, 2017 2:59 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Making character faces look distinct

another small edit to distinguish face and (what has become) ear snibs (this to demonstrate the importance of the line of an object and how it can help represent different features by just changing one px, in- and outside that line)

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Author:  nesrocks [ Sat Jan 21, 2017 4:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Making character faces look distinct

I'm sorry if this goes against something already said, but I think that differentiating the eyes and giving them some distinct personalities can help a lot. Some ideas:

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Author:  M_Tee [ Sat Jan 21, 2017 11:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Making character faces look distinct

Some good points have been made.

I think that if I were to approach these, I would first work on giving the characters identifiable silhouettes. Without deviating from the acceptable character proportions of the style, this can be done by varying height, jawline, ear size, and exaggerating hair styles, accessories, and clothing. When doing so, keeping an awareness of negative space is important as well.

Here, we have a morph between the silhouettes of your portraits and the adjustments I made:

To further illustrate the variety of silhouettes within each group, I've overlaid the silhouettes atop each other:

Note the strong, Charlie-Brown-esque commonality in the original ones, but the more amorphic shape of the new set.

Now, assuming that there are no other palette restrictions, and that all colors could be used freely within the portraits, I'd suggest using red within the faces as well to increase variation. I also really don't think the large, round, uniform eyes are working at this resolution and with this style.


To show more face possibilities, I've made two combinations for each character. If not restricted otherwise (like all characters being represented by the same tiny gameplay sprite elsewhere), you could also vary the clothing by inverting red/white (as I did for two in the bottom row). Also, greater variation in stance and facial expressions (slightly hunched shoulders, hands in pockets, arms at side or seemingly extending outward) can imply more about unique personalities, causing the images to look less like ID photos.

Finally, breaking symmetry in one or two ways per portrait, for visual interest, is key too. An offset smile or beauty mark (mole) could be used alongside the cross strap or headband bow as well. In fact, looking back at NESrocks' attempt, I think he has the right idea in giving one of the characters an asymmetrical hair part, and that two styles of pig tails in mine would be too common.

Author:  Drag [ Sun Jan 22, 2017 6:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Making character faces look distinct

Very well drawn. :D

I forgot all about it, but somewhere on the internet is advice from one of the Spongebob artists, who mentions that it's more important that the silhouette of the character is clear and indicates the action in an unambiguous way. That's why characters hold objects off to the side, and why nobody really holds the phone to their ear, drinking is usually done from a side view, or is very exaggerated (the glass is upturned and above the character's head, etc). Although it was in regards to readability of actions on screen, the concept extends to the shape of the character itself, which helps distinguish each character from one another.

Your mileage may vary on this one, but I agree in the sense that silhouettes can help you distinguish between characters, and that's pretty much why the body type and posture of the character makes so much of a difference.

Author:  dougeff [ Sun Jan 22, 2017 9:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Making character faces look distinct

This might not be helpful for tepples, but I picked a game with the most playable characters as I could think of...Crono Cross, with 45 playable characters. (Too many...That's just insane)...

And, you see, the artists varied them in skin tone (race / makeup), hair color, pose, camera angle, body type, accessories (hats, mask, glasses), eye color, and costume/clothes, expression on their face, etc.

I'm not saying, make one girl a goth with pale makeup and a choker...or put a big furry costume on another...

But maybe they don't all have to look directly at the camera, like a mug shot.

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