In my post How To Be a Character Designer, I talked about some important qualities that contribute to a good character design. Here, we’re focusing on proportion.
Proportion is simply the size of one thing in relation to another.
A lot of times with art, we’re considering proportion as it pertains to correct human anatomy, like how many heads tall something is, and this is an important thing to learn and maintain, because even if you aren’t drawing hyper realistically, it’s important that things that are symmetrical are similarly sized, and that disproportionate changes in a character’s anatomy make sense, and are balanced in their figure.
Otherwise though, when we talk about proportion in character design, it’s in reference to the importance of varying our proportions.
It’s important because that leads to one of our favorite things in character design, visual interest!
Let’s illustrate it this way: If I showed you 2 squares that were the same size, and asked you to show me where the fifth square would go, how easy would that be? Well, because these two squares are exactly the same size, you naturally know the fifth would be about here. It’s the very definition of predictable. You’re able to literally predict where that square goes. We don’t like predictable things, not when it comes to stories or designs. If everything on a character is always the same size, there isn’t much that interests us because no part of it is challenging or attempting to surprise us with anything interesting.
Recently, during a one on one session, a student and I were discussing proportion. He had shown me a good 5 or 6 of his characters, and not only were they all a very similar height, but I noticed something about their proportion: I was actually able, in a draw over, to draw a measuring bracket, and measure the head, torso, and legs. All of them ended up being the same exact height.
This leads us into a practical tip for proportion, which is to use a rule of uneven thirds. In character design, this means breaking our design up into small, medium, and large elements. This is a really simple idea, but it’s a proportion philosophy that you can use on entire characters or portions of the character.