Thursday, May 28, 2009

Designing an Unpleasant Character: Charles

Over the weekend, when I was working out a design for the "Charles" t-shirts, my first sketch wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. I didn't realize it until I'd inked Charles, but he looked a little too genial, not quite so repellent, as the original Charles whose body language and "default facial expression" made our narrator so uneasy.

Here's my original sketch.

He looks like a pretty homely fellow, but not totally unpleasant. You could imagine that once you got to know him, he'd even be fun to go get pizza and beer with. After a little consultation with a reader, I was able to come up with a second version.

I think you'll agree that this second version seems a lot less pleasant. You'd hardly even want to follow this guy into an elevator. Over the past few days, as I open my notebook, I've been really curious about what makes for this version of Charles seem so much nastier (and truer to the original concept). The basic design is essentially the same, except for the addition of nostrils, and the facial expression isn't very different either.

Setting them side-by-side, I think the clearest difference that emerges is how he's holding his mouth. After that, though, is a subtle matter of his face's shape. The second Charles's face bulges lower than his cheeks. He's jowly. This seems to imply that his face has settled into that expression over years of smirking. The first Charles looks ten years younger, and his higher cheeks suggest that he might smile under different circumstances. (In fact, he looks more like he's smiling.)

Overlapping the two images brings out a few other contrasts:

1. Second Charles (in green) has different body language: his shoulders are much more hunched up, or he's slouching more. Again, that connotes more gravity or more resignation.

2. Second Charles is less symmetrical. His hair is lumpy and off-center; his mouth is held over to one side.

3. Second Charles's eyes are smaller and closer together.

4. The gap between eye and eyebrow is greater on Second Charles, so his facial expression is more extreme. There's no chance that he's playing around here: that's real scorn, slight regard, and contempt.

There was really no question which of these two deserved to be colored and presented on merchandise. Here's to constructive criticism and revision!

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