Character Design: Keeping it in Proportion

This is my third blog post about character design. This topic will build upon my previous two topics on character design, appeal and line quality.

Proportion is one of the more technical aspects of character design and I thoroughly enjoy breaking characters down and figuring out how each feature in their design relates to one another.

Basic knowledge of anatomy is important, and doing your research beforehand is incredibly helpful – that’s part of the appeal!

Take a real emu for example.


Some things to note about a real emu’s anatomy are the big, bulky body shape covered in long feathers, long neck, and very long legs.

Compare that to everybody’s favorite ninja emu, Master Sazuke.

3D Sazuke

Granted, Master Sazuke is a very stylized character, however he still retains some of those same characteristics I mentioned from a real emu. I’d like to start by proportionally breaking down each of his defining features.

Heads, Not Feet: Cartoon characters are typically measured in “heads” and their other body parts/features can also be measured in relation to their head size.

Emus are rather tall, and Master Sazuke is the tallest of my main canon of characters; he’s approximately 7 heads tall.

In relation to Sazuke’s head, some other things you can note based on his head size are:

  • Sazuke’s hands are about one head in size.
  • Sazuke’s arm is about 2 heads long, from shoulder to base of the hand.
  • Sazuke’s legs are about 2 heads tall from his hip to the base of his foot.
  • Sazuke’s feet are about 2 heads long.
  • Sazuke’s neck is about 2 heads long from his shoulders to the bottom of his chin.
  • Sazuke’s body is about 2 and a half heads wide and 2 heads tall.

As you can see, the head is a very useful way to measure your characters.

Heads, Shoulders, Knees, & Toes

Let’s take a look at another character from the classic Schmitty’s Toons! family, Dippy Duck:

Dippy Duck 3D

Obviously, ducks are much smaller than Emus, so Dippy is only about 3 heads high (although his head size is quite a bit larger than Sazuke’s).

Just like the example of Master Sazuke, a few other things you can note about Dippy based on his head size are:

  • Dippy’s body is roughly the same size as his head from the front view.
  • Dippy’s body is two heads long from the side view.

In addition to his head, you can use some of Dippy’s other features to measure some of his other features.

Tip: Using a sheet of scrap paper, you can make marks to help you measure your character’s features.

For starters, the height of Dippy’s eyes are roughly the same as the height of his wings.

The width of Dippy’s eyes correlate to quite a few of his features:

  • Typically, the distance between a character’s eyes is equal to one eye length (this is true of most humans as well).
    • Dippy has one eye length between his eyes at the bridge of his bill, as well as the top of his brows (below his tuft of feathers).
  • Dippy’s neck is also about the same length as the width of his eye.

Perfectly Proportioned, But…

I have had the pleasure of working with a lot of artists in my career. I always find it interesting because each artist learns and approaches this same concept differently.

One artist that I had the pleasure of working with unfortunately went a little overboard measuring every little detail of their characters in my opinion. It got to the point where it became more of a geometric drawing, instead of a character drawing. This unfortunately made their drawings look very stiff. While they still were both proportionally accurate and very good drawings, the characters lacked some of their appeal due to the stiffness. Remember, to try to still keep it loose and don’t go overboard with your measuring!

As you can see, characters are full of lots of patterns and this is only the tip of the iceberg. Every character can be broken down just like these two, and many more patterns can be found in the design. Understanding these concepts will help you create more appealing drawings and ultimately more successful characters.

Schmitty out.