Character Design: The Importance of Model Sheets

This is my fourth blog post in my continuing character design series. This topic complements my previous posts about Appeal, Line Quality, and Proportion.

Model sheets are quite possibly one of the most useful tools you can have in your arsenal as a character artist. A model sheet is essentially a communication tool that a character designer uses to show other artists how the character works, and therefore how he/she/it should be represented in order to maintain the character’s integrity (more on Character Integrity in a future blog posting).

For this topic, I created a model sheet of Dippy Duck:


Dippy Duck Model Sheet

Take note of the above model sheet and you will see that Dippy is shown and drawn from several angles. Front, side, and 3/4 are typically standard, but you may wish to draw the back view, as well as other views in 3/4 to complete the turn around and help show what the character looks like in three dimensions. You will note that I also included a top view, to help show the length of Dippy’s wing in relation to his body.

Model sheets also include important notes about the character. In Dippy’s case, his wings are very unique depending on what he is doing, and therefore require several notes in order to communicate how they work to other artists. Some things you will note:

  • Dippy’s wings in their default pose are folded at his side, like a bird’s wings would naturally be in their resting state. The wings have an inverse elbow by default.
  • Depending on what Dippy is doing, he may bend his elbow the same as a human would.
  • Dippy can also have human-like arms on occasion; particularly if he is wearing a costume.

You may also want to include some notes that help explain the various proportions of your character, such as how many “heads” tall they are, how their various features (eyes, hands, feet, etc.) relate in proportion to each other. In Dippy’s case, you can read more about those size relationships in my previous topic on Proportion.

Expression Sheet

Another important tool to include with your model sheet is an expression sheet.

Dippy Duck Expressions

Dippy Duck Expressions

An expression sheet helps show what your character looks like in different situations. It is helpful to see how their eyes, brows, nose (beak), mouth, and other features move. If you are creating this character for 3D animation, this also helps the Facial Rigger set up the rig to have a full range of facial movement and allow the character to emote properly.

Character Line Up

A character line up is an essential tool once you have a complete cast of characters. It shows how all of your characters look in scale in relation to each other. This helps demonstrate how your characters might interact with one another and can even influence their personality to an extent. For instance, Dippy and Woober are friends and approximately the same height, while Pelican is a little shorter and Master Sazuke is a little taller. Master Sazuke is a bit of a bully to the other three characters, so he needs to be a little more intimidating to them. Pelican the Platypus thinks he is a bird and wants to be like Dippy and Woober, so he always looks up to them. These design choices that I made when I created them helped dictate how they interact with each other and it is reflected in their sizes.

Schmitty's Toons! Size Comparison

And then there’s Nero the whale, who trumps everyone in size!

Model Sheet Wrap Up

As far as these things go, the more drawings you can include to help communicate to other artists how the character works in three dimensions and acts in different situations, the better.

Once you have a good understanding of your character in 2D form, you may even wish to build a small-scale model in order to have a true 3D representation of the character that you can view from different angles. This is typically done for the 2D animation process, but not always necessary if you have really good model sheets!

In my next blog post on character design I will talk more about a topic I mentioned earlier in this post, Character Integrity, which builds upon all of the topics we have covered thus far.

Schmitty Out.


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.