A few posts back, I talked about designing a character/mascot, and how its features can tell a story or exude personality. I used L as an interesting case study since his real only distinguishing characteristic was his posture.
The thing to take away from that, was unique traits yield recognizable characters. Today I’ll explore the essence of unique traits.
It Doesn’t Take Much
What is a unique trait? A trait is a feature about a character that identifies them for who they are. Uniqueness helps them identify themselves among a sea of other characters. It doesn’t take much to be unique. Just a slight difference in variation, and you’re already different from the next guy. It also doesn’t take very much to make a character unique and distinguishable. Here’s an example. See how well you do in identifying each character that I’ve illustrated:
You’ll notice that the different colors in the headband really help in identifying who the character is. The hair also helps too, but it’s the combination of these simple elements that make them recognizable.
If you look carefully at the differences between Ryu, and Virtua Fighter’s Akira, there isn’t much. Just a different colored hair band, and different hair style. But there’s enough there that these become completely different characters in completely different worlds.
Let’s distill it even more, and bring it down to the most base of the character designs – the accessories:
If you can’t identify at least ONE of the characters associated with these accessories, you need to get out from under the rock you live.
Accessories can’t just be for anything. It has to be a part of the character. This leads back into my previous post on traits bringing out personality. For example, Chun-Li’s bracelets help her with fighting, and the oversized feature brings attention to her strength.
One thing to keep in mind also, is too many different features is actually detrimental to a character’s design. It becomes messy, and each feature ends up getting lost among all the other features. If you pay close attention, each character has about two or three unique main features at most, while the other features are more subtle secondary features that help complement the main features.
For example, Ryu’s most distinguishing feature is his red head band. His secondary support features are his red gloves, his messy brown hair, his ratty gi, and his signature frown.
Another thing you’ll notice is how incredibly simplistic these base features are. When the character’s features are too complex, it becomes difficult to “recall” the character. I’m sure most of you remember what Miku looks like, but many of you will have forgotten the exact details of Miku VN02 Mix.
I can draw Miku without needing any reference of her, but I can’t do the same with Danny Choo’s Mirai.
Miku vs Mirai
There are some differences in the level of mascot characteristics that make an effective mascot. Let’s take a look at the differences between Miku and Mirai.
Miku’s most distinguishing traits are her greenish twin tails enveloped by a black square with pink accent. She’s also got a grey vest-like top, and same greenish tie (with two black tie clips). Her pleated black skirt has the same green accent color, as does her interesting black sleeves, and high socks/boot things. She’s also got a sort of stripey belt thing hanging on the left side. Let’s not forget her microphone/headphone, her “01” on her arm, and “Vocaloid” emblazoned on her top.
These features are all as I remember off the top of my head. This image verifies it. Now, Mirai on the other hand, I have a little bit of trouble remembering.
The only thing that I really remember is she’s got brown hair, wears a school uniform that’s orange and white. Other details, like the bow, the double lapel, the frills under the skirt, the fold on the sleeve, and the location of the D emblem, as well as the two braids and “X” hair clip are “fuzzy” details that I can’t remember.
Why is this so? It’s because Miku is a more streamline designed mascot. Miku has several features of her that are completely unique, but also very in-your-face. Miku has “fuzzy” details too – she has green frills on her shirt collar. Her headphones have a magenta part, and a couple of smaller details.
What I am getting at here is that Miku has some very unique big details, where as Mira’s unique details are small details. Mira’s big details are not very unique if you compare it. This goes back to the Ryu’s headband and Chun Li’s bracelets. Those are big distinguishing details, and are also pretty much the only major details that these characters have, so your eye goes to it, and remembers it right away.
Here are some examples of big details that I drew. Name these characters if you can:
Of course, repeated exposure also has a lot to do with what makes these parts memorable. It goes hand in hand. But definitely having easy to remember traits are the main point.
Although my Otacute character isn’t an incredibly unique design, she has big details that make her memorable: the bright green “O” halo, the red kimono, the sakura blossom wings, and the massive brush. Her secondary details are the kimono prints, the ribbon-wrapped twin tails, and the super-high platform shoes.
So there it is, character design 101. Distinguishing traits that make or break a character. To take away from this – a character or mascot’s effectiveness is only as good as the social acceptance of the character. Distinguishing traits are one of the main ingredients on making a character memorable.