Talking Up a Blue Streak About Character Design

Buddy Goodboy here with the old art teacher hat on. I saw the poster for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie yesterday, and reaction so far has been universally negative. I’ve never seen the Sonic fandom so unanimous. The design, among its other sins—of which there are many—is busy and has a weird, off-putting silhouette.

As an exercise in concept artistry and to demonstrate the importance of a good silhouette, let’s see if we can’t do better. For the purposes of this exercise, I pretended I didn’t eat Sonic-brand Spaghetti-Os, and asked the ever-charming Boozy Badger Chat to describe Sonic for me:

  • He’s a hedgehog, and he goes really fast.
  • blue
  • And collects golden rings
  • He’s like what you get if you crossed an anime character with the American flag.
  • Or the French tricolor.
  • Cartoony
  • Very much cartoony, born of the early 90’s ATTITUDE era
  • He really doesn’t resemble a hedgehog, but still more than knuckles resembles an enchidna

Based on this feedback, I started to design a Sonic. The foundation for a really solid cartoon character is a good silhouette, so I started with a bunch of really sketchy blobs.

Some are always going to be better than others; that’s why you draw a lot. I picked four and did quick value passes to start pulling out some of the details. For a value pass, quoting my industrial design professor, “Contrast is king!” and “I want to be able to read this from across the room!” Areas of high contrast will draw the eye, allow the design to read easily, and reinforce the sense of energy we’re going for. I tried not to get lost in detail here and instead just focused on large blocks of value.

I picked two I liked best and started refining the values. Again, I sharpened the details, but the important thing is that the entire body reads well, so I bounced around from spot to spot, checking the body as a whole frequently to see how it read.

The point of this process is to show how you can get a refined design from a silhouette. The Sonic team didn’t, I don’t think, and the design reduced back to silhouette looks weird as a result.

Process video here:

My process here was based on a tutorial by the talented Merekat, Kristen Perry, of I can’t find it online anywhere; I’ve had it saved on my hard drive since around 2009. Her Process Boot Camp is available on the Internet Archive, and I definitely recommend reading it.

Till next time, I want to be able to read those drawings from across the room! Keep drawing and sit. Stay. Speak.

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