As my regular blog readers know, I’m taking a character design class online from Stephen Silver over at This week’s assignment was to do rough turnarounds of our character.

In animation, once a character design is approved the next step is to create “turnaround” drawings. The purpose is to make sure the storybaord artists, animators, and/or computer modellers can re-create the character accurately. Turnarounds are a tedious but essential part of any character designer’s job. For major characters, there are generally four to five drawings that need to be done: Front View, 3/4 Front View, Side View, 3/4 Back View, and/or Back View. For minor characters, usually only a Front 3/4 View and a Back 3/4 View are needed. To illustrate, here’s a turnaround sheet from The Flintstones (© Hanna-Barbara, courtesy of


Turnarounds can be quite challenging. It’s relatively easy to do just one drawing of a character. But drawing the same character from other angles can complicate things. The most common difficulty for the artist is making sure that the character looks appealing and consistent from all angles. Easier said than done.

Turnarounds will also reveal any flaws or weakneses in the design. You may sketch a character that looks great from the side view, but draw him again from the front view and he may suddenly flatten out and get boring.

The classic Disney characters were created in the early days of animation, when many of the standards for quality and function were still evolving. As appealing as they are, some of the character designs would not necessarily pass muster by modern standards. For example…


Look at Goofy’s turned-up nose. From the side view it stands proud and tall, and makes a great silhouette. But there’s a problem: it’s positioned directly in front of his eyes. In animation the eyes are the most expressive part of the face and therefore must always read clearly. To keep his eyes plainly visible, Goofy’s nose has to be sqaushed and/or his head has to be tilted down slightly in order for the front view to work.


Similarly, Mickey Mouse’s ears have long frustrated his animators. No matter which way Mickey turns his head, his ears must always stay perfectly round in order to read clearly in silhouette. Of course this is physically impossible, it’s an animation “cheat”. Watch some of the old Mickey cartoons closely, and you’ll notice his ears dance all over his head.


A good designer must also think about functionality. In animation a character can have crazy proportions, but he/she must still be able to act expressively and perform common tasks. For example, did you know Charlie Brown can only touch his nose if you look at him from the front? If you look at him from the side, his arms are too short to reach around his big head. I made this mockup to illustrate.


Another great example is from The Incredibles. Far be it from me to criticize the brilliant work being done at Pixar, so I’ll let Pixar poke at themselves. Listen to the DVD commentary and you’ll hear them say that whenever Bob and Helen kiss, the camera has to shoot from just the right angle to pull off the illusion. The way the characters are designed (especially Bob’s chin and nose), their lips could never actually touch.


Back to my class: Since I’m currently designing characters for 3-2-1 Penguins! (new season premiering Oct. 6 on NBC), I’m familiar with turnarounds. But I still have room to improve.

My sketches of Dr. Jeckyll were done working late into the night (it’s been another busy freelance week), so there are plenty of flaws. First, I started backwards. The best way to do turnarounds is to start with a 3/4 view and then spin him around in your mind to get the other views. Instead, I did the front and side views first and then tried to smash them together into the 3/4 views. I wasted a lot of extra time trying to make that work.

Other things I need to fix: On the side view the head sits funny on the neck. The hunch of the back, the bowed legs, and the hands are all inconsistent from view to view. The necktie area needs to be defined more clearly. But these are just roughs so at this point I won’t sweat it too much.

It just goes to show, turnarounds are not as easy as they look.