Model Sheets, Character Turnarounds and Expression Sheets!

One of the things I’m asked is how I keep my drawing style consistent on a project that’s taken over three years of my free time. Part of the reason is because I’m drawing a style that’s natural for me. My style. But I also recommend making a model sheet or character turnaround. This is extremely important if you’re working as a team to create a graphic novel. While working in the movie and animation industry, this has been an important learning experience. Sometimes I like to stray from the model sheet when trying to express an emotion. But knowing what to stray from needs to be in place before you can stray from it. In fact, I can really stress it’s importance now because I didn’t think I needed one for Sonja in reMIND and now she’s giving me problems every time I try to draw her face from a new angle or with a different expression.

My Definitions:

Model sheets are posed characters, styled ideally for a project. They can be referenced in order to keep an artist or team of artists “on model”.

Character Turnarounds are similar to model sheets but focus on the front, three quarters, profile and back views. I’ve seen Turnarounds with up to 8 angles. Some turnarounds only focus on closeups of the head at different angles.

Expression Sheets are examples of the range of typical expressions a main character might have to refer to later when trying to keep a characters personality “on model”. Here’s a good example I found online.

There are other names for these but you get the idea. They are all designed to help you keep consistent. Constancy is key to being a professional looking artist.  Notice I said “professional looking”. If your art is professional looking then it won’t be long until you are a professional artist.

My first commercial animation job was animating Barbie for Mattel. What a nightmare. Don’t ever take a job from Mattel. Anyway, we were forced to crank out animation without an approved model sheet and then when the model sheet was approved it kept changing. We ended up reanimating the same characters over and over.

I was hired later to design a character for a Windows XP commercial and the first thing I insisted was getting the final approval on a model sheet or turnaround before any animation started. Here’s what I ended up creating for the character turnarounds.

Notice the attention to details in height and proportions as well as pockets and folds in the clothes. You should be able to draw a horizontal line across any part in a turnaround and have the lines hit the same point of the character across the board. This is important to figure out at the start so you don’t have to redraw anything later when you realize the strap in the front never goes anywhere on the back. Not to mention just figuring out all the angles and faces really good. Another good idea is to make an expression sheet with several common poses and expressions. You can build these with notes of things to remember like what the buttons look like or the bottom of the shoes or how that fold in the pant leg looks. Here’s what I came up for Windows.

Another brilliant idea is to make a head bust, sculpture or marquette of your character to view from multiple angles and under different lighting conditions. I’ll go into this in a later post.

We were lucky enough to get James Baxter to do the character animation for this commercial. James is a legend in the animation industry.

Even though this example is from a commercial, all the same rules apply for your graphic novel. I learned it the hard way. I made one for Victuals but I never made one for Sonja. Now I need to keep reworking Sonja over and over until she looks the same throughout the book. Make a model sheet or a turnaround!

All this artwork was created at Stardust Studios. If you want to see the final commercial go to Click on their Library link at the top left and filter by “Tech”. Then look for “Windows XP: Monster 2”.  Sorry there’s not an easier path. Stupid Flash.