Saturday, August 14, 2010

Making my avatar: The hard part

I guess I might as well finish this... the "how I made my avatar" sequence, I mean. I feel kind of bad for leaving everybody hanging last time –a month and a half ago. The thing is, not only was I overloaded with coursework, I also thought I had passed the interesting part: what's coming isn't exactly "hard" because there's a lot of things to do, nor because there are a lot of decisions, but because the outcome isn't nearly as interesting as doing the actual face; what I still haven't told you about is actually kind of boring. It's the body and the arms.


To do the body, I was tempted to do one of two things: the first was to use the rules for drawing the human body to draw the character (basically known as the "apple" shape); the second was to make a generic rodent (I already knew by this time that the bodies of rats, squirrels, and most other rodents was basically a pear-shape). Something in me said "I've got to do this right", so I went through the files on Wikipedia and on the Google Images search to try to find what the body was supposed to look like.

Again and again, the photo evidence showed that both of my initial instincts were wrong: the body of a mouse was shaped roughly like an oval, not a pear or an apple.
This is probably because mice are so small, their limbs evolved to be so colse together. This means they can escape predators more easily if their body can contract to just one place; not being half out of their hidey-hole and half in. The are basically so ideally suited to being curled up in balls, that they almost always assume that shape.

Ovals are, of course, one of the hardest things to get right when drawing by hand. But luckily for me, I'm doing this whole thing on computer. I can just add a circle (and know the computer will add a  perfect circle) and stretch it to size. Are you hating me, hand-drawers? Well, all is not as good as it seems.

The trick to getting the mouse to look like a mouse is getting the size right. All I could get from these drawings was that the neck I had drawn earlier had to transition smoothly into the body, and that it was 2½ times longer than the height of the head.
"Well, that's plenty! The computer should be able to do the rest, right?"
Wrong. To the computer, a "circle" has two attributes: length and width (or semimajor axis and semiminor axis, for the mathematically minded; it technically is an ellipse). 2½ × head is a perfectly valid length, but the width is an unknown variable.

I can, however, ensure a smooth transition by using the circle I originally based the head on. Problem is, I can't really use this circle directly. What this circle gives me is not the width of the "body circle"; it gives me the curvature for the most closed part of the body's ellipse. That is, it gives me the distance from the top focus to the circumference.

As I was going on about before, computers don't let you specify an ellipse's foci to tell them how to draw it; this is something you really only use when you're drawing the ellipse by hand (still hate me, hand-drawers?) so I had to guess-and-check the size of the ellipse until I finally got the the 2½ circles circumscribed (that is, within) the ellipse.


Look at your own arms. Arms are (from an artistic standpoint) basically a really long transition from the thick connection at the trunk to the (comparably) tiny wrist. Why is this so? The upper-arm bone connects to the... shoulderblade (what? you wanted me to sing the song?) The shoulderblade is quite a large bone when you think about it.

For my drawing, I needed to see how big the shoulderblade was for a mouse. However, if you look back at the photos I had on which to base myself, it isn't immediately clear where the shoulderblade is under all that fat and fur.
I was, however, able to pick out a small bump on one of the photo subjects' back; a color highlight if you will. Following it, I was able to find the exact shape of the arm, and with that I had what I needed.

I got from this the size of the shoulderblade and the size of the wrist as circles. Using lines to measure from the center of each of these circles to the approximate middle of the elbow, I also had the length of the arm.
I used the computer to scale all these guides up to the size I was working at, and was able to do an arm as two shapes: the forearm (filled with color despite being left open at the elbow) and the upper arm. Again taking advantage of the fact I was working on the computer, I rotated these shapes into position to form the two "poses" I needed the arms in.

The next step is to make the legs, but this is something that's really, really hard to do with mice. It's hard to do with any digitigrade! There are a couple of things I need to explain in a separate post before I can tell you how I did it. So sorry, avatar. You'll have to keep waiting on that foot.


  1. Most people would have just drawn it! (Without thinking about any of it.)

  2. I guess that's what separates me from most people, then: When I don't know how to draw something, I think it over until my head hurts. :-p