The Bombing Brain Blog

Cat’s Eyes: A Character Design Study

When Gene asked me what I thought about doing a children’s educational game for Halloween, I knew immediately that it was going to be a challenge. He wanted an app that his own kids would play, to communicate to his children what it was he spends so much of his time doing. To hand it to them and say “I built this for you.”

He was trusting me to make something his own children would love. So I knew I couldn’t take it lightly.

We talked about several characters and some of the activities he wanted. (This was still very early in the process, so we hadn’t mapped out everything the app would include just yet.) I walked away from that conversation with some great ideas about how the app should look.

I mainly do UI and corporate graphic design in my day job, so doing character design was somewhat new to me. “Just make sure the characters are smiling,” Gene had said to me. “We want to be spooky, but not scary. This is for kids.”

That concept “Smiling Zombies,” as I later dubbed it, would drive the visual aesthetic of the entire app.

Where to begin? I decided to start simple with a study of eye shapes. I knew that the key to any animated character was the eyes. Get the eyes right, and everything else will follow.

Everyone has that classic Halloween image in their heads of eyes blinking in the darkness; simple enough, right? Just some white shapes on a black background. Nothing I couldn’t pull off with the pen tool. So I fired up Illustrator, and I started playing with bezier curves.

Spooky Playtime Eyes

Some early eye drawings for Spooky Playtime

As you can see from this picture, my first inclinations were far too scary for toddlers. Those thin, sinister eyes would have to be softened, and after several more variations, I arrived at the final set at the bottom, which became the eyes of our lovable black kitty in the pumpkin patch.

Spooky Kitty

The final Kitty in a Pumpkin Patch Character

The basic eye shapes for several of the other characters were taken right out of that initial study, too. I had drawn about a dozen or so sets of eye shapes, and in the end used four or five of them.