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SOSFactory Style Mascot Design in Photoshop

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Hello Photoshop artists, my name is Sergio Ordóñez, the self-proclaimed genius behind SOSFactory, pioneer in corporate mascot design for the web. You can also find me at my blog SOSNewbie or on Deviantart at sergitosuanez.

You can find the Photoshop PSD file in a directory labeled 'PSD' that came in the ZIP file that you downloaded. We have also included the original draft of this tutorial for you Spanish readers. You may wish to look through them briefly before we begin. A preview of the final image is below. You can view the larger version here as well.



Summary

  1. Basic Concepts
  2. Briefing and Search for References
  3. Before Starting to Draw
  4. From the First Sketch to the Final Lineart
  5. Extracting the Lines
  6. The Color
  7. Coloring
  8. The Effects
  9. Final Presentation
  10. Closing Words

Step 1 - Basic Concepts

When I began designing mascots, as every good noob, I used to start my designs without having any idea of what I really wanted to say. In that period I learned that the planning is the difference between a professional designer and another who isn’t. For this reason and because I’m paid per word, I’m going to squeeze your minds with a little bit of theory!


The Attitude

Personality is the key for a well designed mascot. All the design elements (facial expression, corporal expression, symbols, clothing, etc.) have to encourage the character’s attitude, which will depends on the corporate values of our customer. Let’s see some examples below.


  1. Character for barbecue-restaurant. Funny, friendly, goofy.
  2. Anti-hero. Colors that suggest danger (yellow and black), negative pose (arms crossed on his chest), evil gaze.
  3. Cool character. Aggressive gaze, thumb up, high chest, aggressive colors.
  4. Hero. Friendly, dynamic, strong, trustworthy, soft colors.

The Pose

We want to transmit the attitude we want in just one memorable pose, clean, easy to remember, and easy to recognize. For that, we have to watch the action line and the silhouette.

A very common error when we design for a website is to pose the mascot without considering the area it will be used in. To make sure that the character will look as big as possible we have to adapt the pose to the area, see the examples below.


Action Line

The action line defines the movement intention of the character, the direction its energies are directed to. You can see some examples below.


The Silhouette

The master of animation Raúl Garcia explains it all perfectly in this example, it’s an exercise in which we look for the character that better define the story: "Filling a cup of tea."

The first try is vague and doesn’t define the action concisely. There’s no action line that describes the “pouring tea in the cup” movement or any tension that could suggest weight or equilibrium. This drawing’s silhouette is amorphous and without any interest.


Looking for that clear silhouette he tries to separate the arm that holds the teapot from the body.


Cup and teapot are now clearly separated from the body, but the silhouette is still not precise.


The silhouette of the arms are much clearer. The teapot leans down to show the “pouring tea” action.


The pose of the arm, which holds the cup, has been modified to make it look more natural. The character’s neck has been emphasized to get a better overall silhouette.


The silhouette turns more effective by adding a plate under the cup and including a better pose for the hand.


Bending the arm that holds the teapot and stretching its finger we get a more interesting silhouette.


Bowing his head we get a more effective silhouette, we create a negative space which leads the watcher’s attention to the teapot’s spout.


Notice that the silhouette number 4 is fully descriptive, we don’t need anything more to understand the action. When we design corporate mascots, we usually can’t obtain such a perfect silhouette. Even so, it’s the ideal.


Step 2 - Briefing and Search for References

In this case, PSDTUTS gave me total creative freedom, so I’ll let my instinct guide me and we’ll skip the briefing.

After knowing the client, the best we can do is to look for references, because original ideas may not come to your mind at first. The search for references can help us to discard the obvious ideas and consider some alternative ones.

Now considerations for coming up with new ideas:

  • The best source of inspiration when it comes to conceptualize a topic are “stock photos” websites because the images are grouped thematically, unlike Google.
  • We can also search in Google images, though the results are more random.
  • We can search in art communities, like Deviantart.
  • If you need to practice anatomy or clothing you can use bodybuilding or fashion magazines, everything is allowed.
  • You can also create your own image library in your hard drive, though group them properly.

Example:

  1. We need to represent the concept “sin” in an illustration.
  2. We go to  Matton and search for the word sin.
  3. We obtain images that help us to conceptualize the topic of sin.
  4. Look at the results:
    • Apple and snake (original sin)
    • Man with money (greed)
    • Wedding cake (adultery)
    • Hands in prayer pose (penitence)
    • Girl punished (naughtiness)
    • Pastry (gluttony)

WARNING 1: Inspiring yourself is allowed, plagiarize isn’t.

WARNING 2: Some artists and websites offer free resources. You should show appreciation for this by stating where you got the artwork, and consider donating donate at least one US dollar.


Step 3 - Before Starting to Draw

Pen tablet or mouse? If you still don’t own a Pen Tablet I recommend you to buy a Wacom, there are some very affordable ones, but I recommend you go with a Wacom. If you don’t have one, you can draw the sketch with traditional pencil and paper first, then use the mouse and Photoshop's digital drawing tools to ink it, though the process will take you much longer. In the case of coloring it is strongly recommendable to use the tablet. View the video below regarding this process.

When I purchased my beloved Wacom Cintiq 21UX (the monitor on the right), I changed my method. Now I make the entire process digitally, from the first sketch to the final details. I draw the lines by hand because I find it easier and quicker than using the vector drawing tools.


Photoshop or Illustrator? It’s your own choice, I personally find Illustrator vectorial drawing tools maddening. I rather use Photoshop, draw the lines by hand and I only use the drawing tools for difficult lines. I work in high resolution, so the later vectorization is quite easy. For that I use an Illustration plugin called Silhouette.


Step 4 - From the First Sketch to the Final Lineart

It’s very important to work in high resolution, I use an A3 sized canvas at 300 pixels per inch. The working process is the same at this size and there are lots of advantages:

  • The errors will be less noticeable, specially if you are going to use your design in small scale.
  • It’s more comfortable because you can zoom in and retouch the lines.
  • If you need to vectorize it, the result will be cleaner.

Here you can see some captions of the character in the different steps, from the sketch to the final lineart. Unfortunately, there are no tricks, just practice and more practice:


  1. Dummy 2d: Sketch made of sticks, helps us to pose the character and to measure the proportions.
  2. Dummy 3d: We give volume to the character. I use very simple geometric figures.
  3. We add clothes: I add some clothes to the character and I polish the details.
  4. We add the accessories and polish the line a little more. I settle the thicker lines.
  5. Clean lineart: I clean the whole sketch patiently.

Notice that the line thickness (line weight) is variable, this is one of the most laborious parts. The general rule is: thick lines for the outlines, thinner lines for interior parts.

This way the observer can distinguish the shapes much better. This is specially useful for complex illustrations in which we can play with line thickness to create profundity in the illustration.


Step 5 - Extracting the Lines

When we have our drawing finished and in just one layer, we can extract the lines from the background, or to put the layer in multiply mode and add the color in new layers below it. I prefer to extract them, so I can color them easily later.

Notice that I’m going to paint the skate and the character separately, so when we finish we’ll have two versions: with and without the skate.


To extract the lines do the following:

  • Check that your lineart are in just one layer.
  • Check that you’re in RBG color mode (Image > Mode > RBG Color).
  • Go to Channels panel and click on the Blue Channel.
  • Choose the Selection Tool and right-click inside the canvas, then choose Select Inverse.
  • Copy (Command + C) and Paste (Command + V).
  • You’ll have the lines in a different layer, but notice that the outlines have some white pixels. Press Command + U and put the Lightness at -100, this way the lines will turn completely black.
  • Do the same with the "Background" layer, but this time put Lightness at +100, so the background will turn completely white.

If you’re a bit lazy, you can download this Photoshop action to extract your drawing's lines. This way you won’t have to do it manually.


Step 6 - The Color

I have already written various tutorials about how to color in Photoshop. I don’t want to bore you so I’ll try something different:

  1. First we paint flat colors: They are useful to make quick selections of the different areas.
  2. Then the shadows, mid tones, bright tones and reflections, in different layers, using just 3 colors.
  3. We make all the color changes that are necessary in each layer for the character to be full color.
  4. We add effects playing with the layer modes.

These are the three colors I’ve chosen to paint the character. As I already said, we will color the character with Photoshop commands later, so the choosing of the colors isn’t very important. Just remember you need a dark color for shadows, mid for general light and bright for outlines and more intense lights.


Importance of the History Brush

The History Brush is a potent tool that I use very often, since we can block parts of our design which are already finished and continue working on the rest without spoiling them. I’ll give you a basic example, shown below.


With a little more practice you will be aware of the limitless possibilities of this tool. As you can see in the example, we can use it as an eraser (without being afraid of erasing finished parts); we can do the same to paint instead of erasing; if we take various snapshots of the same design, we can get intermediate versions; we can lower the brush opacity and merge various versions of the same design; we can even play with the tonalities… Don’t be afraid of experimenting.

WARNING: the history brush works by layers, the layer we want to modify must exist in both points of the history. If we merge or delete the layer in question, the history brush won’t work.

You can visit this video tutorial about how to color with Photoshop to watch the History brush in action.

Flat Colors

Below the lineart layer, we create a new layer and name it "Flat Colors," and then we fill the drawing with colors that must differ enough from each other to make later selections easier. You can do it with any tools you want, pay attention not to leave any gaps.

We will only use this layer to make selections, for example: If we want to paint our character’s hair, we pick the Magic Wand tool and click on the hair. This way we obtain a quick and precise selection.


Color Base

We disable the "Flat Colors" layer and we place it wherever it doesn’t bother us. We can get a selection of the complete outline of the character by Command-clicking on this layer icon.

Then we create a new layer, we name it "Color Base" and we fill it with a flat color. In this case, I chose #e37750 color, as it’s a comfortable and neutral color for me.


Shadows

We create a new layer above the "Color Base," and we name it "Shadows." In this layer, we’ll paint the shadows with the same base color, but we’ll put the layer in Multiply mode temporarily.


I’ve chosen a light source that comes from above-left. Knowing how to be coherent with the lighting point volume is the most difficult part, and there’s no other trick than practicing... you can use an articulate toy in a dark room with a strong lighting point and use it as reference.

Notice that the shadows don't have to occupy the whole drawing, we must leave room for the lighting. I use some captions so you can see the way I usually paint the shadows.

  1. Image with base color.
  2. I isolate the biggest volumes.
  3. Using the History brush with a big brush with soft edge, I erase the part where the light falls on.
  4. I intensify the shadows with a small brush and hard edges.
  5. I do the rest of the volumes. I use the History Brush tool, as shown earlier in this tutorial.
  6. When all the volumes are shaded, I do the reflections of the outlines using the Eraser tool. These reflections intensify the outlines, we gain clearness, which is very important if we use the drawing in extremely small scales.

Soft Light

When we have already painted the shadows we create a new layer below, and we name it "Soft Light."

We use the Gradient tool to create a soft illumination that will be the base for the later lighting.

  1. We have the shadows painted.
  2. With the Gradient tool (from #feeaa9 color to transparent and in spherical mode) I go throwing gradients in the areas where the light is supposed to be more intense.
  3. I put the "Shadows" layer in Normal mode. The result is global and soft lighting, which will be the base to paint the harder lights.

Here you can see the configuration I use to make the gradients:


Hard light

We create a new layer just below the "lines" and we name it "Hard Light." The process is basically the same to the one we used for the shadows, but inversed. Instead of painting the deep zones, we paint the projecting ones. I use a #ffeeae color.


Outlines

I create a new layer below the shadows and I name it "Reflections." I like emphasizing the volumes by adding reflections to the outlines, the outlines and volumes are much clearer this way. Remember that we erased the outlines in the Shadows Step, now we only have to put a layer below the shadows and go painting carefully.



Step 7 - Coloring

Here comes the fun part! We have already finished the lighting, all the volumes are defined and we have the different levels of light (shadows, mid-tones, and bright tones) separately. Now, playing with Command + U in Photoshop, we'll color the character quickly.

  1. We select the hair, remember we have the "Flat colors" layer for this.
  2. We disable all the color layers except the "Color Base," and we stay in this layer. Press Command + U to modify the color parameters, I chose an intermediate brown.
  3. We activate the "Shadows" layer, and Command + U again, I chose a darker color.
  4. We activate the "Soft light"layer, and Command + U, I chose a brighter color.
  5. Let’s now go for the "Hard Light" layer and we modify the color.
  6. Finally, to the "Reflections" layer. I chose a more saturated color to make it detach.

Notice that the colors I have chosen are all from the same range, but slightly different, so we obtain a wider chromatic range. We can go further and use various colors, even in the same layer. Here I exaggerated a bit, so you can see the possibilities:


Below you can see how I colored each part of the character. Try your own color combinations until you get the one you like.



Step 8 - The Effects

We have already finished the color base, now we’re going to play with layers in different fusion modes (Layers palette, the menu up on the left) to give more deepness to the color. All the layers must be above the "Lineart" layer.


When we finish we can merge all the layers (make a security copy before that), and go adding more effects. We can use the Dodge tool to brighten some zones or the Burn tool to darken them. We can play with the Color Balance (Command + B) or with all the Levels (Command + L). With a bit of imagination you can obtain outstanding results.

As I said at the beginning, I’ll paint the skate separately, so we’ll have two versions. I used the same technique that I did with the character. The final character design is below.

And we finally finished. It looks good, don’t you think?



Step 9 - Final Presentation

As good professionals we are, we have to pay attention to the presentation. With a couple of logotypes, some images taken from our friends at Gomedia and a bit of imagination, we can make a presentation like that shown below. You can grab the wallpaper-size version here.



Look! It was a good idea to make the skate separately, now we have 2 different versions with virtually the same effort. You can grab the wallpaper-size version here.



This is the limited color version, but we can play only with the lines too (luckily I made them quite thick). You can grab the wallpaper-size version of this here.



Don’t be afraid, I’m not going to explain how to make these wallpapers. We've covered quite some ground for this tutorial already, I can leave happy now!


Step 10 - Closing Words

Well, my friends, just only one thing left to do. I want to make a request… to those “big” publishing companies, who obtain their material thanks to exploitation, who fill their pockets with money without sharing a cent (they leave FAME for us artists); they should follow the model of PSDTUTS, always so generous and caring with both the artist and the reader, demonstrating that the profitableness of a business doesn’t depend on the low cost source materials, but on its quality and on the resourcefulness when it comes to sell it.

Thanks to Eden for creating as great a resource as PSDTUTS, specially to Sean for his flexibility. Thanks to my friend Anita, for helping me selflessly, and for translating this article (we've included the original version in Spanish as well in the download). And finally thanks to PSDTUTS readers, I hope you have read until the end, that you have learned many new things, or at least that you have enjoyed this tutorial.

Of course, if you have any questions I will answer with pleasure. Feel free to comment on the related news post on the site. Regards