【Art tutorial】How to attach movable parts to character sprites

2019.11.10, written by Kuna.

(This post was originally posted on 97Circle Patreon on 9 Nov. 2019).

Hi guys! I hope you’re having a nice time in November! ヾ( o・ω・*)ノ

The following tutorial is probably a no-brainer for visual novel developers/artists out there but it might as well be a source of answers for those who are drawing game assets for the first time. For this reason I’ve decided to cover the technical issue of “attaching movable body parts to a character sprite”.

Moreover, this is the method I personally use and other artists might do differently. So, if you are in need of this information or simply want to check my way of doing things, please read this post.

General tips: the position of layers

Let’s say I have the sprite of a character, and his arms are moving while his body stays still. I usually have the layers of the arms above the layer of the body.

But if one of his arms is covered by the body, because, for example, he’s facing right or left, I put the layer of the covered arm below the body. The other arm can stay on top. 

General tips: attaching the parts

Now, I have a couple of arm variations and I want to change back and forth between them, smoothly.

I create a new level on top and draw two red lines, where I want the filling color of the body to end. 

The left arm ends up being covered by the body. For this reason, I extend its color a bit further the red line, to be sure that the border is properly filled.

For the right arm I do the opposite: since it’s the top level, I make the body color go a bit beyond the red line. 

If I don’t do this way, it might happen that the two body parts end up not entirely attached to one another and that the background filters through such openings. I also define the borders so precisely because I don’t want the layer on top to invade other body parts’ space: I will need to shade the character’s skin and put clothes, and those layers need to be changed between arms’ poses in a way that look smooth too.

General tips: determine the right border between parts

Despite having drawn several character sprites do far, If I don’t pay attention to little details I end up making mistakes in the body movements. I think you can draw the borders between parts the way that best suits you, but this is what works for me.

As I mentioned, I will need to put layers for the shading and for the clothes on top of the body parts. The layers for the clothes, for example, might require to outline wrinkles that cross the red borders and I would like to minimize that as much as possible.

Therefore I tried to pinpoint where the best border for his right arm is. I initially drew the sprite like this: 

But I later changed it into this: 

A drawing is 2D and flat, but his body is actually 3D, and the wrinkles for his clothes would move along the red line. With the new borders I was also able to complete the basic lineart, drawing the character’s armpits.

★Tip: don’t forget the shadow cast by the arms

Every arm position that covers the body might cast a shadow over it. I always take note to paint the shadow and to remember to turn it on and off depending on the arm position.

Again, this might be aimed at beginners only, but I thought it was important to write down a couple of extra tips related to this topic!

★To be sure you’re coloring the surface of your sprite completely, try to switch the background color. Usually, the background color is white or transparent, which is great to spot empty spaces. However if you’re coloring the skin of a white character, the pale pink might blend too much with the white background. If you turn the background color to a darker one, you might immediately spot empty areas of the skin.

I often change the background colors to many variations and examine the same area: intense red and dark grey let me spot all the little mistakes.

★Whenever I want to make sure to properly cover all the areas with color, I also tilt the screen of my PC to different angles. Tilting the screen makes me see things that are normally invisible when the screen is straight.

★Lastly, after a work day in front of my PC I clean all my technology! I don’t do it every day but very often. I use a glass cleaning product and wipe smartphone, tablet and pen, and my computer. Having the screen dirty isn’t great at all when painting, as well as the tablet can get greasy with intense usage.

It’s all for today, thank you for reading! I hope this has been of some help to you!

If you have any suggestion on the topic or use a different method, please feel free to share!

See you next~! (  ´ゝ∀・`*)ノシ 

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