It's been just a tad over six months now, hasn't it? On May 13th, 2012 I moved to a new account with a new name and new fursona. I had done something monumental, something I had never done before in my own history: I had created an internet alias I actually LIKED. A name that was unique to me, something short and easy to say/remember... and along with possibly my best character design ever, Bit.
Character design has always been a focus of mine. It's how I got started down the path of art that led me to where I am today. I'm in my third year of the Virtual Technology and Design program at the University of Idaho, and I'm going into game design as a career, so design continues to be something that's a big part of my life. Bit represents a lot to me, as he is a reflection of my innermost self, but he's also something unique in that he's the first character design where I really let myself go wild and just do what I like... and I think it really shows.
Most people seem to have a certain... straightforward way about designing a fursona. Let's walk through a sample character design:
What is your favorite animal?
What is your favorite color/combination?
-Well.. I'm really partial to the combination of sky blue and hot pink..
Now to make this design scream YOU:
-I LIKE NINTENDO so put a triforce on my back!
YAY DESIGN ACCOMPLISHED! You've made a blue and pink squirrel with a triforce on his body. Whoopdee! :>
Well.. don't get me wrong, there's not really a bad way to design a character but you're not going to strike gold on a fursona that really represents yourself if that's how you go about designing one.
So... how DID I design Bit? It's not an easy question to answer but I can fill you in on some of my thought processes, at least.
See, squirrels are my favorite animals, and my favorite colors are blue and red. Note how elements of those exist in Bit, but they hardly take center stage in his design. That's no accident. While I am often described as very squirrely, twitchy, jumpy in real life, and I love squirrels to death, there's something about raccoons I absolutely love:
The mask is a symbol of dark intention, someone who's up to no good, hiding behind a facade. The mask hides identity, but on a raccoon it almost works the other way around. The mask is a distinguishing feature. Its shape and the elements of light and dark fur around it create a unique identifier. To the wearer, the mask is a symbol of comfort. It gives the feeling of being behind something, of hiding away one's true face, and just ask anyone who's worn a fursuit... that's got to be a hell of a comfortable place to be in a social situation.
I'm not a very social guy a lot of the time. It's easy for me online but a whole different thing when I'm face to face with others. It seems that more and more I'm attracted to the idea of fursuiting, not just because of the identity but for the MASK, that face-covering shroud, blanketing my gaze and my emotions from others so I can exist within my own bubble even while interacting outside of it... so the idea of the mask, that identifying feature of the raccoon, is something that I very closely relate to, and it was a large part in my decision to base my fursona off a raccoon. Plus, raccoon masks are cute as fluff! Still, that's not the only reason I went with the raccoon. I am a rather mischievous person and I'm known to eat garbage all the time (ask my wife, she would know x3) so in the end that's what I decided to go with.
Now, I could have said "raccoon, color, bam, done" and called it a day. But that's too easy. I decided I'd base Bit off raccoons, but that doesn't mean I'd literally just design a raccoon. That's boring. I decided to stick with a few defining features of the raccoon and start from there. So I asked myself, what makes a raccoon a raccoon? It's important to define the most minimal characteristics necessary to create a recognizable 'coon, because you can easily build off that. So I did:
-The mask, of course!
-Head shape! Viewed from the front, raccoons have a very unique silhouette.
-Three shades of fur (dark, medium, light... the perfect coffee)
And so, I ran with that. To keep Bit within my style, the head shape had to be toned down but I still wanted it to be noticeable. The tail stripes ultimately didn't make it in, but that was a good choice to keep his tail from looking too awkward and cluttered.
I think what I started with in drawing Bit was his body shape. I wanted something distinct but subtle, and messing with the overall shape of the body, breaking down their form into geometric shapes, was something I'd been practicing lately, and while my style doesn't really support the kind of characters that often come from that sort of design (they don't tend to draw three-dimensionally as well) I knew a bit of tweaking could go a long way. Since I'm a little pudgy but still rather sprightly, I went with a mildly heavy-set middle, very thin shoulders and forearms (fun fact: my arms are actually noodles. For srs) and medium-sized legs with nice sized feet to match my own. I'm actually not quite sure what possessed me to do that neck fluff.. I think it was my love of scarves and manes and other bulky neckwear. I gave it a shot and really loved what it did with his overall look. Plus, I'm a sucker for the FUZZ.
Having established his shape, I went into detail mode. I'm a total freak for the cuteness, so I went with big, round eyes and a triangular button nose for maximum squee factor. :> After designing his mask and other bits, it was on to coloring and fur patterns...
Colors are often a painful process for me, because I tend to default to this or that and it's just never that interesting. With Bit.. I had something new and different in mind, something I wanted to try. Something glowy.
See, green isn't my favorite color. I don't even like it all that much , in the grand scheme of the color spectrum. It's no blue or red (yay) but it's not quite yellow (blech)... it's just.. green. Of course, that's not why I chose it. You see.. I have spent a lot of time on computers all my life. Ever since I was a kid I've formed memories playing around with them one way or another, and it certainly seems that my future is inescapably bound to the glow of a screen. Computers mean a lot to me, and I really wanted to represent that.
Anyone familiar with the old DOS prompts? http://watchplayread.com/files/2011/07/MS-DOS\_125a.jpg The green-scale Gameboy screen? You know, circuitboards are usually green, too. Which led me to GLOWING GREEN. Bit wasn't just going to be some old raccoon. He was to be a being of technology and magic and creativity and all the stuff that made me who I was (am) so I decided, his light colored markings would be a glowing green, and they would appear in very distinct shapes.
Now, one doesn't work with a crazy, glowing neon green like it's just any old thing. A highly-saturated, eye-gougingly bright color like that mixed with other eye-gouging, saturated colors is just asking for design disaster. But I know it can work well if used right. The trick to it is distribution and contrast. If the other colors are washed-out and dark, and the neon green isn't all just focused in one place, the overall design should be a lot more appealing. That's how I went with dark purple and grey as Bit's other colors. Some people don't even recognize that the purple is purple... it just blends so well with his grey and is so well contrasted with that green that the medium saturation of it seems to fade in comparison, and it offers a happy medium between the dull and the eye-gouging. So, good times all around!
Creating his fur patterns was a relatively simple thing, but the way the purple and grey faded between each other was a nice little effect I thought of after the glowing green. I've been a gamer all my life as well, and I love my retro games and pixel art. I felt that having a blocky "dithering" pattern in certain spots on Bit would not only serve to liven up his design but also connect the glowing green to its origins in retro computer stuff. The juxtaposition of clean, glowing lines against the blocky purple spots was a great effect in the end, kind of helping to communicate my own duality in the love of both modern and oldschool.
WIth Bit almost fully realized, I had a couple more things to add. Not that I wasn't happy with his apparent lack of a neck, but I realized that just havin that all-consuming fluff there could make things a bit difficult at times. It eats up his shoulders and neck so it's hard to keep track of where his head should be. The power button collar was a great addition to help with that, perfectly pointing out where his neck lies in relation to his head. The tail doodad was a bit of a silly addition but I felt his tail needed something. I never chose to go with the usual raccoon tail stripes, instead just sticking a nice bit of grey fur at the tip to liven things up, but I knew his tail needed something tech-y, something glowy and cool, and I knew green stripes were not going to fit in. So, I made that.. thing. Kind of like a big bead stuck in the middle of his tail. I love how it segmented his tail, the overall effect from it was great so I kept it.
And there you have Bit... take note how all his colors are fairly evenly distributed up and down his body. See how there's an unbalance, but other elements kind of come in to balance it back out? See how his eyes are fairly reddish, a sort of shade that might be menacing in any other character, but even with that mask of his, only seems to add to his innocence? Also note that the stark warmth of the color in his eyes draws attention to his face... this stuff is all on purpose, it's all there for a reason, and it's really what makes Bit a strong design. It's not that I poured a lot of time and thought into every detail of the process. No, in fact, I probably spent much longer writing this than I took just thinking about his design.
Bit is my fursona. He's a representation of me.. the real me. I was inspired when I created him because I had a whole lifetime of inspiration to take from, and I wasn't afraid to use that.
I am fully prepared to call Bit my true fursona. My actual self-image. I knew it from the moment I finished that first drawing, he was perfect. I've redesigned and swapped fursonas off and on during my years in the fandom but I've never been so confident that I have created something that is so wholly and uniquely me. I'm glad to have Bit, and I'm glad to share him with everyone. I know I say all this at the risk of sounding all high and mighty like I've found the golden key to perfect designing and I'm now a Master Design Guru of Amazing (I haven't, and I'm not), but it's exciting to know that this process brought me to a result I'm so happy with.
Who knows, maybe by writing this, someone else might be inspired to go out and see what they can do?