Cartoon Features and Parts: 3 Head Formulas
Now you know what you need to know about drawing cartoons. However, it’s often difficult to come up with your own formulas and designs. It helps to have a starting point. A place to start and improvise from.
This is where I come in. This is not going to be some much a lesson as it is a breakdown of some cartoon drawing formulas you can use to get you started drawing your own cartoons.
You can then move on from here and make modifications to make these formulas your own.
I’ll give you sample formulas of heads, eyes, noses, ears, mouths, hair, facial hair, bodies, arms, hands, legs, feet, clothes, that you can use to get you started drawing your own cartoons.
This is not going to be an exhaustive list of features. Perhaps someday I may make a book just for that. Here I will simply provide some samples of what can be used. I’ll try to include simple to complex formulas. That way you can choose what you think you’re capable of using depending on your skill level.
I hope you get a lot of if this. Let’s get to it…
Let’s start with head shapes.
I’m going to be talking about these head shapes below:
The shapes on top are the most simple shapes to use. If you’ve done the work up to this point, these shapes should be familiar to you.
The shapes on the second row are more advanced. I’m going to spend a little bit of time on each one, showing you how to use them.
First though, let’s quickly talk about the shapes on the top row.
You ought to be able to come up with different cartoon head designs using them. They’re some of the most basic yet useful and versatile shapes you can use.
I’ve drawn examples of the type of characters heads you can make with them and this is just the tip of the iceberg: I only drew characters with dot eyes. You can imagine the amount of variation you can have if you use different eyes:
I only drew characters with dot eyes. You can imagine the amount of variation you can have if you use different eyes. These are the most common head shapes used in Looney Tune type of cartoons as well as classic comic strip style cartoons.
With a little imagination and some very slight modifications, there’s very little you can’t do using these basic shapes.
That said, well look at the shapes on the second row next. I’m going to show you how to build on at least one of the top basic shapes so you can see what modifying them can do.
Let’s get to it.
The Secret of Great Cartoon Formulas
Okay, before I begin I need to tell you something really important. In order for you to get the most out of these cartoon head formulas, you really need to know how to draw realistic, naturalistic heads.
Cartoons are exaggerated realism. If you don’t know what a thing looks like in real life, how can you exaggerate it? The more realistic you’re able to draw, the better your cartoons.
However, I won’t be getting into the realistic stuff until Level 2. So why am I teaching you these formulas? Because you can still use them and because, in many ways, knowing these formulas will ease you into more naturalistic drawing formulas.
You’ll get more out of these formulas once you get better at drawing realistic, BUT you can use them now and get a lot of use out them.
Fred Moore Head
The most used formula in animation is the Fred Moore Head. Fred Moore was one of Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men.” The Nine Old Men where Walt’s favorite animators.
Fred Moore was known for his appealin cartoon designs and girl drawings. I doubt that Fred Moore necessarily invented this formula. It was probably a by product of many different drawing formulas that developed at Disney in the early days.
The formula is attributed to Fred Moore because he was one of the first animators at Disney to produce really appealing cartoons using the formula. Once everyone saw what Fred Moore did with the formula, it was copied and adapted by everyone at Disney.
It’s what is now considered the “Disney Style.” Practically every animated Disney character has the Fred Moore formula at it’s base. The formula has since made it’s way outside of Disney and is used in many animated movies and shows all over the industry.
The formula is basically an extension of the ball head. You first draw a ball, and then you add…well…I’m not sure exactly what to call it. A sack, a bag, a cushion, a bulge? Well, just look at the example below:
The blue areas above is the extension of the ball head. It’s used in many different ways, but mostly it’s used as a cheeks and jaw line extension of the face. It’s a quick and easy way to add more form, dimension and anatomy to the head.
The extension can be long, short, broader, thinner, squarer…etc, depending on the type of character you’re drawing. I drew two head types that are often used.
Below I drew a quick, imprecise, turn around of what the formula tends to look like from different angles. This is by no means a dogmatic absolute representation of the formula. It’s just a quick overview of what the formula CAN look like. The proportions can differ depending on the character:
One of the reasons this formula was so universally adopted was because of it’s mailability.
Animators discovered that the formula allowed them to squash and stretch the jaw and cheek extension to produce more life like movements on the face. Also this mailability allowed them to enhance the expressions they wanted to produce on their characters:
Another reason the formula was so useful was because of it’s flexibility. A modified version of this formula is still used at Disney to this day. It may be a tad more blocky, and the characters, my have a tad more anatomy, but it’s still essentially the same formula:
As you can see, simply by changing the features and proportions, you can get a good variety of characters using this head shape formula. It’s a good formula to use if you want to take your cartoon character designs up a notch, and it’s fairly simple to use.
Bruce Timm Head
When it comes to the heroic cartoon look, it’s tough to beat the Bruce Timm style. Bruce Timm has managed to distill very complicated anatomy into the most simple shapes while keeping them looking powerful and dynamic.
Let’s take a look at his head design and see what makes it tick. Keep in mind that there is more than one type of Bruce Timm head. I’m going to be taking the most recognizable types to talk about here:
I’m going to focus specifically on the male head. The reason is because Bruce Timm’s female head is essentially a modified Fred Moore head.
See, it’s just a ball with the a modified Fred Moore jaw:
The male head is a bit more complex. I’m going to take a generic 3/4 view Bruce Timm head and break it down. This is NOT the absolute dogmatic way you MUST draw this type of head. It’s a suggestion.
If you find it easier to do it another way, please do it that way. However, I will point out a few things you should keep in mind when drawing the head from this angle.:
- At first I draw a sphere. Why? I needed a guide. Something to anchor my head to. As you can see the final head is not circular at all.
- I then added the top of the head and neck. The lines here are not perfectly straight. They curve a little. Also note that the neck and scalp are combined and simplified into one line. Note also, that I circled the other side of the neck to show you the general area where it should connect to the sphere.
- I then drew the front of the face and the jaw. Note the close distance between the jaw line and the neck line (at least in this 3/4 view). When drawing in any style or drawing from observation, spacial relationships are important.
- When adding the bottom jaw and chin lines, keep in mind you are in fact creating a type of box out of the head. Where exactly should you put the bottom jaw line? Experiment. There’s no absolute placement. It’s just about where it looks right. If you don’t like it, you can always change it. Note the circled area in the drawing. Make sure there’s a clear devision between the front of the chin and the neck. This implies overlapping forms. Otherwise the head will look flat.
- Finally, I put in the ears, the eye line guide, and continue the front facing axis line. I also lightly draw the side plane starting from where the jaw and chin meet by drawing a line upward from there. This is optional but I found it helps me define the front and side of the head.
And that’s it. It’s not as simple as the Fred Moore head but with enough drawing repetition, you should get the hang of it.
Below is the full turn around of a generic Bruce Timm head. These are NOT absolutes. If you were to look at Bruce Timm’s male characters over the years, the heads tend to fluctuate in width and shape:
Below is the type of character variation you can get using this these types of head shapes. It all depends on how thin, thick, long or short you make the head. Also, Bruce Timm uses his modified Fred Moore head formula on male characters as well. All he needs to do is adjust the thickness of the neck and they look more masculine:
Now you have some head options for drawing something a bit more heroic.
Takahiro Kimura Anime Head
Building on both the prior styles, let’s take a look at anime heads. Specifically Takahiro Kimura anime heads. Why Takahiro Kimura? For no other reason than because I happen to like his anime design style.
Now Takahiro Kimura mostly has a standard female head shape but his male heads are far more varied so I’m going to pick one male head type which could be modified as needed.
It’s good that we’ve been over the Fred Moore head formula and the Bruce Timm head forma because, knowing those to formulas actually helps us with our anime head. You may not know this but anime is heavily influenced by Disney and Fleisher Cartoons from 30s and 40s.
I recorded a video about this a while back, talking about the evolution of anime:
It should come as no surprise that an anime head can be broken down into yet another modified Fred Moore head. The difference being that the cheek/jaw modification, in the case of a Takahiro Kimura head is a lot more complex:
Note that the green area is not very large compared to the Bruce Timm female head.
There’s a lot to watch out for when drawing this head type. Keep these things in mind:
The curves on A and B are concave curves while the transition between both is convex. The interior curves in C and D also follow this same pattern.
In profile, the nose and mussel area really stick out A LOT. The area in E is very concave, while F can be pretty straight and is at a diagonal.
Now let’s talk a bit about the male head. By the way, the female head type can also be used to draw a more tradition male head. I give an example later in this lesson.
The Takahiro Kimura male head type I chose actually has a lot in common with the Bruce Timm head. Only with some slight modifications you should keep in mind:
The head is much more straight at A and E. The jaw line at C is at a sharper angle and ends in a much smaller chin. There’s a convex curve at B representing the corner of the other side of the jaw. And make sure make a stair step between the neck and bottom of the chin like in D.
In profile the head angles out a bit in G. And there’s a convex curve in H which represents the area underneath the lower lip and the chin. Yeah, the mouth is usually very high up in the face.
Here’s an rough turn around of what a Takahiro Kimura anime head looks like:
Now that you’ve got that down, here’s the type of heads you can make with this head type:
Of course, you don’t HAVE to use it with anime features.
Note that the drawing on the upper left corner of the guy is drawn using the female head type. When you draw males using that head type, they tend to have a more traditional anime look.
Studying Your Own Head Types
I recommend you practice drawing these head types until you get comfortable using these formulas. Especially the Fred Moore head, since it’s often the basis for just about every other head type.
Once you get comfortable working with these head formulas, go see if you can’t figure out some of your own. Either by inventing them yourself or by breaking down the head types of your favorite cartoons.
If you’re not sure how you would do that, I recorded a video showing you how it’s done:
I can’t help you if you don’t ask.
What’s your burning head formula questions?
Is there something you’ve always wanted to know about head formulas? Ask.
I’ll give you my best answer and, who knows, probably write a post about it.
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