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How to Make Your First Video Game Character (Sprite) For Beginners Part 2 Simple Shading

Updated on September 23, 2012

This is part two of my step by step tutorial on how to make your own video game character. Part one can be found here


In this part of the tutorial we will go step by step through the process of shading your character, we will discuss the theory behind shading and we'll go over a few simple techniques to help you out.


Look around you, look at all the different objects in the room, see how the light (if your light is off turn it on.) affects the different colors, making them lighter, darker and even cast glares. Notice how somethings are affected more by light than others, notice how the wrinkles in your clothes cast shadows, Notice how the distance between a light and on object affects how bright it is and how long of a shadow it casts, notice how this changes as you move the object or the light. This is what shading is, it's seeing the way light affects an object and then duplicating it in the form of art, painting, drawing, or in this case spriting. ( the art of making pictures out of pixels, tiny colored squares used for computer graphics.) Shading is a lot more than randomly splashing different tones of color on a picture, shading in itself is an art. It may seem hard and confusing at first but once you get the basic idea down it becomes much easier and a lot of fun, it's actually my favorite part of art and a very important one too.

An example, let's look at how light affects a simple ball. This was quickly done so it's not perfect but it's definitely good enough to get the basic picture. The yellow dot, as you've probably already guessed, represents a light source, sun, flashlight, whatever, and the two yellow strings protruding from it is to demonstrate how the light hits the object, what it shines on and what's left in the dark. Notice how the light creates a kind of 'target' of shades on the ball, each one getting a little darker the further it gets from the light or if the light simply is just blocked it from shining on it, like the darkest and most outer fully understand shading we need to picture this ball as a 3d object. Notice how the lightest shade is closest to the light source, sitting in the upper-right of the ball instead of being more towards the middle of the ball. this is because we are looking at it from the side, if we were looking at the ball from the sun's point of view it would be centered, much more like a target and you wouldn't even be able to see the darkest shade, but we're not looking at it from the sun's point of view, so our vision of the shades has been altered by the roundness of the ball. Notice how most of the ball is covered with the middle shade and how only a small bit directly in front of the light source is a lighter shade and how it only starts to darken where it begins to round outside of the light. this is a pretty simple example of shading but if you can just keep this picture in you head, knowing what color goes where will become a lot easier.

also notice how when the color starts to shift from one shade to another it's kind of sprinkled back and forth between the colors (this is a poor example because i threw it together so quick but you can still see it.) this is called blending. there are two basic types of blending, vector and dithering. vector blending instead of sprinkling just adds another color in between, at times giving it a more smoother, cartoonish look, while dithering use a type of checkerboard pattern to give the illusion of having another shade, at times making it look more sharp and realistic. either style works well but often a combination of them both works best.


Now enough talk about the theory of shading and let's finally start shading our own character. Let's start by opening up our basic outline from part 1and adding our own light source show we can better see where the shades should go. Now lets just go ahead and decide what colors we want to us, make about 3 or 4 shades of each color making the difference between them slight but enough that you can tell them apart. as a general rule the darkest shade will usually be pretty close to black and the lightest will be pretty close to white, with the ones in between being divided evenly between the two extremes. now take your second darkest shade of each color and use this as the starting shade for your character like so.

now take the darkest shade and lets make apply it to the spots the sun's beams don't hit. the head is fairly spherical so lets apply a kind of 'C' around the lower-left corner, or whichever is furthest from your light source, and also applying a very thin line around the front and along the backs of his bangs. now when it come to arms and legs you usually have most of the farthest arm and leg the darkest or second darkest color with only small portions where the light hits a lighter shade like so

Now take the lighter shade and apply it to the upper right of the head, like with the ball above, placing a decent bit on the middle bangs but then lessening with the farther bangs so as to have the illusion that the lights flowing with the hair. this might take a little bit of time because the hair can be a little hard to do at times but stick mess around with it for a bit and you'll get it soon enough. it doesn't have to be perfect, we can go over fixing different kinds of shading and other problems later, so just try to get it decent for now. now the face or snout or whatever that is, is one of the few times that the main color is actually one of the lightest tones rather than a mid tone, so go around the face with the light tone, keeping small spots of darker shades for shadows around the nose , hair and eyes. the light will be shining on the majority of the torso and about the front half of the arm and leg closest to you. so apply the shade there. you can also leave a few darker lines along these areas to give the illusion of wrinkles in the clothes if you would like but my specific character is a little to small for me to do much of that. so now it should look something like this.

Now he's starting to look pretty good but the hair could still use a little bit of work so let's do some dithering to blend it and make it look a little bit more like real hair. the key to dithering is to use a simple checker like pattern that slowly thins out, doing your best to keep the the flow of the hair, like in this case we want to dither but we also want to keep the hair in a slight target shading. This might take a lil time but play with it a bit and you'll start to see the pattern that works for you and how it should flow, but if your still having a little bit of trouble that's okay we can go over dithering in more detail in another section of the tutorial. So now you character should look something like this

He's looking pretty good now so let's just move away the extras and set him aside on his own nice lil paint file, maybe make a copy and expand it to twice it's size so you can compare the two and see how the different patterns up close make the way it looks farther way. now let's save it for now and we'll make some minor adjustments later.

a link to part three will be posted here when it is finished.


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