Anime-by-Example July 18, 1999 Update

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SD Characters

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        Here's a quick note for those of you who don't know already: SD stands for "Super-Deformed". It took me awhile to realize this since I come from such an anime-barren town. I'll be using "SD" instead of "Super-Deformed" often in this section, because my poor hands aren't well adusted to laptop keyboards. Well, anyway, so you're here to learn about Super Deformed characters. You've seen them on TV and comics, not to mention your own work (or maybe not your work). "Yeah," you think, "what's up with those SD characters? What makes them what they are?" Here's what I've picked up so far about those cute, nefarious little buggers known as SD characters.

The Elements of SD Proportionality

SD Characters are First and Foremost CUTE

     SD characters are intended to be cute. They are cute. They have the word "cute" written all over them. It's like any little kitten, puppy, or baby: they are underdeveloped, meaning that they have shorter and chubbier arms and legs, and their heads are way larger than the rest of their bodies. You know those miniature toys at toy stores that some girls think are so cute, like those tiny books or those little pocket games? You might as well consider those mini-books SD as well, since they are disproportionate in comparison to the accepted size that a normal book should be.

Being Super Deformed is Relative to Norms

     I don't want to get too philosophical on how we perceive our world and what people consider "norms" , so I'll keep it simple. Since we acumulate information largely from our vision, we learn to recognize certain patterns that help us distinguish one object from another. This goes, as you already know, for discerning traits between humans. Let's start with a simple example: men vs. women.

     Here we have Tamahome and Miaka from Fushigi Yuugi. I apologize for the inconsistency of pictures. In any case, we know that men are generally built in their upper body, which is basically a downward-pointing triangle, two points of which are the shoulders. A man's hips are very vertical in comparison with a woman's hips, in which a more hourglass-like shape is easily recognized by men (the reason for this being the necessity of a woman's hips to be wide enough to give birth, but that's altogether another issue). So generally we notice men for their larger upper torsos, and women for their curvy waists.



Tama41.gif (61096 bytes)

form-fyu.gif (7723 bytes)

    In the same way we distinguish men from women, we can distinguish adults from children, and here's where SD comes in. SD characters are "baby-ized," basically a character endowed with more disproportionate features very characteristic of children. Don't get me wrong: SD characters don't have to look like children, but they do look somewhat underdeveloped.

The best pictures of SD that I have are of Oh! My Goddess! Here's two pics of the crew, the first notably child-ized:

sd-amg.gif (60577 bytes) amg-group.gif (67268 bytes)

Pay attention to the width of their heads in relation to their shoulders. They're almost the same width! Their body proportions, too, are cut in half. Notice that their heads can cover their WHOLE torso, above and below the waist. In addition, their head is about as long as their whole leg. Hehe, they're also half the size of normal...

Here are Skuld, Belldandy, and Urd normally. Notice that their proportions are now such that their head only covers half of their whole torsos, legs, and arms. Two head lengths = 1 full arm, or 1 full leg, or 1 full torso.

Eyeball these two pictures. The difference is pretty evident.

Those Big Heads

      Know this about SD characters: EVEN THOUGH THEIR BODY PROPORTIONS ARE 1/2 THE SIZE OF NORMAL, THEIR HEADS REMAIN NORMAL SIZE! Wheras a normal head would generally delineate measurements of half the torso and half the full length of the arms and legs, a head on an SD body sets the unit for the full arm, leg, torso, or body.

The Effects of Downsizing

      Generally, as SD goes, the smaller, and more distorted the characters are, the more detail you lose. Limbs and clothes become simplified more and more to the minimm number of lines possible. This also entails that elbows, knees, and other such joints are eliminated. If you get to the 1 head:1 whole body ratio, limbs and body generally start to become chubbier in order to keep everything connected.

Since I just got a Wacom the day before I first put this SD article on Animex, I cooked up something quick to show you what to think about when doing SD characters in more graphic detail.

form-sd.gif (16988 bytes)

As you can see,  (1) SD characters have pudgier limbs because they are only as long as their head is high. At the most formal level, you can see how limbs are generally 1/2 size, but still in proportion (though there is obvious leeway to the size of the body in relation to the head size, as you can see in the picture, since the rule does not strictly apply). There is some detail at this middle level, where joints are still preserved, but torso and curvature may be toned down greatly. Eventually, limbs become simple protrusions from the body. Note how high the figures are in relation to head height (3). (You can see that the general "child-like SD" figure (middle) has a 1 head: 2 body ratio, wheras the least formal SD figure has a 1 head : 1 body ratio.

What NOT To Do:

SD Characters really aren't supposed to be realistic

      You have to ask why are you drawing SD characters in the first place. If it's a caricature of an existing character, then you really need only include details in the SD character that are important in defining who that character is. That much should be already obvious.

Uses for SD

      When do I use SD characters? Well, DON'T TAKE MY ADVICE AS LAW, but here's a quick list:

There's a time and place for everything, you yourself hae to determine where, why, and how you want to go about SDing things, or just drawing SD. Don't let ME tell you things. I'm often wrong, and I'm definitely biased, as an artist.



If there are any comments, questions or requests for addition, please feel free to e-mail me at

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