Instructor Tutorial: Language Shapes with Mr. Hayz

Mr. Hayz teaches Advanced Animation at Exceptional Minds and is a former animator on King Of The Hill and The Simpsons as well as being an active freelance animation artist.

Mr. Hayz will show you how to use simple shapes to make fun cartoon characters in this YouTube tutorial (or instructions below).

You will need Photoshop (free trial here) to draw in and a tablet to input drawings. Or you can use other input devices or even go old school and draw this on paper.

Now let's get started.

Create a New Document

The very first thing we're going to do is create a new document. Once you open up Photoshop you are going to create a document that is 1920 x 1080 in pixel size. Then we want to keep the document pretty small, so it's easy to load up.

(Once we get into digital painting or we have to start adding a large amount of detail we can bump the size.)

But for now, we're just going to make it seventy-five DPI or pixels per inch. Now our second step is to create a brush.


For this exercise, I'm using a really simple brush you can find in Photoshop. There are tons of different types of brushes to use in Photoshop. I like this brush because it's simple you don't have to import anything. 

(Later we may get into importing different types of brushes for different effects.)

You have a large menu of brushes that we can use. So for this brush, we're going to go to the basic brushes, and we're going to create a Hard Round Pressure Capacity Flow. Well, we're not going to create it. You're just going to press on the button that I show you here, and it says Hard Round Pressure Capacity and Flow.

Once you've chosen that brush, I like to put the size and the opacity on pressure.

So depending on how much pressure I put on my stylist. I can make my line darker or lighter or thinner or thicker all depending on how I use the pressure sensitivity. This kind of approximates the sort of marker/pencil hybrid that I like to use and other pencils and pens type brushes that you can use that are really really fun.

But for now, I think this one will work just fine for us. That's really all we need for a setup.


So the next thing I'm going to talk about are shapes. Shapes are something that we all are exposed to pretty early on in life. Little babies are given toys that are plastic and kind of represent the different basic shapes that we have to deal with. Now those shapes we are going to come back to. We'll talk a little bit about them now, but they're not the only shapes that we deal with in design.

There are actually three different categories of shapes that we can use and put in our tool belt to use when we're trying to get their effects or to get across different things with our characters.

Geometric Shapes

The first shapes are what you think of when you think of shapes they are classic and geometric shapes, your squares, your circles, triangles.

Everything we see that is human-made that's built around us that we interact with is made out of some combination of these shapes or shapes based on these shapes. We use them all the time and we're going to continue using them as we create our characters. 

Organic Shapes

The next category of shapes is organic shapes. These are a little bit different. Some of them kind of approximate our geometric shapes. Organic shapes are shapes we see occur in nature. At the outside edges of a pond or some sort of mutant pumpkin or a leaf.

These are considered organic shapes. They don't have that symmetrical appearance that geometric shapes usually have - they're usually kind of asymmetrical.

Abstract Shapes

The third category of shapes is known as abstract shapes.

Okay, these shapes don't relate to reality necessarily. They're more freeform shapes, you're looking at spirals or like cloud formations or smoke but the other thing you're also looking at are symbols in things like signs, things like stick figures things like letters are abstracted images.

Abstract shapes are depictions of real things that are not an exact representation of them.

On the style spectrum there considered being way down towards the symbolic end the things as opposed to the more realistic end. 

Alright so those are our three short categories of shapes and once we have gone over these categories we're going to talk about taking shapes and pulling them into the third dimension.

The opportunity to let us know what kind of characters maybe you'd like me to draw or break down into basic shapes for you. So if you have any characters you are thinking about you can put them in the comments below and we'll see if we can use them to break down some basic cartoon construction for you.

Psychology of Geometric Solids

Back to the geometric solids or the geometric shapes. If we look at them each individually, we can see that there is a certain psychology that we get from them. By psychology, I mean that these shapes can generate different feelings that can generate different moods.

We can have a sense of characteristic just by the shape that character’s made of.


When you think of squares you think of things that are reliable and stable. Squares and rectangles represent the borders of things and are some of the most commonly used objects in man-made construction.

You're probably sitting in a square right now, you're watching a square as you watch this video. It's a shape that's all around us and interestingly enough squares are the least used of these square-shaped - you usually see rectangles more, or some kind of rectangle. 

Finally, characters of squares represent strength. For example, I think of Sully from Monsters Inc. or Wreck-It Ralph. Strong characters are often represented by a square or cubic shapes.


The next one that I am making here using the stroke function so I can get a nice perfect circle.

Circles are one of the very first shapes you draw. Usually, when you're a little baby and you can first draw, on the wall with a permanent marker, you're usually drawing some weird form of a circle.

Circles are very old shapes. For example, the sun is a circle. Circles don't have a beginning or end, so they did note sort of like infinite movement. Finally, circles are also great because they focus attention on things that are inside of them. They kind of act like a bull's-eye - a bull's-eye is a series of concentric circles leading to a target. Therefore, circles can act like spotlights focusing on what's inside them.

As far as characters, circles are friendly. Think about your friendliest characters and they've probably made up of some form of circles. SpongeBob being the exception to that rule.


Finally, as far as just these basic and geometric shapes we get to the triangle.

Triangles imply stability and power and energy. Triangles can also give a sense of conflict or instability if they are balanced on their point, but if they're balanced on the base, then they can actually give a sense of stability. They kind of can pull off both of those depending on how you orient the triangle. 

Triangles are great for pointing at things. Our eye tends to go towards the widest part and move towards the narrowest. We use triangles to point at things AKA arrows. 

In character design triangles are sharp and if you look at a lot of villains, you'll see that a lot of them used triangular shapes - note that sharpness and that dangerousness.

We're going to really dive much deeper into all of these shapes as we go along and as we continue with our series on how to draw these cartoon characters.

Let's Recap

Thank you all for getting to the end, we hope you learned some basics. Stay tuned for Part 2. For more about digital arts training for people with autism, check us out here.

Exceptional Minds is a professional training academy and working studio preparing young adults on the autism spectrum for careers in digital arts and animation. 
We are a 501(3)(c) nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles. 
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