There’s a lot of gripe about being obsessed with physical beauty in this day and age, but if anything, we face exactly the opposite problem. Rather than physical beauty reining supreme, it is actually image that reins supreme. In photography, having nice physical features is a good start, but ultimately what’s more important is being photogenic, being able to retouch a photo (including Photoshop), setting up lighting, etc. So what is it exactly that we lose when we conflate “physical beauty” with “image”? Hint: It’s a key element in creating good character.
At its core, physical beauty is “presence”. A thing most poignantly experienced in person–In the flesh–In the meat space. An example: The most gorgeous specimen of the human species walks into a room, but rather than be wowed, all you can think is, “Jeez, this person gives me bad vibes…”. Or another: You see a person with the most magnetic personality in a group of friends, the one that makes everyone’s faces light up and has some metaphorical but unmistakable twinkle in their eye– Yet their physical features are what you’d call homely. What I am describing is when some deeper part of a personality is projected through demeanor. It’s almost like personality leaking out of their bodies.
A good general rule of thumb to remember:
- Image: Emphasis on skillful use of visual medium.
- Physical Beauty/Presence: Emphasis on personality + physical features.
So, a nice photo shoot can make for some pretty damn good images but the images that best capture character almost always feel candid. Why is that? Presence is defined by how visual design and acting are working together. If at some point it’s hard to delineate whether you’re designing a look or if you’re making your character act, you’re probably doing it right. To get to this stage, start asking questions like:
- How does the character carry themselves?
- How does the character interact with their surroundings?
- How do people generally feel about the character?
- How does the character generally feel about other people?
- What is the character’s “default” face?
- Does the character take up a lot of space with their posture or gestures?
An example: A constantly angry character who has very arched eyebrows that look aggressive even when they’re smiling.
Another example: An incredibly shy character who wants to hide from the world. Why not have their visual design help them do that?
I’ll end with a picture of the Harry Potter trio all wearing the same uniform in their own way. Also Ron’s face.
Thanks for reading!