Open Critique Friday #9

It's time once again for another Open Critique Day!

If you have a HeroMachine illustration or another piece of artwork you've done that you'd like some help with, post a link to it in comments along with your thoughts on it -- what you think is working, what you're struggling with, etc. I will post my critique of the piece, hopefully giving some tips on how to improve it.

Of course everyone is welcome to post their critiques as well, keeping in mind the following rules:

  • Make sure your criticism is constructive. Just saying "This sucks" is both rude and unhelpful without giving specific reasons why you think it sucks and, ideally, some advice on how to make it better.
  • Each person should only post one illustration for critique to make sure everyone who wants feedback has a chance.
  • I will not critique characters entered in any currently running contest, as that doesn't seem fair to the other entrants. You can still post it if you like for the other visitors to critique, but I will not do so.

That's it! Hopefully we can get some good interaction going here and help everyone (me included!) learn a little bit today.

(Image ©2006 Tom Fishburne, "Skydeck Cartoons".)

54 Responses to Open Critique Friday #9

  1. Malfar says:

    A Mighty armored hero, the fearless Captain Vietnam!
    I don’t know if that hero already exists somewhere, but with all those Captains I just couldn’t keep myself from making one, too

  2. Jeff Hebert says:

    Malfar (1): You know, that wouldn’t make a bad character design contest — make a “Captain” Somebody. Hmm …

    Anyway, I like the character design on Captain Vietnam a lot! The combination of more medieval armor bits with more modern stuff is cool. I can’t say I have anything to add on that, he looks great.

    I would say, though, that nothing about him really says “Vietnam” to me, other than the Red Communist sort of stuff. But that’s offset by the European Medieval armor, which wouldn’t really have been part of a SE Asian culture. So while the character looks COOL, I can’t say he looks VIETNAMESE. Not that he HAS to, but that’s just my gut instinct.

    As far as the overall layout, the main thing I’d recommend is toning down the glow coming from the chest. It washes out everything else and dominates the composition.

    But other than that, I like it, good job.

  3. Jeff Hebert says:

    Rozenstal (2): Awesome! I love it. The pose, the angle, the black and white treatment, the way you did NOT outline the head in white but left it in black silhouette, it’s just fantastic. Really nice job!

    If I were pushed to make a criticism, the only thing I could think of would be that I am not crazy about the font, but given the limited choices the program offers I don’t think it’s very fair to lay that on you.

    A very cool, very different, very artsy composition that’s a definite home-run. Thanks for sharing it!

  4. Watson Bradshaw says:

    here is one from a while back she is a speedster that uses magnetic fields to propel herself.

  5. Jeff Hebert says:

    Watson Bradshaw (5): My instant reaction when seeing it was “Ooo, neat!”, which is always a good sign. The background works great, giving the pose even more dynamic oomph. The legs/feet and the arms are perfect, they convey a sense of movement and that classic Flash-style pose that works to a tee.

    I like the costume, too, and the energy platforms under her boots. Those are cool.

    The only bit I’m not as enthusiastic about is the helmet. Along with the hair, it all seems more bulky than sleek and fast, like it would make her ponderous.

    But otherwise, great job!

  6. Watson Bradshaw says:

    thanks jeff, she was made originally for the kirby contest (thats why the big helmet but I may try again with a sleeker look. 🙂

  7. Whit says:

    I had wanted to post what I thought was the best HM3 pic I’ve ever done, but between HM blog changes and crashed hard drives, the picture seems to be lost to the aether. (If it’s possible to dig it up in a way I can’t think of, it was in a contest in which I had entered like five anime anthropomorphic cat and dog pics, like for space fighters or something, not sure the contest it would have been).

    In lieu of that, I’m submitting what I think is one of the best of the pics that haven’t evaporated. It was submitted in the Sidekick contest. Wonder Lad is a sidekick to Wonder Woman, a half-god, half-Amazon whose father Apollo absconded with and sent him to the care of Wonder Woman in the form of a falcon hurtling to earth (hence the WL/falling bird logo). One of the reasons I really like this pic is the face–I think I do a good job creating juvenile faces with HM.

  8. Vampyrist says:

    Rozenstal, great job on your pic. The black and white really sells it.

    Here is my picture I’d like to be reviewed. He is an elf who was born a noble but his father’s traitorous ways made him and his mother penniless. His father was now gone and his mother died in an early winter. He became a thief, stealing to survive. His life was changed forever when eh saved the life of a shipping magnate.

    The magnate took him in and raised him to be a good person. He also trained him how to fight. The tedious life with the magnate bored Alak, who decided to go adventuring. Armed with a sword belonging to his great grandfather and his rogueish skills, he toured the world. He has saved many lives and has earned the nickname of the Rogueknight, for his thievish and noble ways.

  9. Tuldabar says:

    This: is one of the first Star Wars-themed heros I did, specifically for the upcoming game The Old Republic. Jedi Shadow archeotype specifically. Truth be told, I’m rather fond of him.

    I did some minor touch-ups since my first version, but overall he’s the same as he was. What I know doesn’t work is the sun rays, and the new saber hilt is a tad off.

    What I like about him is the feeling that he’s up against a wall (figuratively) surrounded and taking a fighting stance. He’s on the Sith homeworld of Korriban (if that helps at all :). The color scheme seems to fit, and I like the armor setup (hope my pc in TOR will look half as good).

    Anuthing you guys can help me with would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  10. Me, Myself & I says:

    Vampyrist (10) I like the silver hair and the dragon design on his pants. Good contrast.

  11. Tuldabar says:

    @ Me Myself and I: Holy hotsauce, Batman!” Wow. Just, incredible. And the best part is, it’s simple, nothing too fancy or complicated, but at the same time an awsome piece! Again, wow. Great work!

  12. ams says:

    Hey, Jeff. New to posting pics and recently submitted these images. I try to get some depth with items given, but not sure if the heads are right. Also, on the 2nd pic, not sure if the positioning of the legs are correct. Let me know what you guys think.

  13. Jeff Hebert says:

    Whit (8): You did some anthropomorphic space guys for Character Contest 6. It would probably help find them if you named your files with the name of the character, or the contest, or something besides “hmbeta”? I rename the entries with the entrant’s name when I save them so I was just able to do a search on my Mac for “Whit-” and they all came up.


    I like Wonder Lad! The costume design is simple but spot-on and you’re right, the face is perfect. I like the idea of standing him in front of the giant star-filled star as a design element, surrounded by white. It sets the figure off nicely.

    The main problem for me is the positioning of that giant star element. The inside corners touch the figure at each shoulder, each forearm, and at the vector line of the throwing circle. Jamming lines from different planes into each other where they intersect makes an illustration feel pinched and confuses the visual senses of the viewer. I’d either shrink or grow the star so its points don’t end right at the outline of the figure.

    That aside, great job!

  14. Jeff Hebert says:

    MMI (9): I remember that one! I double-checked and I actually had it in the Finalists folder, but ended up not posting it. After thinking about it for a while, I loved the general idea and the way you went about it — very striking and effective. Ultimately what kept me from making the jump from the first cut to the final one was the lack of contrast between the night sky and the silhouetted foreground and figures. Granted it’s a night scene, but still, the two values of land and sky are in my opinion just a little bit too close, particularly given how huge the moon is (and hence how much light it’d be giving off).

    I think it would be more powerful if the background sky went from a lighter midnight blue than the one you have at the horizon to black at the top. That would help the ground and figures separate out more. I know you did it, but I don’t think it goes far enough.

    The other change I’d make would be to use some non-black color for the lineart on the moon. The hard edges along with the way the color blends in to the black of the figures is too stark for me — the power of the concept comes from the hard outlines of the figures, but the moon as it is cuts into that.

    Just some thoughts. I did very much like it at the time (and now), but those were the reasons I didn’t end up including it as a Finalist, though I did on the initial pass-through.

  15. B. Clouser says:

    First I’ll post a piece I did, and then I’ll get to critiquing.

    This is a mech design I did based on a comic script I’ve been working on. It’s main feature is that it sports a large energy enhanced blade on it’s back which raises up on an arm. What does this do? It let’s the mech gut giant battleships like a fish.

    So it’s a battleship hunting mech in the end, or at least that’s what I went for. It’s called the Warm Messer, which is German for ‘Hot Knife’.

  16. ams says:

    Zar(10) Beautiful! A dark scene with lots of energy. The star effect is great! Don’t change a thing.

  17. Jeff Hebert says:

    Vampyrist (10): Very nice! I like the color scheme, the face, the cool dragon embroidery on just the one leg, the way you used the rocky item in the middle-ground colored green to look like a contoured hill, and just the overall feel of the piece.

    Unfortunately (?), I can’t think of anything to suggest you change to improve it, I think you pretty much nailed it as-is.

  18. Jeff Hebert says:

    Tuldabar (11): I like the pose a lot, it’s very dynamic and convincing. I totally buy he’s standing there at an angle with the energy blade behind him. The outfit itself is really good as well, I like your item choices a lot. And finally, the background fits, with the radiant effect from the planet being a nice design element.

    Where it falls short for me is in the coloring. There are just an awful lot of strong colors and they all end up competing for attention, scattering the viewer’s attention instead of giving the eye strong visual clues about what to look at, when.

    Then in the middle you’ve got a wide stretch of black elements, all on different planes, but lined up so that they all flatten into one level. The hills, his pants, and the cape all have the same colors and since they’re in a line, your eye wants to think they are all the same thing.

    You might try using all cooler colors for the figure (blues, greens, blacks, cool browns, etc.) and warmer colors for the backgrounds (oranges, reds, yellows, reddish browns, etc.), or vice versa. Right now your color is defeating the nice layering you’ve got going on.

    But the underlying black and white character and scene are great, so you’ve got the majority of it working really well!

  19. Jeff Hebert says:

    Zar (12): Nice! Very similar in concept and execution to MMI’s Sagittarius (comment #9), with many of the same strengths and weaknesses. I do like what you did with the line color of the moon very much, that’s a perfect illustration of the advice I was giving MMI. I also like that you went with two lighter grays for the moon’s color areas, that helps soften it up and puts the focus on the figure, where it should be.

    I think, though, that you could go with a lighter version of midnight blue for the gradient on the sky, just like MMI. The horizon is still awfully hard to distinguish. On the other hand, the circular gradient you chose to go for the “glowing moon” effect is nice … I suppose you could try making the sky and the ground both absolutely black, relying on the starfield effect to give you your separation, keeping the moon glow. That might be interesting to try.

    Oh, the figure itself is great, by the way! I like her lithe, elfin look and the convincing dance effect. Very cool!

  20. Jeff Hebert says:

    B. Clouser (17): Wow, that’s awesome! I’m not usually a big mech fan, but that’s downright nifty. This is one of those illustrations that I look at and I’m like “How the hell did they do that?” And I’m the one who drew all the bits! Specifically, I love those flat blades coming out of his back, and I’m not sure what items those are.

    I also love the orange shoulder pads and gun; adding warm elements like that into a scene that otherwise is all cool colors really makes them pop. And the damage on that one shoulder pad is fantastic, gives it a really convincing distressed look. And it’s completely natural, it doesn’t look forced or tacked-on or anything.

    The only minor suggestion I can make to this stellar offering is that it’s a little hard to make out his right arm against the body, as the colors are all so similar and there’s no drop shadow or black areas to delineate them. I bet you could add some simple squared colored all 40% alpha black or something, positioned behind the arm but in front of the back tines and filling the space between the forearm and the body, and then again between the forearm and the knife blade, and finally again behind the blade but in front of the back tines. That should really make the arm separate out and pop a lot more.

    But wow, this is a really good one, very well done!

  21. ams says:

    Sorry Jeff. Noticed you skipped mine and relized the first image was nominated in the HOTW contest. How but a word on the 2nd.

  22. B. Clouser says:

    Thanks Jeff. The shadow idea would really help fix this one up. I’ll do that.

    Those huge tubes coming off his back are a creative use of your blow torch tanks. They are meant to be powerful boosters for high speed travel as seen in series like Gundam or Macross.

  23. Jeff Hebert says:

    Sorry AMS (24 & 15), didn’t realize your comment was pending in the queue.

    When I say “not in a current contest” I actually mean in the Character Design Contests here on this blog, not the ones on the forums. But I’ll do the second one since that’s the one you singled out (and there’s only one per person each week).

    Love it! Love the costume and the colors and the rectangular design element and the smoke. Just very cool.

    The pose is darn close, although I’d probably make the right shin longer and raise that knee a bit higher. It seems like the upper leg would be parallel to the ground with the shin perpendicular to it and straight given the position of the rest of his body.

    Great character and design, though, and like I said, the pose is really close.

  24. Rosco says:

    Following up on last week, I thought I’d show you pretty much the full range of the mini-heromachine that I use. You can see even in these seven that the face, hair, and body never change, and certain elements from one piece of clothing are copies into the next. Still, I do enjoy being able to add elements whenever I want.

    (And yes, one is a repeat from last week)

  25. Jeff Hebert says:

    Roscoe (27): Neat, thanks for sharing that!

  26. Haxxx says:

    Following Rosco(27):
    I found this:
    Portuguese but after fiddling with it you can tell whats what. Sort of like th new cartoons style.

    BTW Jeff: What about the Mecha hero machine that fell? Do you have artwork for it and if so are you going to add it to heromachine?

  27. Jeff Hebert says:

    Haxxx (29): Yes, that’s been around a long time. He’s got a very nice product.

    All the Mecha stuff has already been added in various sets, as far as I know. It was mostly Body, Limb and Head stuff and they’re in Body-Mech, Head-Mech, etc.

  28. Myro says:

    I, surprisingly, have nothing new this week, so I’m going to drag out a design I brought in a few weeks before, updated with the changes Jeff suggested, and a couple extra flourishes I discovered in the process.

    Now that I’m doing this, I wish I had the original unchanged copy to compare, but here goes with Captain Sinchanter again:

    Old HM 2.x version:

    New and improved HM 3 version:

  29. Jeff Hebert says:

    Myro (31): Oooh yeah, much better! I like the sleeves much more, the background’s very appealing (and spooky), and in general it’s just a much tighter, much more aesthetically put-together illustration. Nicely done! Now it looks like a superior version of the 2.5 one, rather than a close-but-not-quite-right facsimile.

  30. Jake says:

    Here is a character that I made for the DnD campaign I’m running. He’s a cyclops with levels in both monk and barbarian.

  31. Captain Kicktar says:

    Second Anti, the Anti-Human, is extremely strong and is working with Sazall and The Bloodmaster to take over the world! Muhahahaha!

  32. Invisiboy says:

    I made this character a long time ago to compensate for there being no right female hand and foot (I know how to work around that now.) I still like the basic look and concept, but I know it could be more visually impressive. Any suggestions? (Ideas for a background would be much appreciated.)

  33. Jeff Hebert says:

    Jake (33): Overall a cool looking, animated-style character! I like the outfit and the design of the face, and the way he looks a little beefier and meaner than your average Joe.

    The scene is also really good, particularly the way you’ve tiled the planks in the bridge he’s on. That’s an excellent effect and a lot more convincing than using that one pattern full-scale. Nice job on that.

    The only bit I’d work on would be in the eye and nose area. Running the bridge of the nose up into the eyeball is a bit off-putting. Ditto the separate eyebrows — why have two brows but only one eye, you know? I assume you chose that eye because it’s the only one without an obvious “handedness” to it. I think it works, though, given the more cartoon-like cast of the rest of the figure, and the way you’ve nestled it in with the outer edges of the eyebrows.

    So yeah, I like it, nice job!

  34. Jeff Hebert says:

    Captain Kicktar (34): Sometimes simple characters with a two-or-three tone color scheme can work really well. I like the coif and the understated look of they guy and the use of the armbands as straps on the club. That’s a nice effect.

    The first suggestion I’d have would be to save as a PNG instead of a JPG, especially on any character with lots of red in the costume. For some reason the JPG encoding code built into Flash does a crappy job with red, and the images come out looking muddy and not crisp. PNGs come out as a larger file size usually, but a lot sharper. I think that would help on this guy.

    The second thing I’d say is that I think the outfit might be TOO monochromatic. I’d like some variation in the reds used to help it pop. Maybe the underclothing could be a darker red (shirt and coif/bandana for sure, and then maybe the pants). I also think having the claws the same red as his clothing is a bit odd. You just don’t expect body parts and clothing to look the same.

    Finally, I’m not a huge fan of the tiger striping on the shirt. I’d like to see it maybe smaller (you’ll have to use the ones in Patterns-Standard instead of the ones in the Pattern tab, and manually mask it onto the shirt). Then you could also vary the color of the stripes and the outlines a bit to add some textural interest to the middle section.

    Hope that helps!

  35. Jeff Hebert says:

    Invisiboy (35): Knowing that this was done a while back before there were as many options helps. I hope that includes masking the gun into the hand so it looks more like she’s holding it?

    Anyway, the basic female cyborg look is cool, and I like the motorcycle. In fact I think the chest piece she has could use the gray of the motorcycle as its color2; currently it’s awfully flat. I’d also move the motorcycle up more, so its bottom-most portion ends somewhere just above the top of her heel. Right now the perspective is a bit forced and it’s hard to make out where everything is in relation to each other.

    Personally I don’t think you really need a background beyond the motorcycle; that alone sets a mood and scene and adding in more bits doesn’t necessarily make it stronger. If anything you might do an Imp-style simple gradated circle or whatnot just as a design element behind her, but I think it’s strong as is.

  36. Jake says:

    Thanks Jeff. I would prefer to have one brow for him, but haven’t figured out a way to make that convincing in the program that would also let me convey the character’s emotion. I agree with you on the nose, but I think it might be just as off putting to have a giant eye socket and then have the bridge of the nose come out from underneath.

    On an unrelated note, are you planning on making some of the body parts you had in HM2.5? I’d really like to use the rock body parts. The rock pattern on a body makes it look too two dimensional. The rocky nose and eyebrows were converted over, I was hoping the whole body would eventually.

  37. Captain Kicktar says:

    The club came with those bands, The reason for it being a JPG is because my computer is broken and I’m uploading from my iTouch, and the ‘shirt’ is actually his skin. But I do agree about the color critique as usual.

  38. Blue Blazer says:


    A disembodied ball of psychic energy that can draw small objects to it to create a somewhat humanoid body

  39. Arioch says:

    2 characters I tried to draw with HM:

    Gerard, a basic soldier

    And Caitlin (She’s supposed to have Sidhe blood, thus the stand-out hair and eyebrows)

    And yes, I know, I was pretty lazy with the background ^^

  40. ajw says:

    like dark blue the 11 inch hero, here’s another one with the same figure same mask different outfit I put it on gimp to give it an auara all of my heroes do, dark blue has blue, and a guy called storm breaker has yellow, and this guy shade has green but it looks like rosemary’s baby. so here he is.

  41. Jeff Hebert says:

    Blue Blazer (41): Ha! That’s awesome. What font is that? I should look into getting something similar for the program, that’s a nice one.

    Nothing to add beyond it’s awesome.

  42. Jeff Hebert says:

    Arioch (42): I only do one of these per person per session, but if anyone else wants to comment on Caitlin, feel free. I’ll restrict myself to Gerard.

    I like the basic directness of the character, he’s a no-nonsense kind of guy with a no-nonsense design. All the items and colors work well together.

    In terms of a stand-alone image, I’d probably bring the background circle in smaller, as it seems a bit jarring to have the edges cut off. You might also consider maybe darkening up his skin tone, or making use of color2, to give him some depth — the flesh looks a bit washed out.

    But a very nice character!

  43. Jeff Hebert says:

    ajw (43): It’s a nice image, the two tone look is very striking. I don’t have a lot to add beyond that as it’s pretty far outside my area of knowledge, unfortunately, but it’s cool.

  44. Jeff Hebert says:

    And with that, at 7:10 Mountain Time, I’m going to close this edition of OCD. Thanks everyone for participating!

  45. Anarchangel says:

    This is a character I just created. It was an attempt at an early hero circa 1960 or thereabouts. And I wanted to get your take on it Jeff.
    I know the masking on the sign in her hand is a little weird.

    American Dream.

  46. Anarchangel says:

    Aw dang it! Always 5 minutes late :/

  47. Jeff Hebert says:

    OK, for YOU Anarchangel, an exception!

    Excellent illustration! I love everything about it, from the lack of a background to the star clasps holding her cape on to the highlights on her skirt to the angle of the flag to her general outfit and look. Great job! I suppose someone could complain that it’s too close to PowerGirl’s outfit, but screw them.

  48. Anarchangel says:

    Damn my inadvertent Power Girl rip-off! I didn’t spot that. I was gonna switch the colors round a bit but this way just looked better.

    Thanks Jeff 😀

  49. Blue Blazer says:

    Jeff, that font is called “Shoguns Clan”. Speaking of which, I’d love to see some fonts on there that can be used as insignias. Even if it’s just something like “Impact” or “Haettenschweiler”. Something nice and solid and symmetrical.

  50. Whit says:

    Jeff– Thanks so much for dusting off the archives for those pics. Yes, I named those files back in wild and woolly days of ’09. I’m much more diligent in how I name my HM files now. And thanks for the comments.