Simplifying Faces & Capturing Likeness

Do you want to SIMPLIFY a FACE of a certain character, but still capture the LIKENESS?
I’ve put together a list of TIPS for you :)

I usually use Google Images or Pinterest.

Search for:

--> images of the character’s ‘REAL’ face (how it looks like in the movie/animation). Make sure you have at least one image showing the face from the front (so that you can see the correct proportions and distances between the features of the face).

--> CARTOONY images of the character. There’s so many inspirations out there – toys, drawings, clay figures, kawaii illustrations… Someone out there has probably already simplified the face you are trying to make :)
Print the images you like the most. I suggest printing them the same size you want the topper to be, so that they can be a size and shape guide.

Look at the character’s face and determine what makes the face recognizable and unique (which features are important to capture the likeness).

Look at:
• the shape of the head
• the positioning, size & shape of:
- eyes
- nose
- mouth/lips
- eyebrows
- ears
• distances between the above features
• the hair:
- colour & length
- hairline (where does it start & what’s the shape of it)
• other characteristic elements such as colour of skin, wrinkles, headwear, hair decorations

After studying the facial features, determine which ones are the most important to capture the likeness. Ask yourself: If I remove or change this feature, will the character still look alike?
F.ex. if I make the eyes round instead of eye-shaped will the character still look alike?

The simpler the face, the less characteristic features it reflects. So try to balance it out.
Some characters have very characteristic attributes. So even though the character itself doesn’t look alike or is extremely simplified (kawaii version), thanks to that attribute he will be recognized by everyone f.ex. Mad Hatter’s (hat).

Think of how simple (compared with the original design) you want the face to be? You can take a few things into consideration:

--> YOUR SKILL LEVEL (what are you able to make?)
No one better than you knows your limits. So f.ex. if you are having difficulties modelling a realistic nose, make a simple oval ball nose.

In my opinion it’s better to make a simple, clean and neat figure than a more realistic one, with many flaws. Don’t get me wrong – it’s good to push your limits & learn new things. That’s the only way to get better. But make sure that you are not in a rush when trying new things. Experimenting with f.ex. last minute orders might be a bit frustrating ;)

Find out what the customer wants and make sure he knows what you can provide. If he wants ‘realistic-looking’ Anna and Elsa toppers and he gets a kawaii version of the characters, that might be a problem ;) I usually send some reference photos showing the level of complexity I can achieve.

If the customer wants realistic looking toppers and doesn’t want to pay too much, explain how much a topper like that would cost and what kind of complexity you can offer for a lower price.

Don’t get angry at the customer if he’s surprised with the high price – they don’t do it to hurt your feelings. They are just not aware how much time cake making takes. To be honest, before I stared making cakes, I was shocked with the prices too!


- start with getting the proper SKIN COLOUR. If you are having trouble getting the correct colour check out my Colour Mixing Tutorial --> . It should help ;)

- make the proper SHAPE OF THE FACE. Since you want to simplify the face, you can simplify the shape of the head as well. Check the shape with the reference photos you’ve printed out. I usually make the face using the same methods as in these tutorials:

---> Basic Body & Face Tutorial -->…/52…/basic-body-face-pdf-tutorial-with
---> Princess Cake Topper Tutorial --> (this one has a bit more detailed mouth/lips)

and make small adjustments like f.ex. shape of chin (pointy, round, square).

- I usually start with POSITIONING THE EYES, but sometimes (if the distance from the chin and the smile seems to be a key feature) I start with with POSITIONING THE SMILE (f.ex. Maui from ‘Moana’ movie - )

- since I like cute faces I usually make the EYES a bit bigger and lower than they really are ;) I also make the NOSE a bit higher and a bit smaller than it actually is. So you don’t have to strictly stick to the distances and proportions mentioned in the beginning. Just remember to capture the likeness of the character (f.ex. if the character has a huge nose, don’t make it tiny; you can make it smaller, but not tiny)

- a simple SMILE (mouth not opened) is the quickest and easiest to make. So if that kind of mouth suits the character I usually stick with that kind of smile.

- notice that most characters usually have the IRISES and PUPILS partly covered by the bottom eyelid. If you position them in the centre of the eye, the character will look surprised or scared. So keep that in mind when making the eyes.

- the positioning of the EYEBROWS is quite important as it goes for the face expression. Examples: .

- when making the hair make sure you keep the proper height of the FOREHEAD and the shape of the HAIRLINE. Once again – you don’t need to stick with precise measurements… it’s more about not making a shallow forehead when the character has a deep one and not making a pointy hairline if it’s supposed to be straight ;)


Oh, and if you are a beginner, I suggest starting with modelling larger faces, and after some time moving on to smaller ones…. And please don’t get discouraged if you won’t get everything right the first time. It’s impossible to master modelling in one day. But a little progress each day, adds up to big results ;)

Simplifying Faces & Capturing Likeness