Designing UTAU Characters: DOs and DON'Ts

Mostly DON'Ts, honestly...

  1. Cdra
    Before I begin, a disclaimer: Design, in the end, is a matter of opinion. If your UTAU has the traits listed, I'm not telling you that you absolutely must change them in order to be taken seriously or whatever. This resource is simply advice to be taken for exactly as much weight as you want to give it.

    With that out of the way, let's get this on.


    INTRO AND PURPOSE

    So, you wanna make an UTAU. Awesome! But amid all the voicebank-making and program-learning, there's another component to your UTAU that you can't neglect: Character Design. What do you want it to look like? What do you want to name it? Do you even want it to have a design? There's a lot of decisions to be made, so I'd like to help point you in the right direction with a few tips and tricks.

    NAMING YOUR UTAU

    Your character's name is arguably the most important feature of their design: it's what you'll call them, what people will know them by, and you'll be writing it constantly. The wrong name might even turn people away from your work before they even start listening! So, how do you pick a good name?

    One of the first questions you probably have to answer is this: do I want a Japanese name or a non-Japanese name? Many people want Japanese names due to making Japanese-speaking UTAU primarily. But picking a good Japanese name is a lot harder than it looks; so, I'll talk about Japanese naming first.

    DON'T: Use the -ne kanji to end your surname. This was a trend started by the Crypton Vocaloids and followed by the VIPPERloids (troll Vocaloids, in their original form) which then took off in popularity thereafter. It was basically the standard of UTAU naming convention for a long time, and it's still extremely popular. However, seven years later names ending in -ne have been played out. To many users, they're a badge of honor from coming from an older era; to many others, they're a stigma of following "Vocaloid Trends", which I will continue to refer back to throughout this guide. Your safest bet is not to use them at all.

    DON'T: Use Google Translate. Naming using Japanese words (rather than names) is difficult for those who don't know any Japanese at all; you're likely to miss the nuance of the words you're using and end up with a name that sounds strange. Instead, consider using actual Japanese names, especially for your surname -- a great resource for this is jisho.org, which lets you search for Japanese names if you use the #names tag in your search. Using Japanese words might work out for you still, but rather than trusting Google Translate, consider asking someone who knows a bit of the language how your name sounds before deciding upon it. In particular, verbs or adjectives used as names may sound very odd in Japanese.

    DO: Make sure it's not the same name as someone else. It's impossible to avoid having the same first name or surname as an UTAU or two sometimes, but it's never good when your UTAU ends up with the same name as either a Vocaloid or a very popular UTAU (ie, Aiko). Do your research to avoid this blunder; the UTAU wiki is a good resource for this.

    DON'T: Combine Japanese names with non-Japanese names. This is a particularly subjective point, but a name like "John Nakamura" might be very jarring to read.

    DON'T: Use "weeaboo" words. What words count as "weeaboo" is quite subjective at best, but one fast litmus test is this: would it sound like your character was a Mary Sue from a terrible fanfic if their name was in English? If so, don't use that name. Another is this: does it seem like anyone at all who's ever watched anime (or listened to Vocaloid music) would know this word? Don't use words like that, either. For your benefit, here's a (non-comprehensive) list of some words to avoid. Even if many of them are legitimate as Japanese names, they are likely to leave a bad impression (mostly, one of being immature).
    • Shiro (white)
    • Kuro (black)
    • Sakura (...sakura)
    • Tsuki (moon)
    • Hikari/Hikaru (light)
    • Yami (darkness)
    • Kage (shadow)
    • Common/popular animals such as: Kitsune (fox), Inu (dog), Neko (cat), Okami/Ookami (wolf), Usagi (rabbit) - ESPECIALLY if your UTAU has animal features!
    • Kami (god/spirit)
    • Ai (love) - also avoid "suki/daisuki"
    • Kokoro (heart)
    • Shoujo/Shounen (girl/boy respectively)
    • Kawaii (cute) - also avoid "kyuto" - absolutely never use this
    • Sugoi (awesome) - absolutely never use this
    • Any -dere term - Yandere, Tsundere, etc
    • Koe (voice) - more "common in the community" than "weeaboo"
    • Oto (sound) - more "common in the community" than "weeaboo"
    • Ne (sound) - more "common in the community" than "weeaboo"

    DON'T: Use English loanwords. If your name is written in Katakana and is literally just an English word "Japanese-ified", consider just using it in its English form instead. Trust me, it does not look "better" being re-written to work in Japanese phonetics.

    Does all this sound really complicated? Unfortunately, there's a lot of nuance to Japanese naming that is hard to communicate and hard for foreigners to understand at times. But there is an easy way out, if you're willing: using a non-Japanese name.

    Non-Japanese names are harder to mess up. Since you'll be naming in your native language more likely than not, you'll be certain to create something that sounds much more natural. Also, the name is far more likely to be memorable, since it'e easier to remember names that are more familiar to us. There are still problems with these kinds of names, of course, but overall, you don't need nearly as much help from me with picking non-Japanese names. Here are some general naming tips for any language:

    DO: Make sure you can remember and pronounce it. While not a perfect litmus test, this will help you achieve a better name in the sense that a good name should roll off the tongue well as well as stay in your mind. If you have to constantly refer back to what on earth your character's surname is, you might not have picked a good one. Shorter names, especially first names, might be more desirable because of this.

    DO: Watch out for connotation. Don't give your UTAU a name with a negative meaning in any language; even if it just seems self-deprecating to you, it will almost certainly rub other users the wrong way.

    DON'T: Use the -loid (or -poid) suffix. This is yet another leftover trait from the "Vocaloid Trends" (specifically, from ones like Gakupo [Gakupoid] and Gui [Megpoid]) that has to go. It's short for "Vocaloid" to begin with, and UTAU are not Vocaloids -- thus, it shouldn't be used for UTAU names.

    DESIGNING YOUR UTAU

    Now that your UTAU has a name, they need a design! Or maybe their design is to have no design, but that, too, is a conscious choice of design. There are plenty of tips and tricks to follow for designing, but do note that I am not a character designer and my information in this regard is far more spotty.

    DON'T: Follow "Vocaloid Trends". On top of simply being sure your UTAU doesn't look like an existing Vocaloid (or popular UTAU, for that matter), there are trends that, while once popular, will not make your UTAU stand out in the modern day. Taking care to avoid trends set by Miku, in particular, will do you a lot of favors in having an interesting design. (Note that many old and still popular UTAU still follow these trends; however, it's 2016. Let's move on.)
    • Avoid the sailor-fuku-inspired short-pleated-skirt combo with long open arm warmers.
    • Be careful when adding equalization details and the like to your design. While they are actually quite clever when executed well, it's all in the execution.
    • Do not put a red model number or anything similar on the upper arm.
    • Be cautious with the use of cybernetic details; if they're too Vocaloid-y, they'll be offputting.
    • Do NOT use large twin-tails or anything too visually similar! No matter what you do, you will not avoid being thought of as a "Miku Ripoff" with these.
    These are only a few tips as to how to avoid the "Vocaloid Ripoff" look; the truth is, however, it's a very complicated matter with a lot of facets. Just be careful! You don't want your UTAU looking derivative right off the bat!

    DON'T: Trace anything. Bases, especially the Kei Miku base, will almost invariably make your UTAU look bad no matter how good the actual design is. If you can't draw, either try to find someone to draw for you, or even use some kind of online doll generator -- that's still better than tracing. Or try drawing anyway; what can it hurt?

    DO: Check out Zeny's Character Design Tips. Stickied in the art forum, this contains several helpful tips.

    DON'T: Stick animal ears on it. Consider very carefully why you're adding cat/dog/fox/wolf/rabbit/etc. features to your UTAU. Chances are, it's a cheap way to improve the character's silhouette that's going to end up making them look more derivative. YMMV -- this can work very well for some designs, but take the time to think about it and be especially wary of those common animals.

    DO: Keep the outfit at a reasonable level of complexity. Just a t-shirt and some pants isn't going to stand out or look interesting, but a super busy outfit will just become distracting and too hard to replicate. Place your details with care.

    DO: Mind your color theory. Clashing colors will offend the eye more than just about anything else, and too many colors is a fast-lane ticket to a busy design. However, too little color variation and you'll end up with something drab just as fast. Like outfit complexity, color schemes are all about balance and making sure everything works together. Some good resources for color palette design would be colorpod, this color blender, and paletton (which is my personal favorite when I foray into web design). Don't be afraid of using neutrals to keep everything tied together!

    DON'T: Give it a character item. You don't need to. Just don't worry about it. This is another weird thing we somehow picked up from Vocaloid Trends.

    DON'T: Use anime trope words to describe your character. Yandere, tsundere, any kind of dere really, and any similar words -- just don't use them to describe your character's personality if you can help it. At the very least, don't make them your character's entire personality.

    DON'T: Put "Hatsune Miku" (or another Vocaloid/Vipper) under your character's "dislikes". Why are you doing this? Because she's popular? Yeah, don't.

    Character design is a very complicated subject, but still, I hope these few tips might help you a bit with your designs.

    FINAL WORD
    In the end, design is entirely subjective, and rules are made to be broken. Nothing in this guide should be taken as a hard and fast rule to be followed, but rather as advice against issues that I personally see pop up in designs time and time again (and have been seeing since back in 2011). Take this entire resource with a grain or two of salt.

    The following excuses might irritate me, but I hear them pretty often. So here's my response to them.
    • "I'm only designing my UTAU for me!" While that's a nice thought, in the end, almost everyone wants to be looked upon favorably by the community if they're sharing their work. There's no harm in admitting that and even embracing it.
    • "I'll never show my UTAU to a Japanese user, so why does it matter if my Japanese name is bad?" Because 1) a lot of people in the overseas community also know some Japanese and 2) I'm trying to help the community at large, as well.
    • "But all the popular UTAU follow Vocaloid trends!" It's a legacy thing, like I explained, and wasn't even a "good thing" back then -- just more expected and acceptable. Newer UTAU have no excuse.
    • "Only the voice matters anyway, so who cares?!" Zeny put it better than me: as humans, we attach ourselves to a face and identify with characters. We are interested in what we can see; a strong visual will catch our eye and can make us investigate a voice we wouldn't have otherwise.
    • "But I made this character a long time ago and don't want to change their name!" I'm not telling you you have to change it, as I said. Make your own decisions and choose what consequences you wish to deal with.
    • "What about this Joke UTAU?!" It's a Joke UTAU. Rules hold no power over it; in fact, I encourage you to break as many as possible.
    And with that said, I hope this helped you out a bit. Feel free to send me suggestions on new tips and tricks or how to improve current ones if you like!
    KYO.LOID, kimchi-tan, Piia and 10 others like this.