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How to Create Beautiful Characters in "Skyrim"

I love to explore the relationship between the fictional worlds we create for movies, books, games, etc. and the real world.

Beauty is completely subjective, so here are few things you can do to create a 'Skyrim' character that is beautiful to you.

Beauty is completely subjective, so here are few things you can do to create a 'Skyrim' character that is beautiful to you.

Skyrim and Character Customization

Arguably one of the best features of Bethesda's role-playing games is the amount of control they give you to customize your character's appearance. This tutorial will help you understand your own personal definition of beauty and what goes into creating good-looking characters.

It might seem surprising that I spend so much time on theory in this article instead of telling you where to set the sliders, but let's be honest: the sliders aren't the problem; what's preventing you from creating the characters you want is not the sliders or the presets, but a general lack of awareness of what constitutes beauty for you as an individual. With the right understanding and a bit of practice, you can make any Skyrim character much more attractive.

If You've Already Started Playing . . .

Have you already started playing but want to change how your character looks? If you are on PC, you can follow this guide to safely change your character: How to Change Your Appearance and Name. (Just don't try changing their race!)

Your character's appearance is an important element in establishing immersion in RPGs.

Your character's appearance is an important element in establishing immersion in RPGs.

Why Appearance Matters

Character customization is not a trivial feature in a role-playing game. In a linear game where you play as a character created by a writer and follow that character's progress, your bond is formed through the story. A good writer can help you identify with the character through sympathy, well-written dialogue, and commonly shared values.

In a role-playing game, where the developers allow you to create your own character and write your own story, they can't count on a writer to create your identification with any particular viewpoint. They have given up some (but not all) control over to you and your character.

You must learn to identify with your avatar, at least in part, by customizing your character's appearance. By being able to create the character you envision, you are able to take something from your imagination and place it in the world created by the developers. You participate in that world. This participation creates an instant bond of identification and is a primary means of immersion. If you have trouble creating exactly the kind of character that you want to create, it can cause a loss of immersion.

One of the characteristics that many people imagine their characters possessing is great physical beauty. Who doesn't want to be able to play a character who is not only physically or mentally superior to their ordinary selves, but also much better looking? If you have trouble creating beautiful characters in Skyrim, this guide will show you a few things that you can do to increase your ability to model the characters of your dreams. First off, here are a few tips and tricks.

Character Creation: Tips and Trips

Understanding beauty requires both observational skills and an understanding of theory, which will be discussed below. That's pretty much all you need in order to create more attractive characters. Nevertheless, here are a few practical tips that will help you get started:

  • Sliders: For a quick, easy, conventionally beautiful appearance, set all of the sliders controlling the shape and size of a feature to the middle and slide all of the textures to the left. This will give you a well-proportioned character with a good complexion. This can serve as a good template for making changes. You'll still have to pick an appealing nose, eyes and lips, but leaving all of your sliders in the middle will generally eliminate odd stretching. For some people, this will be enough. This works with all races.
This character uses the Nord 2 preset with sliders pushed to the middle.

This character uses the Nord 2 preset with sliders pushed to the middle.

  • Start Out Bald: Get rid of the hair. When you start creating your character, set the hairstyle to bald or shaved. This will allow you to focus on the features without being distracted by extraneous details. A good looking character will look good with any kind of hair, so don't worry about it before you have to.
  • Start With a Clean Face: For the same reason, get rid of the war paint, scars and make-up. Like hair, these elements will just distract you from your primary objective. Leave them until the end.
  • De-Emphasize Orc Features: Orcs are distinguished by their overemphasized jaws, noses and brows, so to make them 'more attractive' to humans, you want to tone those features down. For females, you want to offset their masculinity by giving them more delicate features. Most of the time, if you want to make a non-human face more attractive to you, as a human, make the features more human.
Orcs and Elves are best handled by minimizing the differences between their given features and human features.

Orcs and Elves are best handled by minimizing the differences between their given features and human features.

  • Decide on Human vs. Animal: For beast races, start by deciding whether you want something on the 'human' pole of the spectrum or the 'animal' pole. If you want a more human-looking character, eliminate exaggerated features. If you want a more animal-like character, exaggerate features. Drawing out the nose is usually a good way to make them more animal-like. The beast races (Argonians and Khajiit) are different enough from human faces that I can't really offer any good suggestions beyond that; whether or not a cat-person or lizard-person is 'beautiful' is highly subjective.
  • Be Particular With Elves: For elves, widen the face, shorten the chins and pick smaller eyes and noses. Elven faces tend to be long and thin with exaggerated features (big eyes, long noses) which account for their unique appearance. Elves and orcs present special problems because they are similar enough to humans that their unusual geometry can easily lead to the creation of ugly characters, but not different enough (like the beast races) to be left to whimsy. Honestly, these are the hardest races to 'get right' (though see my screenshots for a few examples of 'better' and 'worse'). The dark elves, in particular, are hard to make attractive owing to an undesirable emphasis on 'bags under the eyes'. (You can correct this with a mod on the Skyrim Nexus if they bother you. See the next section.)
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Some races have features that are difficult to modify. Male High Elves, for example, have pronounced chins and eyebrows. In cases like these, you have to build your character around existing limitations.

Some races have features that are difficult to modify. Male High Elves, for example, have pronounced chins and eyebrows. In cases like these, you have to build your character around existing limitations.

  • Don't Be Too Idealistic: Don't try to create that 'ideal face' on your first try. Take some time to get comfortable with the sliders.
  • Don't Be Afraid of Sharp Contrast: Don't be afraid to push the sliders to the extreme. Sometimes certain features only become well-defined when contrasted sharply with others.
  • Think About Race: Pick a race that provides the kind of presets you want. This really depends on which is more important to you: your race or your appearance. You can create a beautiful character in any race, but if there is a very specific look you are going for, you may want to choose the race that has the closest-matching preset. Nords tend to have very angular jaws, Imperials tend to have squarer jaws and Bretons tend to have very round features.
You can play to or play with racial stereotypes. With this character, I tried to do both: give her both a 'classic' Dark Elf feel and a unique look.

You can play to or play with racial stereotypes. With this character, I tried to do both: give her both a 'classic' Dark Elf feel and a unique look.

  • Pay Attention to Little Details: At the same time, beautiful faces are more often created in inches than miles. Once you have a general shape that you like, often all it takes to take a face from average to extraordinary is a large number of small tweaks.
  • Go Easy on Facial Cosmetics. When it comes to war paint and makeup, very often, less is more. Subtle tones tend to provide softer, more natural appearances. That doesn't mean there's never a time or place for bold colors, but they should be reserved for creating striking effects, not used as a way to make your character 'better looking'.
  • Step Away From Your Creation: Sometimes, in the heat of inspiration we lose our objectivity and a face that seems original and inspiring at the moment of creation is often too extreme for us to appreciate when we sit down to role-play the following day. Generally, if you wait a day after creating your character, you will have enough perspective to correct any over-exuberant choices you made. Obviously, this only works if you can edit your character later as PC users can. If you are on a console, I recommend you wait an hour before finalizing your character. Get up, do something else for a while and then go back to it. Even an hour can make a huge difference. If it seems like a hassle, just remember: you might be playing this character for hundreds of hours. One hour isn't going to kill you and will pay off handsomely. (Pun intended.)
Beauty is highly subjective. Don't let pop culture define it for you. My current character is beautiful, scars and all.

Beauty is highly subjective. Don't let pop culture define it for you. My current character is beautiful, scars and all.

The Subjectivity of Beauty

This might seem like strange advice, but an important place to start is getting to know your personal definition of beauty. Don't assume that you already know what you like. You may know who you think is attractive, but think about why you think they're attractive. Many people are much less consciously aware of what they find attractive than they think they are.

Pop culture promotes all sorts of stereotypes about physical beauty. Big eyes and full lips, for example, are often exaggerated in cartoons to denote female beauty. These features are, indeed, attractive on many women for many people; but do the people you find attractive actually possess these characteristics?

When I first started studying faces, I was surprised by how often my preconceptions (what I thought I thought was beautiful) failed to match my observations (what actually attracted my interest). As a teenager, I had always assumed that big eyes and full lips were what I found attractive in women, and that women who possessed these features would be more attractive to me. When I sat down and started comparing features I discovered, much to my surprise, that many of the women I found most attractive possessed neither of these features. In fact, many of them had smaller than average eyes and lips.

The point of this personal anecdote: If you don't know what you actually find attractive, you may be customizing your characters to match your preconceptions instead of your desires. This doesn't mean that these features are unattractive—the characters you make following your preconceptions will no doubt still be attractive to you—but they will lack that special quality that you associate with beauty and will fail to live up to your expectations.

Studying a wide range of faces will help you refine your understanding of what it means to be beautiful.

Studying a wide range of faces will help you refine your understanding of what it means to be beautiful.

How Do YOU Define Beauty?

To create a truly beautiful character, you must discover your own personal definition of beauty.

  1. Look at Pictures: The best way to do this is to find pictures of many different men or women that you find attractive and start taking notes. Try to get pictures that show them looking straight forward, profile views and three-quarter views.
  2. Pay Attention to the Frontal View: Study the shape of the head from the front. Is it round, square, rectangular, oval? Is the chin pointed or flat? How wide are their jaws? Does the jaw slope steeply from the chin to the base of the ear, or is it flat and square? Notice how the slope of the jaw from the side view affects the shape of the jaw from the front. A steep, sloping jaw will result in a more triangular appearance for the chin from the front.
  3. Notice the Cheekbones: What about the cheekbones? Are they high or low? Are they wide or narrow? Are they prominent or subdued? High cheekbones are another one of those cultural stereotypes. They are beautiful on many people, but there are many equally beautiful people who have rather undefined cheeks.
  4. Forehead Size Matters Too: Also, notice the size of the forehead. The forehead is one of those areas that no one notices unless something looks 'off.' Skyrim doesn't really give you any control over this, but is useful to know about.
  5. Don't Forget About Facial Features: Now, pay attention to facial features. Now that you've examined the broad, framing elements of the face, let's take a look at the features that tend to get the most notice: eyes, noses and mouths. (Skyrim doesn't give you any control over your ears, so we won't even go there.)
    • Eyes: Do the people you find attractive have large or small eyes? Do their eyes slant up or down as they approach the nose? How about as they approach the edge of the face? Are they spaced close together or far apart? Do they sit high, close to the brow, or low? Are they deep-set, or bulging?
    • Nose: What shape of the nose is most attractive to you? Is the bridge shallow or deep? Is it straight, curved or hooked? Is the nose long or short? Does it extend down close to the lips, or is it more petite? Is the tip of the nose rounded or pointy? Are the nostrils broad or narrow? Do they have a tilt? Noses are wonderfully complex shapes and a great source of interest in a face. Unfortunately, they are also very hard to get right. Skyrim doesn't give you a lot of control over specific features (not as much as Oblivion) but it is still good to know what you are looking for so you can find the best match from the available options.
    • Mouth/Lips: Mouths can be just as complex as noses. It's not as simple as just bigger or smaller. Lips come in a wide variety of shapes, so it's a good idea to take a careful look at the shapes that you like. Some lips are long and thin, others short and pouty. Very often, one lip hangs out farther than the other. One may be full while the other thin. Many have graceful curves but many are almost formless. The appearance of the lips in Skyrim is controlled by three sliders: Mouth Shape, Mouth Forward and Chin Forward, which controls the overbite/underbite. Like the nose, Skyrim doesn't give you a lot of control over the way your character's mouth appears, but understanding the different shapes will help you pick one that works.

Studying facial anatomy will help you identify the different features of an interesting face. Many of these features are customizable in the character creation screen in-game. The ones that aren't will at least tell you why you can't create a certain look that you're going for.

Note how different these profiles are. Studying profiles is a great way to lean how diverse beauty really is.

Note how different these profiles are. Studying profiles is a great way to lean how diverse beauty really is.

Balancing Features

One thing you will probably notice as you study these faces is that many of them have very different features. It might be hard for you to identify a single set of features that you like. You may find that one person you find attractive may have features in direct opposition to the features of another, equally attractive person. You may also find when you sit down to create your character that certain features, which you find attractive in isolation, don't work very well when combined together. (I refer to this affectionately as the 'Frankenstein effect'.)

The Nord 2 preset is generally considered one of the best presets in the game. You can see why!

The Nord 2 preset is generally considered one of the best presets in the game. You can see why!

This happens because every face is defined not only by the individual features that go into it, but by the balance or harmony that exists between them. If the balance is good, the face 'works' and is attractive to you. If it doesn't, the face fails to be attractive even though it may possess attractive features. That's part of the reason why different people find different people attractive. Fortunately, when creating your character, you only have to worry about pleasing one person: yourself.

How to Create a Well-Proportioned Face

  • Tweaking Features: If you think about the overall shape of a person's face as the canvas, you will find that you need to make the individual elements that you have selected as attractive work within the confines of this surface. Big eyes and big lips won't work together on a face that is the wrong shape—there simply won't be enough room and the face will look cartoony. The same thing can happen if you choose features that are too small. But combining two very different features, for example, very big eyes with very small lips, can result in equally odd results.
  • Finding a Balance: A certain harmony has to exist between these features. Choosing larger eyes, for example, may require that you choose slightly larger lips and a slightly larger nose to provide balance. However, depending on the size and shape of the head, you may find that this doesn't work, and you might have to scale the eyes down slightly to get a good result. (Skyrim doesn't let you scale the eyes--or many other features--directly like you could in Oblivion, unfortunately, so often your only choice is to choose different eyes.)

Balancing features is a very iterative activity. Every time you adjust something, you'll find that you have to adjust something else to accommodate it. Often, the only difference between an okay face and a beautiful face is a few small tweaks.