Shapeshifter Default Form

Fuzzy: Uh... You could take your real form if you want. I mean, I'm cool with it.
Jess: This is my real form, dummy.
Fuzzy: But I thought...
Jess: That I'm a giant slug monster, right? That may be the packaging, dude, but this is who I am. You get the difference?
Fuzzy: So, like, you identify as a smoking hot babe?
Jess: Nah. The smoking hot part is just the shape-shifter bonus.

A Shapeshifter (or a Master of Disguise or Master of Illusion) can look like anyone, and sometimes anything. But most such characters will have a regular form that they usually appear in.

This is either because they like that particular appearance, because they need to present themselves in a consistent (or more normal) appearance for the sake of others, or it's simply because that's what they and/or their species normally looks like. It usually depends on how their particular style of Shapeshifting works.

For more practical reasons, this is just easier to draw. Or it's implemented so that a single actor can be cast in the role.

The only time this might be a problem is when a shapeshifter is an assassin or otherwise working in espionage. Their enemies have seen the face of the shapeshifter, yet they remain using that same appearance in everything. This is rarely addressed; it is assumed to be part of the Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

There are also variations regarding the nature of shapeshifting within the fiction itself. There might be mass displacement or other limitations.

Of course, in the real world an individual has many options, either superficial (clothing, cosmetics and jewelry) or intensive (plastic surgery and tattoos), to appear as their "preferred self-image." It certainly isn't unlikely that a shapeshifter would have the same desires.

There are usually two types of Default Forms:

  • True Form: The default shape is simply the shapeshifter's actual appearance. This is often the case if the character is a member of a shapeshifting species or if the shapeshifting has some limitation, like how long the character can be transformed.

  • Preferred Form: Their appearance is the form they like best. They may have a natural appearance that is completely alien or too bizarre (or just too expensive) to be practical for human interaction; such shifters often become humanlike in most cases. Oddly, few shapeshifters capable of this option seem to have the energy to go for their most powerful form as their Default.

Some shifters can use a combination of the two. Compare A Form You Are Comfortable With, Sleep Mode Size, Super Mode, Morphic Resonance, and (of course) This Was His True Form. Tends to go hand in hand with Coconut Superpowers.

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Examples of True Form:

    Anime and Manga 
  • Albireo Imma's artifact allows for shapeshifting to a wide variety of people, including Gateau Vanderburg, Takamichi and Asuna's teacher and Nagi Springfield. But the robed appearance is what he really looks like.
  • Due of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, though as a very effective assassin, the only enemies who've seen her default form don't live long enough to squeal about it. At least, until Zest proves to be too much for her and promptly kills her to avenge his friend, Regius.
  • Shippo from InuYasha is a true form (He is a fox demon who just transforms via magic) while Naraku is a classic preferred form example - Throughout the story, he is mostly seen in the form of a young man with long, curly dark hair which originally belonged to a young nobleman he once killed and impersonated. When the impersonating was done, however, he let a little of his demonic nature bleed through, like his red eyes. Later, after some major power-up, he uses a form with lots of spiky bone armor, tentacles and various misplaced eyes when confronting the heroes or doing other dastardly deeds, but is seen in his former, "normal" humanoid form when recovering or going about his daily life at his hideout. While the heroes have often theorized about what his possible true form could be like, it is ultimately revealed that he does not have any true form, or any true body for that matter, with the only thing that is truly his own being his soul, thus explaining why he just won't die no matter what the good guys do with him.
  • Mr 2 Bon Clay from One Piece can only use his most advanced techniques in his default form, because they require perfect knowledge of his body's strengths and limits.
    • Most users of Zoan fruits typically use the human form as their default form... because it is a default form from before they gained their powers, after all. True form either way. Chopper is the only one pulling off a preferred form, using his hybrid form as a default form. He even reverts to it when losing control of his powers for some reason, despite others becoming their original form in such circumstances.
  • The Mazoku of Slayers are preferred forms. They can appear to be anyone or anything they wish to, they just have 'default' human forms so that they can be recognized by people they want to be recognized by. On one occasion a Mazoku took the form of the default form of another Mazoku to act as bait for Lina and co, who were trying to track the other Mazoku.
  • While Oolong and Puar of Dragon Ball can assume any shape they want, their default forms are a short, anthropomorphic pig and a strange creature that looks like a fusion between a cat and a bat respectively.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Envy has both a true form and preferred form. Its preferred form form manifests as an androgynous teenager with hair done in long spikes. As for his true form form, Envy has two true forms. The first is an elephant-sized, six-legged...thing covered in the screaming faces of the souls imprisoned in its Philosopher's Stone. The second and real true form is hidden with that: An almost embryonic version of its larger form which uses the mass provided by human bodies to shapeshift.
    • In the 2003 anime version, his true form is different, and is instead revealed to be the dead son of Hohenheim and Dante. He despises his resemblance to the father who was never there for him and so only assumes the form once before transforming into a giant snake.

    Comic Books 
  • Mystique of the X-Men. Interestingly done in X2: X-Men United, where Rebecca Romijn played Mystique in disguise — sans makeup. From X-Men 3, it seemed like the X2 no-makeup appearance would be her normal human appearance, except with dark hair.
    • In X-Men: First Class, Mystique could almost be considered to be true form and preferred form. Her original form is the blue skin and red hair we all know and love, but she spends most of her time as Jennifer Lawrence, much like Rebecca Romijn sans makeup in X2. The fact that, like Clayface, she has to continually put effort into shifting, coupled with the final abandonment of her "regular human" disguise tips her into true form by the movie's end.
    • She basically has 2 default forms. Blue-Skinned when her mutant powers are working, and normal human when de-powered.
  • Clayface from Batman. Batman: The Animated Series explained that shapeshifting is an acquired skill, or "muscle tensing," so he can't just constantly be in another form.
  • The Marvel Universe has the Skrull, who often hang around in their normal forms even when there's no real reason to do so.
    • The Skrulls believe they are superior to all other forms of life, a very good psychological reason to assume their natural forms whenever possible, much like the way someone who has to wear a uniform they consider demeaning for their job probably takes it off in their spare time.
  • Martian Manhunter from The DCU. The familiar alien "superhero" form in the comics is actually a slightly more human-like version of his true appearance, which is kind of playing with this trope.
  • Courier, a shapeshifter who most often appeared in the pages of Gambit's solo series, is an interesting twist on this. Courier's default form started off as a man, but after being melted (while impersonating a woman) and reconstituted by Mister Sinister, became a woman permanently.
  • When he's not fighting, flying, or impersonating more famous superheroes, Hulkling of the Young Avengers looks like an ordinary sixteen-year-old boy.
  • All the Endless in The Sandman can change their looks at will, but they all have default appearances they stick to when they're among other immortals. Morpheus usually looks tall, thin and pale, with messy dark hair, but he occasionally shows up in other forms appropriate to the person he's talking to — for instance, when visiting the dream of a cat, he looks like a cat.
    • Or, when seen by the Martian Manhunter in the first volume, as Lord L'zoril, a giant flaming head. Considering that the Martians' weakness was fire, nightmares must have been common.
    • Death's favorite form is that of a perky goth girl. She even appeared (briefly) in this form in a story set in ancient Greece, when her nephew Orpheus visited her in her home (which initially appeared as a slightly cluttered late-20th century apartment). The sight disturbed Orpheus so much that she promptly changed herself and her home into a form he was more comfortable with.
  • Beast Boy in Teen Titans, when not in animal form, generally takes his natural form, a human male (albeit one with green skin).

    Fan Works 
  • In With Strings Attached, George's default form is sort of true form: his 21-year-old body with any changes he might have made to himself, like a new hairstyle. However, since he has no time limit or stress in other forms, he will cheerfully stay other things as long as he feels like it.

  • Played against in Larry Niven's What Good is a Glass Dagger?, wherein the true form of werewolves is the wolf form, not the human form.
  • In Octavia Butler's Wild Seed, the character Anyanwu takes on different identities when moving from place to place, and is able to change her race, gender, and even her species. In private or with someone who knows her secret, she reverts to the form of a beautiful, petite twenty-year-old African woman. This is the original body she had before her mutant abilities first developed.
  • All users of Andalite morphing technology in Animorphs have a default form which they must revert to if they wish to take on a new animal form. There is also a time limit to how long one can remain morphed; exceeding this time limit results in Shapeshifter Mode Lock that not even reapplication of the morphing tech can fix. Tobias falls victim to this early in the series, becoming trapped as a red-tailed hawk; later in the series he regains his ability to morph thanks to the Ellimist, but now has the hawk as his default form.
  • Given a twist in Tais Teng's SF short story "Gekleed in Twijfelachtig Vlees" ("Dressed in Doubtful Flesh"). Problem solver Percy d'Arezzo (y Mac Shimonoseki) is hired by a shapeshifter who has forgotten his true form. Percy proceeds to take litmus tests for a baffling gallery of shapeshifter species in an attempt to solve the problem by elimination.
  • In The Bartimaeus Trilogy, spirits are described as having both a true form and a preferred form. All demons have a default form, but they generally do not assume it on the mortal plane because they look slightly repellent (hell, even some spirits prefer not to see each otherís true forms). Instead, most spirits generally refer back to a form most humans are comfortable with, which is usually the form they took when they were first summoned. Which doesnít mean it canít still be scary.
  • The Were Hunters in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series can change into a specific animal.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Kull story "The Shadow Kingdom" the Master of Illusion Snakemen are really reptilian headed men.
  • Boggarts in Harry Potter are rumored to have a true form, except nobody knows what their true form actually looks like; the instant a Boggart is spotted, it immediately transforms itself into something else.
    • The only person who does know, is Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, as he was able to see inside a dresser one was hiding in, thanks to his magic eye. Sadly, he doesn't say what it looks like.
    • Tonks, a Metamorphmagus, is also a mild true form example. It appears that she changes her hair dramatically for day to day wear, but rarely changes the shape of her face or her eyes, which is how Harry consistently identifies her.
  • In Consider Phlebas, Horza, a member of shape-shifting race of alien mercenaries, spies, and assassins averts this trope pretty hard. When he's picked up by a salvage ship after being left adrift in space, he immediately begins modeling his form on the hulking Jerk Ass captain (he had been in the form of an old man from his last assignment) anticipating the need to kill and replace the man down the line, which would be easier if he already had the body copied and then could just change his face when the time was right. He does revert to a true form after dying, but a disturbing dream sequence earlier in the novel suggests that he might not have even recognized that face in the mirror (he may have been a different member of the same race who lost himself in impersonating Horza for an assignment a long time ago
  • In Mistborn, the true form of the shapeshifting Kandra race is a big blob of tissue that essentially resembles a giant amoeba. They very rarely use this form, however, since in order to take the shape of someone or something a Kandra first has to ingest the one thing they can't turn into- a rigid skeleton. There's some crossover with preferred form, since although Kandra normally use the bones of whatever individual they're replicating, among themselves they use artificial skeletons called True Bodies that set a preferred shape for that Kandra, and are often fanfically inhuman.
  • Galaxy of Fear has two Shi'ido, alien shapeshifters. Their default Shi'ido forms are gray-skinned and humanoid but with unusually long fingers. Young Shi'ido are born looking like this. The villainous Shi'ido spends more of his screen time in other forms, the heroic one usually looks like himself and explains in The Brain Spiders that having his own form and identity is important because otherwise he could lose himself.
  • While the titular Eldritch Abomination in Stephen King's It has a Preferred Form it often takes among humans (a Monster Clown, see below under Preferred Form), It also has a True Form, a giant cosmic spider which is connected to something called the Deadlights. While the spider form is implied to be something of A Form You Are Comfortable With (not that it's particularly comfortable) because You Cannot Grasp the True Form, it IS the only form that can actually be killed and the form It reverts to when hurt, so it fits the spirit of the trope.
  • Shapeshifters of Monster Hunter International look like human form bread dough with glazed eyes. But they do have some kind of internal skeleton.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek: The Original Series episode ''Whom Gods Destroy". Lord Garth is a human being who learned the ability to shapechange. His default shape is his original (human) body.
    • On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Odo is a shape shifter whose natural form is a gelatinous liquid that he must revert to every 18 hours. Others of his species (usually referred to as the Changelings or the Founders) have the same natural form, though the need to revert to it is implied (and was stated by Word of God) to be limited to Changelings inexperienced with their shapeshifting abilities, such as Odo. Indeed, most Changelings live as a vast sea on their homeworld.
  • Supernatural: The Trickster, although he's been shown to be able to assume other forms (Doctor Sexy, the guy he dropped in a wormhole) tends to stick with the one played by Richard Speight Jr. That form actually consisted of the entirety of his first appearance, sans wardrobe changes. As he's actually the Archangel Gabriel it's not explained his default form is the visage of his vessel, as all other angels require. It's certainly not his actual true form, as an unmasked angel is an eye-burning, ear-splitting Brown Note.
    • In the first season, episode six centers around a shapeshifter who changes into the shape of civilians in order to murder and torture their family members so that the people he imitates get arrested for the crimes. While we never see his true shape (although we see a blurry version while he is shedding the skin of a civilian), when disguised as Dean he tells Becky that "he" thinks the shapeshifter is simply a very ugly human who evolved to have the skin-changing ability. However, this is neither proved nor disproved in the rest of the episode.
  • The X-Files: the Alien Bounty Hunter first appeared in "Colony" in the form of a Russian pilot played by Brian Thompson. While he could take on any form, he most often seen in the appearance of the pilot. It wasn't until "The Unnatural" that his true form was revealed to be that of a Grey alien and that he was using his current human template as far back as 1947... long before the events of "Colony". It was further revealed that there may have been more than one ABH but that they all had the same 'default' appearance since Mulder saw a number of Greys after being abducted and they all bore the same human form.
  • Space: 1999: The second season featured a new regular character Maya, who was able to transform into any lifeform for up to an hour


    Tabletop Games 
  • In Exalted, each Lunar has three "default" forms: their original human form, their totem animal, and their Divine Beast Transformation. When their Anima Banner reaches a certain level, they are restricted to these three forms.
    • Their patron, Luna, is an odd case; all forms are said to be "true" to her (so long as they were never beings that equalled her in power), but her central identity is evoked by a specific form (a humanoid feminine figure in a night sky-coloured cloak), albeit one whose face is constantly shifting through endless appearances.
  • The vast majority of shapeshifting creatures and classes in Dungeons & Dragons follow this trope, like the Dragons, Doppelgangers and Changelings. In the case of the changelings of Eberron, one of the three philosophy (the Reality Seekers) are based on this. They remain in their natural forms most of the time. Changelings are particularly unusual in that, unlike their Doppelganger counterparts/ancestors/relatives, they actually have not only a default form, but a default gender as well; changelings are born genderless, become male or female early on in life, and don't gain the ability to assume the opposite gender until adolescence.
  • Tzeentch's Changeling subverts this, as it doesn't even remember what its original form looks like. Tzeentch knows, of course, but he's not telling...
  • Although most are represented in the process of mimicking a creature, many shapeshifters in Magic: The Gathering are shown as an inform mass of goo.

    Video Games 
  • Jenova from Final Fantasy VII has two. When it was first uncovered from a 2000-year-old tomb, it resembled a white-haired woman. It remains stuck in this shape (sans a few body parts) after being put in a holding tank and later frozen. Jenova mostly appears like this in flashbacks; for the majority of the game, it is disguised as Sephiroth.
  • Druids in Warcraft, although some have been shown to have given in to feral instincts after staying in one form for too long.
  • Fire Emblem Has Manaketes, who are basically humans with wings (and even that depends on which game you're playing). They need special stones to access their dragon forms.
    • Xane is a Chameleon class unit who can transform into another unit but reverts to his default form after five turns.
  • In Sonic Heroes, after Metal Sonic captures Chaos's data and becomes liquid metal a la the Terminator, he chooses to take on a larger, spikier, eviler-looking form based on his original form. When he's defeated though, he reverts to his very first form.
  • Doopliss in Paper Mario 2 has his default form he reverts to when defeated or not transformed into something else (which looks like a Bedsheet Ghost with party hat), as do possibly the Duplighosts in Paper Mario 1 and Mimi in Super Paper Mario.
  • Touhou 12's Extra boss Nue Houjuu is a Master of Illusion youkai who exploits the fear of her true form. Her true form is better described as a Japanese teenager with messy crow black hair and strange wings. She is also known as the energy ball midboss in Stage 4 and 6.
  • It's debatable whether Alex Mercer of Prototype would be considered a true form or preferred form form of this trope. He does use his appearance before being infected as a default form, however it's later revealed that he's not actually the "real" Mercer, but The Virus itself after consuming Mercer and assuming his shape and memories. So the player-controlled Mercer never really had a original form to begin with; the closest we see is either his black and red tendrils or the brilliant red goop the virus was while inert in its vial.

  • Myan's real form in Cat Nine is well, a cat. Since her collar's the one who allows her to transform, she'll revert back to a cat if it gets taken off.
  • For El Goonish Shive shapeshifters this seems to be the main way they're shown. The default forms are also said to be most powerful. Raven is shapeshifted most of the time, but returns to his real face when fighting and later uses an illusion for disguise when he expects to need all his power. There may be some debate as to which one is the actual default/normal form for Grace: human/squirrel with Cute Little Fangs is seen more often than the three-tailed spiked squirrel of death mode, as the traits of her strongest parent species are said to be inactive. They also include ability to mix in acquired forms as well, thus after being turned into a half-hedgecat she sometimes adds hedgehog spines to hybrid forms as well.
  • Jymre from Hitmen For Destiny usually appears as human, but in his real form he is a weird-looking alien (see here).
  • April Fools' Day from Holiday Wars has a default form where he looks like a scruffy punk from the 80's.

    Western Animation 
  • Ben 10. His Phlebotinum only allows him to change form for a set period of time, afterward he changes back into his normal form. In the future of "Ben 10,000," he unlocked the master code removing the timelimit, and he instead chose the really fast XLR8 as his default form because he'd basically decided to never stop working. His younger self showed him that he should change back to human occasionally.
    • In Ben 10: Ultimate Alien episode "Ben 10,000 Returns", Ben's Future Self has unlocked the humans ultimate form, meaning he can stay human, but use the powers of all the aliens.
  • Master shapeshifter Amorpho from Danny Phantom is really a faceless ghost in a black trenchcoat/hat.
  • In The Fairly OddParents, nearly all of the magical creatures have true form Default Shapes.
  • In Futurama, Alkazar courts Leela and other aliens by shapeshifting to resemble a male of their species. When Fry and Bender blow Alkazar's cover, Leela and his other wives beat him up until he reveals his true form: a 3-foot alien cricket.
  • Hades' minions Pain and Panic from Hercules can assume any shape and voice they wish. Their default forms are a fat pink demon and a skinny blue demon respectively.
  • Teen Titans
  • The villain of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic's Season 2 finale is Chrysalis, Queen of the Changelings, who dramatically reveals her true form (the same general shape as an alicorn pony, but with hole-punched legs and various insectoid characterstics like dark, chitinous skin, antennae, and a set of transparent, fluttering wings) once she is outed as an imposter. The rest of her invading army have a similar default appearance.
  • Jake from Adventure Time defaults to the form of a large (roughly half human-sized) bipedal dog. His powers have severe limitations: he can't change his surface coloration, he appears to need to retain eyes, nose, mouth, and ears, and he occasionally mentions having internal organs which can be rearranged but not done away with altogether. He's something of a halfway point between a Voluntary Shapeshifter and a Rubber Man.

Examples of Preferred Form:

    Anime and Manga 
  • Envy of Fullmetal Alchemist. His/her default form is rather conspicuous looking, with rather feminine attire and unusual hair that resembles the leaves of a palm tree. However he/she chooses to keep this form because he thinks it's cute. This is not his/her real form, which is what could best be called a corpse dragon, though he has a "truer" form if all the aforementioned "corpses" are destroyed. It's a tiny slug/leech-like thing with big eyes.
    • In the 2003 anime version, he keeps the same Default form, but his true form is instead an adult human male, namely Hohenheim's son with Dante.
  • In InuYasha, when we first hear about Naraku, it's like shapeshifting was going to be a significant part of his arsenal, and it was how he'd gotten the drop on Miroku's grandpa. However, within the series, his mask is always worn until he takes on the form of a certain feudal lord, impersonating him for that two-parter... and from then on, that's the face he always has, whatever he may be doing with the rest of his body. The idea of turning into one of the cast and kindly asking whoever has the jewel shards if he might hold them for a moment never seems to occur to him.
    • Probably because of the five main cast members, at least two could sense that he was a demon and at least one could tell they smelled different.
  • The Tower Guardians from Bizenghast are a combination of both types, since both their animal-like form and their human form are their real forms. They are put in with preferred form because they spend the most time in whichever form they like best, with Edaniel liking his animal form and Edrear preferring his human form.
  • Chopper from One Piece, whom is a Zoan-type Devil Fruit user, mostly stays in his reindeer-human hybrid form, which he calls "Brain Point", as it is the form he does his best thinking in. It's also his cutest form.
  • Alucard from Hellsing. He states multiple times throughout the series that "My form is of no concern to me", or anything along those lines. Basically, he doesn't care what he looks like, just that he needs an appearance.

    Comic Books 
  • Xavin, a Skrull in Runaways, was originally sexless, but when (s)he began a lesbian relationship, his/her female human form became the default. Though like all Skrulls, (s)he will revert to skrull form if rendered unconscious.
    • Karolina later determined that Xavin's "true" self was the female body s/he reverted to when they were being romantic, because that was the form Xavin took when s/he temporarily stopped focusing on her physical form while arguing with Karolina.
  • M'gann M'orzz, the DCU's Miss Martian. Her preferred default is the green-skinned redhead usually seen in the comics, with her true form being one of the monstrous White Martians.
    • Some comics have suggested that the real difference between Green and White Martians is purely psychological. Green Martians are peaceful, philosophical types, so they adopt a non-threatening form. White Martians are savage warriors so they adopt a more monstrous form. Theoretically a White Martian who defected to the Green camp would naturally adopt the true form of a Green Martian (and vice-versa) but this has never been demonstrated in the comics.

    Fan Works 
  • The Pony POV Series has Loneliness, Trixie's Enemy Within. During Twilight Sparkle's trip into Trixie's mind, Loneliness takes multiple forms, but her most commonly used one is Morgan Trixie's mother. There is no indication that this, or any of the other forms she takes, are her true appearance.
    • In Shining Armor's side story, Reznov's story of Makarov suggests "Makarov" is simply this for something called the Shadow of Chernobull that a Hooviet experiment accidentally released from Pandora's Box (the Draconequus, not the myth) who took on the role of the Super Soldier the Hooviets had tried to create.
  • Atlas Strongest Tournament: Aurelia seems to prefer Scootaloo's form as a disguise. In fact, she keeps using it even after the changeling plot is uncovered, something Scootaloo herself lampshades.

  • The aliens (the ones in the silver jumpsuits) in Galaxy Quest were actually tentacled beasties, prompting an onlooker to exclaim "Oh, that's just WRONG!!" when one's tentacles become visible as she embraces and smooches a human crewmember. Their default forms were humans, with Vulcan-esque hair styles.
  • Jaclyn from Igor is usually seen in her "Dr. Schadenfreude's Girlfriend" guise, though she changes into other doctors' girlfriends, thanks to a set of shapeshifter pills. Her actual self is a hunchback.
  • In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Kirk and McCoy are aided in escaping from a prison asteroid by a chameloid, whose default appearance is that of the lovely Iman. When Kirk questions whether that's her true form, she responds "I thought I would assume a pleasing shape."
  • The Terminator franchise had the lanky Robert Patrick police officer T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and the supermodel Kristina Loken Terminatrix T-X in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Their true appearance is a liquid metal blob and an endo-skeletal robot, respectively. They also play with this trope with Ahnold, but with his voice, rather than his form. He can imitate anyone's voice, but most of his lines are said in a thick Austrian accent. Catherine Weaver of The Sarah Connor Chronicles spends most of her time in a form played by Shirley Manson. She's also pretending to actually be the person whose form she's wearing, so she would retain that one.
  • Loki of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is revealed in Thor to be unknowingly using his illusion powers to create a glamour that hides his true form- a blue-skinned Frost Giant. Since Loki thinks of himself as Asgardian and hates his true species, he keeps the glamour on afterward.
  • Freddy Krueger of A Nightmare on Elm Street is an accomplished shapeshifter in the dream world, regularly appearing as other people, mechanical devices, and a host of other forms. While he can look however he wants, as a nightmare ghost he prefers to appear as his post-death burnt self, probably to scare his victims. His true form in the real world are his skeletal remains, but it remains to be seen if he even has a true specteral form.

  • The titular djinni of The Bartimaeus Trilogy is a shapeshifter, but his preferred form is that of his former master, Ptolemy. He takes the form as a way of remembering his old friend, and as a mark of respect. It's also noted that his shapeshifting has a very strong Egyptian bent in general (Ptolemy was Egyptian, just to be clear). For example, if he becomes a cat, its a desert cat. If he needs to be an insect, it's a scarab beetle.
    • Other spirits also have a few regular fallback forms—Faquarl favors the form of a chef, for example.
  • Sang-drax of The Death Gate Cycle usually appears as either an elf lord (when he wants to be charming) or a giant snake (when he wants to be Nightmare Fuel). Neither is his true form, but the snake is implied to be the closest he can get to it without breaking the brain of whoever he's talking to.
  • In the Garrett, P.I. novels, shapeshifters fall under preferred form. It's mentioned that one of the unnamed shifters takes on the looks of a soldier he fought with during the war, several decades before the current story and a few months before the entire group of shapeshifters pull a Face-Heel Turn.
  • The eponymous Eldritch Abomination from the Stephen King novel It takes many forms within the course of the story (usually the worst fear of the person it's antagonizing at the time), but its favorite form is that of a Monster Clown with balloons called Pennywise.
  • In Paranormalcy, Lend's true form basically a water being, however his default form is a teenage boy, in order for him to go to school like a normal person.
  • The Gys-Voolbeerah of the Perry Rhodan universe were an interesting case of this due to having actually forgotten the original form of their species. As a result, an individual's 'default' form was generally what they felt comfortable with at the time, often inspired by past impersonations.
  • The aliens from Roswell High would be this type. Although, they do seem to have an automatic human shape as a kind of default adaptation.
  • The Valar and Maiar of J. R. R. Tolkien's Silmarillion (in particular Morgoth and Sauron) lose their ability to walk around as "unclothed spirits" if they invest too much energy in a form. In the latter case, they assumed human form, tall dark and terrible and after being wounded or killed off too many times, lost the ability to shapeshift into a pleasing appearance.
  • In the 15th Dresden Files novel, Skin Game, the character Goodman Grey is defined as a shape shifter in practically his first mention in the book. Grey's appearance is that of a standard suit for most of the action, and it seems as though he is very comfortable in this form. From what we learn later, however, this observation remains to be confirmed. Grey turns out to be a Naagloshi.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Frobisher in the Doctor Who Expanded Universe. He's a shapeshifter, but is usually in the form of a large talking penguin simply because he likes it.
  • In Heroes, Master of Illusion Candace is preferred form when she's knocked out, and true form when she's killed. Even though in the latter, another illusion that she'd cast disappeared. Good job, Internal Consistency guys.
    • Another character was capable of imitating other peoples' appearance; possibly that of anyone he came in contact with. We never got to learn how his ability worked or what he actually looked like before he got brain-fingerbanged, care of Sylar. Wait... Oh, Crap...
  • Odo of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Makes sense as he is an authority figure, but on the other hand not skilled at imitating humanoid faces, so he created his own "face" (he based his other features on the appearance of the scientist who first studied him). His true appearance is a jello-like blob.
    • Later, the Changelings are shown to use the same rough imitation of a humanoid face as their Shapeshifter Default Form even though they can mimic humans perfectly when they want to. This is probably because they never really had a solid default form, since their only interactions were with each other and the Vorta, who were genetically engineered to see them as gods no matter what they looked like. When they met Odo, they used this form to make him feel comfortable and eventually adopted it, since it was the only distinctive, recognizable form they had when dealing with the outside world...like, say, fighting a war.
      • Odo is a bit odd in that he can flawlessly impersonate anything else, such as a dog or a bird, but can't get a humanoid face right. He would disagree that he can do animals well, though, in the same way that artificial faces that are too human-like to humans fall into the Uncanny Valley. In one episode they meet up with an Odo who had an additional 200 years of practice and he was far better capable of creating a more realistic face.
    • Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He has a default human form with no real reason given, and he experimented with using another form on his second appearance, but he has little reason to change his default human form, as he wants to be recognized. One assumes that the Q don't even have a physical form, the closest we ever see is a diamond flash of light.
      • John de Lancie's Q once recognized another Q (played by Corbin Bernsen) in human form as the particular Q the latter was, and further recognized the Q who took the name "Quinn" on Voyager as who he was.
    • Likewise, the Allasomorphs in Next Generation hung around in humanlike forms while visiting the Enterprise; they are eventually revealed to be Energy Beings in their true forms.
  • In the original V miniseries, the alien invaders took on human form to disguise their true reptilian nature (as well as their intentions to cannibalize the human race). Oddly, the aliens continued to maintain their human appearance long after the jig was up. (It's possible the human suits had some sort of protective factor against the environment, but it also conveniently kept half the cast from having to don expensive alien makeup before shooting.)
  • In My Parents Are Aliens the aliens are capable of shapeshifting but spend most of their time in default human forms (if the intro sequence is to be believed then their true forms are some sort of green blobs). Interestingly, Sophie is not particularly good at morphing, and this was used as an excuse when her actress was changed in later seasons. She supposedly morphed into the new form offscreen and then got stuck that way, before eventually deciding that she preferred it.
  • Angel: The members of the Ra-Tet. Mesektet took on the form of a little girl.

    Tabletop RPGs 
  • In Eberron, the changeling philosophy of The Passer is based on this part of the trope: pick an identity from a common race and stick to it, never letting anyone find out your true race, and essentially turning your back on your kind to become a member of your new race.
  • Changelings in Rifts have a true form default form, but since they are usually so hated they never use it when they can help it. Every Changeling NPC described in a Sourcebook has a "Favorite" form they use for an unofficial default when around friends.
  • Justifed Trope with Changeling, a Mutantsand Masterminds NPC, a Grue from an alternate universe where the Grue race is far more friendly then the basic universe. She takes the form of a blonde human, because of the Alterniteens telling the alternate universe Grue race that the other Grue are bad.

  • BIONICLE: Krahka. Her toy is actually a combination of all six Toa Metru toys, and is the final form she took in The Darkness Below. She has no known real form.
    • The Makuta, mainly because their real form is Pure Energy contained in armor.

    Video Games 
  • Decoy Octopus averts this slightly in Metal Gear Solid - and much more thoroughly in The Last Days Of FOXHOUND. In MGS, he's only ever seen 'in disguise', and the only way you know what he 'actually' looks like, is from an old photo from his personal file. In TLDOF, he's also almost always in disguise - usually as one of the other characters - and when he's transferred to the spiritual realm, he shows up as an invisible man in a trench coat, remarking that he doesn't actually think of himself as looking like anything.
    • Or was he never there to begin with?.
    • However, The last Days of Foxhound does use preferred forms for Decoy Octopus: when we first meet him he usually disguises himself as Ocelot, but after Liquid Snake takes a level in badass Octopus switches his default form to being Liquid.
  • Many dragons in Warcraft use a humanoid form (usually high elves) while interacting with mortal races. In World of Warcraft, players may meet a Bronze Dragon known as Chromie in her Gnome form in several locations, and it is not until the end of a high-level instance that she actually appears in dragon form, and even then only briefly. Krasus in the novel is a similar case, though he prefers his original form. Finally, the raid boss Nefarian is encountered several times in human form. In the real fight, he remains in his human form while setting a horde of dragonkin upon the raid before finally transforming into his real form.
  • Subverted with a minor character in City of Heroes, a shapeshifter working for the Malta group who is theorized to have forgotten what he originally looked like. (Of course, this was mostly so the developers could just use existing models to represent him.)
  • Mimi from Super Paper Mario has the default form of a green, blocky little girl. This is not her true form, which is some sort of horrible spider-monster-thing.
  • The protagonists of Mega Man ZX Advent are both true form and a variant of preferred form; their shapeshifting is linked to a Transformation Trinket, so their true form is what they are when they're not using it. The game itself, however, enforces the use of a specific powered form when entering cutscenes or speaking to NPCs.
  • Nyarlathotep in the Persona 2 duology appears as both Akinari Kashihara and Tatsuya Suou, mostly to troll his enemies.
  • Double from Skull Girls has a default form of a shapeless blob of body parts, which she flashes into throughout fights, and turns into after defeat. In cutscenes and pre-fight bows, she seems to prefer the appearance of a slightly pregnant looking nun with black irises.

  • Cassiel from Misfile usually uses her school-girl form on earth, even when it would make more sense to take a different form to avoid detection. The implication is that she is just too lazy or too unimaginative to come up with another one note .
  • Jess from Sam and Fuzzy is a ten-foot slug with shapeshifting. She spends most of her in the form of an attractive woman in her twenties, though she is capable of taking many different forms, including a "sexy dancing toaster" at one point.

    Western Animation 
  • Nergal Junior from Billy & Mandy usually takes the shape of a short boy with a washed-out complexion and black hair; the form of the first kid he approached and asked for friendship, but rejected him, causing him to attack in rage. His true form, which is never shown onscreen, is apparently unimaginably horrifying, so much so that he is extremely sensitive and self-conscious about it.
    • However, in a later episode, he takes on a grotesque, monstrous form several times to scare people. With its bumpy black skin, tentacles and other features which were shown in partial shots of his true form, this is arguably the first appearance of his actual form onscreen.
  • The Zeta Project (A robot built for infiltration could don virtually any holographic disguise, but always went for a dark haired man in a purple trench coat.)
    • This is actually explored in the first episode; Ro takes him to a fitting room and helps Zeta create a 'default' appearance designed to minimize suspicion. Before that, his default form was a middle-aged man wearing grey, or as Ro put it "Joe Robot".
  • In Gargoyles, all members of The Fair Folk are shapeshifters, but each has one form they prefer. Their true forms, however, are so obscure that Word of God is even they don't know the true form of their species.
  • Bertrand from Danny Phantom is really a green blobby ghost, but he frequents in his human form the most.
  • Inque from Batman Beyond had a slightly human-like "combat form" that had a white blot on a featureless face and her hands were barbed whips or some other weapon. When in a peaceful mood she would take on human features, which is assumed to be an approximation of her human appearance before the mutation serum was used on her, as she still has an oily look. Otherwise she looked just like a blob of ink.
  • In the South Park episode "Cancelled", an alien greets the boys in the form of Stan's father. He explains that this is A Form You Are Comfortable With but they think that's stupid because its reminiscent of Contact. When Najix takes its true form, they scream and quickly ask it to go change into something else. They then spend a few moments going through possible forms (including Santa Claus, Saddam Hussein, Don King, and Frank Sinatra) until they decide on a taco that craps ice cream.
    • Parodied in "Somethine Wall Mart Comes This Way", when the boys, trying to destroy the new Wall Mart, find a white haired man in a white suit who says he is the Wall Mart, and can take on many forms. He then puts on several hats to find A Form You Are Comfortable With, and when they destroy the 'heart of the Wall Mart' (a mirror), he says he will change into his true form... and rips off his mustache and jumps around.
  • In Young Justice, Miss Martian defaults to a green-skinned version of her civilian, human identity. It's eventually revealed that she developed it based on an old sitcom that she watched on Mars. "Image" also reveals that she's ashamed of her real form, which is a White Martian, not a Green one.
    • Beast Boy usually takes a form halfway between a human and a monkey, but this seems to be personal preference, since he turns into his normal human form (except for still being green) on one occasion.
    • At the end of the series it's revealed that Martian Manhunter's default form isn't his real form either since Green Martians are identical to White Martians except for the coloring.
  • Aku from Samurai Jack uses a towering and demonic but vaguely humanoid shape as his preferred form. His true form however is nothing more than a seething, amorphous black mass of pure evil. Literally.