Thursday, 27 January 2011

Character Research

Knowing I want my character to be an adventurous, cheeky, and slightly insane young girl, I set to looking for examples of good character designs that share these traits from existed animated films to use as reference. The first of such that caught my interest was a character sheet of an early version of Penny from Disney's Bolt, as I really like the poses showing the different sides of her personality that we never really saw in the film. In particular I love the drawing of her on her hands and knees trying to study/pick something off the ground. It strikes me as very cat-like, almost as if she's waiting to pounce on her prey, and reminds me a lot of the times I used to play 'let's pretend' with my brothers as small children (we used to pretend we were lions and other big cats... You can blame the Lion King for that). I think it's a really lovely little nuance that I could add an extra dimension of depth to my character, especially since I really want to convey curiosity when she first finds the bottle.

Above is a character sheet for a character based on Gretel from the Hansel and Gretel fairy tail, seemingly done as a Disney training exercise since no actual animation has been produced around this story by them. What really struck me about tis design was the eyes, I love how wide and expressive they are without being boringly round... They're more like an over-exaggerated almond shape, reminding me somewhat of cat eyes... I also really like how well they work with the wide smile and squashed lower half of the face, though her body is too chubby for my tastes.

Next we have Coraline, perhaps my most prominent source of inspiration. As I mentioned in my earlier environmental concept post, I was strongly considering having my character's main colour as either yellow or orange in order to contrast and compliment the blue/purple sky, and it was this that reminded me of Coraline's yellow plastic raincoat she wears early in the film. Raincoats such as this are common apparel for young children playing outside in wet and windy seasons and easily recognised as a sign of youth and innocence (I certainly haven't worn anything so plasticy and brightly coloured since I was about 12), and considering my character will be outside in a storm, I think it's a good, practical outfit choice that can be easily related to, both by kids that still wear similar water-proofs and adults who either remember their own rain macs from their childhoods or dress their kids up in a similar fashion. Wellingtons are also an obvious choice to compliment the coat, though I may make them a different colour depending on how I colour everything else...

While searching for images of Coraline in her raincoat, I happened upon several very interesting concept illustrations of one of her earlier designs by Shane Prigmore. What struck me about these drawings is how they show a very different side to the Coraline shown to us in the film. Film Coraline is very moody and pessimistic, typical traits of a youngster having been uprooted from their homes and dumped in a new place they have no desire to be. The Coraline in these sketches, however, is clearly a very different girl. She's cheeky, playful, adventurous, inquisitive; always smiling and never letting anything get her down or stand in between her and discovering something new. Admittedly film Coraline becomes more like this as the movie progresses, but due to her story's dark and creepy nature, any innocence is soon lost and never really gets chance to shine with pure childish awe and excitement like she does in these drawings. It's the Coraline from these early concepts that feels like how I want my character to be, so hopefully I'll be able to draw from these expressions and poses to really give my character a soul of her own.

Another illustration by Pascal Campion, also showing a young girl in the iconic yellow raincoat and wellies. This girl, however, has brown her which I think works well with (and contrasts nicely against) the yellow. I think this brown hair would work much better than the blonde hair I was originally thinking, as I don't want the hair to blend in with the coat.

Ellie from Pixar's UP was another great source of inspiration, as she's the perfect example of quirky personified. She's a little girl who's let her imagination run away with her, and she's completely happy with that! Everyday is a new adventure, and she makes those adventures herself by always finding something new to explore. This si how I want my character to be: cheerful, fun-loving, determined to live everyday to te fullest... and just crazy enough that anything seems possible. I also absolutely love he scene where Ellie takes off her helmet and her hair poofs up with the static, it's an adorably funny scene that I can see working perfectly in context with the lightning in my story. Lightning is static electricity after all, so it would make sense for my character's hair to poof out if she gets shocked or actually succeeds in catching some.

I looked to the Scott Pilgrim comic books for ideas on how to draw my character's face in profile, as I always have trouble drawing noses and chins in profile exactly right... I didn't want them to be overly defined as kids have much rounder, undeveloped faces compared to adults, but at the same time I didn't want there to be no definition at all as that woud make her silhouette harder to read.

Lastly, going back to the cat influence idea, I spotted this character from the anime Yumekui Merry while searching for images through an anime blog. While I don't want my character to look anime style if I can help it, I really like the hat this girl is wearing... The two prongs remind me of cat ears and look really cute, as well as giving her head and interesting and defined shape. I also like how one 'ear' is almost always sticking up while the other is down... it gives a nice sense of balance and almost helps convey how she's feeling, much like how ears are often animated to show the emotions of animals. Another thing this made me consider is that if I'm going to be using a kite in my story, there needs to be wind to make it fly... Wind means my character's hair and clothes will have the be moving almost constantly, resulting in a lot of extra work and secondary animation. While I think it'll be worth it in the end if I can pull it off (it's unavoidable really unless I cut out the kite altogether, which I don't want to do), I could make things a lot easier for myself by giving my character a hat to prevent her hair blowing around as much as it would without one.

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