Friday, June 29, 2007

Developing a Character - Combining Proportions with Distinct Shapes

From Andre 7,000:

This character was already designed, but Joe Horn asked me to do some wacky versions of her for a music video.

A character is like a theme. You start with a general idea (which was already provided to us) and then you try variations.

This character was given to us by Joe Horn to do variations on.

Katie starts normal and cute to get used to the character.
I caricature her pose, by exagerrating the contrasts in her drawing. I also upped the wall-eyed Mary Blair effect.
Now Katie starts to break out and experiment with individual details and proportions.This drawing is chock full of distinct shapes and unusual- unusual means distinct by definition - proportions.

We use the term "Character design" pretty freely. The word design suggests that there are distinctions in the design even though much animation design is vague and indistinct. Animation has a tendency to be very conservative and to reuse shapes over and over again and in the same proportions.

This character came to us with the stock Preston Blair baby shapes and proportions-a big ball for a cranium and smaller pair of balls for cheeks and a pear for a body.

That left us with only the proportions and the details on the balls to play with.

Anyway when designing characters an artist who is truly a designer

1) searches for pleasing individual forms and shapes that look original and then

2) combines them in interesting proportions to try to make the design seem individual.

A designer should also be a caricaturist. A caricaturist looks for distinct shapes in real people and ditinct proportions and then makes them even more distinct than nature did.

You have to ignore your habits to be a good caricaturist. Instead of already knowing what things are supposed to look like, you open your eyes and really look, then put it down.

Marlo loves the myriad of individual shapes nature provides her with.

Katie Makes a Bumblebee Girl Shape:
And it inspires me to try some variations.

Adventurous types like to see how far they can go with distinctness, but of course this business is run by the vague-est most indistinct people on the planet and they always pull our stuff waaaaaay back until the characters are as vague and indistinct as the last 15 years worth of characters.

An interesting phemenon of all this is the concept of "Development Artist".
You know all those "Art Of" books the big companies put out? Filled with development sketches that the company never in a million years had any intention of actually using?

Why the heck do they spend so much money on developing interesting art to then throw it away and go back to the usual vagueness? That's a subject for another post, but lately they have figured out a use for it-to sell you the expensive books and make you wonder why the film didn't look like that.


Here's my "Fatty" version

Of course in a cartoon today, no one can actually be fat. They can only be slightly plump. If that!

Everything in cartoons today is just "slightly". Except for fur and hairs and pores.

Today's producers are real generous with gross surface details.


Franky said...

hmmm... 'tude.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Great drawings, useful commentary!

Andy J. Latham said...

Mustn't offend anyone John! (said with all the sarcasm I can muster up)

I want there to be fat people in cartoons. I want there to be ethnic people in cartoons. I want there to be gay people in cartoons. Whatever characteristics I have, I want to see them in the cartoons that I watch. I want to laugh at myself and to have others laugh too.
Visit Andy's Animation!

Ryan G. said...

These are great John! I think the 2-3 head height proportion works the best for cartoony characters.

Kali Fontecchio said...

I love how you and Katie play with the design so beautifully! I want more chubby characters!

And Marlo's caricature is dead-on, with slick lines and super sweetness packed into it! She's such a master!

Mike said...

Well things don't get too fat in American cartoons anyway, ( and Canadian too, I guess ).

But anyone that's seen The Triplets of Belleville knows its allowed in other countries.
I like the design work of the one with the big ass - its hilarious, as well as the one clicking his heels together.

Jeff Esterby said...

Yeah there is a remarkable amount of 'tude going on in these... I understand who you are doing it for and the fact that the characters were pre-designed with 'tude by someone else... but I would think it make your head boil to draw that.

Andy J. Latham said...

Belleville is how animation should be. Great looking characters of all different shapes and sizes, with very distinctive, and at times very subtle, animation.
Visit Andy's Animation!

Taco Wiz said...

That picture of Eddie freaking out over Tamika gave me a slight smile. This might seem like spam, but where can I find the original Goddamned George Liquor Show episodes online!? I want to see them all! I've only found two of them. Were there only two? Please tell me where I can find more! Also, since you occasionally post text-based George Liquor stories on your blog, why not do Ren and Stimpy stories?

Toon_Geek_Kitty said...

Oh ho dear readers, it seems John K has posted some more great 'tude drawings one his blog. Willikers! I didn't see this coming. :3

(And Tamika is the only cool character on that whole show.)

oh and that last comment made Eric Cartman feel good :3 congrats.

Mad Taylor said...

I like the stomach bounce that was sketched out...that would be really funny to see fully animated. A whole 2 minutes of a fat character's wobbly parts would be a neat short.

Marc K said...

I just did a Google search on Triplets of Belleville because you were all talking about it. Maybe I am just showing my ignorance here but what is wrong with the colour? It looks like someone took a piss on the cartoon!

Kelly Toon said...

John, I worked a season at the caricature booth at our fine local Six Flags (the one that's been in the news recently :/) It is indeed very tricky to really let go and be wild, while still making the person recognizable. The I had great oodles of fun doing it though and it taught me a lot.

The booth is no more, so I am back to airbrushing t-shirts. In my down time, I study the faces of people who walk by the shop for as long as I can see them (usually no more than 5 seconds), then try to capture their likeness. Excellent practice! Today I got tired of it after three pages so I found I could see my reflection in the counter top and practiced specific mouth shapes. In my most recent post, there is a page of a recent attempt to do some "nonspecific" expressions on a jackalope I like to draw. Don't know how well I succeeded, I'd love some feedback if you could ever spare a moment :)

Also, this post reminds me of a bunch of shirt designs I am revamping, aka "Thug Toons" The chubby girl here is very inspiring!

amir avni said...

Maan, it's hard to believe the last one is a specific caricature, but I've seen 'er!

I'm trying to be less conservative as well, Looking for that happy blend of wild and solid design.

Jordan said...

I say all the time how it doesn't make sense that we get to see "every pore" in characters like Shrek, etc.

Bugs Bunny feels more "real" to me than Shrek. When you interact with people in the real world, you don't look at every pore, every hair. That's just now how the human eye registers information..


Rafi animates said...


"Filled with development sketches that the company never in a million years had any intention of actually using?"

- my sentiments EXACTLY!

"Why the heck do they spend so much money on developing interesting art to then throw it away and go back to the usual vagueness?"

Wow, I've been ranting about that to all my friends for ages, getting really irrate. Animators I've spoken to about that tell me to get off my soap box - it's SO great to hear someone else make the same observations and find it BEYOND ridiculous. I can't wait for you to post more on that subject.

Jeff Read said...

I love her with junk in the trunk and a badonkadonk to make the boyz go crunk!

I too want to see more fat characters in cartoons. I want to see 'em wiggle when they dance, just like Milt Kahl did with those dwarfs!

David Germain said...

Ha Ha! I like Marlo's picture of you, John. She made you resemble Charles Nelson Reilly (who has sadly passsed on as of recently).

Yes, I enjoy doing caricatures as well. They are always a challenge, but it's a challenge I'm more than willing to meet. Some people maybe shy away from them because they think they're "being mean" or something like that. But, in many cases, caricture is a form of flattery. There's no need to get bent all out of shape about it.

Oh, by the way, have you seen my news? B)

baconbits said...

This isn't really about the post, but I was wondering what people thought of the program at VFS, I was thinking of attending next year.

Jim Rockford said...

That caricature of you by Marlo Meekins is incredible!
I like the wild exaggeration of your glasses the expressions and great colors.
Call me old fashioned but Im not really into the other cartoons,although I can appreciate what you did with what you had to work with,they tend to reflect todays pop culture trends...(which I personally dont care for),and as franky pointed out they all have the loathsome 'tude.

Marlo Meekins said...

Thanks for the plug, buddy.

thanks for the compliments Kali, i'm barely a master though! =)

Blaed said...

the last character I can remember who was really fat was Annebelle from Eek !the Cat. that was a big cat.

Timothy Merks said...

nice stuff. I like how you showed it takes time to get used to drawing a character before you can start to have fun with it.

Clinton said...

great lecture, John! I appreciate it!

Arschblog said...

Tamika is cool! I love the fatty version of her, the last picture is hilarious!

R. Banuelos said...

I like the fat ones. I hate that show, it's irritating.

I like the books that show all the good artwork, and I wondered about that same thing. I had a teacher who tried to explain why they couldn't use art like that. She explained that the "rough" drawings were for inspiration of the "real" drawings. She was not a very good teacher.

I thought the Incredibles did a good job of balancing the concept and finished look. Madagascar was also fairly true to the artwork, the movie sucked but had some talented people working on it.

I think most people who comment on this blog stay too attached to what John says sometimes, like 'tude.

Fco. de Borja said...


Jeff Read said...

The Incredibles was amazing. I got to see Ratatouille over the weekend and it was very well done as well, with many of the characters having lots of fun shapes to their heads and bodies. There were even a couple of nice fat characters (Auguste Gousteau the famous chef, and Emile the rat).

Jeff Read said...

What's wrong with disliking "'tude"? It's a ready-made stereotypical character trait, the opposite of good design. It has been ever since Zordon declared he needed "teenagers with attitudes" in order to create the bland, tedious Power Rangers, and probably well before then too.