Friday, October 09, 2009

The Bigloaf Variations

There are a handful of cartoon writer stereotypes that come from different backgrounds:

1) Soccer Mom
2) Groundling
3) Relative of executive
4) Comic Book Writer

Did I miss any?

Bobby Bigloaf is a nerdy kid who longs some day to become a comic book writer (and then transfer over to the more lucrative business of writing cartoons). Just about all comic book writers wish they could draw but give up after finding that God didn't grant them the gift and instead choose to tell the artists what to draw.Bobby reads comic books voraciously (like I did when I was a kid). He tries scribbling his own versions of all his favorite characters in underpants, but gives up and instead dreams of becoming the writer of underpants stories, a much simpler goal. He writes letters to the editors of all the comics and sissies up to them. When he grows up he will attain the comic book-writers' #1 visual symbol - scalp disease.Bobby is a real Momma's Boy and his mother is always worried that he will hurt himself or catch cold (especially on sunny warm days), so dresses him in protective gear every day before sending him off to the neighborhood bullies.

Slab 'N' Ernie love to beat up little nerds because that's what they are genetically disposed to do. It's all part of the childhood neighborhood ecosystem. It's God's plan. There's no point in getting mad at them for it. At least they don't listen to Horror Core.

Now to the real point of the post: Character Design Variations
When I design a character, I do it by feel. I try to make the design match the personality of the character, but I don't tie it down to the point where all the proportions are exactly measured.


Instead, I design a general structure that can be modified somewhat - as long as it follows the adjectives that describe him.

Bobby is fat - but a certain kind of fat. Soft fat wrapped in tight skin.
His head is overall 2 clumps of fat that aim up into a rounded point.
His cranium is smaller than his cheek area.
His nose is long and points up at an angle.
He wears thick coke-bottle lensed glasses that are held together with medicine tape.
He has freckles on his cheeks, elbows, ass and knees.
His upper lip is high up on his face, leaving a longer fat chin area.
He wears a clean white shirt with a pocket protecter, shorts and rubber galoshes over his shoes.

OK - that's about as far as words can describe him. You wouldn't then try to describe each structural element of him in terms of exact angles and ratios relative to each other:

His nose is on a 45% angle and is as tall as his eyebrows, etc...
Model sheets at most studios (at least today) try to tie down the exact proportions of a character, even while having a generic design that has been used many times before. You are not allowed to vary the proportions or design and that is called "on-model". All the fun police at studios and networks love their on-model rule.

I don't believe in "on-model" to that extent. I believe in "generalized on-model". Does the drawing of the character match his general description? Do the expressions and poses match his personality? Can it be constantly varied and improved upon?This allows the artists a lot more freedom than they would get at a regular studio - but I am a stickler that it still looks like the character - you don't change the essence of the character, but you have some leeway to draw in your own style according to your moods.

Under these conditions...

As long as the specific drawings you do are:

1) good
2) funny
3) the expressions and pose are specific to the gag, the character, the emotion and the story
4) Look like the character to the audience and me - not to the production manager

This theory of mine caused me to have some really heated arguments with my favorite character designer Ed Benedict. Bill Hanna though obviously agreed with my approach because he used to call up his freelance animators and describe Ranger Smith to them over the phone.