Monday, December 9, 2013

The Heartaches

Some theories about design and style:

When designing characters for commercials I usually need to take a different approach than when I'm designing my own characters for my own stories.

Generally advertising agencies are conservative and really are not looking to have actual characters designed. Not characters in the sense that they have unique and specific personalities and specific features. When you draw truly specific - quite literally "character designs" many executive types will comment that they don't want any "ugly" characters. Specific means ugly to Soccer Moms. They really want an overall look or style rather than a set of unique designs. But everyone has to be cute and evenly proportioned.

So I designed these characters in the sort of generic 90s retro style that we started in the Ren and Stimpy commercials.

Where the design really comes into play is in the layouts and compositions of the scenes, not in the actual characters.

Another theory:

I don't believe that character design should be a separate specialty performed by an artist who doesn't do any of the production work. I find that the best results happen when either a layout artist, animator or director does the designs. Or all of the above. The first drawings at the top of the page are my initial character design. The smaller drawings below are frame grabs from the first commercial we did for Old Navy. Those drawings are combinations of my layouts with Chuck Gammage's animation poses. Character designs to me, are living evolving entities. They don't exist in their best form on model sheets created before the production starts.

They get better as they are forced into functional roles by storyboard artists, layout artists and animators. This can be tricky because when non-artists are in charge, they often want everything to stay generic or "on-model" which really limits the functionality, acting and range of the characters' personalities.

A model sheet created by a character designer before a production starts is merely an unproven theory. You really don't know if they work until you start moving them around and making them do things.

The poses on this sticker sheet below are a combination of theory poses drawn in the abstract and functional poses drawn for specific scenes within a storyboard.
My experience has taught me that the more you draw (and animate) stories with the characters the more the characters evolve in both design and personality - and in functionality. That's why it's best to have artists who are actually going to use the characters in a story context design the characters and not be married to their initial abstract model sheets. Designers should have to make their characters walk, talk and perform with each other in a story so that they know that their designs are actually workable.

When we did a second set of Old Navy commercials the designs got a little freerer. Then when I started developing the characters for a series concept and drew storyboards they became more lively again.
the Heartaches

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