Saturday, January 24, 2009

Character Design Workshop

Last night was the first part of a two week workshop with the extremely talented duo of character designers: Shane Prigmore and Shannon Tindle! Both of them are CalArts' alum(1999 I believe) and have worked on a diverse number of projects. All mediums too. Overall, the key emphasis was designing for performance--whether 2D, 3D, or stop-motion. Being able to capture the essence of a character--getting the whole story---within one drawing of that character. How a character's design will drive his/her movements. At the beginning of the night, this quote by Don Graham helps define what a character designer needs to do, "All we are doing in film, art, animation, etc. is trying to tell the viewer why the characters, sets, etc. are different than anything they've seen before." By answering the following questions you're on the right track towards a film that does set it apart from the rest of the pack--What's specific about this character? What kind of nuances fit his/her personality? What statements(both subtle and not) are you making? Basically not defaulting on a cliche idea. If you're stuck on how to answer these kinds of questions--research! Research keeps a design from becoming stale. Research helps you define what's inspiring you to bring this character to life. Also, embrace your limitations--the best outcomes usually come from constrictions! Simply stated, "limitations created the original three Star Wars, while a lack of limitations created Phantom Menace." Along with talking...the duo shared piles of artwork with us from various films that they've worked on, in particular Coraline. Absolutely beautiful work! They also shared some very entertaining stories about gag ideas that are in the actual film. Very excited to see this film--just about 2 weeks and it's out! Along with artwork, they brought along video clips to explain the concept of designing for performance:

First up was Daft Punk's Around the World:


Here they created the characters based on the instruments. Letting the sound drive the design. For example, the higher-pitch water sound inspired the 20's swimsuit girls..while the beating drum-line created the bandaged people(beatings=injuries=bandages).

Another design principle that came up was shape. Song of the South was one of the first examples. Brer Fox, Rabbit, and Bear are all based on their own unique shape(Triangle, circle, square). And how the characters were designed by animators so the characters' performance was always in mind. Keep an eye on the particular scene after Brer Fox grabs Brer Rabbit--absolutely brilliant work:



One of the Kings of character design for performance is Disney's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Not only are the main 3 characters(Ichabod, Katrina, and Brom) again based on key shapes(triangles, circles, and rounded squares), but each of them move in their own unique way!

Here's Katrina. I couldn't track down the English translation, but the animation/character itself doesn't need the vocals. Just see how unique she moves.



And then all 3 characters together as Brom and Ichabod fight for Katrina's affections---great little short. I recommend watching the entire thing(it's all over YouTube):


The lecture started to focus on CG and how design is still vital even in this medium. To start off, Bert's Physical was shared:


Now, while they're obviously not CG they are completely believable and entertaining without relying on 3D features like hundreds of facial controls, realistic hair/cloth, crazy cameras, etc. They are just going from profiles to front views! Just from relying on the timing, tilts of the heads, character driven moments, and vocals--these guys come to life!

Coming to CG---Finding Nemo is the 3D equivalent of puppets. Fish are just big blobs with a few flailing fins, and big faces. Not a lot of extra features to rely on. This following clip includes a lot of great scenes, but pay attention between 5:30-6:40...esp. 6:10-6:40:



Finally, the importance of "casting" a film. Both in animation and in live-action, casting is vital. In live-action it's all about who fits the part(both physically and verbally). In animation it's very close---the character designers and animators needs to physically fit the part while an actor fits verbally. It might be easier to understand after these two examples---

Polar Express...just really the first 40 seconds when the boy reacts to a HUGE train magically stopping at his house:


versus "A Christmas Story"--there are many many scenes from this film that are very memorable(leg lamp, the dogs at the end, etc). But for my family--it really has to be this part:


Both involve kids, but which one really considered the casting? Which one really acted the part well and really embodied a particular character? I probably don't need to answer that. Anyways, that's the first week. We are also doing a character design assignment for next week so until then I'll be attempting to design a couple of characters from the given assignment based on, "Oliver Twist." Can't wait to see what everyone does!