Design considerations: Scarecrow

I found that I had a far more difficult time drawing the scarecrow than the crow; I'm not entirely sure why. I think it's mostly due to the fact that I don't 'know' him very well — I've not really spent enough time with him. It's one thing to know a character's personality but another matter entirely to truly understand what makes them tick. But, again, this is mostly shape experimentation — once I've got a feel for the shape of scarecrows I can begin trying to get inside his head and really work on bringing some life into him.

Just to clarify, obviously what I'm putting here is simply my own interpretation of the characters — I hope I don't come across as if I've totally dominated the design! I just thought it might be helpful to put these up and show how I approached the subject. :]

Again, I started just by looking very generally at some scarecrows. I really liked the one in the lower right corner; a great example of a simple but pretty refreshing take on the conventional scarecrow!

I toyed with the idea that maybe the scarecrow could look as if he was trying to be scary, perhaps by giving him long, thin and pointed fingers — perhaps they could even be made out of sticks?

Jazzy specified that the scarecrow should be tall and very thin to emphasize his clumsy nature — maybe we could give him big hands and feet to further suggest this? 

I was looking at some other tall, spindly characters as a point of reference —Jack Skellington in particular, as though he's a little different to what we're going for in terms of design his exaggeratedly thin limbs and a rather large, circular head are quite nice features for a scarecrow. I really liked how the eyes and mouth looked on Jack so I tried to incorporate something similar into some of the sketches.

I was mostly just experimenting with body language and more head designs here; I wondered how a naive and slightly nervous character might hold himself, I thought perhaps with his feet turned inwards, but he just ended up looking really timid and anxious. 

A stocky design for the crow might work quite nicely with a scrawny scarecrow — the combination of tall/thin and short/stocky characters is quite prevalent in a lot of children's animation. Many notable cartoon duos have massively contrasting body structures:

Radically different body structures in visual media where two or more main characters dominate the screen helps to create visual distinction and interest — strong silhouettes so that the characters remain recognisable in any given situation (at a distance, in the shadows, even in different costumes)

I thought this might be a nice idea to play around with and so experimented a little more with the idea of a short, fat crow:

I started trying to think more about character interaction at this stage — how the scarecrow might physically respond to the crow whenever it comes near him. Should it be outright terror, or is it more subtle? Is he merely uncomfortable around crows, or physically repulsed?

Was thinking about what sort of clothes he might wear and was slightly amused with the thought that, being a scarecrow, he just wore whatever leftover tat the owners had lying around — an outsized sweater, a lonely oven glove?

I'm going to focus more on actual scenarios and character interaction now, to try and really get to grips with the relationship and personalities of the two characters. Hopefully this will help me bring out more character in these drawings!

Design considerations: Crow

Well the pitch is over — let's not dwell on what did or didn't happen — I've been made producer as part of Group 7 with some most fabulous team mates, lead by our great director Jazzy. Our animation monkies executive animators are Sam (Bunce) and Jae (Hezhenyi). Very very pleased with this outcome and really excited to get started. If a bit nervous (what else is new?)

Jazzy's asked for us all to start sketching out some ideas in terms of character design and story progression, so that when time comes on Tuesday to begin scriptwriting we can cherry pick from everybody's work so that the final product is something that each of us feel we had a fair share of input on.

I've been scribbling both characters (the scarecrow and the crow), trying to come up with something interesting, and just figured I'd post up my progress (and the usual rambling reflection) so far.

The first stage in designing an interesting or strong character is, I feel, gaining an understanding of what it is that you're drawing. If your character is an anthropomorphic singing teapot, go and draw lots of teapots and start considering how you might anthropomorphise or physically characterise them! In this instance, the character's a crow, so I started on Google Images and started drawing a bunch of crows with varying success. Mostly none.

I had a great deal of difficulty in drawing the crows from reference. I can't simply sit down and copy what's in front of me — I find it very difficult to capture any sort of life that the original has if I don't understand why it's shaped like that or why it moves that way. As you can see from the drawings above I really wasn't into it — my crows looked more like seagulls!

So, for me, the next logical step was to take a look at some basic bird anatomy. I Googled a bunch of skeletons and a basic bird anatomy tutorial that explained the basic positions of limbs, construction of muscles etc. I don't feel there's a need to turn it into a biology lesson and learn the names of each underlying bone or muscle, but just knowing what's underneath the surface of what you're drawing — the construction and the basic mechanics — is amazingly helpful. 

As proof — look! My crows, I feel, improved noticeably almost instantly (except that one in the lower right corner — no idea what happened there). I'm certainly still no wildlife artist, but I feel that I understand where the legs were, the wings, why the back was that shape and why the head arcs like that. As a result the drawings came together much more easily. In cases where the subject is very dark in colour and you can't see a clear outline of the limbs, knowing that they're there and how they move allows you to make an informed estimation when drawing them. 

Enough self-centred bragging, on with the designs:

I now started considering how a crow's design might be simplified or caricatured. They have much larger beaks and very beady little eyes, so it made sense to try and exaggerate those features as part of the design. Jazzy said that the scarecrow should be tall and thin, so I thought it would be quite nice to have the crow short and stocky with a lot of rounded edges to create a bit of contrast. 

Still toying around with the short/round crow idea at this stage. I was playing around with constructing the body from different shapes to see how that would effect the silhouette and implied personality of the character. I think I was struggling a bit at this point — I find it tricky to portray the personality of a character without context. Static sketches like these always tend to be a bit lifeless and dull, but at this point I'm just trying to get a feel for how different shapes and bodies come across.

The other specification/suggestion Jazzy gave us for this crow is that she wanted it to be very subtly girlish, so that there was a kind of flirtatious implication between the two characters. Of course the first thought is always to just add eyelashes to it, but that tends to feel a bit shallow and too obvious. I messed around with the idea of adding rosy cheeks to it instead, which I thought might work quite nicely with the dark feathers?

More toying with body types. I'm really liking the idea of such a squat body with almost no limbs — I think it creates quite a nice silhouette and gives a lot of distinction to the character. 

I'm not terribly happy with the drawings I've done so far; they feel quite stiff and just generally lacking somewhere. I think that a lot of it is to do with context; as I said, I find it quite tricky to portray the character without it — I suppose these could just be seen as exercises to get going, to get a feel for shapes. I think the real character will start coming through and developing itself once we start building scenarios. 

Movement, Story & Structure: Three-act structure

Still pootling along and worrying my silly head off. Tried to start organizing my ideas into some kind of vaguely coherent mind map in the hopes that it might give me a better sense of direction with the whole thing: (s'why I like these blogs so much — helps me restructure my incoherent ramblings into something vaguely cohesive!)

Pretty much a summary of what I've covered so far in a more visually coherent manner. Toying with animal masks and the concept of emulating "desirable masculine qualities" in each of those animals?

Considering the ending, looking at 'Oozat' as a frame of reference. The trick is to keep it simple — Oozat isn't tremendously complex, after all, but it's so well executed and portrayed with such confidence. It really works. Sorry, that's my anxiety speaking again. I am rubbish.

I stumbled upon Marx's "character mask" theory whilst doing some research earlier today and I suppose I'm now beginning to really worry that my idea isn't sophisticated or clever or deep enough. I keep catching myself trying to shoehorn more meaning into it to make myself seem bigger, cleverer and more imaginative than I have any right to be at this stage — maybe I really am just worrying too much.

I've been toying with a slightly sillier ending, involving perhaps the main character (dressed as a lion) getting into a fight with somebody else (to gain dominance) — the girl, irritated, getting up from the bar and calling animal control or something. It's a bit less generic, but again, worried it has no strength.

Movement, Story & Structure: Animal costume research

I'm actually really quite liking the idea of dressing up/imitating animals to "attract" this girl, so I've been looking at some examples of animal behaviours/mating rituals. One of the more interesting ones is a bird that can moonwalk!

I think there's a lot of fun that could be had here — an endless amount of animals with bizarre or hilarious behaviours he could emulate.

Movement, Story & Structure: Finalising the story/thinking about the pitch

I'm trying to really dig into my idea so far and bulk it out so that it stands up — I don't know if I'm thinking about it too much or trying to overcomplicate things, but it seems that the more questions I answer the more I start worrying!

Trying to condense it down:

The story is about identity. Many of us project different identities or aspects of ourselves to others, depending on what we're trying to achieve or communicate. We may dress up to make ourselves look big and impressive to a potential employer. We often feel we get a fairly good impression of a person based on what they're projecting — the mask that they wear. Conversely, there are things about ourselves or others that we make every effort not to project, things about a person you can't read based on their physical appearance, things that can completely jeopardise our attempts at communicating with that person. 

In this a story, a man attempts to communicate his interest to and subsequently impress a young lady he has seen. He dons a number of extravagant masks and costumes, projecting desirable qualities in an attempt to impress her, but she fails to take notice. Eventually he removes his costumes and stands there as he is — showing his true face for the first time. She appears to acknowledge him and he prepares to embrace her — but she walks right past, hugs and leaves with another girl who has just entered. It's left ambiguous as to their relationship — friends, lovers, family?

I think I have a fairly stable concept, it's just the execution of the story that I'm a bit flaky about — mainly the ending.

I'm thinking that a lot of the meaning could be conveyed through colour — he is so wrapped up in himself and his own insecurities that he fails to "read" her — his costumes/personas could be very bold and colourful in contrast to the drab scenery. She could perhaps be black and white, very sparsely detailed, representing his lack of interest or consideration of her. 

This is a really weird comparison but I think of peacocks (or any bird/mammal, really) trying to attract a mate — they make themselves attractive, or big and impressive. His "personas," masks or costumes could be based on animals, displaying what he considers "desirable" traits? Beauty, power, etc... 

When he displays himself without the mask at the end, the first time we see his face, he could be black and white and low detail as well. When the two girls embrace they could become colourful — I thought they could maybe turn into birds, but that seems silly. Not too sure so far!

Movement, Story & Structure: finalising a story idea/concept

Inspiration has struck at an ungodly hour and I think I may finally have something I can work with!

I was thinking about a number of different situations in which people may exaggerate or project certain aspects of their personalities, and I resorted to an old cliché — "man tries to impress a girl, but she's not interested."

I'm a bit stuck for the ending — I don't want to overcomplicate it, maybe just have her get up and leave with somebody else — but I don't know if that's too generic? She would ignore his advances and he would resort to more and more extravagant means to attract attention, to no avail — he would grow frustrated and paranoid — "I'm just not good enough!" rather than considering that, instead of being about him and "not being good enough," it could be something about her — there are certain things about people you are unable to ascertain by physical appearance. Things that can jeopardise our attempts to communicate, or that stand in the way of getting what we want.

I had a bit of a vision of the closing scene in my mind —

Maybe the guy is standing there, revealing his true face for the first time — she's looking at him (first person). We see the door crack open behind him, and she stands up, as if acknowledging him, he moves forward to hug her, but she just goes straight past him and embraces the figure who has just entered. He stands there, dejected, before slumping into his seat. View cuts to the front again, we see the two of them leaving together.

Might be interesting if they were both girls? Leave the relationship between them ambiguous — could just be friends, family, lovers?

I'm a bit shaky on it, I don't know.