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. 


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