Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Character Design - part two

Unlike the two characters we met last week, Rosie had a somewhat tortuous birth. Possibly the reason for this is that she barely existed in my first drafts of the script: early on I had concentrated on Wally's slapstick attempts to make it to a bar to meet his date, but the date herself was very secondary to the story. She could have been anyone - I was focusing on the journey, rather than the destination. With this in mind, Rosie started out more or less as the female equivalent to Wally: a big-nosed, crude creature, with ping-pong balls for eyes.

Well, they say Like is attracted to Like...

What a delightful couple they might have made...

I even began to do a bit a storyboarding using this prototype Rosie:

But as the story began to develop I became more and more interested in her character, and what she was thinking and feeling as she sat waiting in the bar for her date to turn up. I began to redraft the script and brought in my friend Jim Maguire to help me with the writing process. Slowly, Rosie became less and less similar to Wally, and more and more his complete opposite: whereas Wally is always moving, Rosie is mostly still; Wally is always silent, Rosie is always talking; Wally doesn't think at all, Rosie thinks too much; and so on. The more sophisticated Rosie became, the more I needed a design that would allow me to display her thoughts and feelings, yet still sit within the same world, graphically. This crude design wasn't going to allow me that. So it was back to the drawing board.

I gave her some flesh colour and separated the head from the body a bit and lowered the eyes, but found this drawing horribly simplistic, ugly and unappealing...

Another in a series of endless doodles... I have dozens like this one, all different girls.

Here's a hesitant blue sketch scribbled on the corner of a piece of paper. She's got a large mouth, able to cope with the dialogue, and similar eyes to Wally. She's beginning to feel part of his 'world' graphically, but different enough as a personality. I started to feel I was getting somewhere... but she still wasn't quite right. I was starting to get very frustrated by this point.

Then, one day: I remember absent-mindedly scribbling this (above) while I was talking to a friend. I wasn't even consciously thinking about Rosie's design, and I was barely even aware my hand was doodling, but when I  noticed the sketch a few hours later I realised that I'd moved her eyeballs right to the top of her head, just like Wally's, and given her the overhanging upper lip that allows her to look permanently worried (which she is for most of the story). I can credit this doodle to my drawing hand, or some deep recess of my unconscious brain, but not to any conscious thought process. Sometimes these things just float into you, like happy dreams in the night. This was the point where I felt we had 'discovered' Rosie. Simple though this sketch is, she felt familiar to me... someone I'd be happy to spend time sketching; a rhythm of lines and curves that were a pleasure to draw.

Sometimes it takes an awful amount of effort to end up with something as simple as this.

From this point on it was a matter of playing with proportions and seeing if this face could express all the emotions I needed it to. By the time Sienna Guillory came in to record Rosie's voice I had this colour sketch to show her - still not quite right, and still a bit frumpy, but something I hoped would help Sienna visualise the character.

Once the recording session was done I used Sienna's performance to help refine Rosie's design. Not in terms of looks (I'm not a fan of trying to caricature an actor's face) but in terms of the rhythm of speech, the melody, the general feel: all this affects how the mouth works, how far it needs to open, how mobile the eyes need to be, and so on.

And it's also during this process you can try out the different costumes or hairstyles that might be required for the story:

Rosie getting ready - hair washed and towel
turban in place.

By the time the animatic drawings were complete, often in colour like the one above, I was one hundred percent comfortable with Rosie, both as a character and as a graphic design. This meant that the animation phase was a total pleasure, free from any stress. I guess this is the animation equivalent to film or theatre rehearsals: building a character, the walk, the clothes, the speech patterns, the internal thoughts, so that the end result in front of an audience appears as 'alive' and fully rounded as possible.

Final production cel of Rosie with her hair tied back.

So, in much the same way Wally struggles to find Rosie for his date, I struggled to find her at all. But find her we did.

I wonder what she's up to right now?

Oh goodness... I feel a possible sequel coming on...


  1. I'm not a fan of trying to caricature an actor's face either. I feel that true talent and skill show when a character designer finds the face to the voice/ performance rather than using the face thats already there (im sure producers have a lot to do with the final design though).Rosie is my favorite design and is what drew me in initially.

    "...and given her the overhanging upper lip that allows her to look permanently worried"---- Love it man. I notice some designers are unaware of some of the decisions they make and site obscure reasons or cool appearance as to why they choose certain designs. It truly is a challenge to find the right personality/face of a character which is why im so damn grateful to you for sharing this.

    Are you really considering a sequel?

    1. Thanks for all your comments Alex! I've found this whole bogging experience fascinating - without it I would have dumped all this pre-production artwork without a second thought. It's sometimes a bit like hanging out your own dirty washing in public - some of these sketches, showing the struggle to get somewhere, really make me cringe... they are not 'good' drawings, but they do show a process. It's as surprising to me, as anyone else, what falls out of the bottom of these old storage boxes - a thought process that happened so long ago I've genuinely forgotten it..!

      As for sequels - No, it'll never happen, but in the process of making this film I did outline (for my own pleasure) two further episodes that continued the story in a pretty logical way. (But like almost all trilogy films, I preferred the third part to the second!) For now, these ideas will rest peacefully in my sketchbooks...

  2. nah- Thank YOU for posting and replying as well. I know that its a lot of time and effort to keep up with a blog and to take the time to answer to aspiring artists like myself- but every post you share, and response to a question I have, serves as inspiration and motivation which I am surely grateful for. Besides- I like to know that animation veterans, true masters of the medium like yourself, at times struggle to find precisely what they're looking for as well ;)...It helps me realize that I'll get there someday as long as I trust the process. So thank you.