Sunday, March 30, 2014

Portfolio and Presenting Work

I know that one of my biggest weaknesses is presenting my art. I've always had a bit of a collage-y, mishmash approach to putting my work together, which is probably fine for physical sketchbooks where you can explore a large range of ideas and get a feel for the texture, but not for digital art which should generally be clean, minimalistic and neat in presentation.

Don't have different shades of white!

I also had a habit of displaying images without any descriptions/context. I've put a simple template under this series from the Savage project, these are just drafts and the font could be a lot better, but it gives an idea of one way to keep the images looking consistent and contextualised.

I took inspiration from this artist Sam Hoggs, she works in a variety of styles and genres but her work is always presented with that extra level of polish and professionalism. Her illustration portfolio is here.  Some examples of her concept work and how she presents it:

For these character variations she's used a gradiented grey background to suggest three-dimensional space, which really makes the character feel more grounded and 'real'.

This is a realistic environment concept she made for a games company. She used a simple, black bar across the bottom with a neat, clean font. There are no distracting borders or anything - all of the focus is the artwork itself. 

I'm considering ordering some books and generally brushing up on graphic design, I feel like a crucial part of being a digital artist is understanding subtle colour shifts, resolutions, font, layout, etc. yet I've never really had the opportunity to learn about it in detail. It would also be very useful to understand how to prepare images for print. 

At this point it is good to remind myself about this post last year I made about Chris Oatley's portfolio advice. Read the page again! Need to remember to put this into practice.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

$100 a Day and other Noah Bradley advice.

I mentioned this before in my Chris Oatley/Noah Bradley post, but it seems like a useful and simple way to understand finances when you're a freelancer. I'm terrible with numbers, so I sort of dread the day when I have to manage and plan my income and outgoings, but Noah's advice seems a good starting point. (Although it doesn't really convert well into GBP) He says that understanding your money in this way makes it a lot easier to understand your work's worth - a $700 (£415) is a week's worth of work, $3000(£1700) a month, and so on. It also makes it easy to split your income to your various outgoings - tax, savings, food, insurance, etc. $100 a day is the base-level income, nothing glamorous, but it is a good minimum to aim for when you're working as a freelancer.

It seems Noah has a lot of great advice on freelancing available through his online class, The Art of Freelancing. He also generally has a lot of great articles and advice on his blog. Definitely worth going back to.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Animation Research

I've picked up a number of well-known books by Disney veterans and have been working my way through them in order to expand and develop my animation understanding and skill.

These include:

Drawn to Life, 20 Years of Disney Master Classes volumes 1 and 2 by Walt Stanchfield.

Walt Stanchfield was one of the artists who trained the new wave of animation talent that entered the Disney studio in the 70s. Amongst those he taught were Brad Bird, John Lasseter, Don Bluth, Joe Ranft, John Musker, Ron Clements, Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, Mark Henn, and many others - it seems exciting to me that some of the same advice and training given to such prestigious artists is readily available for complete beginners like me. I knew I had to absorb everything he had to say in his book.

The first thing that struck me about these books was that they are not organised in any particularly chronological way, instead there are in the first volume 149 short chapters (originally 'handouts' given to the artists) on assorted topics that can be read independently of each other for quick guidance or inspiration.  These range from tips on how to draw and animate specific body parts to chapters that explore the concept of creativity and how an animator must think as well as draw. I find these chapters especially interesting as it gave an insight into the creative process itself - understanding that on a deeper level will undoubtedly have a beneficial effect on how I draw.

In the first chapter, Enthusiasm, he mentions: 'psychology there is, and it cannot and should not be ignored. Your mental and emotional processes are you,' and goes on to write about the importance of mental/emotional processes for motivation. I haven't really seen this kind of advice given, at least not to much of a level of depth, in other animation books. It's an important reminder of how closely our mental/emotional states effect us creatively.

Anyway, the second chapter gives details of the principles of animation, which he says 'should appear in all scenes, for they comprise the basis for full animation'. There are many more written here than the usual twelve principles I find or hear about, and he says there may well be more. Although many of these at first need to be used consciously, they should become second-nature. Knowing how to apply these principles is also necessary to enable an artist to animate intellectually, logically and artistically as well as emotionally, as we can't always rely on our emotions to fuel our drawing. For future reference, I'll write them below:

  • Pose and mood
  • Shape and form
  • Anatomy
  • Model or character
  • Weight
  • Line and silhouette
  • Action and reaction
  • Perspective
  • Direction
  • Tension 
  • Planes
  • Solidity
  • Arcs
  • Squash and stretch
  • Beat and rhythm
  • Depth and volume
  • Overlap and follow through
  • Timing
  • Working from extreme to extreme
  • Straights and curves
  • Primary and secondary action
  • Staging and composition
  • Anticipation
  • Caricature
  • Details
  • Texture
  • Simplification
  • Positive and negative shapes
  • Opposing force
There's tons of really valuable quotes, advice and observations from Stanchfield in this book. He really challenges my perception of drawing as a medium, on how to really work on crossing that bridge between an image being 'just a drawing', which can be technically brilliant but never transcend that status, to something imbued with feeling through gestures. All gestures are certainly more than their parts. 
He likens this to looking at a piece of sheet music - it means nothing until it has been performed in a way that evokes feeling. Parts of a figure must be put together so that they portray the meaning of the pose, not just the pose.

I could write a very long post about what I'm learning from this book, but I'll save these for when I start animating and really start applying his teachings - particularly those about specific aspects of drawing, like drawing fabric or how to overlap lines to create depth.

As a quick bit of practice though I've tried to draw the characters in some poses which express something clearly.

Story structure

For structuring the overall plot, I've been searching on how stories are generally structured. There is a lot of theory and research on this, going all the way back to Aristotle's writing on the Three Act Structure in his work, Poetics. The structure he describes which was applied to ancient Greek drama basically includes a beginning, middle and end. This later was adapted to include two more acts, these were defined by playwright Gustav Freytag as exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement/resolution/revelation/catastrophe. This is seen visually as 'Freytag's pyramid.' Although this was written in relation to Greek drama and not for modern drama, it is still an essential part of storytelling to think about. 

'You’ll need to have a beginning, middle and end to your screenplay, which may not mirror the book. Most novels have diversions, back stories and deep character development. These don’t serve any purpose in a screenplay, but you should be intimate with them as you shape your story. My analogy has always been steam cleaning a rug in a room. You take all the stuff out of the room, clean the carpet, and then only put back what is necessary. The rest you can put in storage.' (source)

I have become very familiar with the original fairytale now, which is helping me to figure out the character's actions/emotions and plan out the story for the film. But a
s I've never actually created an original finished piece with a narrative, I have relatively little understanding on how to tell a good story.

An important part of storyboarding is figuring out how well the narrative is working and 'feeling' - is it structured evenly, does it make sense, does it satisfy the viewer or leave them feeling confused? After finishing my first set of storyboard (seen in my previous post, video titled 'old animatic') I decided I wasn't happy with how the narrative was (or wasn't) working, the pace of the whole thing felt completely off to me. I wanted to clarify it and make it feel more well thought out.

My breakdown / treatment of the story can be read here, for presentation purposes I plan on adding storyboards with each paragraph to illustrate what I've written, though I made the writing very descriptive in itself to try and paint an image in the reader's mind.

Anyway, I feel that I've simplified the tale and have parts of the plot which can fall roughly into the different parts of the pyramid.

Exposition: The witch finds the scroll and makes the two beings. There is a montage of them growing older which establishes their personalities.

Rising Action: The titular characters sense that 'something is missing' and hesitate with the option of leaving their comfort zones to experience darkness/the outside world for the first time. Nycteris begins to ascend the staircase from her chamber. Photogen steps deeper into the forest as the sun starts to set.

Climax / turning point / crisis: Photogen has his intense scary experience in the forest while Nycteris is overcome with wonder.

Falling action/denouement: 
 They meet. There is the revelation, shown through the amulet, that they are related. They overcome their fear of each other and turn to face sunrise together.

As it does end somewhat on a cliffhanger showing the rising sun and suggesting that Nycteris is about to face it for the first time, there isn't really that much of a conclusion, but I hope that the general idea of them being reunited and the overarching moral of 'learning to be unafraid' is clear. 

Animation Practice

So far I've been spending most of my time working on the narrative, aesthetics and design of my film. Obviously animation is a huge part of it too and as I've never done it properly before, I have a lot to learn.

After experimenting with different softwares at the start of the module, I accessed Photoshop CS6 and it's improved animation timeline. I followed this tutorial on the basic functions of setting up to animate using video layers. Whereas before, animating in Photoshop meant you ended up with hundreds of layers that you had to manually make visible/invisible on each frame, the new video layer feature and timeline easily allows you to draw and edit each frame of a single layer. 

It's taken me a while to set up keyboard shortcuts and get used to navigating/organising everything, but I managed to create the below walk test for Nycteris. This was an exercise in using the software and creating basically  consistent-looking movement, there is a lot wrong with it on an animation-theory level and I'm currently doing a lot more research and learning on animation principles and process in preparation for starting the final piece. I did try to experiment with a bit of overlap/secondary movement with the dress and hair, but it needs a lot of work. Her hips/head should be bobbing up and down with the movement, her dress isn't behaving as a real dress would, and I need to apply a lot more principles like overlapping action, arcs, rhythm and squash and stretch. 

Whilst working on this I had this gif of Glen Keane's test work for Tangled in the back of my mind (I've only managed to find it again now). There are a lot of sketchy tests by Keane online, looking at them is a useful insight into how drawings are made from the very roughest stage. However I would like to research other, older Disney animators, such as the 'Nine Old Men', to get a broader understanding of the Disney approach - a lot of students tend to focus on Keane, which, although he is obviously talented (I particularly admire how he captures dynamic movement in such a loose, broad way) causes people to disregard other amazing animators who work in different styles.

Lines, Shapes, and Composition

This Gamasutra article has a lot of really good information on composition and design, but I found this section about character shape vs. environment shape really useful to consider as much of my story revolves around characters finding themselves in unfamiliar environments.

Character Shape Versus Environment Shape

A character's surroundings are a key part of dynamic composition because the environment normally takes up much of the visual frame. (Please note that environment here also includes secondary characters and enemies.) We can respond emotionally to characters based on their shape and animation alone, however it's only once we see characters in an environment that a narrative emerges.

The illustrations above represent a character (purple) in an environment (green). A circular character in a circular environment (top-left) exhibits a sense of harmony because the character's shape is echoed in its surroundings. The echo gives us a sense of home -- suggesting that here is where the character belongs. We also get a sense of harmony if both the character and environment are square, or triangular (lower-right), although the change of primary shape gives us a different aesthetic sensation.
We get a sense of dissonance when character and environment shapes contrast each other. A circular character appears threatened when placed in an edgy environment (top-right); while a triangular character appears the threat in a soft and rounded environment (lower-left).

These concepts of harmony and dissonance can be seen in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, where we have the good-natured Hobbits on one side of the shape spectrum of emotions. Everything about them references the innocent, youthful circle: from the curl of their hair; their rounded shoulders and shirt buttons; to the round Hobbit holes; and even the curves of the landscape. At the other end of the shape spectrum we find Sauron, who is aligned to the aggressive triangle: from his sharp fingertips; to the triangular volcano on the landscape.

This contrast of primary shapes allows us to reduce the story of Lord of the Rings to an abstract visual narrative using basic shapes, which sees the round Frodo and Samwise leave their round home to journey to a threatening, angular landscape, before returning to the safety of home.

I could definitely apply this to the composition and design of my environments. To express how Nycteris has been trapped against her will, I could use opposing shapes in the design of her chamber - lots of angular lines and triangles to contrast her roundedness. The forest will be a combination of rounded, stylised trees and pointed branches and plants, the pointed/triangularness will be exaggerated when Photogen becomes lost in the forest to express his fear and the dissonance between him and the oncoming night.

You can see these rules applied to existing films, for example Snow White - her rounded, youthful look sharply contrasts with the creepy, spiky forest's surroundings.

This isn't necessarily related to this rule, but these shots from Sleeping Beauty are very inspiring for me when I need to refresh my mind on how to compose my environment in an aesthetically effective way using dynamic compositional lines.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Breaking down story into script and storyboard

Previous to starting this project I'd assumed that taking an existing piece of work and adapting it into a film would be relatively easy, but I'm discovering that's not the case. The fairy tale I'm basing my story on (which can be read here) gave a lot of detailed information on character traits, character appearance, thought processes, settings, etc. - a lot to have to squeeze into a five-minute animation. I knew I had to break down the story, remove anything unnecessary, and simplify the characters so that their motives and personalities would be fully understood without any expositional dialogue or text.

I've been looking at ways filmmakers adapt books into screenplays, I've found some useful tips.

'Use montages to include important information from the book in a quick visual form. Get rid of characters that bring little to the party. Think about combining characters into one strong person who moves the story along. There is no penalty for reinventing. Never agree to rewrite a book into a screenplay verbatim; kiss of death.'

I have actually removed a number of characters and storylines from the original fairytale. In the original, Watho lures two pregnant women, Aurora and Vesper, from a nearby town to her castle, where she effectively steals their children. She raises one purely in light, the other in darkness, so the story is much more about how the environment has changed and effected these two children. There's also the characters of Fargu, who teaches Photogen how to hunt and ride a horse, and who closely watches over him to make sure he doesn't stay out until sunset. And there's Falca, who cares for Nycteris and teaches her to play music, and is ordered to make sure she never sees any light besides her lamp.

I removed the setting of a grand castle for Watho's home, and decided to have her living in a bit of a ramshackle cottage in the woods, despite the fact her design makes her look quite wealthy - a castle just seemed too grand for a crazy old witch. I thought that she might have come from a rich family, but ended up spending her inheritance on eccentric oddities and on travelling around the world in pursuit of knowledge, leaving her poor.

The main plot point I changed was having her create the two children as a magical experiment rather than them being human children she's stolen. Again, I thought this would contribute to her being a solitary, eccentric figure, and offers much more interesting visual storytelling opportunities - it opens up different methods of designing their characters, meaning I could make them more 'fantasy' looking with unnatural colours and physical traits, e.g. making Nycteris' dress a sort of moving shadow which fades into surrounding darkness.

I also removed Fargu and Falca, thinking that it'd be more interesting to have Watho act as their guardian figure as she sees herself as their 'mother'.

In the original the relationship between Photogen and Nycteris is romantic and they get married at the end. I thought this might be a little odd in my adaptation as they are essentially siblings, so I'm going to present their relationship as more familial.

Even though a lot of my ideas for the characters won't be clear in the final film, I still want to have them fully considered so that I feel like I know these characters really well. This will be invaluable when it comes to animating as it'll help me put myself in their shoes and empathise with them.


I knew that I'd only be able to tell a short passage of the story rather than the entire plotline - this has been challenging as it needed to be enough of the story to be understandable and a self-contained piece rather than being like a snippet of a larger narrative. I've found it difficult to cut down so much of the narrative there's many aspects of the original that I find really intriguing that I'd have liked to have made clear in the film:

  • Watho is described as having a 'wolf' in her mind, which is what causes her to act cruelly - she isn't just evil for the sake of evil. I really liked this as it sets her apart from typical fairytale villains we've come to see on Disney films like the Evil Queen, Maleficent and Mother Gothel, who all are very selfish and vain without there being given any particular reason why other than because they are envious.

    Watho could actually be quite a sympathetic character representing the struggles of someone who wants to experience a family but just doesn't understand how as she's in constant battle with her mind. Over the course of the story she becomes more and more debilitated by her condition, but also more cruel, to the point where she tortures Photogen and Nycteris.

    'She was not naturally cruel, but the wolf had made her cruel ... She was straight and strong, but now and then would fall bent together, shudder, and sit for a moment with her head turned over her shoulder, as if the wolf had got out of her mind onto her back.'

    I had ideas of having some more abstract metaphorical sequences showing Watho twisting as if in pain, and a ghostly wolf-form emerging from her to appear for a few seconds before disappearing. But I've decided to pull it back and keep things simple and easy to understand, as most of the focus needs to be on Photogen and Nycteris. If I was to adapt the story into a longer piece in the future this would leave more room to add more experimental imagery and I'd put more time into showing this side of Watho.

  • In my breakdown of the story I've only really been able to focus on Photogen experiencing darkness, and Nycteris escaping, but I haven't been able to show Nycteris also experiencing light - this is a key moment in the story and the arc of their relationship, when Photogen selfishly leaves her and she's left to fend for herself. Eventually he realises his selfishness and develops more as a character.  I'm going to have to sacrifice a lot of the character development in my short film as there's just no time to show it. 

Here's the storyboards I drafted out while reading and brainstorming ways to tell the story visually.

A select few:
As an animatic:

I'd originally planned on having text/voiceover in the introduction sequence giving the details of the narrative, as without it the plot isn't clear at all. I also considered doing a typically fairytale introduction where the film opens on a book, which opens and begins with 'once upon a time...' with some detailed, Medieval-style illustrations, like in Shrek:

After sharing the animatic and discussing it with others I've realised it would be better to overhaul it so that it's understandable without any text or drawn-out backstory, as it's just too short and I think would make it unnecessarily complicated. 

Another issue with this set of storyboards is the ending and the general structure. I was intending on ending it on a cliffhanger, with a hint of how their relationship might develop after the end of the film. But I think it's just not satisfactory as it is here - we don't really sense much of a building bond between the two characters. I knew I had to change this. After talking with my tutor, he suggested I add some kind of visual indicator they both wear, perhaps some kind of jewellery, to show how the two are kindred spirits that are meant to be together. 

An important skill in making any film is being able to tell a narrative through purely visual means rather than relying on dialogue and words. Like Alfred Hitchcock said: 'If it's a good movie, the sound could go off and the audience would still have a perfectly clear idea of what was going on.' I thought I'd use this film as an opportunity to stretch my filmmaking skills and use composition, lighting, mise-en-scene and of course the designs, movements and expressions of the characters themselves to tell the story instead. 

So I'm currently in the process of re-doing the animatic with this new perspective and with more of a focus on overall story structure. So far I've done the first sequence:

The main changes from the first storyboards are:
  • The addition of an amulet kept around the scroll, this will act as a symbolic prop showing how Watho has broken Photogen and Nycteris' bond. I know 'magical pendants' are a big cliche, but I thought it'd be a good visual indicator. The amulet is made of two pendants, a sun and moon, which slot together to form one bigger pendant. Watho doesn't really pay it much attention and it ends up falling underneath a table, the two pendants splitting. Later on in the film, Photogen will find and hold onto them - when he meets Nycteris it'll be a trigger for him to realise how they are somehow related.
  • Towards the end, after the shots of the two children 'growing' inside the tanks, I added a shot of Watho coming to inspect them. I want to add a rather ambiguous expression on her face, which could hint at how she's making these beings as a replacement for real children.
I added much more detail to the artwork in this animatic, as not only will it be the basis I work on for the final piece (I'll probably just refine and colour these frames instead of starting new drawings), but I need to make it clear for the composer I'm collaborating with to see timings and basic movement so that he can write the music to complement the action. I'll write more about the music in another post. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014


Something I want to do when I graduate is spend a lot of time building my drawing and painting skills. As that is my overall focus and selling point, I want to be sure that I learn the same theory and techniques as those professionals I look up to. Luckily, there are resources out there which mean I can learn from the professionals I look up to.

Noah Bradley, a renowned artist and illustrator, wrote here on how you can spend $10k - the cost of an art school education in the USA - on a focussed, more quality art education from a variety of online and book sources. I'll copy them below. While I may not be able to afford some of these straight away, if I find a job which supports my living and allows me time to develop my art as a hobby, I'm sure I'd be able to fund some of these.

The $10k Ultimate Art Education

Some other resources I've found and am interested in using: (no doubt this list is subject to change)

Chris Oatley's 'The Magic Box' -

Digital Tutors -

Will Terry's courses -

Noah Bradley's Art Camp -
and his Art of Freelancing -

CG Master Academy (this one is much more expensive but to consider when I have a good income)

Skillshare -

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tyrus Wong's work for Bambi

I'd like to experiment with a slightly impressionistic approach to the backgrounds, I've been really inspired by Tyrus Wong's work for Bambi. Production designer Hans Bacher has written a post giving a brief history of how Wong's work came to be used.

'Tyrus had done poetic interpretations of the forest world. he did not show you all the leaves and trees, he made you feel them. when you look at his hundreds of beautifully soft painted scenes you smell the moisture in the deep forest.'

Bacher cites a similarity to the French Barbizon school painters, a group from the later part of the nineteenth century who were amongst those who introduced the idea of impressionism. It is possible to see the similarities: the impression of softly diffused light, loose brushwork and only certain sections painted with definition.


It's interesting to see how Tyrus' concept work was adapted by the layout artists:

Only the areas around where the action is is there a sense of definition, and it's very carefully applied.

'In BAMBI you are surrounded by nature, just hints of trees and foilage most of the time, towards the action center a bit more definition, but very much controlled. sometimes only a few blades of grass in front of an out-of-focus color-wash are enough to tell you where you are. and in a whole that forest looks more interesting and has more variety than most films in a city-jungle environment.'

I'm looking for a slightly more experimental way to present a forest, as it seems like literally every single magical/fairytale/fantasy-type film has at least one part set in some woods somewhere. It's such a cliche, yet forests can really be beautiful and enchanting, and I want to find a way to design it in my animation so that it feels a little fresher and more original. (Hopefully.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Environment Concept Art

There are three main settings that need to be designed for the film.
  • Watho's cottage/hut/laboratory, externally & internally 
  • Nycteris' chamber
  • The forest - this will have a number of prominent settings within it, including where Watho finds the chest, where Photogen collapses, and the entrance/exit to Nycteris' chamber.
I'd like the overall look to be simplified but stylised with characteristic silhouettes and shapes and a more painterly/impressionistic approach. This was largely inspired by a combination of Eyvind Earle's amazing work for Sleeping Beauty and Tyrus Wong's for Bambi.

I don't want a 'generic forest' at all, I want to push the design and colouring style so that it is exaggerated but still retains a sense of fairytale-like wonder and mysticism. I also want to really work on the composition of the backgrounds using the knowledge I picked up while researching production design and layout in my CoP3 module - I'm very interested in how the backgrounds can tell a narrative in itself, direct the viewer's eye and be as important to telling the story as the characters. 

My first test on designing the backgrounds was for the first sequence where Watho is walking through the woods where she finds the scroll. I used a number of techniques I have picked up on my various attempts to get better at painting environments, such as having the colours and shapes become less saturated and more hazy the further from the 'camera' they are. The composition could definitely be improved, and this is something I plan to research more while developing the final artwork, however I was pleased with the painterly effect I managed to get, with sections of more detailed rendering that gives a sense of the overall scene without having to go into a lot of detail.

In these paintings I experimented with different colour balances as I wanted to express a more supernatural and mystical feel, so I added more purple and brighter green tones. I pushed a lot of the colours to make it more vibrant and fantastical, and the purply red-lit tones give the impression of sunset, which adds a sightly more foreboding and mysterious atmosphere. I will tweak it more when adding in Watho, however, adding light so that there is a focus for the audience's eye; At the moment, especially as the colours are so vivid, it's likely that the background may detract from the character and narrative.

Colour choice/palette is definitely a work-in-progress at the minute, as I'd like to experiment with a slightly more muted Arthur Rackham-y approach too, although I have a feeling ultimately I'll go for the more vivid approach as it's a little more out of my comfort zone.

Character Design Moodboards, Development & Turnarounds

I decided to sort of 'start over' with the design of the film, and went all the way back to the original moodboards, which I realised I haven't actually uploaded yet.

For the overall look of the film I've been taking a lot of inspiration from earlier 20th century illustrators like Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen and Edmund Dulac. I really admire the mood that they capture in their paintings, and how they often depict fairytale scenes in more muted colours and tones (as opposed to the bright, flat colours of most contemporary animated fairytales) - it's very ethereal and intriguing. 

For the characters themselves, I have of course been taking a lot of inspiration from existing animated films. Disney is inevitable simply because their style is, to me, the perfect balance between realism and stylisation. They manage to really express the characters dynamically and realistically, whilst still appearing charming and artistically interesting. The fact that I'm animating these characters is having a big impact on how I design them - I don't want to make them too over-the-top as they need to be relateable and their movements need to be easily readable.

I've actually struggled to find films to reference that have a similar aesthetic to what I want, so I'm taking aspects of various different styles and adapting them with my own ideas to hopefully create something original.

For Photogen, originally I wanted him to be quite 'butch' and muscular, like the early designs for Flynn for Tangled where he was bigger. When Frozen came out I was surprised to see that Kristoff was very similar to what I wanted him to look like. Since scrapping the overtly Disney look, and making the characters more 'unnatural' I decided I'd like to take some aspects of those characters, combined with something like a more realistic Flame Prince from Adventure Time, with yellow skin, orange, fiery hair, etc. 

For Nycteris I was thinking something like an older Agatha from Paranorman, with the unnatural grey/blue skin of the likes of Raven from Teen Titan. I also like the mannerisms of Rapunzel, as she's very similar to Nycteris in that she's never experienced the outside world before her escape. 

Her face was quite difficult to capture, her eyes are a huge part of her design (literally) as she has adapted to being able to see in very dark environments, but I didn't want her to have the 'generic big-eyed animated female face'. I wanted her to have distinctive features that aren't necessarily typically pretty and a very innocent appearance. I was very much inspired by photography of 20s actress Clara Bow, I love her facial structure and doe-eyed features.

After getting this rough idea of the characters faces and build, I did some research into different time periods where I could set the story as this would allow more informed design choices with outfits, props and buildings. I didn't want to just be 'vaguely medieval'. I played around with the idea of setting it in the late 18th century/Georgian period, and pulled together some reference images. 

However I found a lot of the looks from this time were too lavish and would make the characters look very wealthy and posh. I decided an earlier setting would be more suitable, and have ended up with it being somewhere around the late 15th century / Renaissance era. Although I can't make them half as detailed as the photos on the moodboard, it still gives a lot of interesting ideas on silhouette and shape.

Throughout all this research I did a lot of sketching, both for purposes of design and also animation, I wanted to practice drawing in a fast, loose way that captured gesture and consistent proportions. Included are various iterations of the characters' face and costume. 

Watho in the book is described as being beautiful and graceful, I didn't really want to go down that route as she's essentially a scientist/witch living in a forest - I'd imagine she'd look a bit more eccentric. Still, the Renaissance moodboard gave a lot of ideas on how to structure and shape her costume so it is distinctive. The wide V-neck shoulder detail gives her a 'pointy' look suggesting her guarded personality. The below sketches don't really resemble the final Watho design that much - I ended up tweaking it a lot while working on the turnaround.

Aaand the final turnarounds:

A few design choices explained and to be improved:
I found a lot of interesting information on character design here on Gamasutra (even though it's for Game Art it's still relevant).
  • Obviously the colour choices for Nycteris and Photogen reflect night-time and day respectively. The navy and blues reflect Nycteris' more calm, serene nature, whilst Photogen is vivid and bright to match his spontaneity, stubbornness and slight aggressiveness.
  • Nycteris is made of rounded shapes offset my slightly sharp angles and waves. Round shapes are often used to express femininity, youth and innocence. I offset the roundness with some sharp angles in her hair and a square neckline on her dress too add more varied interest to the design whilst keeping the overall impression soft.
  • Photogen is made of slightly rounded square shapes, with a few points. Squares express stability and stubbornness, which fits his character, though I made them rounded to express his youth.
  • Watho is triangular and diamond-shaped, the pointed-ness of her design expresses her guarded and unfriendly nature, and foreshadows her cruelness in the story.
  • After a discussion with my tutor I will be altering Photogen's outfit to make it more obvious that he's a hunter.
  • A friend commented that Watho looks quite stern and well-to-do, I would like to change her outfit a bit to make her a bit more eccentric and mad-scientist-y.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Drawing Groups & Competitions

I've been exploring opportunities to push my drawing and traditional skills for art competitions; the only other competitions I've seen that I could enter are animation-related, which didn't really appeal to me as I know my animation right now is very limited. There are a few I'm interested in entering, including this one by ArtAscent which explores the concept of 'Hidden', and the Derwent Art Prize, which has no defined theme.

For the ArtAscent competition I had ideas of creating a series of small pieces in pencil, coloured pencil and watercolour of strange, fictional (maybe mythology-inspired) creatures which, rather than drawn to be idealised, majestic and beautiful, instead look ugly, wrinkled, nocturnal... sort of like 'rejected' fantasy creatures. The sorts that you might find huddled in a cave, or under a rock, or burrowed underground. One might be hideous, but vulnerable and weak - the other might be huge and frightening, but also isolated. Exploring the idea of hinting at an emotive, sympathetic spark hidden in unpleasant or frightening creatures appeals to me.

The deadline isn't until June, so these are all mainly drafts, initial ideas and works in progress.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Chris Oatley & Noah Bradley on Freelance Illustration

I've known about Chris Oatley's site for a while as I'm aware that he gives a lot of great advice to beginner artists on how to become a successful practitioner, either freelance or working in the industry.

I recently was intrigued by some posts he'd written about 'the death of freelance illustration'. He and artist Noah Bradley recorded a video debating the current state of the freelance illustration industry, and how with contemporary social media it is possible to succeed as an artist without having to resort to poorly-paid freelance work you'd rather not do. I've never really thought about going freelance as being a reliable long-term plan, let alone quitting freelance and only earning from the work that you, personally, create. But with sites like Kickstarter, Etsy, Zazzle, etc. and with some clever additional income from programs like Amazon Affiliates, it is possible with time to realistically earn around $100 (or around £60) a day, which is a perfectly comfortable income.

I listened to all 2+ hours of the video and plan to explore their other podcasts as well. I've taken key ideas and quotes and paraphrased them to keep in mind.

The first and most important thing is to make good work. 'You have to give people something that's worth sharing. Trying to build a fan base off something mediocre is really, really hard,' says Noah Bradley. This is something I'm acutely aware of, and my own perfectionist habits mean I'm generally not happy with sharing my work unless I feel it is my best standard. It is also why I don't want to start trying to make it as an artist before I've fully learnt the skills and theory required. I would rather be recognised for work I feel shows me at my best rather than work which I feel to be mediocre.

When asked if they'd change anything about how they started in the industry, Noah Bradley said: 'Maybe I'd have waited until I was a little better until I started freelancing. So I could avoid doing the really, really bottom barrel jobs. I didn't learn much, I didn't make much money, took time away from producing exceptional work that could have pushed me to a higher, better paying tier.' I had never really thought about this before, but it makes a lot of sense. I feel like creative energy only comes in limited supply each day, and I see no use in using it all up on poorly-paid, uninspiring freelance commissions when you could be creating work that you want to create, and earn just as much, if not more, by selling prints, originals, merchandise, etc.

The important thing here is to create a fan base. They suggest aiming for around 1000 'true' fans if you are relying on them for income. This is a reference to an article written by Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine. The article contains other valuable advice and information on different ways to make a living as an artist. Gathering 1,000 'true' fans, who will buy anything I create and support anything I do, seems like a fairly far-fetched concept at the moment, but Kelly puts it into perspective saying it's the addition of one fan a day for three years. I am sure that if I became much more active in posting and sharing my work, I'd be able to gather more followers on my various social networks. However it is important to keep in mind that these fans generally only remain 'true' if you keep direct contact with them, and this is something which doesn't really come naturally to me and I struggle with. In this case someone else can do the job, some kind of manager, handler, agent, etc. (although I would like to change my approach and become the sort of person who is comfortable communicating with large numbers of people each day).

A large obstacle for me when it comes to creating and sharing work is my general fear - fear that me or my work is not, or ever will be, good enough, or popular, or motivated enough to succeed, etc. In response to this, Noah Bradley said how fear is crucial. He said: 'Fear is what inspired me to do as well as I did. You're going to be a failure if you don't work twice as hard as you think you need to work.' Learning to see fear as a positive thing - an opportunity to become stronger and prove to yourself you can do it - is definitely something I'm working on.

Chris Oatley offered as some final advice: 'Don't get derailed. There's a ton of work for people who can paint well, who have a certain level of professionalism and excellence... keep chasing and pursuing it, be honest with your own work. There are a lot of pretty good painters, but to notch up to Noah Bradley's level, there's a certain level of polish and intensity there. I'd have gotten to a higher level of professionalism earlier, with painting specifically, if I'd known that. I'd have had more boldness, confidence and intensity if I'd known that.' I like to try and see my perfectionism as a positive thing, as it's what is stopping me from being comfortable at my current more mediocre level. I want to strive for that extra level of polish and professionalism... I want my work to be dynamic, intense, visually engaging, and a demonstration of my skill - I don't want it to 'do the job', and no more than that. I will be striving for this throughout my entire career, and want to work really hard at it now that I'm graduated and have more time to explore my art.

There was also a small section on networking. Chris Oatley and Noah Bradley largely work online. Someone asked for advice on how to sell your personality online like how you can in person-to-person networking. Chris said: 'Everything is getting more video-centric - like we're doing this on Google hangouts. The line is now blurry between online experience and in person experience. Help people, answer their questions, be there for each other.' He repeated this advice throughout the video, really emphasising the importance in building camaraderie with your fans and fellow artists and helping to keep the community positive and fruitful.

Some more general tips:

  • Network and find fans - there are many, many ways to do this now. In order to appeal to a niche audience, Noah suggested Reddit, which has countless subreddits where you will no doubt be able to find potential fans and clients who like what you do. 
  • Learn web design - even the basics. This will save you a lot of money and give you valuable additional skills you can use when creating your own website. You can also use these skills to earn extra money doing web design jobs. 
  • Amazon Affiliates, Zazzle
  • They recommend Wordpress as a beginner's website as it is very flexible and customisable.
  • Be articulate - write with good English. 
  • Help people via Twitter, Youtube and other social media, try and get an edge on the countless other tutorials by offering advice on more newer/obscure software and techniques.