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.