For People Crazy About 2D Animation!

Acme Punched! is for people crazy about 2D animation. It may be enjoyed by beginners and others, but it is aimed at animators who know already something about the process of animation and the basics of character animation. In large part, it will attempt to provide a deep look into the problem solving that goes on in my head as I work out a scene, often in step-by-step posts that I will sometimes enter in "real time", without knowing in advance what the outcome will be. Mistakes and false starts will not only be included but emphasized, so that the creative process of animation will be portrayed realistically. And, while my own bias is for 2D drawn animation, many of the effects and principles discussed here can apply to CGI 3D animation as well. I hope the blog will prove useful and instructive for all.

-Jim Bradrick

Thursday, May 15, 2014

No. 64, My Process of Character Design, Part One

First, a note about the imminent discontinuance of a software application that has been an important part of my pipeline:

No More Toki Line Test

Got an email this morning, as did all other of their users, that Digital Salade is discontinuing sales and support of Toki Line Test by the end of this month (May, 2014.)

This is the pencil test program, costing just $100, that I have been using and recommending since I first signed on in October, 2011. I regret that they are discontinuing the program as their support was always first rate and very personal.  Of course the application will continue to function indefinitely, perhaps for years, and I expect to continue using it for the forseeable future.  But I can no longer recommend that anyone else take it on.

My Character Design Process

Character design is fun!  Anyway, I think so.  I have always enjoyed it since as a boy I used to try to design cartoon characters, superheroes, and others. My limited drawing skills were a frustration to me at the time, but I persisted until I could do it.

My natural tendency in character design leans toward classic Disney, which means I design from the same standpoint as a Maya designer: I am thinking in the round, as if my 2D drawings are just single viewpoints of a character I have visualized in three dimensions. From my designs a sculptor would have no trouble building a macquette or 3D model.  I have just learned that there is a term for this approach: centerline design.  I found this term in Amid Amidi's wonderful book Cartoon Modern (Chronicle Books, 2006.)  This book is devoted to alternative character and background design in animation, popularized in the United States in the 1950's and 1960's.

A double-page spread from from Cartoon Modern, by Amid Amidi, showing designs for Tex Avery's Symphony in Slang (MGM, 1951.)

The studios producing American theatrical cartoons were resistant at first because most of their artists and animators were uncomfortable doing anything besides the tried and true style exemplified by Tom and Jerry, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker, and because the producers and distributors were afraid of such radical change.  Yet their were some designers among them, mostly younger men and a few women, who were eager to experiment and try new things.  Even at Disney there was a modern design mole hidden at the very top, among the famous Nine Old Men: Ward Kimball, who went from animating the stereotypically centerline character Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio (1940) to the semi-modern Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland (1951) to directing the ultra-graphic and revolutionary theatrical short Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom (1953).

While this modern design was at first used with great charm and thoughtfulness, in animation that remained lively and entertaining, its utility in the eyes of producers as a cost-cutting technique eventually devolved into the boring, tiresome and often ugly product called limited animation that dominated television cartoons from the mid-1960's onward.   But don't get me started about that!  (We hold these Filmation truths to be self evident.)

On the left, Centerline Albert. On the right is one way that a Modern Design Albert might look.

Centerline, on the other hand,  is perhaps not a self-evident term.  It seems to refer to a design principle found in organic forms in nature: bilateral symmetry, meaning that many living things, including humans, have a right half and a left half that approximately mirror one another.  It is the starting assumption for this kind of character design.

Modern design turns all this on its head; modern design approaches character design mostly as a silhouette, and it takes from abstract modern gallery art the concepts of simplifying form, of using the clearest angle of a form as its primary shape (the eye as viewed from the front; the nose and ear as viewed from the side of the head), and of largely ignoring or distorting principles of perspective and foreshortening, and rotation of solids.  Note the difference in the two approaches to my Albert character, above.

And while I remain fond of centerline design, and will continue to use it, I am also attracted to this modern design.  For my new project The Two Washingtons I feel it is an agreeable design avenue, so I am stepping a bit outside my comfort zone to push my characters in that direction.  Here's just one example where I took a character concept in an entirely new direction:

First and second draft of character design.

Next: How All the Characters Were Changed

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