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Character Design: Upholding Character Integrity

In this entry, I may come off as ranting a bit because I will be discussing the topic of character integrity. I would consider this to be my all-time biggest pet peeve when it comes to designing characters. I believe that preserving character integrity is the defining mark of a good character artist. The irony of this post is that I may ruin some character integrity just by writing about it. Please be advised that there may also be some disturbing images as well due to the subject matter. I apologize ahead of time!

What exactly is character integrity and why is it important?

Character integrity is what you do when you remove all of your personal biases, artistic style, and preferences from your artwork, ESPECIALLY if you are drawing a character that is not your own. It’s what gives the character their uniqueness and allows them to become a fully fledged “free thinking” individual outside of yourself. It helps maintain your suspension of disbelief that this is a real-life breathing individual, not just a flat two-dimensional drawing. It’s staying true to your model sheets. Anyone can draw a character, but if you are not staying true to who the character is, then you are not creating a successful representation of the character.

Some thoughts about character integrity from my Disney Days:

When I was working at Disney, this was one of the core values that they instilled in EVERY cast member upon hire. There was a whole training class on this topic and it didn’t matter what your line of work was, you had to take it. That’s how important it is! It wasn’t just for artists. It was for everyone.

For instance, you wouldn’t say to a guest that Mickey was getting hot and sweaty inside the suit, so he/she had to swap out with another cast member so he/she could go take a smoke break (yes, this happens)… you would say something along the lines of “Mickey went to go get a bite of cheese and he will be back shortly!” or something to that effect. It’s a way of maintaining the suspension of disbelief, or “preserving the magic” as Disney would say.

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Nobody wants to see that.

In the case of us artists at Disney, I got very frustrated with some of the other artists when they would say “that’s not how I draw Mickey!” First of all, if you even have to say that phrase, then you’re drawing him wrong. Period. I unfortunately heard it on more than one occasion. The only correct way to draw Mickey is in the Disney style. Granted Mickey has evolved over the years (like many other characters of his time period), but he has always maintained his personality through each incarnation, even if the style changed slightly. You should always do your best to maintain the style that was set forth by Mickey’s original creators. You should not be creating some bastardized version of your own. I have always looked at this as very selfish. You’re amusing yourself, not others.

Monster Mouse

Mickey is an actor and can don lots of outfits and disguises. His personality always shines through no matter what outfit he has on. One of the more popular “versions” of Mickey that I experienced artists drawing was representations of Mickey dressed up as different monsters. In most cases, this is acceptable, as long as you keep this in mind: Mickey is a friendly mouse and is not the type of character to set out to scare anyone (unless it’s in good fun, of course). He’s not an evil blood-sucking vampire; he’s only dressed up as one and he still smiles for pictures.

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See, he’s not-so-scary!

Runaway Brain (click to watch)

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In the mid 90’s, Disney created a short titled “Runaway Brain.” This short has unfortunately been omitted from a lot of Disney collections because Disney felt that the portrayal of Mickey did not stay true to the character. This couldn’t be further from the truth, since the character in Mickey’s body is actually the monster and Mickey himself was in the monster’s body. Mickey still maintained his personality, but outside of his own body! Some people cite this short as one that defiles Mickey’s integrity, but it does not in fact, since it makes sense for the story.

Disney Princesses

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Another popular portrayal that you may have seen around is the combination of the Disney Princesses in a single image. As far as integrity is concerned this is absolutely not okay, with the exception of one rule: the princesses should never interact with one another or acknowledge each other’s existence.

Why is this? Well, the princesses exist independently of one another in different time periods and in different countries. For the same reason, they should also not be represented in costumes since they are not actors like Mickey and his friends. If you look at most of the Disney-approved images of the princesses, you will see that they are not looking at each other or interacting with one another at all. This is in an effort to preserve the integrity of the character.

As you can see, character integrity has always been very important to Disney and it has been a key part in what continues to set them apart from their competition. People go to Walt Disney World and Disneyland to escape reality and visit a fantasy world. Character integrity plays a key part in maintaining that suspension of disbelief and providing the escape that their guests are looking for!

Okay, enough about Disney.

How does character integrity play into my characters on Schmitty’s Toons!? Well, some of the integrity is obviously in the design of the characters. Since they were originally created in Flash, part of preserving their integrity was in maintaining their Flash-style even when they were hand drawn (or in the case of 3D animation, they are cell-shaded).

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Just like Mickey, my characters have also evolved over the years as my own artistic style has evolved. The wonderful thing about being the creator of my own characters is that I am the one who sets the rules of what is acceptable in terms of integrity!

Throughout all of the style changes over the years, the original personalities have still maintained. Dippy is still a nervous, friendly duck with terrible luck, Master Sazuke can be a friend or foe depending on the situation and regularly practices martial arts, and Pelican is a deranged platypus that just wants to be just like the rest of the bird crew. If someone other than me were to draw them, they MUST draw them with all of these things in mind, otherwise they are not staying true to the characters.

In summary, don’t under any circumstances add your own personal touches to someone’s existing character design. If you decide to draw Mickey, then draw Mickey. He’s a very challenging character that has stood the test of time and adding your own touches is not going to improve on him. If you want to be creative, then create your own characters, set your own rules for them and hopefully other artists will then want to emulate you and your style therein maintaining your characters’ integrity.

What are your thoughts about character integrity? We’d like to hear them in the comments!

Schmitty out.

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Character Design: Modeling for 3D Animation

Enough of this old-hat, hand-drawn two-dimensional nonsense! Lets dial it ahead 100 years into the 21st century and talk about 3D character art!

In this blog post, we will look at what it takes to create a successful 3D representation of a 2D hand drawn character. The purpose of this post is not to teach you how to model, only to give pointers and suggestions to artists looking to successfully translate a 2D character drawing into a 3D environment.

In the blog entries leading up to this one, you have learned about doing your research ahead of time and designing your character around what you learned. You should have an idea of the size of each part of the body and how they move based on your model sheets. All of this ground work is 100% necessary before even stepping one foot into the 3D environment. It is a lot easier to draw an idea out on paper than it is to go into a 3D space and wing it. In other words, make sure you have done your homework first and get to know your 2D character in three dimensions before you move into 3D! It will save you a lot of time and extra work in the long run.

Begin Your 3D Model with 2D Drawings

You should always start your character model (or any other model, for that matter) by importing orthographic views of your character into the camera views. A front and side view are almost always necessary and a top view can often be helpful as well.

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The drawings should be aligned so that the center of the character will be located at the origin. Use the grid lines to also help you ensure that the character will be built proportionally. In Dippy’s case, he is three heads high, so you will see where he is scaled to the third grid line.

Default Pose

A character should always be modeled in default pose. This is typically referred to as a rested position, with the character’s arms and other appendages (tails, hair, etc.) extended straight out from their body and a bored expression on their face. This will make the rigging process much easier and allow the character to bend and deform better. Never, ever, ever model a character in a posed position. This will limit all of your future uses of this model to only one pose! In other words, it will be completely useless!

A few basic modeling tips as you are blocking in your model:

  • The geometry on the chest should look like a cape that is draping over and around the shoulders.
  • The geometry around the eyes should loop around the entire eye, creating a socket.
  • Keep all of your polygons 4-sided quads for the best deformation. Don’t leave any irregular sided polygons.
  • Add additional polygons around areas that need to bend a lot, such as elbows, knees, fingers, toes, neck, back, tail, etc. Don’t try to do too much with too little!

In addition, keep in mind all the things that your character needs to be able to do. For instance, Dippy’s elbow bends in two different directions, depending on what he is doing. In his rested position, his elbows are inverse and folded at his sides against his body like a real duck. When he is using his wings, they sometimes bend like a human’s in this way. This means that Dippy requires additional geometry around the middle part of his wing in order to bend both directions. He will also need to have modified feathers, which can act like fingers.

3D Dippy Orthographic Views

Not all 2D features translate well to 3D

Sometimes you have to do a little creative thinking to figure out how to make it work! In the case of Dippy, he was originally drawn for Flash animation, which is a very, very flat graphic style. His beak was much less defined in his original Flash format.

To translate this into 3D, we had to create more definition to the beak and then add a toon shader in the texturing phase to keep the graphic look Flash creates.

One of my favorite examples of a successful 2D trick not translating well to 3D is none other than Mickey Mouse, specifically when it came to his ears. The problem here, is that Mickey’s ears are gyroscopic, meaning they are designed to “float” around on his head so that they are always facing the viewer no matter what direction his head turns. This is one of the very unique design elements that Disney used to add to the character’s appeal and recognition.

 

It’s a very successful 2-dimensional trick of the eye, but it unfortunately did not translate well into a 3D space. Disney has made several revisions to 3D Mickey over the years and had a lot of trouble translating this complex 2D concept to the 3D world. The more recent Mickey 3D attempts have been more successful at capturing this iconic design element.

As you can see, moving from a 2D to 3D environment often requires lots of creative problem solving!

When your model is complete, render a complete turnaround of your character. Set up a few lights and show off your work!

Next, it is time to move on to the next steps of texturing and rigging your character. More on that in a later blog post!

Schmitty out.