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Friday, 28 February 2014

07. Character Design: The Seagull

So while Phil was the embodiment of awkward tension i knew from the beginning the gull needed to be a simple concise shape. In my head i saw him as a plush toy you could squash and pull at but he always bounces back. He is the ray of sunshine inside the office while phil is a stain on the vibrant outside world (I'll talk more about this when we come to colour keys)

One thing that came up though was the more simple he became the less like a seagull he looked... But in terms of his character it was his shape in contrast to phil and his surroundings that were important to me. The closer to a seagull he became the more gangly/phil-like he would become, and the less we could stretch his expressions and reactions. Also you'd be surprised how much the colouration helps identify him as a seagull.

In the very first draft of the story the bird was actually a pigeon, but having grown up on the coast I've probably seen a lot more seagulls in my life but more importantly as a bird the seagull embodies the concept of freedom more easily. The idea of soaring free over open oceans. There was a version of the script where Phil could see the open sea beyond the cityscape. Though it didn't end up in the film, I thought the seagulls helped hint at it. Where as pigeons can be funny but they still basically come off as rats with wings.

One thing that's worth mentioning here is that when i showed the finished character designs to the heads here at Cartoon Saloon, Phil's design especially, they said they wouldn't work. They wanted me to bring in another designer to create simpler character designs for the film.

Their worry, which made perfect sense considering our budget and tight schedule, was that the characters would be too awkward to animate, and more importantly the designs had too much "line mileage"; In 2D animation you're generally drawing 12 drawings per one second of animation. The more complicated a design, the more lines you use to describe a surface the longer it takes to draw. There are also more elements to track in terms of motion, and the more complicated the character becomes to animate.

But i had designed the characters to my style for the specific reason that Phil has a physicality that i didn't feel a simpler character could portray. Details like the creases in his knuckles were important so you could feel the pressure of his hands on the wall, or when he touches the glass of the window. We see the wind blow through his hair and his shirt reminding us how easily he could be blown off the ledge. For me those elements were important for the film as constant reminders to the audience that he is physically there and in danger. That if he fell he would die. Luckily for me the Saloon trusted my ignorance as i made the decision to go ahead with the designs as they were.

It helped that i told them I knew I could make the animation work because i'd just found the perfect animator for Phil, now all i had to do was to get him on board... But that comes later, in the next post it's storyboard time!