I will refer to some shapes as “foundation” shapes since they form the basis for complex designs in the art of many cultures. The four foundation shapes are circles and ovals (which are easiest to draw and distort), squares, triangles, and cylinders. (These shapes translate into ‘primitives’ in CGI programs.) The graphic animated symbol and the more rounded, dimensional character will both be created from the interplay of these foundation shapes. A graphically styled film may use the shapes with little modification, as shown in Figure 6-13. A dimensional character’s design will seem more complex but will still use graphic foundation shapes for its basic construction.
[Fig. 6-13] A simple character may consist only of foundation shapes. EM! ® from We All Die Alone by Mark Newgarden. Reproduced by permission of Mark Newgarden.
Human faces display the same variant on a simple pattern. Figure 6-14 shows different face shapes with the features at differing levels. One is round, one square, and two are oval. The size of the eyes, mouth, and nose vary to create even greater differences. The shape of the hair complements and emphasizes the facial design.
[Fig. 6-14] Varied proportions on basic shapes will create new characters. Faces with even proportions will often seem less lifelike than caricatures. These Gangster Studies were based on antique photographs. Reproduced by permission of William Robinson.
Caricatures of famous or infamous people may provide inspiration for a character design. This gives it more depth than one created from whole cloth. Figure 6-15 shows variations on one woman’s face. If you use a caricature of a person as a basis for your character, determine which foundation shapes and proportions suggest their likeness. Use these shapes as a starting point for construction and “push” the design so that it becomes something new. You may combine features from more than one person and even add a few animal traits to create an original character. Use sketchbook drawings as reference for typical poses and features. Vary the proportions and try several different designs where some features are emphasized more than the others—but make sure that all of them work together as part of an organic whole. A good design features repetition with variation and exaggeration. The least interesting proportions are closest to reality.
[Fig. 6-15] Different characters are created by varying facial and body proportions. These caricatures were all based on the same historic photograph. Reproduced by permission of William Robinson.
Exercise: Take drawings from your sketchbook and one photograph or illustration of a person from a specific historical era. Design a new character wearing period clothing standing in the sketchbook pose. Then “push” the proportions in several drawings as shown in Figure 6-15.
Excerpt from Prepare to Board! Creating Story and Characters for Animated Features and Shorts, 2e by Nancy Beiman © 2012 Focal Press an imprint of Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.