Humorous Phases of Funny Bird Faces
About four years ago, in school, I decided to make a film that would include everything I wanted in a cartoon.
This was a mistake.
I packed way too many ideas into this cartoon and it just never got finished - the animatic is 12 minutes long! But one of the nice things about preparing for this film was that I designed a bunch of characters that would play small roles throughout the piece. One of these characters is named Greenbird.
When I designed him in 2002, he looked like this:
As you can see, he's not based on a real bird at all.
Here are some rough ideas of how he might look when emotional -
Looking back at these drawings, it is clear to me that there just isn't enough specificity in the design. The character would work as a graphic that could do funny walks and dances, but the design won't allow me to do any really intense and emotional acting. I mean, he has no facial structure!
Fast-forward to 2005.
In 2005 I decided to re-design Greenbird for television pitching. I decided that this time, I would begin the design by caricaturing an actual, specific bird. Well, Greenbird is supposed to be green - so I modeled him after a parrot.
I googled a bunch of parrot images, and here are some of the drawings that resulted:
I really like that sharp angle on the top of the parrot's head, so I tried to keep that in the design. I also realized that the tiny eyes are part of what makes a parrot look like a parrot, so I tried to keep those too.
This next step is the most crucial step in turning an animal into a cartoon animal:
Adding the hat and moustache.
How about a shirt and tie, too?
As you can see on one of my post-it notes, I realized that the little eyes were not going to be expressive enough. But everytime I drew the eyes bigger, I felt like I was losing too much of that original parrot.
Now I'm not exactly sure what happened next - I think I started focusing on the Preston Blair book more intensely in an effort to strengthen my skills in cartoon construction. But the following designs basically ended up being my final designs. I realized that soft and round shapes would animate much better than the designs I had been working on before, and also that with these new character constructions I would be able to study classic cartoons and apply what I learn to Greenbird more easily.
He now has facial construction...
And his body has volume....
And look, he can even turn around now!
This latest version of Greenbird is succesful, to me, because I can now put him in poses and twist him around and give him much more specific facial expressions that just wouldn't have been possible with the original designs. I really like the realistic parrot drawings, but I don't think they are as practical for cartoon animation.
The most fun of this whole process, actually, was drawing the real parrot and then trying to caricature its features! Here are some more drawings from that period:
I'm not sure if there is anything to learn from this post - but I just thought I'd share my experience designing Greenbird.
So what kind of processes do you go through when designing characters?