Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Character Sketches

Here are my initial character sketches, starting by just experimenting with simple shapes and hair design. I didn't include any arms or legs at this point because they're really secondary to hair at this point, and I want to ensure I get the relationship between the body and head/hair right before I start adding limbs. I wanted the character to have a large head, much larger than the body, in order to emphasise the hair and allow for wide eyes and much more expressive facial acting. I also played witht he possibility of using a hair band to define the 'wrist' of the hair hand to make it easier to see where the 'hand' stops and 'arm' starts.

Once I'd got an idea for the general shape/proportions of the character, I started adding detail such as hair, clothes and feet, keeping to the simpleand limbless Rayman style for the time being. I went for a triangular shaped body since these tend to have a good center of blanance and work well with the large circular head, allowing for a thin, distinct neck line which easily spreads out into the wide hips usually associated with being female. The wide hips also make the perfect base for a dress to hang off, completing the girlish appeareance. I still left the hands out at this point since I wanted to make sure the hair worked as arm/hand substitutes and without actual hands being present to divert the viewer's eye. I'm glad I took this approach because I soon disocovered that the way I was drawing the hair was took thick and volumous, making it difficult to define the posing of the arms. You can tell the drawings below wouldn't look particularly great in silhouette.

Next I tried refining the hair; making it thinner and more shaped so it would be easier to read as 'arms'. I also started adding more detail to the dress, shoes, eyes, and design in general, going for a very swirly style inspired by the celtic fairy tale style of the Rayman 2 game. ...Then I soon realised that my character was regretably morphing into a bit of a Rayman clone, which is the very last thing I wanted to happen. I think there are still some good aspects to the design which I'm glad I explored, but overall she looks too generic and fantasy based, not at all like she belongs in a narrative about a normal girl who can't whether or not she should cut her hair. Also all the swirly details seem rather unnesessary and would be a pain to animate... I think I need to refocus myself and home in on my narrative and the kind of girl I want to represent that story.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Limbless Wonders

Perhaps I'm more evil inside than imagine, but while thinking of different ways the battle between my character and her hair could be choreographed, I suddenly got the mental image of the hair grabbing her hands and pulling them clean off from her body, essentially rendering her almost helpless (or at the very least, having a huge disadvantage). Naturally I don't want this to be a horrible, gory affair, far from it; my aim is to create a quirky, comical, cartoony animation where the violence is lends to the humour and is anything but realistic. Keeping that in mind, in order for limbs to be torn off without bloodshed the character would logically either have to be a doll of some kind (which I don't want), or never have arms to begin with, only hands. I remember a scene from the opening cinematic of Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc where the limbless hero Rayman is fast asleep and his friends are trying to save him from the bad guys by lifting him out the way by his hands. Since his hands seem to only be attached to Rayman's body magically, the weight of his body proves too great and the hands pop loose. (Skip to 2:12 in the video below.) This is naturally played for laughs and is intended to make the situation more dire, but in a way that's fun to watch rather than scary.

Below are more examples of magically limbless video game characters that I think will make useful references should I decide to go down this route with my character design.

(Rayman - Rayman 2: The Great Escape)

(Dimentio - Super Paper Mario)

(NiGHTS - NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams)

(Miis - Wii Sports Resort)

I especially like how NiGHTS and the Miis have no arms to speak of, but still have legs connecting their feet to their bodies. I think that if I do decide to make my final character design have floating hands, I may still give her legs so I can demonstrate solid walk and run movements. My goal in this project is to develop my skill as a character animator, after all. I need to focus and ensure my character design doesn't hinder my animation and what acting the character is capable of by being too weird.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Hairy Limbs

Before starting my character design I've scoured my memory and the Internet for existing characters in video games and animation that use their hair as hands/limbs or something else out of the ordinary in order to get an idea of different kinds of hair related powers and what my character should and shouldn't be able to do with her hair. ...Or more accurately, what my character's hair should be able to do to my character. She naturally won't get much choice in the matter, poor thing. But regardless, I think it'll be good practice to look at hair powers from both perspectives as I was originally thinking of my having my character star in a game where she used her hair based powers to get around due to lack of arms of her own... My idea may have developed into a narrative piece since then, but I still want to keep my options open in terms of character design so I can come up with something that really works and fits the tone of the story I'm trying to tell.

(Tiny Kong)

(Dixie Kong)

First we have Tiny Kong and Dixie Kong from the Donkey Kong video game series; two female monkey with long blonde hair who use their lengthy locks as weapons of mass destruction! ...Okay, so that's a slight exaggeration, but having played the games that they each appear in I can say that, while simple, their hair related powers work interestingly as means of transportation and combat. Both Tiny and Dixie have the ability to spin/hover through the air using their signature 'ponytail twirl' move, which allows them to clear large distances otherwise impossible to jump. Dixie can also use her ponytail to grab and throw enemies, while Tiny is capable of using her pigtails as weapons to whack enemies with once close enough. While the hair in these cases isn't particularly personified, its still a nice starting point.

Next we have Midna from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, who is a brilliant example of hair having a life of its own. While she's in clearly in control of her hair at all all times, her ponytail leaps into a grotesquely creepy hand that hover above her head in front of her, allowing her to grab, move, and throw things much larger than herself with relative ease. I really want my character's hair to have a distinctive hand shape with a narrower wrist so it's easily defined from the rest of the hair/arm like Midna's. I think this is important for the viewer to read the action clearly. I also really like how Midna's hair hand has long, pointed/jagged finger tips... In this case it's probably to make the hand more intimidating as it's being used as a weapon, since her hair normally has flat, rounded edges. But I'm thinking of having my character's hair have a more pointed ends so they hand easily mesh into fingers, so I think pointed fingers will work well for that.

Tangled, Disney's up-and-coming adaptation of the Rapunzel fairy tale, also decides to take a twist with the unusually long hair and similarly has Rapunzel able to control its actions at will to capture and tie up intruders. While this isn't really any different from the other examples other than in terms of sheer hair length, its nice to see a design where the hair isn't tied up somehow and yet is still perfectly functional. However this would detract from the conflict I want my character to have with her long hair as I need to her be annoyed and exasperated with how much it gets in the way, especially while wearing it down.

Video game heroine Bayonetta takes thinks to the extreme, her entire outfit consisting soley of her own hair wrapped magically around her body. Unfortunately this means that whenever she uses it as a weapon in battle, she becomes completely naked in the process... But regardless, having hair that can transform into a demonic dragon on a whim is certainly an interesting power and a great way to personify her hair as having an identity of its own. It's a little too much to be considered for my character, though...

Last but not least we have Niche, a young girl character from the anime Tegami Bachi or 'Letter Bee' in English. Likewise she uses her hair as weapons and extra limbs, but seems to have a far more diverse range of what she can do with it due to it's unnatural strength. Her hairy abilities range from simply picking things up/carrying them/throwing them around to climbing, aerial acrobatics, using her pigtails as swords, shields, and even skis and spider legs for moving around while her body is suspended in mid air. Her hair is also able to stretch/grow as much as the situation demands it, always snapping back to its original length when not in use, and she even uses it to gesture instead of or as well as her real arms for added exaggerated effect. All in all I really like how she's not limited to only one or two actions with her hair, making it feel like it's really alive and a creature in its own right, though I know a lot of what she can do it too fantasy orientated to apply to my character. Looking at these characters has made me realise I definitely want my character to have pigtails, though, as these seem to allow for the most interesting movements, and they'll have the added bonus of looking and acting like two extra arms rather than just one.

More Sadistic Cartoon Humour... With Added Insight Into Character Acting

Having chosen the general story path I wish to follow, I once again called upon the works of Don Hertzfeldt for further inspiration as he seems to have a certain flare for mercilessly punishing his characters for the sake of humour. Not that I want to go out of my way to be evil to my character or anything (...Okay, maybe just a little), but the Brother's Mcleod once told us that the best thing you can do for your character or story is make the worst possible thing happen to them, and sager advice I have yet to find. If everything is going perfectly fine for a character then the story becomes boring and the audience quickly loses interest; its the way the character overcomes whatever problems are hurled at him or her that engages us and makes us care about and empathise with the person we see on the screen. Ed Hooks brought up essentially the same point during his Acting for Animators lecture we went to last year, saying that a successful scene is a negotiation: there has to be a way to win and lose. There's a big difference between the dull goings on of regular reality and the exaggerated drama of theatrical reality, in which there needs to be an action in pursuit of an objective while overcoming an obstacle. Its the obstacle that makes the scene interesting since its the obstacle that provides conflict for the character, whether with themselves, their situation, or another person.

I intend for my character to start off having conflict with herself over whether to cut her hair or not, which then switches to conflict with another person (her hair) when her hair comes to life. Hertzfeldt's film 'Billy's Balloon' is a great example of an innocent character finding himself in sudden, unexpected conflict with his balloon (another character) which suddenly gains a rather malicious life of its own. Its a very simple idea which isn't fully explained, but its a good reference for ways in which a long appendage of an inanimate object (in this case, the string of the balloon) can be personified as a human limb such as a hand and arm, which is exactly want I want to achieve with my character's hair. It also gives me some good ideas for ways the hair can battle my character, such as picking her up and throwing her around (and naturally, wrapping around her neck to strangle her).

The Awesomeness of Patrick Smith

I only recently discovered Patrick Smith, stumbling across him in my search for inspiration over the summer, and I almost instantly fell in love with his wonderfully traditional, sketchy, hand-drawn style of animation (a rarity these days in finished films), and his awesome yet twisted takes on relatively common-place scenarios which he uses in his storytelling. The first film of his I found,'Puppet' (which you can watch below), is a nice twist on the relationship between puppet and puppeteer and a brilliant example of how easily the tables could turn if the inanimate objects under our control suddenly gained lives of their own. The story instantly spoke to me, as animators are essentially puppet masters who control their characters or 'dolls' through drawing rather than strings, and I've always been fascinated by the concept of my own creations coming to life and gaining wills of their own, which I've attempted to explore through my work in earlier years.

While it was 'Puppet' that put he idea of my character having to battle an inanimate object come to life in my head, it was an earlier film of Smith's, 'Handshake', that sparked the idea of hair. The film itself has absolutely nothing to do with hair, but I absolutely love how something as simple and everyday as shaking hands with a stranger morphed into an intensely freaky battle for survival, using being stuck together as a visual metaphor for the possible relationship issues the woman (who eventually consumes the man) might experience on a regular basis when she meets new potential love interests. (Or at least that was my interpretation...) Watching this made me realise I wanted a story that similarly takes an ordinary, everyday situation and twists it into something quirky and unique, perhaps as a literal visual interpretation of some sort of inner conflict.

It was as I was thinking about this while washing my hair that the thought suddenly hit me... I've always had trouble with my long hair. Nothing major that's ever made me want to cut it all off, but there's always been little minor annoyances that naturally come with growing it past your waist. Things like getting it caught on door handles and sitting on it, thus resulting in painful neck jerks and you try to lean forward, and it naturally just getting in the way while down (especially if its a windy day). To avoid accidentally suffocating myself in my sleep I've always kept my hair tied back in a ponytail in bed, yet despite this I've lost count of how many times I've woken up over the years to find my hair wrapped around my neck as though its alive. ...That... would be rather scary if my hair was the vengeful sort, wouldn't you agree?

Which lead me to my next trail of thought... Over the years people have constantly asked me 'why don't you cut your hair?' Why oh why would I possibly want to keep it this long? Doesn't it get annoying? There have been quite a few occasions during my adolescence when I've considered what life would be like with shorter, more manageable hair, but at the end of the day I've never had the confidence or the guts to actually go through with it (which I'm very glad about now). So what if my character's 'battle' was a representation of her inner conflict over getting her overly long hair cut? I know it must sound silly, but anyone who's nurtured and lovingly cared for long hair for as many years as I have can't take the thought of suddenly losing what they've put so much effort into preserving lightly. They say hair is dead, but if that wasn't true, wouldn't we be attacking our hair every time we go to the hairdressers in an attempt to tailor it to our whims? We're actually very brutal and violent hosts; and I honestly wouldn't blame our hair for fighting back against the threat of scissor blades or, from the hair's point of view, impending doom. I suppose this is a very personal story subject for me, but that's what makes the thought of exploring it through animation all the more exciting, and I think it'll prove to be excellent incentive for my character to show off some really interesting and exaggerated movements and facial expressions, which is what I'm going for this module.

And So It Begins...

Welcome all to my badly titled blog, done so due to the fact this will contain my work for my first project of my final year in university. (Scary times!) Here I intend to post any and all off my research, doodles, and general ideas concerning what I hope to do for my project, through that has yet to be officially decided... For now I'm simply going to accumulate all the bits and pieces that have been floating around in my mind over the long months of summer into one place for reference purposes. ...Also in the hopes that doing so will somehow give me a clear goal.