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Helen Capewell
OCA Learning Log
Student Number: 522802
Degree: Illustration
Current Level: 2

Animal Farm

Exercise 5 - develop an animal character that is capable of showing a range of emotions, movements and reactions to different situations.

Turning animals into characters is something I struggle quite a lot with. For me it is letting go of the realism of the animal, and exploring shape and expression with animal features that I find most challenging. I wonder, how do they turn the different mouths into human like expressions that some how make sense and appear natural even with the exaggeration. There is also the point of trying to not copy the famous styles of Looney Tunes or Disney (amongst others) and create something of your own. They have nailed it with getting the features in a way that can be so well pushed for expression and yet still feel true to the animal it portrays (kind of).

My typical style for drawing eyes, for example has moved toward the black dot, like Tin Tin let's say. Whilst dot eyes can be expressive with the eyebrows and other animated features, I sometimes struggle to capture the same simplistic style with animals. I might be able to capture an expression in one particular angle, but turn the head slightly and I will lose it!

For this exercise, I stuck to a lane that was definitely familiar. I collected reference from the internet pulled from films or cartoons that I knew showed a strong variety in the animals and their expressions. There are many feature films that are based on animals, but there was a few that I felt would help the most. Zootopia was an obvious start for me, given that the entire film is humanised animals living in a city. I didn't want to focus on the 3D artwork for the films, but more the character development side, the 2D sketches that would initiate the final design. I found many great character sheets full of exploding expressions and put them together as a mood board. At this stage I wasn't sure on the animal I was going to use for a character.

Once I collected some reference I began to search animals that I thought would be manageable for turning into a character. A personal project that I have been unable to complete is a story based on my own German Shepherd dog, Tyson. The reason it has not been complete is because I have not felt confident at creating a character based on him. I have struggled to decide on the style, I worry of making it Disney, or simply not being consistent in his look. There are many factors why the character development side has been my downfall but ultimately it is because I struggle with expression on top of a style. So I really wanted to keep this as simple as possible, and actually use my childhood influences to help create the character. I didn't force a style I wasn't used to seeing, instead I wanted to embrace the ones that fired my interest in cartoons at a young age.

After much searching and debating, I decided on a Pigeon for my character. I knew that the shapes would be manageable with their simplistic appearance, allowing me to use squash and stretch to create some dynamic expression. With the thoughts in my head about how this could be, I quickly gathered some photo reference of pigeons that had a bit of variety in pose and then I cracked on with making my first sketches which I didn't have high hopes for.

Initial Sketch Page 1

I still had to understand the facial features of the bird and whilst looking at anatomy would make sense for this, I thought seeing how others created expression in birds would be more useful in this situation. Donald Duck and Daffy Duck were included in my initial mood board, whilst their expressions were highly useful, their beak shape was very different to pigeons so I didn't feel this was a good resource to follow. I thought about Chicken Run, which felt a little closer to a pigeon, especially in the iconic Aardman Studio style. Their simple shape gave some ideas on how a beak could smile, talk and generally express.

When sketching I was drifting towards making the pigeon quite chunky, I liked the with puffed cheeks. The character sheet of Porky Pig in my mood board actually became the most useful in developing the pigeons face with this feature in mind. I liked Porky's plump cheeks, and actually sought resemblance in his nose as a potential beak. He became a slight lift off moment in the developments. Then came Tweety Pie, of course! I suddenly remembered that Tweety also had the cheeks, and an actual beak I could research! Those two characters combined really helped me move forward in the character work.

I also tried to find how other artists had made characters of pigeons and just pulled some of that out for reference. Many Pigeon illustrations I had found were showing pigeons in a bit of a dum stare, their beak was always closed and they just seemed a bit on edge in the expression, I guess quite reminiscent of real pigeons. A character that did come up was Lance for Spies in Disguise who is transformed into a pigeon. I haven't seen this film to know much about the character, but the images on Pinterest did provide useful reference as there was a range of expressions. What I noticed to help enhance the expression in Lance was the use of the big eyebrows. They gave angry bird vibes, but I guess it was a character choice to indicate that the bird was once a human and the eyebrows are what identifies this.

Initial Sketch Page 2

Initial Sketch Page 3

I was getting a real mix bag of terrible and potential in my initial drawings. I was really trying to work out the beak situation, and then also exploring the pigeon head shape. Pigeons sometimes seem to have an odd shaped head. Perhaps its the kind of pigeon that makes a difference, but in some cases their forehead seems to be bigger, more pushed forward, which I thought could be something to exaggerate for the character, however on testing this, it just wasn't clicking as I had imagined. When I included a line that went above the beak creating a U shape between the eyes, it just looked weird. Compare this to having the shape but not the line I wondered if that was the trick. It also only really looked ok from certain angles. In the "Initial Sketch Page 2" image shown above, I manage to sketch an unimpressed pigeon from a side view, showing only one eye. In this view, the slightly bigger forehead seemed to have worked nice. As I had liked this sketch, I attempted to exaggerate it in "Initial sketch Page 3" (middle drawing) with a different approach and it looked very weird. It could be a brainy pigeon, but it wasn't the look. When I removed the line on the drawing to the right it felt better, but was it pigeon I questioned.

Initial Sketch Page 4

I then moved on to my final sketch page. This is where I started to piece together my previous pages with new found research. I started to find a look that I could keep somewhat consistent with when trying different expressions. From here I decided to go digital, to see if there was anything I could do in terms of developing. I pulled out my final piece of research which was taking a closer look at expressions. I also thought it might be a good opportunity to test colours.

Taking inspiration from some of expressions from the collected images and applied them to my pigeon design. It was really starting to work at this stage and I was happy with this sheet. Once I had applied colour I could see how the purple and green could be a little bandana around its neck so decided to keep it! From here I did a character turnaround.

I started with a rough sketch which I thought lacked the consistency of the some features as it rotated round.

I used the warp tool to get the sizing right for proportions and consistency. I added ruler guides to help with lining it up on each turn around.

the final turn around:

I think I could take this turn around through one more development to really land the character. I think I got it to a good point where it would be a matter of pushing the features slightly to add more personality. I really liked the page with the colour test and expressions, I think this had brought the character to life!

With this in mind, I decided to create a final piece with the character in full colour.


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