Hey gang. This is intended mainly for the animators and artists in the bunch, but all are welcome to comment and read. Warning, this is gonna be heavy on opinion.
After seeing and thinking about what John K. had to say about Bullwinkle (see previous post), I really got to thinking about the importance of exploring a character's design. And not using one version of a character throughout a film. I'm convinced that it's still attainable on a short deadline, if you put your heart into it. Just as an example, I dug up some screenshots from the Powder and Glory short Dustin and I worked on at FableVision. Note: I know I mentioned I never wanted to speak about client work on the Creative Juices blog. I'm offering this as an example of a project that was finished awhile ago, and only for analysis.
The short featuring Helena was around 40 seconds long. I believe we finished it in around 2 weeks. It was composed in 7 shots (or cuts), and included about 15 different key drawings of Helena. I pulled out some keyframes to look over.
The first thing I want to point out is that each of these shots uses a unique drawing of the character. There are no recycled goods. Secondly, like Bullwinkle, Helena is a character easily described. She's short (about 3 heads high with tiny legs), has a oval for a face, has short black hair with a widow's peak, has a distinct nose, and has a temper about her. Each drawing uses a subtle variation on that formula. But she is easily recognized. It didn't take me much more than an afternoon to design her, and I could keep my drawings loose because she has a simple design. And she's FUN to draw...that part is important, by the way.
I storyboarded the short one shot at a time and drew her to compliment each shot. When I moved to keyframe design, I painted in the backgrounds, tightened up the drawings I made and handed off half the shots for Dustin to animate, while I took the other half. Each shot was animated on its own terms. Because there was no lipsync, there wasn't even a need to reuse mouth shapes.
Now, let's get down to brass tacks. Without a library, this approach meant that I needed to create the brunt of the artwork. Which is good and bad. It gave me a lot of control over the characters, but it meant that Dustin rarely created original character art or poses. Keeping the line quality consistent becomes difficult (because Dustin has a different line than I do). This was especially because we used little or no tweening, so there was a lot of redraw in the animation.
To be fair, the short was under a minute. And there was no need to reuse her afterwards. So creating a library didn't make a lot of sense. This approach could easily get out of hand on series work (where lots of animators are involved, lots of lipsync gets used, and there are a lot more films to create). It would be difficult to keep everything consistent unless you took the time to train all the artists to draw the characters. Funny, though, because this was how it was done for most of the history of animation. A character library, instead, offers a certain efficiency and a measure of safety to keep everything in check. It's less risky. And it works. But can we do MORE?
It should be no secret by this point that I am an advocate of a limited library approach. I like to redraw my characters. But I would love to develop a hybrid approach that would allow for more spontaneity in our longer films as well. To breathe some life into that Flash stiffness we all know (and I am personally not a fan of). I wrote about this to get a discussion going. And I'd LOVE to hear more from everyone to get your opinions on the matter. ---THANKS!