Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Character Design in Animation

Worst Character Design Ever?As I was talking about the Superman Batman Public Enemies DVD with a colleague at work…. I realized that my next Blog HAD to be about character design.

I mentioned that Superman Batman had some of the worst character design I had seen in a while.

What did I mean by that??

They tried to copy the style of Ed McGuinness by trying to copy how muscle-bound the characters were. They tried to copy the surface without understanding what was underneath the surface, without understanding the structure behind how McGuinness’ characters are made.

Instead of trying to show every single muscle of the characters…. They could have instead kept the structures of McGuinness’ style and streamlined the exterior of the characters to make them easier to animate.

Too often when you look at an animated project…. The people behind the project don’t seem to have a clue as to how the animation process works.

We know from previous shows like Batman or Justice League that we are dealing with people who do understand the animation process.

So I have to scratch my head at how they could not see that what they had done made no sense for animation.

When we made the designs for the Bob Morane TV show around 96/97… we looked at how the Batman animated TV show had done a great job in streamlining their designs so that the animators would be able to do at least a decent job in animating them.

click to see full size

click to see full size

Other shows at the time like the X-Men or the Spider-man animated shows were great examples of what not to do so that it would be next to impossible to properly animate those shows.

For Batman, they’ve put together a style that would work for animation.

As opposed to X-Men where essentially, what they did was try to animate the Jim Lee designs from the comics.

Too often I have seen that in my career how some producer will insist for a certain look without seeming to have a clue as to what actually can work for animation.

When dealing with such producers… I have seen some designers who use what I call the “posing” technique.

Usually it means drawing the character in a strong pose to hide what is a weak design that does not really work.

To the untrained eye… such poses gives the illusion that the design actually works. But when you know better…. You can tell when someone is trying to get a producer who doesn’t know better to approve a design that does not really work.

A very simple way to spot such design is to simply take a design that was made using a strong dynamic pose, and reproduce the design with a standard neutral standing pose. That way the pose does not distract the eye, and you can judge the design on its own merit, on its own strength

You can tell that way if the design itself is strong enough or not.

Here are some examples of designs that that were made by a great guy called Jerry Hinds (who is drawing our Creature/Wildcard story) who used the posing technique.


Baby Yaga

To and old warhorse like me…. It took me about 3 seconds to see that those were strong designs…. But I made a neutral standing pose with them design to show how strong they remain with a straight pose.

Pierres Baba Yaga

Pierres Ultrax

Jerry did a AWESOME job with those designs.

Another example of a strong design is the character Gemini from the Image comic of the same name (a very fun comic…. Go buy a copy ;)). Even taking away the dynamic poses that the artist of the series uses…. The design remain strong.


I am sure that some of you guys have noticed how sometimes some characters look cool drawn by… let’s say Jim Lee…. But when someone else draws the very same character…. The whole thing falls apart.

That has been a big problem since… the Image Age I would say…. Or if you prefer… the early 90s.

In the long distant past…. The design work in comics usually was strong enough that no matter who was drawing the book/character… it would usually look fine.

Kyle RaynerBut at some point… the design work reached a point where when… again let’s say Jim Lee designed a character, it would look fine as drawn by Jim Lee…. But no one else could draw the darn thing and make it look good (for example… Omega Red… or even worse… Kyle Rayner with the “dog collar” Green Lantern design… damn that was a poor Green Lantern design).

Probably one of the reasons why since the early 90s… there are very few “new” characters that actually lasted… or that were able to sustain a series for very long.

If you create a “new” Blue Beetle… the design might look good when drawn by Jim Lee on the cover of Infinite Crisis…. But it falls apart/does not look as good when other artists try to draw him.

But now you know…. So maybe you too now will be “old warhorses” and will be able to spot poor design work in about 3 seconds. ;)

Until next time.


Reno said...

That dog collar GL costume did not look good, even when Jim Lee was drawing it.

Personally, I liked the Darryl Banks version. The only thing I found wrong with it was that it didn't have enough green. But then again, so does Alan Scott's costume. :)

Sometimes, artists go overboard when designing costumes, when most of the time it's the simplest design which looks best, like the red Captain Mar-vell costume, or Cyclops' present sleek, black outfit.

JimShelley said...

I may be confusing the Darry Banks version with the Jim Lee version - I'm going to have to google that.

I agree - sometimes simpler is better. Seems like a lot of the heroes and costumes got revamped in the 90s and some of the changes were rediculous. (Remember when everybody had pouches on their costumes? And leather jackets?)

Pierre Villeneuve said...

Yes Jim... what you used in the Blog is the Darryl Banks GL.... not the Jim Lee "dog collar".... or "flee collar"... depending who you ask. ;)

Not a big deal.... so don't worry about it.

Although even the Darryl Banks one looked weird depending on who was drawing it.

Although it is a simple enough design.... some people had a hard time drawing it properly somehow.


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