So, things are slowly progressing with the film. Slowly, but surely. Until we raise our budget I can only afford to work on the film in my spare time.
So I've spent my spare time in the past couple weeks scribbling in my notebook trying to work out the aesthetic for the film. This is a somewhat daunting, but overall exciting process. I'm designing characters, figuring out color palettes, and sketching ideas for backgrounds.
A couple of sketches of the roly-poly Elijah Burp.
Designing characters for this kind of project is tricky. Everything needs to be considered. For instance, take the eyes - what should they look like? Should the eyes be big, oval, with detailed pupils, or should they be completely round, lidded, with tiny pupils? Maybe the eyes should just be black dots? Simple black dots (think Charlie Brown, Calvin and Hobbes) surely look sleek and classy, but can they give the audience enough emotional range? Can the audience get attached to these characters for an hour and a half if their eyes are just dots? But do round eyes with pupils look too "cartoony" to be taken seriously? If I make them look too realistic, will they just be creepy? Ugly?
Odds Bodkins has round, lidded eyes and little pupils. He's pretty cartoony.
All those questions, and that's just the eyes. What about body types? Is this a world where the bodies are proportioned normally, or should they be exaggerated, and if so, by how much? In this world, how big are the character's hands in relation to their head? How big are their heads in relation to their body?
Norma Burp - is her head too big in that profile sketch?
Burp's Christmas is whimsical yet somber, joyous yet melancholy. There are moments of elation and fun and moments of very deep emotional sorrow. In orchestrating the aesthetic, I'm trying to build a world that can be cartoony and dynamic and engaging, but can also carry the weight of real life human feelings and interactions. If my designs, my "world", is too cartoony, the serious parts of the film will seem ironic. And if it's too realistic, it'll be visually boring - a live action film hiding out in the world of animation. And the film will fail.
On top of the above considerations, I also have to design a world that fits the practical pros and cons of the style of animation I'm using. Burp's Christmas, like The Romantic, will be animated in Adobe After Effects in a style mimicking "cut-out paper animation", a somewhat antiquated form of animation where the animator moves cut-out paper puppets underneath a camera, frame at a time, to achieve the illusion of movement. South Park, in it's original few episodes (before they switched to computers like I have), is a rudimentary example of this technique.
Here are three other examples:
Hedgehog in The Fog by Yuriy Norshteyn
Twice Upon a Time by John Korty
The Adventures of Prince Achmed by Lotte Reineger
In cut-out animation, as opposed to traditional hand drawn, you do not redraw the same character over and over. Instead, you build "puppets" that are moved over time. For this reason, character designs for traditional animation tend to be pretty simple and low on detail while designs for cut-out paper can be filled with rich texture and loads of detail. This is one of the pros of the style. My characters can wear corduroy pants and houndstooth blazers as much as they like and I don't have to drive myself insane rendering those details over and over.
A bunch of Charles Burp Pictures. Note how curvy he is in the first picture - those curves are hard to joint naturally in After Effects. End result will probably be the body in 2 & 3 with the head from 1.
Cut-out animation is not without it's own limitations. The above you tube examples, while different in style, share some similarities, including a kind of quirky movement that is snappier than traditional animation. With hand drawn, a character can be drawn to bend and move however the animator desires it to. With cut-outs, the character movement is restricted by it's initial design. Moving forward and backward in perspective can be tricky, as can simply bending a characters arm, if the initial design doesn't seem to allow for natural movement.
So that's what I'm working with right now. Next time I post I'll talk more specifically about other artists I'm drawing from for inspiration!
Michael P. Heneghan