Originally posted on the MA Character animation course blog, published January 20th 2016.
One of my biggest challenges at the moment is finding the right design for the characters. Because of the story having such a serious tone to it I don’t want the animals to look too cute. Which is hard for me as my own style has that element of cuteness in it and I’m having trouble breaking that habit as well as it’s almost impossible to not make arctic foxes look cute when drawn. I would like the foxes to look realistic, but still having the possibility of showing much emotion through their face and body since they don’t talk. So when I couldn’t come up with a design that felt just right I started looking around for animated foxes to see how this has been solved previously.
Even though Disney is quite the opposite of what I’m after I still looked at their fox characters to see both what I wanted to avoid and what I could draw inspiration from. Disney had more fox characters than I could remember, mostly because I thought some of them where dogs when they during my researched turned out to be foxes. And that is part of the problem of the Disney design as I see it, the designs are sometimes too generic.
If I’m going to learn anything from this it would be to consider the level of human in the character and who you audience is. Except from Tod from The fox and the hound (1981) the other foxes has a high level of anthropomorphism. But although Tod is the closest to being a “realistic” looking fox, he still has the big expressive Disney eyes and a very soft line which gives him a cute and appealing look. The fox and the hound has a relatively serious storyline, but is also based on a lot of humour and changed the darkest elements of the original story to make it more family friendly which worked better with both Disney’s movies and design style.
Another animation I’ve been looking at is one of the TV-series I remembered from my childhood, The Animals of Farthing Wood (1993-1995). This series had both very realistic looking animals and a very serious tone. So serious that I remember it as quite upsetting since so many of the animals died, it was like a Watership Down without the visible blood and gore. Although this is closer to what I want it’s a bit too much. The animals in the TV-series didn’t have much facial expressions and their body language mostly resembled real animals, so it was based more on dialogue and lots of time to explore and explain the storyline. I’m also not a huge fan of the design since it’s a bit too clunky for my liking, although I like the simplicity of it.
But I have one inspiration that is pretty close to the design I want, the 2013 John Lewis Christmas advert, The Bear & the Hare.
This two minute advert has animals that has expressive realistic features, are fairly simplistic and smooth and appealing design. The animals where designed by Aaron Blaise who has worked for Disney as a character designer.
Aaron Blaise also worked on Brother Bear (2003) where the bears have more of the Disney look to them.
What I like about the design in The Bear & the Hare is that the eyes are very small and has no white in them, but still are very expressive in addition to the whole face. As well as the body acting that is based of the animals limits rather that giving them very humanistic movements.
I also found some of the early designs for the advert that weren’t used. These where drawn by Chris Garbutt. They are pretty far from the design they ended up with and the design I would like to have, but they still have an appeal to them that I hope to capture in my designs.