This is a presentation of my character designs for the “Drawing for Animators” class at CCA (California College of the Arts). The task was to make our own story and develop tree to five original characters.
I have picked the “Little Red Riding Hood” story because it was my favorite fairy tale in childhood. I decided to change the story a bit, add new perspective and introduce modern characters.
My story takes place in our days, somewhere on the West Coast. My heroine is Elizabeth, also known as “Little Red Riding Hood”.
She is a teenager, who lives with her parents in a small neighborhood, goes to school not far from her house and often feels lonely.. She likes sports, especially skateboarding and hiking. But since she has very few human friends, she finds herself company in the nature that surrounds her house. If her parents would allow her to do so, she would bring home every little animal she could find on the streets or in the forest. She has a very kind heart. Elizabeth likes watching movies and does not like when people call her “Lizzy”. She thinks that a name Elizabeth fits a young princess much better.
As for her looks, Elizabeth is pretty but she is not into fashion and likes to dress comfortably. A pair of jeans and a simple T-shirt is the best outfit for her. She also doesn’t spend much time combing her fluffy hair. That’s why she usually wears a shaggy ponytail tied with a red rubber band.
My story begins when Elizabeth’s mom sends her to Granny Sophie for summer. This is not a very unusual thing because her parents seem to care less of her, and Elizabeth spends many of her holidays with grandma, in a little coastal village about 40 miles from her city. The girl takes a Greyhound bus that goes straight to Granny’s place, but unfortunately it right across the forest that leads to the village. Tired of waiting, Elizabeth decides she can take a shortcut and get to the village through the forest, confident that she can easily find her way. Of course, she gets lost and after some wandering around gets on a forest service road that leads her to abandoned county park.
There she has a frightening encounter, meeting a real wolf. Unexpectedly, the wolf is frightened even more of a human who stumbled upon his modest house. While running away from the girl, the wolf hits a tree and passes out. Driven by her kind heart and curiosity, Elizabeth returns to the poor animal and quickly finds him to be a very unusual character.
The wolf, by the name Adolf indeed has a very unusual personality. He is the kind of a guy who wouldn’t harm a fly. Adolf is shy, prefers vegetarian food and lives a life of hermit. He is quite intelligent and even figured out how to read those few books he found in the park.
When the heroine meets the wolf, it doesn’t take long for them to become friends. And as you may probably guess, eventually they come to granny’s house together. Adolf thinks he is done with his job of showing Elizabeth a way out of woods, but she does not want him to go. She wants a friend for summer, so she somehow persuades him to stay. But they have to work out a plan to keep Adolf at grandma’s house. They decide that he would pretend being a dog – a task made even easier with Adolf’s intelligent habits and behavior.
The idea is that the cheerful and nearsighted grandma would not notice that “the dog” looks unusual and would not care calling Elizabeth’s parents about it. Granny Sofia is, indeed, very special. In her ripe age she has great ability to see good things in life and trust people around her, while enjoying herself. She lives a healthy life, does yoga and grows organic vegetables in the backyard. But even granny has little secrets of her own – despite self-proclaimed vegetarian status, sometimes she secretly enjoys a good steak. And when she listens to the radio, the old tunes often remind her of the great days of her hippie youth.
Sofie looks vigorous and energetic. Most of the time she is wearing a red and purple jumpsuit, small shoes, round glasses and a braided pigtail. Sofie loves Elizabeth a lot and easily buys into her story of parents buying her a pet dog by the name Adolf.
Of course, grandma is sometimes puzzled of the behavior of her guests. She can never figure out why at times she finds Adolf sitting in her chair and reading books. She can also never figure out why neighbor’s dogs seem to fear Adolf a lot. But generally speaking everything goes well.
Until a third character shows up.
Bob is a ranger who knows a bit about animals. Generally, he does not like them.
Bob comes from a farmer’s family and sorts wildlife into “useless” and “dangerous” kinds. And of course, finding a wolf at his neighbor’s house does not make him feel easy. After his suspicions are confirmed, Bob starts plotting an insidious plan to capture Adolf and send him off to Canada, where he thinks wolfs belong. In doing so, he intends to save Elizabeth and Sofie whose house was infiltrated by a dangerous animal.
In adventures that follow after that, Bob and Elizabeth find themselves on the different sides of the fence, while Sofie softens the plot and makes many comical appearances. Adolf, on the other hand, learns many things about humans and friendship.
When the main story ends, all the main characters have gained a lot from meeting each other. Elizabeth learns a bit of wisdom and intelligence from her canine friend Adolf. And the wolf gets used to having a company. Rather than living a lonely life, he decides to travel and how other wolves are doing in Yellowstone and Northwest territories – the places he heard about from Bob. And Bob, perhaps, does the most significant thing in his life – he finally decides to tell his neighbor Sofie that he secretly admires her. While Sofie, well, is just Sofie – whatever way the life turns out, she is always happy. Let’s call this ending a “happy end”.
This all sounds easy enough, but visual storytelling needs a lot of work. Before drawing characters, you already have to know the personality of one of them, understand their emotions and their relationships. This is a fundamental knowledge you should have before you start visual development. After all that is established the designer begins the research, trying to find things, pictures and places that will inspire his imagination and help to visualize and support his designs. Then he starts doing sketches. The first step of visual development is to define shapes and dimensions relative to each other. It’s always good to create contrast between shapes, sizes, volumes, colors and etc.
After that, when the creator played enough with shapes, sizes, he starts to define the details, like structure of face, eyes, nose, hands and starts creating the clothing and outfits for each of his heroes.
And finally, when all the previous steps are complete, the artist starts working with color. The colors should reflect the general mood of the movie and fit the style of the world designed around those characters. The author can do any kind of coloring – hand-painting, CG (computer graphics) or combined. For my work I used combined coloring – watercolor and CG. For the CG coloring I utilized Photoshop and a limited amount of 3D modeling.
To have a better idea of the relationship and connection between the characters, an artist often places them on one paper next to each other. Such paper is called ‘line up’. It doesn’t necessarily have to be colored, but works as a useful instrument for scene mock-ups before the actual animation began.
It took me about a month to create this story and characters. The most difficult part was to create personalities that would look like they belong to the same world, visually and stylistically having a connection. The most problematic character was the wolf because for a long time I couldn’t make my mind if he should be biped or quadruped. My original idea was to make him walking on two legs but I struggled with the design a lot. Then I figured out that visually I can imagine the design of “normal wolf” and he would still fit the general idea of a story. So I had to go with the second version and finally the design came up well. Adolf can still stand on two legs – such as in a scene when he meets Elizabeth when she sees him cooking food on a grill in a park and confuses him with a tourist. However, in most scenes he walks around just like a normal wolf and is wise enough not to behave like a human too much.
My favourite hero in this story is Sophie, the grandma. I love the personality and visual realization of her. She is a funny type of character, easily evoking emotions from people and she has uncanny sense of goodwill. These are the most appealing characteristics of her.
In general, I am very pleased with the final work and have some hope those characters and story can be animated.