Further study into the Woodland theme

If I am going to further explore the potentials of the woodland theme then I need to review and learn from other animators and their work. I thought of Tex Avery’s Screwball Squirrel as a perfect place to start because of the genre and also the humour which is something I really like in animation. I’d like to include this sort of slap stick humour somewhere in my animation for entertainment purposes.

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Frederick Bean Avery (Tex) was an American animator, cartoonist, voice actor and director, famous for producing animated cartoons during The Golden Age of Hollywood animation. He did his most significant work for the Warner Brothers and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios.

Tex was responsible for creating some of the most iconic characters in animation history. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Droopy, Screwy Squirrel all came from Tex’s imagination. He also developed Porky Pig and Chilly Willy into the personas for which they are remembered. His cartoons became known for their sheer lunacy, breakneck pace, and a passion for playing with the medium of animation and film that few other directors dared to approach at that time. His influence could be seen in some modern cartoons, such as Roger Rabbit, Ren & Stimpy, Bonkers, Oggy and the Cockroaches, Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, Freakazoid, SpongeBob SquarePants and the Genie character from Disney’s Aladdin.

There are also obvious references to Tex’s work in certain scenes of ‘The Mask’ starring Jim Carrey like ‘Red Hot Riding Hood’.

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The wolf becomes an animistic metaphor for men’s desire and lust.

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The exaggerated size of certain features is what’s so unique to Tex’s animation style and others like him. Like the tongue rolling out onto the table. It would be funny to see the wolf pant but its funnier to see the tongue become several times larger because it emphasizes the emotion and makes itself stand out to the viewer, so we know it’s what the animator wants us to look at.

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Tex makes it obvious to the viewer what the charater is feeling. Like the GIF above taken from ‘The Mask’ we see a connotation for love represented by the very large pounding heart. This use of overly exaggerated emotions like

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If I’m going to do my FMP successfully I need to create a character which is as well designed as Tex’s. It seems all of his animal characters are given overly exaggerated human characteristics which is interesting for the viewer because people can relate to certain attributes. Whether they see it in themselves or in other people it helps the viewer to connect with how the characters are feeling or what they might be doing. In Red Hot Riding Hood, Tex takes personification to another level by dressing Wolfy in a suit. The character becomes a representation of a mans emotions rather than a wolf hiding in man’s clothing. It then becomes clear that this animation is a gimmick on how men react to a beautiful woman. This use of satire in the animation is what makes it so comical. We enjoy laughing at our selves; and seeing an exaggerated representation makes us laugh. Even if the audience doesn’t pick up on the satire it’s comical enough to watch the slap stick humour regardless of his intentions.

I think this has potential for being something which I can feature in my animation. I might be able to have a narrative which follows a protagonist on his journey to find love. When he does find love then I can have a cheesy, love scene which will lull the audience into feeling comfortable. Then I will slap a shocking twist to the plot, adding the humour to the animation and challenging the modern day fantasy portrayals of a perfect love scene in films and animations.

I’m not sure what my character will be yet. He/she could either be a character which fits the woodland setting or one which doesn’t fit at all. If the character doesn’t fit the forest then this could further exaggerate the loneliness of the protagonist before they find their belonging in a mate or partner. However, it would appear to make more sense if the creature/character lived and fit the woodland background. To avoid confusion I think the character should fit the background. Nonetheless, I will experiment with both options and evaluate which is better suited.

I’ll look at this illustration of Wind in the Willows as inspiration for this brainstorming session.

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If the character was a ballon it would certainly be unique but I don’t really think it gives me many options for portraying emotions. Plus I would like to animate something with legs and arms to fully demonstrate and practise my animating skills.

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I felt like drawing a wolf because it is the overly used, classic villain in nearly all of the animations and films set inside a woodland e.g. red riding hood. I could have a wolf at the end which eats the adorable protagonists or I could put a twist on the natural role of the wolf. However, I think that sort of animation wouldn’t be as surprising as I think it would be.

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These sorts of ‘monsters’ would be perfect if I want to animate a character which doesn’t fit the woodland setting. Then I would be referencing work like the ‘Gruffalo’ and ‘Where the Wild Things Are’. These sorts of books follow a alienated protagonist which finds meaning and a sense of belonging in unlikely settings. It would be nice to have a really strange character but I think I might stick to animating a cute woodland creature.

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Monster concept

I think these sorts of cute characters is definitely heading in the right direction. I would love to animate an adorable creature with big eyes. It would be more effective on the audience as well because I want the audience to sympathise with the protagonist.

I found this amazing stop motion animation by Yuriy Norshteyn on YouTube and I really felt inspired by it. I felt it was a little dark in some places and felt a bit nightmarish but I loved the beautifully designed backgrounds and characters. I loved how looming everything felt throughout the animation; it was really successful at making the audience feel intimidated by the large trees above. The sense of scale was very impressive and I really felt as small as the hedgehog. Although most of the animation was definitely incredibly strange and sometimes random, I like most of it’s dominating features.

More importantly I fell in love with the hedgehog protagonist. I think I would really enjoy experimenting with drawing a hedgehog character. It’s small, circular body is perfect for making the animating stages as simple as possible. I need a simple character for my final animation; otherwise I will spend too long animating it when I could be developing the narrative and my ideas.

I know that I am set on animation instead of film but I thought it would be important to study work featuring woodland creatures shot on film. This is because it is important for me to develop my own style and to avoid me relying and copying work that has already been done. This episode from ‘Tales of the River Bank’ is perfect for me to study how these small creatures move and behave in real life; this is important to study because it will help me make my animations as realistic and believable as possible. I like how cute all the creatures look and I hope to exaggerate the aspects of the characters which I like. The narration in the film is good and helps to explain what is going on but I think my animation won’t include narration because I think it will distract the audience from immersing themselves in my animation. Plus the narration makes it feel like a documentary and I don’t want my animation to feel like a documentary or like a child’s program which has to literally describe what is going on. I want my animation to be suitable for children but I would rather focus on making the animation enjoyable for older generations.

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I will definitely continue exploring the idea of animating a hedgehog character because I haven’t found another creature which I want to animate as much as the hedgehog. I feel like the hedgehog would be perfect for my animation; I imagine I will give the character short stumpy limbs and large eyes. This will make animating easier as well as making the character cuter.

I know how important it will be to work from a real life hedgehog instead of just from other artists versions of hedgehogs to make sure I develop my own style. I will use videos like the one above as a reference when I start animating to make sure my hedgehog moves realistically. They appear to be quite nervous creatures and have quick, sharp movements when they sense danger. I will hopefully make my character look calm by using slow movements to make the audience feel calmed and not on edge. This will ensure the audience are relaxed and lulled into the story and look of the animation.

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Thankfully they are already very cute looking creatures so my character designing stages won’t take to long if my goal is to make the protagonist as cute as possible; to make the audience sympathise and fall in love with the character before something shocking happens to him.

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I thought the best place to start would be to just brainstorm lots of different styles of hedgehogs in various artistic interpretations. I thought a bit of colour would be perfect for a closer visual representation of what the final character will look like. Although I will definitely experiment with lots of different colours later on to make sure I am making the best possible choice of colour for the main character.

hedgehog initial drawings

My personal favourite actually turned out to be the second drawing I made. I know all hedgehogs have a soft underbelly but I think the character looks more adorable with a solid body of spikes. Maybe, later on in the animation stages I can add a belly in a layer behind the body but apart from that I really like the second drawing. I asked other people for their opinions as well and they agreed. So I will know further experiment with different shapes of faces for him because some more feedback I got was that the face wasn’t quite right.

hedgehog face experiments

All of these different faces will give me plenty of options to choose from and will make sure I make a better decision for the main characters design. I told people to pick their favourites which ended up being four designs which are all quite similar (circled above). The big eyes was definitely a strong factor into making the character look cute but there was some disagreement on whether he should have a large nose or a smaller, stumpy one. I’ve decided the best option would be to go straight into the middle and see what people think of it. I’m sure that throughout animation I could easily change the size of the nose if it fitted the characters mood better.

hedgehog concept

The next step for me was to start brainstorming various cartoon like eyes to experiment with different styles and expressions. This will be extremely important when I come to drawing the final animation because I’ve now developed my drawing abilities and expressionist skills for animating emotions.

hedgehog colour variations

I decided to go with the big oval eyes because it got the best feedback from other people. Then I did a quick experiment with various colours to see which would look best on a hedgehog. The vibrant colours certainly look interesting but I don’t think it’s suitable for what I’m trying to achieve. Plus, to avoid confusion I’m going to stick to purely a brown colour palette so the audience are 100% certain they are looking at a hedgehog and not some weird alien.

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I thought the next best thing for me to do would be to go first hand into a woodland area and try to feel inspired by things I see. I found this a very useful practice and has given me ideas for backgrounds, sounds and feel of the animation. I want the animation to express the loneliness of the character until he meets a friend or an attractive mate. This would be perfect at insuring the audience feels as sympathetic and immersed as possible.

This is the collection of my favourite images I took after exploring the woodlands near my home.

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If I stick to just drawing pine trees then it would make the animating and digital drawing easier for myself because I can just duplicate layers without it looking copied; because the trees all look so similar.

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I tried to get some low angle shots to see what it would be like for a small hedgehogs perspective. As I thought, the wood suddenly became a wide and scary place and I’d like to portray that as vividly in my animation as possible.

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