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From ‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio’ to Wolf in ‘The Bad Guys,’ Animated Feature Contenders Talk Character Design



The proportions of his eponymous stop-motion character are gangly and childlike, in the words of Guillermo del Toro. “They lend themselves to these sort of haphazard rhythms of walking and running that are very endearing. In his apparent simplicity, is a very complex work of design keeping those few elements alive and on top with the raw wood that is simulating hair and branches, and the nails on his back are very expressive and unique and feel almost elemental.” Director Mark Gustafson points out that in the story, he’s carved by a drunken Geppetto making Pinocchio “very primitive in some ways, unfinished, naked, and exposed. That was what we needed for him to go out into the world with. He can’t hide anything. That’s the nature of innocence. You’re wearing it all on the outside and that’s what this character does. He hides nothing.”

The Bad Guys (DreamWorks Animation/Universal)

For the look of Mr. Wolf and the cast of characters in The Bad Guysbased on Aaron Blabey’s children’s book series, director Pierre Perifel wanted to take cues from French artists like Franquin, Christophe Blain or Benjamin Renner and Japanese animation, notably mangaka Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball). “The idea was to constantly combine sophistication and silliness in the visuals,” he says. “Mr. Wolf, for instance, has the swagger of a Spike Spiegel (Cowboy Bebop) blended with the charming goofiness of Miyazaki’s Lupin. Lean and long, with a devil-may-care attitude and nonchalant wit.”

The Bad Guys Character Design

‘The Bad Guys’ character design

Courtesy of Dreamworks Animation

Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood (Netflix)

Apollo 10 1/2 surrounds the Apollo 11 moon mission, as seen through the eyes of young Stan. Director Richard Linklater wanted Stan’s look to encompass both reality and wonder. “We loved the era of the space-age ’60s, with its pop colors, varied textures and film stocks. The great animated films are an influence, but so are the Saturday morning cartoons of the era. Our character starts with a reference performance, but we still design our characters with economy of the line. … We’re forever looking to evoke the most emotion with the least amount of drawing.”

Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood

‘Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood’

Courtesy of SXSW

Lightyear (Disney/Pixar)

“Buzz is one of the most recognizable pop culture icons of the modern era, but if you directly translate his design into a human world, the proportions could look very exaggerated,” says director Angus MacLane of the challenge in designing his character for the spinoff. . “We had to find a way to adapt the original design so that it was more realistically human and yet still recognizably Buzz Lightyear.” He says that centered on his chin. “Get Buzz’s chin right and work outward. So that’s what we did.”

Animation Story Buzz Lightyear


courtesy of Disney/Pixar

Director Nora Twomey says she and Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon gave Elmer — her young protagonist who teams up with a dragon — an uncomplicated look. “Ultimately, he is a bunch of lines arranged to form the face and body of a child,” she says of the protagonist in her movie, which is based on the children’s book of the same name. “His design holds the least number of lines necessary to carry a central performance. Each line costs an animator time, as they draw 12 images per second, averaging 50 drawings per week. But economies like this can be liberating. Scott McCloud, in his book Understanding Comics says, ‘When we abstract an image, we’re not so much eliminating detail but focusing on specific details.’ As the child is abstracted, the more he echoes you and me, his eyes become our eyes, his struggles become ours too.”


‘My Father’s Deagon’

Courtesy of Netflix

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