Matthew Wilson and Professor Bethanne Andersen, Visual Arts
How many people do you know have physical characteristics that match their personality? The idea that a personality and the way a person looks are connected is not new. Illustrators and animators have been capitalizing on it in their work for decades. However, it has just been since the last half of this century that this concept has really taken hold. This idea intrigued me so much that I spent two semesters of my educational experience at Brigham Young University researching, interviewing and learning about the subject.
My first in-depth experience with this idea occurred during my two internships in the spring of 1999. I was privileged to work in the studio with two of the greatest contemporary illustrators of today: Steve Brodner and Peter de Seve. Both of them are experts in the field of character design and rely on it heavily in their work. During these eight weeks I was able to witness first hand the process they employed to create and develop a character. I was also allowed to ask them any questions I had as I watched them work.
As fall semester began I practically lived at the HBL library, researching all I could find on the subject. I found the information difficult to obtain, as there hasn=t been a lot written on it. I also called a character developer for Disney by the name of Randy Haycock for an interview. Between the information that I found, my observations during my internship and the interview, I discovered some important, consistent principles that go in to successfully taking a character from concept to finished product.
At first I was gearing my research specifically for the field of illustration and animation, as these are two of the biggest applications for the use of character design. As my studies progressed, I realized that many of the concepts I was learning applied in other areas as well, such as developing a theatrical character for a play or a literary character for a novel. There is a lot of opportunity for more creative studies to be researched in these areas. However, I chose to keep my research narrowed down to my individual area of interest.
After fall semester I felt educated enough to begin the hands-on part of my research: illustrating a children’s story. I must have read a dozen or so before I came to the perfect story: The Soul of a Menorah, written by Erik Kimmel. It is a Jewish story that takes place in Poland, early 1900’s. It’s message was about individual worth. It was easy to choose, as it had a wonderful message as well as plenty of opportunity for character design. This story had six different wonderful personalities to design. I began by making notes about each individual character and possible poses as I read and reread the story. The next step was to sculpt and paint the head of each of the six characters out of clay, a process that I had seen done for the first time on my internship. After this was done, I petitioned for models and borrowed costumes that I felt were appropriate for each of the personalities. I posed and lit the models, shooting several rolls of film. With these pictures in hand, I was ready to paint. During the remaining time I had before April, I completed a series of nine full-color paintings and one line drawing of the cast of characters. They showed the story as you would see in a children=s book. I also divided up the script so that a paragraph or two would go on the page next to each illustration. Some of these I displayed at my ORCA both, while painting one in progress to show how I work.
Even stronger and more evident is my belief that a well designed cast of characters can make an enormous difference in the success of a children=s book or animation. I also feel certain that the majority of us are influenced in our youth by one or more fictitious characters. Who do you know didn’t “grow up” with such personalities as Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Kermit the Frog or my favorite, Wiley E. Coyote? They seem to become real, even legends in some cases. These invented personalities can have a profound influence, whether for good or for bad, on people=s lives, especially children. Therefore it is my belief that the ever-growing field of bring a character to life will always have need for artists who are familiar with the principles of design. I thank the ORCA committee for allowing me this opportunity to study this largely unexplored field, as I hope one day to make my own positive contribution to our society through the medium of character design.