Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Schoolism class giveaway

For anyone reading this blog who might be also interested in winning a free spot in one of the full critiqued versions of my Schoolism classes, go like this post and share it. I'll be picking someone out of the list of shares/likes to win!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Baby-Face Bias

I've seen a few different people complaining about the similarity between Disney heroines, and while I don't want to join in on that debate, I feel now's a great time to talk about why so many protagonists in animated movies have baby faces or child-like features.

As for why the girls in Frozen look so similar to Rapunzel, the reason seems so obvious that I'm surprised I even have to point it out:
I'm not saying the designers were going for this. But millions and millions and millions of dollars in Rapunzel merchandise was looming unspoken over every character decision on Frozen. Even if it was spoken, I can't blame anyone for riding that money train while it's barreling along.
But enough of that. What I want to talk about is called Baby-Face Bias. The word bias in there makes it sound like a bad thing, but this principle is awesome because it allows designers to use the natural conclusions people make when seeing a character for the first time, and helps us to predict the lens through which the audience will view that character's actions as they develop. It's not entirely clear how much of baby-face bias is innate and how much is learned, but it appears to be true across cultures.

To understand this, you have to first understand that most character designs are not meant to be a reflection of real life. They are symbols of real things, exaggerated to create the illusion of life. There are lots of reasons for using symbols in design, including the uncanny valley, but I won't talk about that now.
This is an eye.
This is not an eye. It's just a symbol that we understand to mean "eye."
Once you recognize that you're working in symbols, you can start thinking about how you can manipulate those symbols to say what you want, sort of like letters turning into words, and then words turning into sentences.

To understand what baby-face bias tells us about the character, let's compare against the biases that come with a mature face.

These proportions and shapes tell us that this character is able, experienced, and established. You might rely on these shapes and proportional relationships to design a character that is capable and cunning. In fact, use them all at once and your character might be seen as too "streetwise" to be trustworthy.
In contrast, a baby-face says the character is naive, helpless, and forthright. We naturally see that character as having a not-completely-formed identity, or as having a destiny that is not yet defined.

So why are baby-faced features so popular in animated protagonists? Well, the large eyes and big head definitely help make the character readable from multiple distances, but I don't think that's the fundamental reason why.

Most children's movies are about characters who are searching for their destiny or identity, or who are earnest-hearted characters facing a difficult or indifferent world. The characters then are designed to fit the stories, and the similarity in the stories naturally result in similarities in the characters.

That said, very few characters actually go full baby-face; most mix elements together to achieve a character that combines the right elements of experience, capability, innocence, and development. I picked mostly male examples because I wanted to show that baby-face isn't just used on female characters, although I do think most animated films tend to lean more heavily on baby-faced features for women (not just Disney).
Look at the difference between Robin Hood (protagonist) and Little John (sidekick). As capable as Robin Hood is, he's basically a kid, innocent, honest, and unspoiled by the world. Little John is a bit more wary and established: he is who he is already, no character arc to be expected.  

Aladdin's mostly adult shaped face---but with somewhat rounded chin, larger head and baby eyes---supports a character that can be capable and crafty, but also naive and honest-at-heart.
Flint has the proportions of an adult and a more prominent nose, but everything else about him says baby: reminding us there's innocence and good intent behind his irresponsible and dangerous experiments.
Po=chubby baby. Except the larger brow and broad nose with the arced muzzle, give him the potential for some really aggressive moments. 
Even the middle-aged appearance of Mr. Incredible is softened by some baby face: large eyes, long forehead, soft chin, compressed nose-eye triangle. He was more visually defined and sure of himself earlier in the movie, but at this point is exploring his identity and place in the world. 
Even the ridiculously baby-faced Elsa is using certain elements to add maturity and a bit of gravity: stronger brow, longer nose, defined chin, half-squinted eyes.
Could you tell all these stories with characters who have mature-face bias instead? Maybe, in fact it might even be interesting. But doing so would require extra exposition to establish the character's personality, and convince the audience (most of which are very young) to go emotionally with the character on that journey. When you've got an animated film's running time and budget, it makes sense to just design a character that says all the same things and make that screen time unnecessary.

I'm not expecting this post will settle any debates, but hopefully will give some insight into some of the thinking behind baby-face in protagonist design. I'd love to hear what you think too!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

More Toy Story Infinity stuff

A Bullseye design from an original sketch by Jon Diesta. I included the sketch so you can see what changes I made while painting---Jon's design got it somewhere awesome but there are a lot of form, shape, and detail adjustments I had to make to get it all feeling like the character.
Another mount for Toy Story that was based on Bullseye's rig.
The Toy Story sequel we were making pre-Infinity mostly just transformed into the Toy Story in Space Infinity playset, which meant some of the elements migrated over, like this tree. They changed the "leaves" to purple in the final game.
I got to work on some of the Zurgbots, with a lot of help from my coworkers.
This Zurgbot was fun to design. It shot out goo that changed the size of different things (other Zurgbots, the avatar, etc.) during battle, which would change their speed, hit points, and behavior. Finding a way to get the purple and green in there and still make it menacing was a challenge.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

"You're gonna _what_. HAHAHAHAHA!"

Ah, Burglekutt.

Cintiq 27 QHD Touch review

I bought one of these a month ago, so now that I've put in some hours on it, I thought some of you might find it useful to hear my thoughts.
My usual evening workstation, at the couch in front of a movie or TV show. Note the baby blanket in the background, giving the place a much-needed boost in professionalism.
I've been wanting to get a Cintiq for my home office for a long time, but I wanted something I could easily move from room to room, because I tend to work in every room of the house and not just in my office. The companion is really cool but just way too small---better for quick sketches and drawings than heavy duty professional use. And the others are just big and clunky.

So what sold me is that you could get a no-stand version of the new Cintiq QHD. Instead of a stand, I got this desk, which I could also move around the house and pull up to any couch or chair. I didn't bother to install the wheels on it and I can still slide it around fine.
The Cintiq hangs off the edges on the left and right by about 3-4 inches on each side.
So what you probably want to know is, should you get it? The answer is maybe. Sorry. I do like a lot of things about it, but first, the things I think that could be deal-breakers for some people:

-It's big. This isn't specifically a problem, in fact I wanted something bigger, but the problem with its size comes because of the distance between the glass and the screen, and the color shifts at acute viewing angles. If you work very close at all, the edges of the screen get a little funny and difficult to use.

-It's heavy. Don't expect to rest it on your lap, even though it's nearly the perfect size for it. Although there have been times when I'll lean the back end against the edge of my desk and the forward edge will sit on my lap. This gets uncomfortable after a while, but isn't too bad for short stretches.

-Touch is terrible. Most of the time it just doesn't work, and the palm rejection is iffy when it does. Seriously, unless it's a driver thing that they are going to fix in a couple weeks (always possible with Wacom), do not waste extra money on the touch.

-Speaking of wasting money, don't pay for fast shipping on Wacom's site. If the site says ___ days shipping, you need to add 4-5 days to whatever that number is, because Wacom takes so long to process your order before shipping. And that money is non-refundable.

-The cables are really long. This is something you'd think would be nice if you're using it multiple places, but the only cable that needs any extra length is the power cable. I don't like having to wrap the super long cables up every time I want to move it.

-The usual Wacom customer service and driver garbage: if you want any new Wacom hardware to work like it's supposed to, you'll be spending time clearing off every trace of old driver files, and probably some time on the line with Wacom customer support. And like any company that has a near-stranglehold on their market, Wacom as a group have limited patience for their customers.

So do I like anything about it? A few things I love:

-It looks nice with the solid surface.
-The screen color accuracy is better than I've seen on a Cintiq so far.
-The magnetic remote for the on-Cintiq buttons is a stroke of genius. This is probably my favorite thing about it. I'm moving it all the time depending on what angle I'm working at, and it's great.
-Being able to lie it nearly flat on a surface is really nice.
-It's a Cintiq and has the pressure, tilt, and rotation sensitivity that have become indispensable to me.

Some day, if Wacom comes up with something that is lighter and a little smaller so I can use it on my lap, then I'll put this up for sale immediately. That said, the fact that it's a Cintiq has saved me many hours already, especially in the drawing stage of projects. But you might be able to find a Cintiq that fits your needs just as well without the extra size and cost. If you, like me, favor semi-portability on something that is more of a serious pro tool than the companion, then you might not have any other option.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Infinity Buzz and Zurg

 This one was also based on a Jon Diesta drawing, but I forgot to write it into the image.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Schoolism Live Toronto update

Good news for those of you considering or planning to go to the Schoolism workshop in Toronto. They just added a surprise guest: the amazing Claire Wendling. If you live in the area, don't miss this one! And yes, they did misspell my name on this. It's the curse of being a Nielson.