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Todd Discusses Character Design with Animator
June 03, 2005
Copyright 2015 TMP International, Inc.

Welcome to the latest update on the Spawn: Animation project. This two-part series will discuss the challenges faced by an animator creating a brand-new character from just the typewritten page, as well as the task of adapting an established character for a new story.

Designing a New Character, Officer Ainge

As we have announced, Spawn is in the production process of returning to the world of animation. Two weeks ago we discussed how the script came to pass, now we will explain another important step in creating the new animated Spawn: character design.

There are a total of 12 main characters and 28 incidental characters in Todd's animation script with each one having only two or three short sentences to describe them. Although each character is written with a brief description of his or her look and attitude, the life experience each reader brings to the script can influence the visualization of what the character looks like as an illustration. When manipulating a script into a visual piece, one of the biggest challenges is capturing the perfect look of each character. In animation, unlike live action, the possibilities are endless when it comes to designing a character. There are no acting requirements of an illustrated actor, so an artist's mind's eye is all that is in the way of achieving the exact look of the character the author is trying to convey.

In one instance our designers at IDT/Film Roman had the job of drawing Officer Ainge, a corrupt cop. The description in the script says, "...white, about 30." That's it! Not much to go on. Granted a few other details can be pulled out of the script from the scenes the character is in, but in the end, it's subjective to each reader. For instance, we know he's on the take and despite the uniform, is not one of the good guys. But a criminal can actually look a hundred different ways. For example, Hannibal Lector, Tyler Durden, Keyser Soze and Cruella D'Ville all look very different indeed. So where does a designer begin?

At this point we thought it would be cool to actually have Todd ask the designer his process of creating a character from only those three little words and just a few scenes in an 80+-page script.

AJ Jothikumas, a designer in the animation business for nine years, and Todd had a conversation where Todd asked him to explain his process in designing the characters for this Spawn animated project. Though the conversation was specifically about Officer Ainge, AJ also gave some overall insight on how each unique character came to fruition.

AJ: First I read through the entire script to get an idea for the overall feel of the show and to get a feel for the essence of each character from the scenes they are in. From the characteristics I notice, I create visual cues that lead you to feel a certain way about that character. Using the example of Ainge, I saw him as a Ray Liotta type, with a smirky smile and an overall bad-guy air to him. When I felt like I had the design pretty close, I showed my directors here in the IDT/Film Roman office. They were happy with the feeling they got from the drawing. The next step was to show you. When we sent the sketch over the note we got back from you, Terry and Janet was that you weren't really feeling the look of Ainge in the same way we were.

Todd: Yeah, he was too slick-looking. Not "everyday Joe" enough for me.

AJ: Yes. But luckily you liked one of the other officers I had created, as one of the 10 other cops for the show, so we didn't have to go through a lot of revisions. You saw Ainge as someone more block/meat-headish and luckily I had drawn one of the background officers that way. So we flipped drawings and we had our Ainge.

Todd: Funny thing was once we flipped the two characters, the other directors/producers all agreed that the new Ainge was our guy. Sometimes first perceptions can cheat you.

AJ: With other characters, though, I drew anywhere from 10 to 20 different looks. Really quick drawings, some using ballpoint pen, some using color, some with pencil, just to get the certain detail I was hoping for. From those, we'd discuss them internally and narrow down the characteristics we wanted to capture what we thought personified the character. We have been fortunate because a lot of what we have sent over, you have been receptive to. There have been very few revisions in comparison with some other jobs I've had, so we've felt pretty lucky. But this has been the most challenging job I've ever had; it's the job with the most detail by far. We are doing a lot of really unique things with this show. People should be really excited to see the final product.

Todd: Like AJ mentioned, I wasn't thrilled with their rendition of Ainge. However, whenever they send over artwork, there is usually quite a bit to look at and take in. Along with this Ainge drawing were four other cop designs for background characters and luckily one of those happened to look more like the Ainge I had in my mind. Quick and painlessly we flipped the two characters. My objective is to always keep things moving and not draw something out that has a quick fix. Once that was taken care of, turns of the character had to be created. Front, back and side views were added to the three-quarters view and more notes were given. In this case the only thing Officer Ainge needed was a haircut. His head looked much too boxy with a flat top cut. I asked AJ to take a little off the back and Officer Ainge was good to go. In a little more than four days we had one of our 10 most important characters for the show done.

In this case the changes were minimal, although crucial to the end product. Overall I don't like to be too obvious when choosing looks for my characters. If it's a bad guy, maybe he should look like the cop next door or your local Boy Scout leader. If it's a good guy, perhaps he should look a bit tortured or at odds with himself, to convey it's not easy to always make the right decisions. Characters with character make things more interesting.

In part two of the series I will tell you about all the challenges that AJ was faced with when attempting to re-create Sam for this project.

Stay tuned for the next edition of the Spawn: Animation update. Click here to read previous updates.


All stories are Copyright © and TMP International, Inc., and may not be reprinted without permission.

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