Character #1: The Addict

This is the first of six character designs I have made to model for my thesis project if it gets approved. I have six characters altogether: The addict, the warrior, the fearless girl, the juggler, the cowardly lion, and the satanic leaf-tailed gecko. I posted tidbits of the designs for the warrior and the juggler in previous posts, but I'm choosing to start my more in-depth looks at the characters with the addict because he was actually the first one I came up with out of all of them.

A few years back I started a doodle that, after many hours, became a drawing that looked like this:


I was ecstatic with how the image came out. I love the highly stylized look. It was unlike anything I had ever done before at the time.

Now I have mimicked the style a number of times, and I was interested to see how it might translate into three dimensions. When I was attempting to find an idea to work with for my thesis project I came up with a story that would incorporate a highly stylized character like this with a more realistic version of the same character. The story was about an actor who was so wrapped up in his art that he destroyed all of his personal relationships, including the relationship with the love of his life. After a performance in an elaborate costume and full body make-up, the actor has a revelation about the direction his life has taken and what he must do to change things. 


The moment of revelation is my favorite part of the story. The idea was that the audience would be unaware that the character was an actor. It would look like a highly stylized cartoon. The sets and props would all be in the same style as the character and would just appear to be an ordinary cartoon setting. The story being told would be the autobiography of the character's own life - he tells, through actions rather than words, how he started his acting career, met his dream girl, and then got so caught up in his work that he let everything else fall apart. Just after he loses everything he drops to his knees in despair, drops his head down into his hands, and all fades to black. Moments later the light comes up on the actor alone - there is only him among a sea of blackness. He sits with his head in his hands for awhile, pondering his failures, and then raises his head with an awestruck expression. He has realized what he must do to get his life back on track, and when his head comes up, the fingers of his hands stay just where they are, smearing the stylized make-up off of his face in streaks and revealing the character's true nature to the audience. Eventually the character would remove all of his make-up, stand up, and the lights would come up on the rest of the scene to reveal that the revelation had happened after the performance, in a realism-style dressing room. I never fully settled on how I wanted the story to end, but I'm pretty sure it ends with him getting the girl back.

The reason I decided against this story for my thesis is that the project would have focused too heavily on animation, texture, and lighting rather than modeling. There are very few characters and extremely simple settings; plus the characters would all be human. I wanted a bit more diversity in the modeling aspect of it than this story allowed me. As such, I tried out some other story ideas and finally settled on one with statues as "characters" (technically, not all of the statues are characters, some, including this one, would probably be more accurately be classified as "props" because they never participate actively in the story, but I still think of them as characters). I chose the theme of "courage" to unite all of the sculptures in my story exhibit and determined that I could still use this moment of reveal as an image. I changed the actor's background to that of an addict because it seemed easier to explain than the elaborate backstory I had concocted for the original character, but the moment is the same: now the elaborate costume and make-up are a visual symbol of the addict's self destructive behavior rather than literal costume and make-up, but the life changing revelation and cleansing of self is depicted in the same manner.

I spent quite a long time on the character design. I gathered some reference images (below) and then threw away a number of initial designs.

I had particular trouble with the fingers. I kept making them too modular and repetitive. I lost the ever-changing flow from the initial sketch. Eventually I decided to block out the form, tape a sheet of tracing paper over it, and start sketching the hands first. I sketched them as I would normally sketch hands, but with exaggerations here and there; I didn't try to break them down into individually patterned pieces. This worked out much better, and I filled in the rest of the form the same way. I then overlayed another sheet of tracing paper and started the form with the patterns. This is what I ended up with:

I liked this figure quite well, and decided to overlay another sheet of tracing paper to do the color. It had taken me many hours to finish the black and white drawing and I didn't want to chance messing it up with the colors and having to start over again from scratch. I colored for a bit, thinking I'd photograph the final image with light behind it to make both the colors and the black outlines pop through the extra layer of tracing paper, but when I put the pages down on my lightbox and lit it up I realized that every stroke of the markers I was using suddenly became visible. The color was no longer even with the light behind it. I went over the already colored areas with the markers again and it helped. After a third or fourth pass every section I had colored was smooth; my plan would work out after all, but three or four passes of marker, with time for the ink to dry a little in between, takes much longer than a single pass. I spent weeks on that one image, but I think the end result was worth it.

I then moved on to the turn-arounds for the character. These took a bit longer than anticipated too because I used a combination of black and white charcoal for them, which again required multiple passes over the same areas of the image. They were rather fun to draw, though. I especially liked working out the back of the figure: I never really thought much about the back, which isn't visible in my initial design, so when I drew the side view I just had some loose drapery for the back of the shirt. When I got to the rear view I realized how boring that was. Much of the character's line-work in the initial design was anatomically based - it's by no means dead-on muscle for muscle or bone for bone, but it's suggestive of anatomy. For instance, those large poofy shoulder forms I designed as a kind of exaggerated deltoid form without an insertion point. I decided to mimic this approach on the back, then went back to my side view and adjusted it accordingly:

I am really happy with how this character turned out. I can't wait to model it in three dimensions, and am anxious to see it textured as well, though the texturing is not currently part of my thesis proposal. (I have propsed the texturing of only two of the six character models for my thesis, and this is not one of them because I'm a little intimidated by the thought of how long that will take for this figure.)

I look forward to getting to work on this, but that will only happen if my thesis project gets approved on Thursday. Here's hoping!