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Character design tunes toons

Transition from 2D to 3D proves challenging

Getting character design right is as complex as composing a melody, says Disney’s vet animator Glen Keane, who supervised the animation of “Tangled” and designed Rapunzel.

“Working with 3D computer tools forced us to draw even better and pushed the animation to a higher level,” says Keane.

Sang Jin Kim, designer/animator of “Tangled” hero Flynn Rider and villainess Mother Gothel, concurs: “Glen Keane and the directors (Nathan Greno and Byron Howard) wanted to create characters who had that classic Disney feel, but computer animation can make characters look stiff and very symmetrical.”

At first, says Keane, the “Tangled” team struggled to find the right design for Rapunzel “because the designs would change as soon as we’d start the animation.”

Disney’s CG animation has become so lifelike, some of the exaggerated features common in classic animation, such as large eyes, can be jarring. Eventually, Keane and the “Tangled” team gave Rapunzel big eyes and accentuated her eyebrows to convey her strong will.

“Despicable Me” co-director Chris Renaud says the toon’s anti-hero Gru was first pictured like Frankenstein’s monster.

“We went through 10 to 12 versions of Gru until Carter Goodrich created the final design: A sort of techno-driven, incompetent James Bond villain.”

A former comicbook writer and illustrator, Renaud said he and fellow co-director Pierre Coffin were looking to give characters a cartoon sensibility.

Renaud says Gru’s long scarf gives him the allure of “The Shadow,” while the Minions were inspired by “The Mole People” of DC Comics.

Meanwhile, French animation auteur Sylvain Chomet, who chose to direct “The Illusionist” in traditional 2D, faced the challenge of changing his own style.

“On ‘The Triplets of Belleville,’ I used geometrical shapes, squares and rectangles, to design characters like caricatures,” he says. “But on “The Illusionist” I had to make them look authentic enough to provoke emotion.”

“The Illusionist” is an adaptation of a Jacques Tati screenplay, and Chomet explains Tatischeff, the main character, was tricky to design because of his ambivalence: “I wanted him to resemble Monsieur Hulot (Tati’s favorite comic character) when on stage and look like Jacques Tati himself in his everyday life.”

Chomet and lead animator Laurent Kircher concentrated on the way Tatischeff moved and his posture rather than his appearance.

“Tati had a singular walk like many other famous comics, notably Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin.” Adds Chomet, “So as soon as Tatischeff started moving, it seemed like we had brought Tati back to life.”

More from Eye on the Oscars: Animation
Vfx spice up toon contenders | Toon camerawork spiffs up | Big talents, small packages | Character design tunes toons | ‘Tangled’ tresses tough task

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