Been awhile since I've posted on the animation's actual progress, so here's what I was up to in January.
On the animation, I ended up running straight into a roadblock. I was trying to animate subtle head movements, and realized that I really, in the end, didn't have much of a handle on Virgil's face's underlying geometry - Ruth, somewhat, but Virgil in particular.
So I broke down their faces into their simplest parts:
And then did expression studies of those faces from different angles to get more comfortable with drawing them.
(the bottom Virgil's are a bit iffy, but I'm probably going to revisit them later.)
When I first started doing these studies, I found that the faces I'd previously painstakingly gotten the proper likeness of, while perfect for reference, were TERRIBLE to try and reproduce many times. I had to simplify them down, figure out what was most important. I sketched the two of them from the ref sheets, and from my head, and had Erin draw Virgil as well, just to get an idea of what was the most crucial components. Virgil, notorious for being a pain to draw, actually was quite cooperative this time, a tracing from the ref sheet by hand turning out revealing:
Ruth on the other hand was proving to be harder to understand - whereas the swoops added to Virgil's face came naturally as stylization, Ruth was an exercise in simplification and softening. I had to do a series of sketches, until I arrived at something like this, that still looked like her in the simplest components-
and that's what I built from.
Here's the final result - the top image being the most accurate and detailed, and the bottom two being variations, simplified and exaggerated - the middle for 'close ups,' the bottom one for long shots.
I researched character designs and simplifications, everything from Disney to Satoshi Kon's work, observing what they emphasized, to arrive at these conclusions. I found that Ruth has an actually somewhat Disney-ish "thin girl" body, but her face is actually more similar to male characters. In the least, she's no princess-type. I did take some hints from the females, however, in making her eyes ever so slightly larger, and de-emphasizing lines on her face, making her seem younger in contrast to Virgil. Virgil's simplifications mainly came in the jaw shape, trimming up the beard into one shape with it, and making it more angular. He still needs wrinkles, but the focus needs to be on the important ones.
While I was at simplifying things, I quickly re-emphasized the silhouettes on the simplified body sheets, which had become to round, cluttered, and general, so I can have a stronger idea overall shape in mind as I work. These are what I'm looking to the most for the key frames, so this is very important for all of the rest to be built upon. Looking at Disney character sheets, and seeing how they broke down shapes - such as this - was extremely helpful, and caused me to turn back to my own silhouettes once again. While both characters are thin, Ruth is short and angular, whereas Virgil is tall and long, and those differences need to be constantly kept in mind.
This site is a phenomenal reference, by the way - it's where that one Little Mermaid sheet is from.
I also started on a few horse studies, since I realized I'm going to have to animate a horse, and I have no idea what their anatomy is like. I will be the first to admit that I have a terrible sense of anatomy for any animal other than humankind. So I quickly set about to solving that.
I was looking at medical illustrations and various photo references for these, the three horses being a series of frames from Muybridge. The first bone and muscle studies were mostly clueless, but as I keep working, I'm developing a much better sense of proportions - how big the head should be, the thickness of the neck, lengths of legs, figuring out what muscles are important to draw to get a sense of realism. I was encouraged to look at the movie Spirit for that - and it's interesting to see their interpretation.
That's all I have for now, besides a few doodles in my sketchbooks, practicing faces and poses even more. I'm probably going to do a sketchdump of them when I work up enough, and I'm going to try to finish the Virgil part of the expression sheet, as well as continue my horse studies. However, the time for studies has passed. I've definitely learned a lot more from them - and drawing Virgil's and Ruth's face geometry has gotten FAR easier because of it. I have a better handle on them, and drawing them is quicker - so these exercises were critical.
Oh, except for this sketch. Pretty much the culmination of all this work! This is probably an accurate descriptor of what my mind looks like by now, with focusing so much on them. I also used it as an excuse to play with film grain texture, but that's for another time.
Along with considering music, I'm thinking ahead to presentation - overall texture, color, lighting, if I'm going to scan or shoot the frames with a camera, etc. - how best to imitate or use old film methods for effect. But, like the music, these are background considerations for the moment in comparison to the actual animation work.
I've returned to doing key frames, and the production of the animation itself. I hope to have a decent sample of what the piece should look like by midterm critique, which is coming up in a week, so I'll post some of that process work shortly thereafter.