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Developing a Style

Lesson 7 from: Developing Characters, Environments, and Story Boards

Mary Jane Begin

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Lesson Info

7. Developing a Style

Lesson Info

Developing a Style

So developing a style and this is a question that students ask continuously is I don't have a style, I'm not sure, what is my style or how do I develop a style? And it's a really tough thing to answer because it's not a formula, there's no, okay you take these three steps and you have a style. You can mimic other people's styles. That's doable. But to try to come up with your own really takes some soul searching and playing and testing. And so here I want to talk about style in relationship to the appropriateness for telling that story. It really like we talked about before they have to match up. If the style doesn't match the story it feels strange and we all know it, it just doesn't have the right read. If you have a consistency of style, which means from scene to scene to scene or page to page to page that style has to be consistent or instantly the viewer drops out of the world, they're like I don't believe this, I'm not buying it. And you want them to be in that world. So, consist...

ency, making it the same feeling of style from page to page or scene to scene is critical. The color palette again has to convey the emotional content. I can't emphasize that enough, it tells us so much about how we should feel. And then making a believable world based on research. If there's any takeaway that I would recommend from this, it's do the research, do your homework, figure out what you're trying to springboard off of historically or in terms of context of region or what have you. That research is at your disposal. We have so much access now with the internet, to get visual research that it's unthinkable that you wouldn't use it. But it happens all the time and the result is generic work that tells us nothing. And so if it tells us nothing, you've not grabbed us, you've not pulled us in so I really think it's a piece that is easy to ignore. I think this is a beautiful example of someone who did their homework. This student did, it's called visual development material for, she just wanted to do what they call a pitch bible, like here's my environments and my props because she wanted to do that for an animation studio. She was a senior. So her whole portfolio, this was what she building, this kind of thing. Well she had a story idea that was based on the Old West and so she also wanted it to be stylized, like Mary Blair, like those classic 60-style cartoons. So she looked at other artists to capture the geometric style she wanted. She looked at, oh my gosh, a lot of old movies, old west movies. She looked at contemporary west movies, she looked at paintings of the Old West. And then put that all together to create this environment. The other thing that she did that was really important is she understood that this needed to make sense in terms of perspective. So perspective is an issue that I think people have to consider when they're building environments. You have to understand 1 and 2 point perspective to build something that's even quasi-realistic. And I believe that we have an instructor Amy Wynne, whose taught a drawing class on perspective in the Creative Live Library. I'm not sure the title but I'm sure Kenna could find it that I think would be perfect. She's an amazing teacher, I know this because I took her at RISD for just a class just to beef up my figure drawing. And so she's wonderful. So I highly recommend that, augment that for doing this kind of thing. These are her props and again the style of the props have the same kind of wonky geometry that her environment has. Because the two of them are linked. The props exist inside the environment. So she really carried that through with consistency, in terms of her texture and line making, her perspective kind of wonky on this picture, very consistent for all of her objects. And so in doing that she's creating believability because of the consistency. This is another space for one of the characters, it's their environment and this is a space of a character who likes to bake and has magical powers. So you can kind of see that through the gemstones and the weird angles of this cake leaning in, the muffins flying through the space. But it still has that stylistic treatment that you saw in the previous illustrations, it's all part of the same world. But the colors dial to these sort of pink-purple tones and the geometry is still consistent but again here we're looking more downwards a view into this world. So we can really see all the elements in the scene and things are tipped at a little more funky angles to show that maybe this character's world is a little more topsy-turvy. So again, taking the dialogue of the geometry of the space but notching it up for this particular environment was a really smart thing to do. And then this is like your classic Old West scene. Kenna, have you ever watched any Westerns before? Definitely. (laughs) Does this feel familiar to you? It does. Part of it's the palette, part of it's this almost panoramic movie like scene. But then she does this interesting thing, she simplifies the buildings of course because all of her stuff is a simplification, stylistically. But she has this one kind of off kilter quality, it's like everything is just a little asymmetrical so that it isn't rigid in terms of an architectural point of view, it's not hyper-realistic. It's based on reality, but it's dialed into a style that's consistently, I call it, like a little wonky. Is that a word, Diane that you understand? (laughs) Yeah. (laughs) So, it's this marriage of those two things and I think it's really a beautiful sort of staging area for where characters might exist. But she, as I said, was focused on environments and props. She's not really interested in characters. She has a job now doing just that. But this kind of thing was her world. And it's okay. Some of you may be really into characters, other people totally into environments. In animation, in gaming, those sectors you could focus on one or the other you don't have to do both. In books, which I'll tell you in a little while is a little bit different you really do have to marry those worlds. So, we're flipping over to Rune if you remember this character that we were talking about before. Rune has magical powers and when the student was working on this project, I strongly suggested that she build the environment that that character lives in. Like either bedroom, or living room some space that they would exist in. To tell her and me about who is this character. So she built Rune's world, her room, her bedroom and at first it was too tidy, like this character is supposed to be an artist involved in magic. Now, I'm an artist I know a lot of artists, we're not necessarily the tidiest most orderly creatures in the world. So I said mess it up a little show things tacked to the wall in a kind of asymmetry everything shouldn't be lined up have some things strewn on the floor. But we talked about the danger of the candle next to the paper but it's fiction and it's just a drawing. That kind of asymmetry, the palette being purple all of those things created, and everything is kind of wonky angles there is perspective but it's tweaked so that it's consistently a little off pitch like the previous stuff you saw based on a lot of traditional cartoons that are drawn in this way she looked at a lot of cartoons that exist now and ones from historical, things from the 60's, 70's, 80's, and translated this style. But I think it's a really smart way to see, look at how the books, some of them are lined up, some of them are tipped, her first sketch they were all really rigid. So you have to think about, I'm expressing a character through their environment. How do I do that? How do I reflect that? And the same thing with this character this is the evil-doer He's very rigid, he's very pale, he's de-saturated so his world is also sort of de-saturated and rigid. All the columns, the candles, everything is aligned perfectly so you kind of see the oppositeness of these two characters, Rune and the villain character. And there's one thing in this scene, and I don't know if you can spot it, you get an A+ if you do cuz it's hard. but there's one object in this space that doesn't, it's too vibrant and it doesn't really make sense for his world. What do you think it is? Well first my eye was definitely drawn to the fire, just as being really bright. But I don't think that's what you're going for. Yeah, if you look at your screen it's satur- Red pillow? Yes! A+, Carrie gets an A+. Because it is, like it seems out of context, it's red, it's like a heart, it's a soft throw pillow, would he really have that, I was like c'mon, he wouldn't really have that. If he did, his would be pointy and it would be beige. So you know she took this out and this was an earlier scene she took that out, but I thought it was really instructive because she's built this consistent language, we believe it, we believe this world, but that, maybe because I'm picky, but that threw me. And I would have, yeah I said you should just take that out of there. So this consistency is a critical piece to capturing and making us believe the world that you're creating. These are just more of the assets, they call them, that's just a term in the industry, you call props, assets. And so these assets are again, following that same geometry of that world. It's a little simpler than the western world, but it's similar in characterization. And again, the color palette is really consistent with the kinds of things you expect in that world.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Character Slides Artist Reference PDF
Character Slides PDF

Ratings and Reviews


I have to say, this class and the companion class were very humbling. I assume I am not like most people who would watch this class in that I have no such artistic talent. I cannot draw at all (limited to "Spike" from TED Talks), but I had no idea such thought, imagination or ideology went into creating these designs. Professor Begin has an amazing presentation style, she is clear, concise and thoughtful. The subject matter was amazing and I can only see it helping me in evaluating my own work and taking a whole new perspective on art, light and evaluation. I highly recommend this class whatever no matter your creative bent. Thank you Creative Live for hosting this wonderful speaker.

a Creativelive Student

This course is well organized, very informative and goes into great detail regarding the best way to develop character(s) and how they should relate to their environment. Mary Jane articulates her points through art fundamentals, color theory and the power of strong research - as well as her extensive experience in the creative industry. I highly recommend this course for anyone interested in advancing their career or pursuing a career in animation, game design, or children's book publishing.

Nancy Morrison

Excellent!! This is a course that I will review over and over for there are so many great bits of information extremely well explained embedded in the broad concepts of composition and detailed illustration both in her own pieces and that of constructive critiquing her student's work. MJ is an excellent teacher! I am looking forward to her other classes! Nancy

Student Work