The day usually starts off around 7.30am (what can I say, I’m a morning person!). It gives me a chance to catch up with all the odds and ends and emails i really should have read and replied to the day before. Most people in Brown Bag know that if they need something from me they should come find me and give me a friendly poke with a sharp stick.
Then I will spend half an hour or so in research mode, going through some of my favourite animation and art sites. I’m always studying and learning from different people by their approach, style, use of line, composition, character design, layout etc…you can never have enough research.
A good example is if someone asks you to draw up a car. Ok, you think: four wheels, and a steering wheel. But then you think, is it a European or American model? A Ferrari or a Model T? Is it done in the style of say, an anime speed racer, or a Noddy classic car?
At around 8am I will jump onto my latest 3D Max project. This is my way for a classical animator (good old reliable pencil and paper) to try and get up to speed with the wonders and mysteries that are 3D Max. At heart I am a 2D artist in a 3D world.
Working away on little projects like this over the last few months have really helped in my understanding of the 3Dmax world, from texturing and shading to lighting and unwrapping. It also gives me an insight into the strengths and weaknesses of 3DMax, what’s possible and what’s not. Something can look great in a 2D drawing such as a capes, furs and materials flowing from or on a character, but when it comes to rigging, texturing and animating these objects it can lead to time delays and add stress for our 3D Department.
So I’ll work merrily away on my latest project. At the moment it’s a hover car. I will get so far and then go and seek out Eoin Kavanagh and proceed to drive him mad with a litany of questions (why? how? where? etc). Sometimes i will even let him finish his first cup of coffee before pestering him. But good mentor that he is, Eoin always answers my questions in a clear, understandable way without all the tech babble.
At 9am it’s time to start going throught the latest story outline or draft script from our current project, Doc McStuffins. Unfortunately as it’s in production it’s still top secret (so ssshhhh!), so I will use images from The Octonauts instead, to give you a idea of how it all comes together.
Everything, be it a short TV spot or a TV series, always starts off with an outline, a draft or a script. So I will read through and highlight anything that has to be designed or created, such as a new character, set or prop. I’ll hopefully spot any issues before they go too far. For example, say a script has the Octonauts jumping on each others shoulders to form a human - or should I say Octonaut - ladder to escape from the belly of a whale. The Octonaut characters have big heads and no real shoulders to speak of, so I will do up a few quick sketches of options for how to solve that issue.
Then I will start in on the props, such as a nightcap for Peso, or ideas for the kind of brick-a-brack Kwazii would have in his room.(click on all images to enlarge)
I will work away for a hour or two to come up with new set and layout ideas. First I’ll rough them out nice and loose, just thinking of overall shape design and flow to the set. Then when I get a few I like I work into them to define certain areas.
Then I go off in search of the Art Director for their thoughts and input. On The Octonauts this was Stephen Robinson, and on Doc McStuffins it is Bronagh O’Hanlon. The art director overseas the look and design of the project from beginning to end, from characters to the most simple props. This is where the real strength of 2D comes into its own. For a 3D modeller to work up a simple set like this could take a day or two, whereas I can come with 3 or 4 in the space of an hour or so.
Bronagh or Stephen and I will bounce ideas back and forth looking to see what will and won’t work. We take ideas from all the rough drawings and work into them again, drawing over them at the desk and thinking of the practicalities of how a character could move around such a set, and how it would integrate with other sets we have already.
I’ll have a chat with some of the 3d modelers about an upcoming character or vehicle, getting their thoughts and input on my ideas. This way we solve any issues or problems before they arise, and keep everyone in the loop on the project.
After lunch i will work on some new character designs. In The Octonauts every character is based on a real sea creature, so first I would do some research into what the real creature looks like.
Then I “Octofy” them to give them a much friendlier appearance and work out their size in comparison to one of the Octonauts. l’ll have fun with the designs while playing around with ideas, again keeping everything nice and loose. Once I have some I like I will chat with the art director and possibly with the director of the series.
On our current project, Doc McStuffins, the director is Norton Virgien, who has worked on Ren & Stimpy and The Rugrats Movie. Again we will kick back ideas and suggestions on the look of the characters, before Norton and Bronagh act as a sanity filter - I would happily give over 10 or 12 concepts, but they wisely whittle it down to 3 or 4 options.
At about 4-ish I I may need to do some quick storyboard fix-ups on an episode that’s being edited. It’s quicker to do fix-ups in house instead of contacting the storyboard artist. For this I will work with Photoshop using my Wacom tablet (having so much fun working with this!). I’ll rework some of the character poses and the shot set-ups and will email them to Norton to be dropped into the edit.
At 5.30 I will work up some references drawings for one of our storyboard artists for a new episode. No 3D models are created as yet and it’s simpler to just draw out a few quick sketches showing how the props work, the placement of the characters in the shot and a height reference for the different characters, or - in the Octonauts’ case - how a spider crab sizes up to a Gup!
And then before I know it it’s 6pm. The really great thing about my job is that no two days are the same, from storyboards to character design to layout, and all in the same day!
The layouts are great, I have always liked the style of them in the Octonauts.
I am liking this series of posts as we get to see the pre-production work the goes into the final shows. Its almost like having an “Art of Brown Bag”14 September 2011 by Alan Carruthers
Brilliant - love seeing behind the scenes stuff!14 September 2011 by Jess
This is one nice post.14 September 2011 by Connah
Its great to see that you are getting into 3d Derek.
Your sketches are great, and I cant wait to see more of your 3d work!!
Many thanks Jess and Connah so glad you enjoy and keep checking in. We plan to have a whole series of .. a Day in the Life.. from the Brown Bag crew..and feel free to ask any questions.14 September 2011 by derek
Great blog Derek. Great to see how the concepts are brought about or Octofied:). Your 3d work is clearly coming on too!!15 September 2011 by Eoin Kavanagh
Looking forward to seeing some more of these “Day in the life” posts , really insightful!
Those sketches are great too, really like the spider crab design16 September 2011 by Ciaran Dempsey
Nice one Derek!
Great blog post.
Nice post Derek, great to see your drawings becoming “octofied” Your layouts are amazing too :)21 September 2011 by Alana O'Brien
Great to see the process, lovely work, thanks for sharing6 November 2011 by Owen
Really interesting to get a look at what ye do in Brownbag. Cool stuff.
Kevin.24 November 2011 by Kevin
Glad you liked Kevin…Keep a eye out and we may have More blogs soon on the 2D side of the animation process.25 November 2011 by Derek
A very interesting read Derek. Great to see a irish company doing so well.
My two year old daughter loves the Octonauts and Noddy, and spends every morning between Cbeebies and Five.
After seeing brown bags name on the credits so many times, i had to check out the site.
Well done!10 December 2011 by Alan
Thank you so very Much Alan,
Glad Your Little One so enjoys,Know we Must be doing some thing Right if we can have the Little Ones Sing along to the Octonauts Theme Tune.
nice work22 December 2011 by suryaa
Fantastic, it’s brilliant to see the design process.8 May 2012 by Robert
Brilliant blog and insight into the creative process at Brown Bag. My daughter loves octonauts and I love drawing so we both got a lot out of this! I’m just getting into 3d so its really interesting to see your use of 3dsmax13 July 2012 by Fiona
It’s really great to see how your creative process works and i also love your 3D work also. Im in collage now doing Animation and also doing 3D MAX, SEEMS I HAVE A WAY TO GO…4 February 2013 by Dave
My sons love the Octonauts! My older son wants a birthday cake shaped like a spider crab :) I don’t see too much Octonauts merchandise here in the US, I bought comforters and pillow cases from Europe. When can we expect a Shellington or Inkley to hit the market??4 March 2013 by Jessica
Hi Jessica, it’s great that your son is a fan! Octonauts toys have only just hit the U.S. You can now find them in Toys R Us. There are Shellington & Prof. Inkling figurines on the market in Europe so they should be in the U.S. shortly too. Check out the Octonauts Facebook for all the latest news: https://www.facebook.com/octonauts4 March 2013 by Jennie Stacey