Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pepe and Lucas - Making the Clown Part 1.

The first step we took to begin "Pepe and Lucas" was to develop the main characters - the mime, the magician, and the clown. We only had a brief description of the story events and the world and it essentially boiled down to 3 street performers with different abilities who compete/fight for money/fight for the audience's attention. It would take place in a stylized world made up of entertainers living in an entertainment-centric environment. None of the "races" of entertainers would get along and would have constant turf battles, like the Sharks and the Jets from "West Side Story". There'd be outrageous battles, fight scenes, chases, comedy, and a romantic angle. My director wanted something nostalgic calling back to the days of vaudeville and the art deco era. Basically, the western world in the 1920's through 1940's. Other than that, it was pretty much a blue sky situation, which was fantastic. 

Each character presented it's own unique challenge since the story was still in development, but the clown was perhaps the most challenging in that he would do the most changing and had to be the most appalling character at the beginning, but the most appealing by the end. We needed a character who was down-and-out, a slob, desperate for attention, and starving for success. He would be embittered by fading memories of success and essentially would have fallen in the world to the point of embodying the stereotype of an "angry drunk clown".

 A lot of my initial sketches featured the clown drinking or drunk and usually very fat and slovenly. It seemed impossible to empathize with this character and I realized that I had been working backwards. If you draw an unappealing character, you get an unappealing character. I started drawing the clown with both his angry/bitter face and also his revitalized hero face so I could make sure he worked on both sides of the personality spectrum.

 I also found very quickly, that while a fat slob version of the clown could be very pathetic, making him short and stocky or tall and heavy always made him look a little too dangerous or too thuggish. It would  look like someone who could really intimidate with their body weight, and that wouldn't demonstrate the kind of emotional or physical weakness we needed. I started drawing a lot of smaller, petite characters to offset that element. I realized that I needed someone small enough that they would not be a physical threat to anyone, someone aware of their size who would be much more prone to emotional outbursts. Essentially, a child with anger issues. Maintaining a small stature was important and to bring in physical weakness, I started reducing the size of the chins, making bigger heads and scrawnier necks.
 This guy made it to the final round, although he went through some revisions as you'll see.

 This is the sketch that eventually led to the final design. I didn't do a happy version of this because I knew I had it. It's the only drawing where I drew a sad clown. I had been so focused on the "angry" drunk stereotype, that I never considered drawing someone in despair.

 I was running out of steam here :)

Looking back on these designs, I remember that I explored both European clown costumes and history as well as American style clown costumes and history. Even though many elements of the clown costume don't change over time - big shoes, wig, face paint, baggy clothes, and of course the red nose, the clown more than any of the other characters felt right in a more American style, depression era costume. You'll see in a later post that I created full color clean and dirtied versions of the characters. I found that a clown with a more contemporary look or color palette or European dress didn't read as "broken" when dirtied up, just dirty. His patches were the patches of a clown costume, not the patches of a life hard fought. The hobo clown look of the American Depression said so clearly that this was as good as it got. It really represented his economic position in life. In the end that was sufficient and we didn't end up texturing him dirty for the short. It also seemed less like a costume and more like someone's day to day wardrobe. The nostalgia of that time also made the clown feel much more like a forgotten person who hadn't seen a good day in a long time, like he was permanently stuck in the gutters.

In my next post, I'll load up the color steps we took to bring Pepe to a full color finished character concept.

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