The town square was our main environment. We had only one interior, a bar scene that appears in the beginning, and the rest of the film takes place outside on the side streets and in the town square.
A square environment, the town square was a four sided box lined with various buildings that we'd repeat and vary to populate our town center. I looked at a lot of European towns and squares to gain some inspiration. To get away from just cartooning and stylizing pre-existing architecture, I also checked out some great artists and art such as Dr. Seus, the art for the movie Nocturna, and Shaun Tan's illustration work to name a few. All sources have dealt with densely packed civilizations with a history. All are highly imaginative and tend to have some kind of industrial look too. Pipes and chimneys became a consistent element. The one thing that I wasn't finding in a lot of the Italian and French architecture was brick. The addition of that material to the buildings really gave the square a nice industrial look like a sturdy place that had seen better times, just like our protagonist. It became a unifying material as well. A lot of my form language came from Dr. Seus's leaning and swooping buildings. My first couple sketches were always too clean cut and ordered and never made it to completion. By introducing wedge shapes, it made the city seem more dense as if each piece was dropped into place or built in the spare space around and between buildings. Like with the clown's props, my goal was to color the buildings with vibrant colors, but to show that they had a history and weren't in the best shape. Rather than paint dirt on them, I had the top color wear away to reveal older layers of paint underneath. Just like with the clown, white became my unifying color and was used for all the moldings.
The bar interior only has a tiny amount of screen time, but I knew I wanted it to be a real dive. "Real Dive" would have been a good name, but we ended up going with "Smiley's" after the bar owner we designed for it. Smokey and dark and dirty. Not a nice place. No martinis here.
Smiley's bar was located on one of the side streets to the square. It you check out the next image, you can see that it picks up where the above leaves off. The original story called for the time of day to be magic hour after a rain storm, leaving the ground level in shadow with store lights and street lamps casting bright colorful lights that would get picked up in the puddles and slick streets. I needed to create a different atmosphere for the square and the side street. The square would be warm, inviting and active, whereas the side street was as lonely and dangerous. Since we created only a few sets of buildings to be reused over and over, we didn't have a special set just for the back alley with the bar, so I relied heavily on lighting and color with a specific set of props to differentiate the two areas. The square would have warm yellows and oranges for lights, but the back alley would cast greener yellows, greens, and deep reds - a lot of neon lighting. We did add some cans and papers to the street, but the key differentiators in props were that we put the trash out and made sure that trees only lined the square. This made the alley feel a bit more city. We also turned off many of the lights in the windows to make it seem a bit more deserted.