Main character design (1)

Today let’s discuss character design! This is a complex topic, and I can foresee several other blog posts to be done on this topic. What we call character design is often called “study”, because this is what it is: the “study” of a character. It is more than just a graphics style as you could do for a standalone artwork. And as such, it involves many attempts and experiments.

About character sheets

With Aryeom, we have discussed and reviewed a lot Marmot’s design. This is the main character after all. So she did and redid him a few times. You may remember some of the early designs, which we posted exactly a year ago, and you will likely recognize the design we used in our teaser.

These types of design sheet are called “turnaround” sheets, since they show the character on various angles, usually at least front, back and one side (or both sides if the character or one’s clothing are not really symmetric). Sometimes you may have more angles, or even specific sheets with smaller angle rotations, focusing on a particular side of the body (like a few angles on the back, etc.).

There were actually a lot other versions of Marmot, for instance one of the early conceptualization was very cute, and I still like it very much.

Marmot research

As you can see, this is a different style of character sheet. You often find these under the name of “rough” character sheet since these are quick sketches (which is what a rough is) of the character in various poses or situations. These different kinds of character sheets are complementary and in the end, you have many of these for the same design. Rough ones are usually earlier in the concept design, though it may depend on the artist.

So what are these for? They have multiple purposes. Of course a main goal is collaborative work: if several artists have to draw the same character, one has to make sure everyone doesn’t draw a personal variation. Consistency is important. But even if you were to work alone, you need consistency with yourself! With time, memory and your previous work as only reference, you lose the chosen style and the character attributes. You cannot even use your own scenes as reference because you would slowly diverge, from scene to scene. Indeed maybe the character in scene 30 looks like in scene 29. Same for scene 29 and 28. But what if you were making slight changes while barely noticing, or letting them slip since these may be seen as minor glitches, which would add up, so that the styles between scene 1 and scene 30 are actually quite different in a very noticeable way?
This is why you need a stable reference fixed in time, always the same. So you prepare your reference for various cases, on all angles, and plan a whole bunch of possible poses and actions to refer to later. These references are the character sheets.

Note that even (more?) for 3D films, you need character sheets as a detailed reference for the 3D modeler.

Finally another good purpose is to build a solid character. When you draw and redraw, you get to understand him/her, to grasp one’s purpose and behavior, one’s particular attribute. Why is he wearing this? How did one get this scar? Should one have a birthmark here? What kind of action is one likely to do? Is it a character who runs? Who cries often? Who is happy? Without this, you end up building up the character in the same time as you produce the film, and create irregularities, or changes which don’t add up. How many times have I read webcomics where a character would be right handed or left handed on different scenes, or attributes as important as scars would be forgotten sometimes. Why? Likely because these attributes had no real meaning for the creator (of course mistakes happen to anyone, with or without character design. This is not a perfect fail-safe tool. But it helps).
Once again, this is about consistency, but also about a deep character that people will love or hate, and in any case in who they will believe in.

Note also that this is all just “common knowledge”, and there are “styles” where detailed character sheets (or even character sheets at all) might not be necessary, or — why not — even undesirable (that would be rare though, but why not!). Rules are here to be broken, as long as you do it on purpose while knowing what it entails. In the end, use your common sense.

Marmot’s current design

Something we heard a few times with our teaser was: «this cat is so cute!». Now we don’t want to do a scientific documentary, but we still want that people recognize which animal we are drawing (ok it wasn’t that bad. Many people still directly recognized a marmot; also it turns out that in many countries, marmots are quite an unknown animal, which explains failure to recognize). On the other hand, we don’t want too much of anthropomorphism in our movie, but this is still an animation about a marmot traveling with a swag on the shoulder, so there is a good share of anthropomorphism anyway, right? So this makes it OK to leave some scientific aberration for the purpose of a fun movie. Let’s just make a good compromise between scientific rigor and fun.

After seeing and photographing a lot of marmots in the Alps, Aryeom tried a whole new bunch of designs. For reference, here is a real Alpine marmot:

Alpine Marmot in Saint Veran (2015-09-21)
Alpine Marmot in Saint Veran (2015-09-21)

To cut to the chase, here is the current design for our main character.

Marmot: character design 3
Marmot: character design 3

Note that we still allow ourselves to change the design before actual production (i.e. finale drawing) begins, but we thought it may be worth updating you with this new design. which you may already have noticed in our new year drawing.

What to say about it? First it obviously looks a lot more like a marmot while still keeping its share of anthropomorphism. In particular the feet look shorter than most our other designs, the snout is closer to the real deal, eyes are on the side rather than in the front, and the ears are lower than the teaser version (ears in particular were probably the attribute which made people believe it was a cat). Fingers also properly follow marmot’s anatomy with 4 fingers on the arms and 5 on the feet.

The color scheme has also been updated, brighter, brownish. The grey color was making it too close to a mouse (even though many marmots are really grey-ish). On this topic, you can notice how Aryeom places the character color palette directly on the design to easily pick from it later (because a colorized character sheet would not only be about painting consistency but also color consistency).

I think this is all for now. Soon more on character design and other topics!

Note: as often, all the photographs and images in this blog post are
works by Aryeom,under Creative Commons by-sa 4.0 international.

ZeMarmot in 2015: research, script finalization and character design

ZeMarmot is slowly coming to shape… well not in animated images yet, but hopefully soon. A small summary of what happened in 2015 and early 2016:


As you know, we have been to the Alps (as well as 1 day to the Massif Central) in September.
We got more than 100 GB of data (for 4 days of research, considering we lost most of the first day data), consisting mostly of photos, videos and sounds. We will share the full raw data with you under a Libre license (likely CC by-sa) at the end.

As a side note, we are also now in contact with a scientist, specialist on marmots (yes it does exist!). Not that ZeMarmot is any kind of scientifically-accurate film, but it is always nice to get some scientific background as a basis, even if it means later breaking the rules of nature (which is ok when done on purpose). We’ll tell more about this if the contact evolves into a real cooperation. 🙂


October was rather slow since we were planning to go to the Creative Commons Summit, which we unfortunately failed to attend to, very sadly for uncontrolled reasons. Then Aryeom has been absent for a week for a trip to Italy (not ZeMarmot-related, but it ended up with some resources that we may use).

In between though, we met the musicians of the AMMD cooperative during the 15th birthday party of their founding music band. This was a cool and very enjoyable first meeting.


In November and December, we have worked quite a bit on a redesign of the main and secondary characters. We will post later details in a dedicated news.


November and December were quite eventful on the scenario side as well.

First of all the format of ZeMarmot: for quite a long time, I hesitated on the exact format that ZeMarmot should have. Heading for a short, we would definitely not have the time to do anything close to what I envisioned for the story. A featurette on the other hand, we can do something cool, but will we manage to ever finish it? We just don’t have the funds. A series is a cool idea, but I was really looking forward a film in the end. Series are a cool format, with their own good points, but also bad ones. Yet in our situation, we may not have much of a choice.

Working on the script, with Wikipedia on!
Working on the script, with Wikipedia on!

So already since October, we decided to release ZeMarmot in the form of a series, but with the actual goal of having a feature film in the end. This is actually quite a hard gamble and I seriously hope we will manage to make every episode interesting, while also making sense as one movie. This is similar to the planning of Cosmos Laundromat from the Blender Foundation.
The funding is used to finalize the first episode (the “pilot“), which hopefully will trigger people interest to fund the rest! 🙂

Pilot treatment is over

And now we finished the treatment of our pilot on January 20!
I am quite happy with it and think you will all find it very cool too. But I don’t want to spoil the fun and reveal details. This said, we are working transparently since it is a Libre movie. So we will look for ways to share script details to people who don’t care about auto-spoiling themselves (if you are such a person, just contact us). 🙂

Working on ZeMarmot treatment
Working on ZeMarmot treatment

Next Steps

And now? Aryeom is working hard on the pilot storyboard (as you may guess on the above image, this is already work in progress), which should result into a first animatic. In the same time, we will start working with AMMD for the few scenes of the pilote which require music.

Stay tuned!