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!

Rewind on Aryeom and Jehan’s Open videos

Before we met, Aryeom drew quite a bit of animation. You may have a look at her (outdated) 2013 reel. She did a few relay animations with other artists, tried on various technics (sand animation, stopmotion, paint-on-glass animation…) worked on the “Boy Meets Boy” movie in 2008 (she directed a short animation which was included in the movie, as well as a separate music video clip), directed by Kim Jho Kwang-soo…

When I met her, she was working on her graduation animation film, Grandma Ocean with Kang Hui-jin.

Needless to say, when software were needed, these were all done with proprietary software, mostly Adobe ones.

[2012] Our First Open Movie: « Firefox and You »

The Open Movie adventure would begin when we heard of the Firefox Flicks contest, organized by Mozilla to promote Firefox. I was already a GNU/Linux user and Firefox was my browser of choice. We decided to participate, spent about 2 or 3 weeks to make a script and draw a small animation, for which we won a first place in “New Technology” category.

The concept was an interactive video included in an HTML canvas. People could upload a photograph and an address (using OpenStreetMap assets), to show their support to Mozilla, and their image would show embedded during video viewing on the right coordinates in the drawn world map. The actual page which won is still up, with the interactive video version.

Firefox et Vous

It was released under Creative Commons BY-SA/Libre Art licenses for the assets, and AGPLv3 for the code. On the other side, the software used were the usual Adobe Photoshop + After Effects/Premiere. Our first Open Movie, but still with closed tools.

Nevertheless this triggered me to submit my first patches to GIMP a few months later (my first patch being September 2012).

[2013] First Open Movie with FLOSS Tools: « Interview with the Red Panda »

The next year, we did not participate again to the Flicks contest, but Mozilla proposed us to do a small interview or video to promote the event for newcomers. We thought it could be funny to do it in the form of another animation film (out of contest).
This time, we tried to go full-steam Free Software: GIMP, Blender, Ardour. Let me tell you it was not easy. You can also see that the animation has not too many movements. I’m not sure because I don’t remember in detail, but it was probably on purpose.

Interview with a Red Panda

This was again CC BY-SA.

Of course, this is a period with increase of my contributions to GIMP (I was given rights on the repository a few months earlier), but also my first patches to Blender (2 bug fixes: broken offset/crop in VSE and broken render because of the ffmpeg fork affair).

[2013] Promotional/Rotoscopy: « Dance of the Sugar Plum Butterfly »

About at the same time, as an experiment, Aryeom tried a rotoscopy animation on her own. We made a video of the contemporary dancer Hysao Takagi, from the dance company “Le Lien” and drew over the footage in GIMP, later edited in Blender. Let me tell you this was not easy either, and I think to this date, there are still no Free Software to facilitate drawing in rotoscoping technics.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Butterfly

[2013] Our first Libre Graphics Meeting: « Space Girin on the Wall »

A few months later, the GIMP team would invite Aryeom and I to Libre Graphics Meeting in Madrid. Our first time.
They had this very awesome screen-wall which could be programmed, display images, and react to a camera targetted at the place. Aryeom drew our Space Girin (girin = giraffe in Korean) in GIMP which was displayed on the wall, and I wrote some code so that its eyes would follow people walking by, thanks to the street camera. The whole code and images would be released as GPLv3.

Space Girin on the Wall

[2014] Pausing… or not

In end of 2013-2014, we would be in New Zealand, traveling and such. I would code a little, and in particular would start the idea of symmetry painting in GIMP, after seeing the feature in Krita. Well honestly we did not think it was so necessary in GIMP, but it looked like a fun and easy (what a mistake!) thing to add in GIMP, and I thought it could be an interesting occasion to try out a small crowdfunding. This feature would be later implemented in GIMP early 2015.

It is not really true that we totally paused animation-making. We played a little with stopmotion animation, and this is how I discovered Entangle (I would later propose the maintainer to join us in LGM in Leipzig). The fact is that we don’t have real good software for stopmotion, they are all either inactive, or very unstable and limited to webcams, not good cameras. So I played a little with adding stopmotion features to Entangle, a quality software, and very stable for tethered camera control.
We did this small video with the daughter of a landlord we had for some time, to experiment with Entangle:

Shannon vs Octopus
Note that we had the permission from the parents to upload the video, but we never asked for making it a Libre Movie. As a consequence, this movie is under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND. This is more of an experiment and not to be considered as part of our Open Movies.

We are so animation-geeky that Aryeom even draw animation frames on blank cards, with song that we played and sang, and we sent the frames as postcards to family for Christmas (so each person got one frame of the whole animation, which can be seen on the web).

[2014] Contemporary Dance International Festival in Alger

For “Le Lien 07” dance company again, we made a film, this time purposed to be projected as background during a choreography for the “International Contemporary Dance Festival” of Alger.
This film used shootage under Creative Commons BY found around the internet, as well as images which were graciously lent to us by their makers, and others taken by the dancers; and our first attempt of 3D animation with a cherry tree under the wind. Here is the show recording. You can see our movie in backgrounds at some point.

"Le Lien" in International Contemporary Dance Festival in Alger

[2015] Our first big project: « ZeMarmot »

Note that during all this time, in 2012 and 2013 in particular, Aryeom had jobs doing marketing videos, or even on TV shows in backstage, but she never used Free Software for any of the professional paid jobs. What does it tell us? Maybe that Free Software, as much as we loved them, were not ready, not efficient enough, or scary. In particular, crashes were too many on GIMP. I already told it in an earlier post but crashing when unplugging a graphics tablet is not acceptable in a professional workflow, neither is actually any kind of crash. Nowaydays, thanks to the hard work of many contributors, GIMP hardly ever crash. Well at least on Linux and in our machines. I don’t say it is flawless yet (which software is?) and we have regular reports of issues in our bugtrackers, which we continue to track down. But in our own lives, we hardly see them anymore. Aryeom can’t even remember the last time she saw GIMP (stable release at least) crash, even though she uses it intensively for hours every day!

So mid-2014, we started thinking doing a real nice project with GIMP and other software. Now let’s be clear: the Free Software workflow and software ecostystem is still not there fully. It is much better for 3D (though not as good for all parts of the production) thanks to the awesome work of the Blender Foundation, and it is going much better for vectorial, thanks to Synfig Studio or Tupi. But for 2D digital cell animation? Well close to the void. This will be hard, but that’s a void we are willing to fill. And we do hope you will help us do so by participating to our crowdfunding!

ZeMarmot teaser

I will probably detail our planned improvements in a next post.

And after?

We are not planning on stopping there. We want to finish ZeMarmot first. This is a story with a start and an end, not a series with unlimited episodes. If we can get it funded, we will work on our custom software that we will release soon as GPLv3, improve GIMP, Blender, and any other necessary software (Ardour maybe too if we have issues there).

And we want to continue. Actually Aryeom already has some very cool ideas of Stopmotion movies, for which we will continue to use GIMP, Blender, but also probably Entangle for photography. I have actually contributed to the Apertus AXIOM crowdfunding (where I was also a minor code contributor and made a few talks to promote the project a few years back), so I should be able to buy one of the first AXIOM cameras ever. When this happens, I’m thinking one of the first things I would do would be a patch to Entangle for the support of AXIOM, and continue my contribution to give it stopmotion features.

Stopmotion contribution in Entangle

This all coupled with more GIMP, Blender, Ardour, Synfig, etc. improvements, we should soon be able to have a very powerful ecosystem on GNU/Linux for any kind of movie making and animation.
Of course, this also depends a lot on you all who are reading me! If ZeMarmot does not happen, all our nice plans for the future might end up in a hole, as a dream that were and never will (or at least not as soon).
I hope you’ll be many to support us! 🙂


Our 2D animation movie supported by a 3D artist

Henri Hebeisen is an awesome Blender artist (Blender Foundation certified trainer). The association LILA worked with him when he participated to the Libre Calendar 2015 printing project; and if ever we raise enough, he may work on ZeMarmot with us if we need support from a 3D expert.

As you all know, ZeMarmot is a 2D movie. So you may wonder why would a Blender artist participate.
Marmot travels
A 2D animation is indeed about drawing and painting for the most part. Nevertheless when you work with computers, it would be stupid to completely ignore all the technical advances brought by 3D technology.
For instance, if the film is long, on some complex scenes with a lot of changing perspective (moving vehicle with camera “inside”, etc.), it may be wise to help our animators with some 3D-rendered scenes to draw over. Lighting also is a complicated topic in painting and 3D technology made it a lot easier, especially dynamic lighting can make static art a lot more alive.

In a movie like ZeMarmot, we really want to keep the awesome feeling of hand drawing, this raw and warm sensation on the eyes, but we don’t exclude helping some scenes with 3D technics if needed. This is a shadow job since, when it’s well done, it has to be subtle and only support the 2D. You can give more life to a background for instance, but you still want people to see these as painting. Just a more lively one. Therefore we are happy to announce getting the help of Henri in our project!
Below one of his awesome full 3D artworks.

The Last Whales, by Henri Hebeisen (CC BY)
The Last Whales, by Henri Hebeisen (CC BY)