Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Natalie Wood

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the very tragic death of Natalie Wood on Nov. 29th 1981. Of course, that terrible incident has been back in the news lately, due to the captain of the yacht coming forward with what may be new information that was not disclosed at the time of her drowning all those years ago. I was only 21 at the time, but I remember the sad news with great clarity. Natalie had been starring in Brainstorm, which was still in the middle of production when she died. She hadn't been in many theatrical films for awhile, as it seemed she was doing more in the way of made-for-TV movies in the late 1970s. At the time of her tragic death she was only 43, still a very vibrant and beautiful woman.

There was so much mystery surrounding her death by drowning, that speculation ran rampant about what led to it and what possibly transpired on the yacht that night. I doubt that this current re-investigation will turn up anything more conclusive that would disprove it being an "accident", but it will be interesting to see if any new facts come to light. It was certainly a very suspicious incident, though, and there has to be far more behind it that we'll probably never know the truth about.

Interestingly, as I was looking through her list of theatrical film credits on IMDb, I think I've only seen about a dozen of them that I recall. In fact, she only made about 30 odd films as an adult performer, if you start counting from her appearance in John Wayne's The Searchers, when she was just 15. Of those I have seen, there are several that I've watched a number of times, including her iconic performances as "Maria" in West Side Story, the vaudeville-to-burlesque performer "Gypsy Rose Lee" (aka "Louise") in Gypsy, and as the intrepid feminist reporter, "Maggie Dubois" in The Great Race.

Another film I've seen several times is 1964's Sex and the Single Girl, in which Natalie played real life writer (and later editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine) Helen Gurley Brown, although the movie is a fictitious romp only loosely related to Ms. Brown's book of the same title. It's not a great film, but it is a lot of fun to watch. Natalie's paired up with Tony Curtis, before costarring again together famously in The Great Race the following year, and they've got terrific on-screen chemistry. (Actually, their first onscreen pairing was in Kings Go Forth, in 1958 alongside Frank Sinatra.) Here's a clip from the film where Tony's character is trying to seduce Miss Brown while they're waiting for their clothes to dry off after a scene in which they both ended up toppling over a pier into the water. (Yes, there's a tragic irony in that, isn't there?). Of course, it was from this film that I chose to sketch my caricature of Natalie Wood that appears at the head of this post.

A truly beautiful lady with great warmth and charm. She was one of the true screen goddesses of the 1960s, and I miss her very much.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Character Face Types

This post is primarily for the benefit of the students currently in my Character Design class in the Sheridan College BAA Animation programme. An ongoing assignment that they've been working on throughout this fall semester involves drawing a number of people from life or from video (but NOT from still photos!), as a way of building up a reference library of "Character Types", that ideally they should then refer back to when trying to create new characters for animation or other assignments. I'm a great believer in creating a character design that communicates something about the character to the viewer through the visual appearance alone, even before they start to move or speak in the animation. Just as the Casting Director in a live-action film tries to cast an actor who looks credible for the role, so too does a Character Designer strive to "cast" the right sort of type for an animated character, giving much consideration to how the physical aspects of the design will suggest a certain personality type that the viewer will recognize.

I've written about this before, and there are more thoughts and visual samples to be found in these previous posts:
Sketching Character Reference
More Character Types
Variety Is The Key!
Working Out The Likeness

Before you even start to sketch a subject, you should be taking some time to properly observe and analyze their head and face type. Ask yourself the following questions when trying to form a strong visual impression of the subject:

1) What is the basic head shape? Is it long or short? Round, blocky, or triangular? Wider at the top, middle or bottom?

2) Is the facial plane straight up and down, convex or concave, or angled forward or back?

3) What is the relative placement of the facial features within that head shape? Are they mostly in the lower area with a high forehead? Are they converging toward the middle or stretched vertically along the facial plane?

4) Where are the features relative to each other? Are the eyes wide apart or close-set? Is the bottom of the nose not far from the eyes or pushed down closer to the mouth?

5) What is the relative size of the features to each other? Large or small eyes? Long or short nose? Wide or narrow mouth?

6) And finally, what are the specific shapes of the features? Are the eyes angled up or down, narrow slits or wide with much white space around the pupil? Is the nose "Pug", "Ski-slope", or "Roman"? Thick or thin lips, etc. etc. etc.....?

Study the Character Type samples I have posted here and try to analyze them using these and other questions to determine what makes the head shape and features distinct and unique!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Floyd Norman!

One of my favourite regular reads has been the blog of Disney cartoonist and gagman, Floyd Norman, AKA "Mr. Fun". Recently, Floyd had mentioned on his blogsite that he might be retiring from blogging, due to the blog's host site being phased out. That would have been a real shame, as I and many others have come to really enjoy his posts relating his many years working for Disney. Floyd is a genuine link to Disney's illustrious past, as he started working for the Disney Studio back when Sleeping Beauty was still in production. Fortunately, Floyd gave it some more thought and decided to keep on blogging using a new hosting service.

I have a special fondness for Floyd Norman, as he was a story artist on my alltime favourite Disney feature, 1967's The Jungle Book. Many of his posts are warmly nostalgic about that era of animation, and his personal recollections of attending story meetings presided over by Walt Disney himself help to give the reader a good sense of what Walt was really like. I also enjoy his stories of that master animator, Milt Kahl, who had a reputation for being a pretty colourful old curmudgeon.

Anyway, I'm personally overjoyed to see that Floyd Norman will still be regaling us with his tales from the Disney Studio back in its glory years. I've just updated the url to his new site in my list of blog links to the right. I hope you folks enjoy his stories and cartoons as much as I do!