A miscellany of weekly ramblings on comics, art and film by Ted Mathot, storyboard artist and writer/artist/self-publisher of graphic novels and comics

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Reference and Emotion

I have used quite a bit or reference material in the making or Rose and Isabel and now Cora, but I must admit I'm not using enough. Too often I find myself trying to wing it and ending up with results that are inferior to what I could have come up with had I used reference.

Take the pic above for example; this was one of the ones I used to help me represent the anguish expressed by the two sisters in the Rose and Isabel book. Often times there is a tendency to rely on stock expressions or preconceived notions of what emotions look like on the face and they tend to be one dimensional. When someone is sad or crying, do the eyebrows always tilt back and the mouth point downward into a clownlike frown? Not really. It's very complex what happens when the face contorts to represent emotions. What I noticed about the expression above is that the eyebrows are pointing down, as if on an angry face, the mouth curls in both directions, up and down, almost adding a bit of an odd smile to the mix and the hair is falling across as well; details that would not necessarily have occured to me had I not looked at this film still.

These combinations are not only just true of the extreme emotions either; a subtle face can convey any number of complex feelings. The slightest tilt in an eyebrow (and I'm not talking the cocked eyebrow combined with the slightly crooked smile that you see on a million character's faces when they say "hey baby, what's happenin'?"); the slightest tilt of an eybrow or lilt of a head or how the eyelids are (specifically the bottom lid) can mean a TON of things; most of which are combinations of emotions that don't fall into the general categories.

When I was drawing the comics, I tried very hard to avoid purely happy,sad,angry, etc. faces. There is something behind those emotions that bring them to the front -- is the anger caused by frustration? boredom? ego? I try to find out what it is before putting it on the face and using reference is a great way to acheive it.

Here is an early sketch of Rose holding her brother at the end of the story that I really liked, but this particular shot never made its way into the final book.


craig said...

Great post Ted. I read rose and Isabel and remember thinking you captured a real sense of anguish in some of the panels.

Emma said...

Great post! Yeah, I felt that come through... the characters seemed a lot more honest in R&I than in some other comics I've read.

It's a good point you're making, too, because as a comic artist (or story artist?) you're pretty much an actor/director, and you have to make interesting acting choices for your characters or else the characters flatten out and it's just a story being put through the paces with bad soap opera actors...

It's something I've been training myself out of - the habit of drawing 'standard sad face' instead of something that actually relates to the character.

Monkeyfeather said...

I'm dealing with the same thing with a short story I'm working on right now. I got about half way through and realised a lot of what I was doing was basic emotion "icons" instead of something that felt more real, raw.

Your hard work and extra effort with the reference shows. I need to do the same.

TSM said...

I was going to talk about reference in general, but I got a bit off topic after realizing I could write a whole post on just facial expressions.

Ronnie del Carmen is one of my favorites for facial expression on characters. He has mastered the art of subtlety and is pretty much what I'm descrbing in the post. I aspire to be on that level someday.

RoboTaeKwon-Z said...

Great post! I constantly have to remind myself to not just fall back on stock expressions. When working against a tight deadline, it's easy to fall back on the 9 basic expressions. Thanks for another kick in the tail!

BLas R said...

Exelente Trabajo!! Me gustaria leer este tipo de material, preo soy de argentina y se me dificulta mucho conseguirlo!! Saludos y felicitaciones!!

TSM said...

RoboTaeKwon-Z - thanks man, glad you liked the post.

BLas R - Thanks for stopping by! You can order the books from my blog via Paypal.