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In depth: Illustrating an interactive scene

From: The Creative Spark: Stacey Williams-Ng, Interactive Book Designer

Video: In depth: Illustrating an interactive scene

I am going to draw the scene where Luigi is up close. The opera is going on, and he looks over and catches his grandpa falling asleep. Right now I just have to figure out how to squeeze big, fat grandpa into one of these little, bitty theater chair. The lady today said her bigger patrons don't actually sit in these chairs. We're going to have to force grandpa into this little chair. I think that will actually add to the humor if he's kind of busting out of it.

In depth: Illustrating an interactive scene

I am going to draw the scene where Luigi is up close. The opera is going on, and he looks over and catches his grandpa falling asleep. Right now I just have to figure out how to squeeze big, fat grandpa into one of these little, bitty theater chair. The lady today said her bigger patrons don't actually sit in these chairs. We're going to have to force grandpa into this little chair. I think that will actually add to the humor if he's kind of busting out of it.

A visual pun for a kid. I had a really fun time auditioning parts for grandpa, because when you say Grandpa Rigoletto, I thought, well, a curly haired Italian grandpa. He should have like black curly hair, and I felt like he was looking a little too much like an old-timey villain. Then I ended up with guys that looked more like a pizza chef and didn't look like they'd really seen the world the way an opera- loving grandpa had. And I kind of finally fell upon this look, which actually looks a lot like my dad.

He went gray early, and he always had like the slick, like parted hair with--so, I felt like this was really kind of the look that I related to when I thought of what a grandpa would look like, was what my dad looked like. So now I kind of feel like I know this character. I don't need to look at the pictures anymore. I know who I am drawing, and I know how to draw him. Now, it's all just proportion. Grandpa Rigoletto is the only one wearing a tuxedo. The other patrons, they are in dressy clothes, but I am not going to draw any other men in tuxedos because I want him to really stand out, maybe as someone from a different generation and a different time.

The way Luigi has dressed, the way grandpa is dressed, all of this reflects on what kind of characters they are, always. I mean you're really casting for a play when you're drawing. Just like in any work of literature, you hear the character's voice whenever he is quoted. You hear what kind of personality he is, and when he says to Luigi, you know, "You are a true opera aficionado," and he owns opera glasses. So this tells us that we, as readers, we get that grandpa is a fan. This is not his first opera; grandpa goes regularly, and he is purposely exposing this little boy to something that he cares about. So grandpa is an opera fan.

And that tells us, even though we don't know him, that tells us a little bit about his personality. So you want to build off of that. So this is Luigi's chair, but he is not going to be sitting in it because he is going to be painted separately, and he will be animated. So we just have to give him a chair to sit in. This is the background. I think back to looking at children's books when I was a child and how I would stare at them, and then I'll see that book now, thirty years later or more, and I recognize the picture because I spent so much time staring at it, thirty years ago because my parents were reading it to me every night.

It's just awesome, the power that these things have, even on kids who don't necessarily grow up to really like art that much. They don't realize how much they are taking in. Many people don't realize how much the kids are taking in that story via the picture, especially when they are prereaders. This is the story for them; this is how they are reading the story. I could do this digitally. I mean, I do like digital imaging, and I don't want to act like this won't still receive a good deal of attention in the computer once it's there.

But I do have a freedom on paper that I don't have when I am working on, say, a Wacom tablet. And believe me, I have tried to force it a million times. I have tried drawing on the iPad and I've drawn many things that I am pretty happy with. I'll sit in the doctor's waiting room and just draw on an iPad app. But when I am doing really professional work and I need to be able to create this lady, I am not going to try and draw it on a Wacom tablet and look at a screen and just try and get all those proportions right.

To me, it's a special form of torture for me, and I can't do it. So, that's why I have this hybrid process. Everything in this scene is going to be really dark. We are in the middle of the show, and this is what made Grandpa Rigoletto fall asleep in the first place. So we need to go in with dark everywhere. Gouache is a thicker form of watercolor, and so since I am really sort of at heart an oil painter, I am much happier painting really thick and gloppy.

I would be, in a way, happier working with just acrylics, but I've learned, and I've also heard from art directors, other art directors who've given me feedback, that really, for book design it just doesn't come out well from a print standpoint. But the nice thing about gouache is I can go really thin like this and then I can come and like lay it on later, and I can really get that opacity. It's cool. I definitely want grandpa to have a more florid complexion than Luigi. He's going to be kind of pink all over. He spends a lot of time listening to opera, hanging out indoors.

This is going to be very slow animations, maybe six frames per second. And so everything is just going to have very, very gentle movements, more like a painting that's come to life. Plus it has to live as a book in print, so it has to be something that has some real, in mind, has to have some real texture to it and really draw in the eye as a still painting too. It takes a lot of discipline to avoid putting in too many bright colors and to avoid giving detail where it's not due. I want there to be enough detail, like, I could have made the couple really obscured, but I like giving them enough detail that I could kind of look at them and sort of pass judgements on them, like, "Ooh there is a lady down there. Is she older than my mom or younger than my mom?" So I think that people want to kind of look at the people in the background, but they are only going to get a second of our attention; the attention is really going to be on Luigi.

So yeah, I have to kind of hold back. And then of course I've got to paint Luigi and I've got to paint grandpa's head. So I will use tracing paper, usually is what I do, and create exactly the right size that I want here, and then I will paint that separately. And I'll probably just have one sheet of paper that is one of these pages that is Luigi and a floating head. It's really kind of cool that I can have the luxury on something this short.

It's only fifteen pages long as an app. So for fifteen page turns and basically fifteen layouts, I can have these brushstrokes and just keep the frame rate to a real minimum and really have this richness of shape and color. It should feel, if I do it properly, it should feel like a watercolor painting is moving.

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