week ago, I was privileged enough to attend a conference by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. One of the keynote speakers was Judy Schachner, author of many character driven books including “Skippyjon Jones.” She talked about her process of thinking about her characters and coming up with great stories and one of them was very familiar to me and really intriguing.
She creates “Character Bibles” for all of her characters.
For those of you in animation the term “Bible” may seem familiar, it’s a term we use when we’re pitching new ideas or communicating with a crew about what our films are about. For Judy, her bibles focused on just one character and they were incredibly exploratory. She used collage, photography, drawing and notes to develop each character or their stories.
The other reason that this intrigued me was because I had seen another character bible in a similar vein before too.
When I was just starting at Disney Feature Animation, my mentor, Claire Keane, showed me this amazing book she made. It was a sketchbook full to the brim with watercolor drawings, notes and sketches that she created for just one character. That character was Rapunzel, who feels more like a fully fleshed out real person than most animated characters.
According to her blog, Claire kept this journal and kept track of her day and imagined what it would be like if it was Rapunzel living out her day.
Rapunzel, being a bit of an odd duck (how do you get into the head of someone who’s been essentially trapped in one room for 18 years?) was a challenge for a lot of people to understand and Claire’s sketchbook was a great way to communicate and explain what kind of person Rapunzel was and how we could use that for her design as well as her acting.
A lot of great actors use something called ‘Method Acting’ to get into the heads of their characters, and when we see them use these methods we are often rewarded with characters who feel especially real and more than generic.
When we design characters in Entertainment, employing this type of thinking can also be a great way to get into the head of who you are designing. Even if you can’t sit down and create a whole BOOK one one single character, take the time to get to know your person. What would they order at a coffee shop? What kind of places make them comfortable or nervous? These types of details are what make your characters more than drawings and give them a life beyond the page. And hey, if you’ve got the time, why not make a little book about your one character or story? It could be a great fun way to explore and maybe come up with great ideas!!
Images for Judy from Iza Trapani’s Blog