Creating Characters for Epic The Movie: Why Perfection is Overrated (Even in Hollywood!)

May 22, 2013
Mary Katherine from Epic

Mary Katherine from Epic

One of the more fun and surprising things about blogging is getting invited to swag-erific events. Not very many – Wild Beauty isn’t up there in the numbers, nor is it particularly “PR Friendly” (which is another term for “will write for lip gloss”). And I get anxious when I’m invited – will there be an angle I want to write about? Or am I just going to drink the prosecco and run?

 

So when Independent Fashion Bloggers invited me to a behind-the-scenes costume event for Epic The Movie, I suspected I’d be drinking and dashing. Still, curiosity got the best of me – the art director would be there giving a presentation on the costume design process, and as an indie film veteran (and process nerd) I had to to go, right?

 

The film’s art director, Michael Knapp, didn’t disappoint: the process of designing animated costumes from zero to fabulous is as involved as you might think, and more so. Changes in perspective, magnification, plant and insect fibers, Mandelbrot fractals, Fibonacci sequences – the studio may be in Connecticut, but the process is Big Hollywood Creative.

 

After the presentation, I talked with Knapp about the characters and their development – the studio had three and a half years to grow these characters from basic ideas to full blown imaginary people, so there was a lot of bouncing around between writers, the director, and the art department. Which is when he mentioned one thing: that they’re always looking to create imperfections in their characters. They’re always looking for the quirks.

 

In some ways, this is no surprise – after all, animators are starting with the simple geometric shapes and making them into more complex entities. And if you follow the Mandelbrot link above, the professor not only mentions that nature has roughness, but that animators use his equations to make their worlds more lifelike. But it’s interesting to hear someone from the movie side of entertainment tell you “it’s not about airbrushed perfection”. Because that’s what we assume is the Hollywood machine’s ideal, right? But it’s not. Not even for movie stars. And here’s why:

 

Ever hear of the Uncanny Valley? It’s a term coined by Masahiro Mori, a Japanese robotics professor. We humans like our robots to resemble us up to a certain point – but when they get too lifelike, we freak out. Roboticists use this phenomenon to design robots that we will think are cute, and Hollywood storytellers use it as well: to come up with either cute WALL-E’s or totally frightening Terminators.

 

This uncanny valley phenomenon can work both ways – when we flesh-and-blood lifeforms get too smooth and airbrushed, things get creepy. Which is probably why celebrity faces with too many peels and surgery procedures weird us out – too much smoothness is strange, especially when we’re biologically conditioned to expect a certain amount of visual roughness, at least from our elders.

 

Admittedly,we flesh and blood humans have more quirks than we can comfortably handle, and unlike animated characters we’re not given only those quirks that will make people love us more. But before we rush into smoothing all of our rough edges with available technology, maybe we should look more closely into how they define us as human. Maybe some of those rough edges are what makes us special.

 

Epic The Movie opens in theaters nationwide on May 24, 2013.

 

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  • Moi Contre La Vie May 31, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Great post! Such an interestin topic & I really like how you approached it. I *always* think of Uncanny Valley when I watch Disney movies. Always! 🙂

  • Street Fashion Paris June 4, 2013 at 9:31 am

    Interesting!!!!! congrats on IFB!!!

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