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August 7th, 2012

Pierre Collet-Derby

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The influence of technology on character design




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"Characters are the only products people respond to as if they were people"



Showcase: Pierre Collet-Derby

Character Topic: The influence of technology on character design



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During the course of this discussion in our Linkedin group a Designer and Illustrator said that in long established game properties such as "Super Mario Bros." or "Street Fighter" the iconic characters remain true to their 2d origins, despite the fact that technology now allows for additional bells and whistles.  The newer characters of such games often push the bounderies in terms of design though, given that the technological restrictions which were responsible for the simple, yet highly recognisable, designs of the original characters have disappeared.


A 2D Artist for mobile games thought that this was a good point.  He added that designing characters for a Game Boy, for example, meant reducing the shapes down to the bare minimum, so that it could be recognised even if it was only made up of a few pixels.  Given how many polygons we have at our disposal today, it seems that the only limit to what we can design is our imagination.  


According to this group member this did not necessarily make for better character design, though.  He wondered how characters such as "Ezio" from "Assassin's Creed" or "Lightning" from "Final Fantasy XIII" would look, if they were placed in a Game Boy game.  Would they remain recognizable?  He even thought that such a test might be a good way to determine whether the defining design elements of a character actually work.


A German Character Designer then asked, "Do you think that as characters increasingly exist on more than one platform, the different technical requirements of the different media they exist on will all have an effect on their design?"


In response a 3D Artist from Finland said that the fluidity of motion in gameplay, regardless of the design style, is the key to any great and memorable character, and that, therefore, the technology that makes cross platform portability possible needs to be able to preserve those qualities of a character.  Otherwise we might face the uncanny valley effect from all directions.


A Lithuanian Supervising Animator then made the profound statement that,  "character is beyond technology".


The German Character Designer replied by saying, "the question is... which parts.  Given that a character only exists in media (unless it is a physical object, such as a toy) and has to be created for media using technology, which aspects of a character exist beyond technology?  What is the importance of those aspects?  Are there aspects of the design of a character that go beyond the technology used to create and animate the character?"


The Supervising Animator thought that there will be a new generation of creators for whom the technology will simply be a set of tools.  Technology, according to him, will never replace the creator, and creativity is where a character is born.


What do you think?  Is technology an important influencing factor when it comes to character design, or merely an extention of the mind of the character creator?  Join our discussion... here.






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Apart from his work at Ubisoft, Pierre is currently developing character designs for an animated TV show  and is working on a poster design for a New York Musical.


Please click the link below to check out Pierre's blog:




You can also follow him on Twitter here:




Pierre has always created characters, but it took years before he realized that he could make a living out of it.  


Like many of his generation, he was influenced by Disney, Tex Avery, Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera.  But above all he is more fascinated than ever by the style and design vocabulary of the “Cartoon Modern” era of the late 40s to early 60s.  This was a revolutionary period during which studios like UPA, Playhouse Pictures, MGM and others redefined the graphic language of animation.  Pierre particularly loves the work of Ward Kimball, Tom Oreb, Cliff Roberts and Milt Kahl.  His greatest hero, though, is Ronald Searle, whose characters are full of life, charm and personality.  Ronald Searle knew how to tell a story with a simple drawing, and could capture life with great humor and wit.

In 2008 Pierre was hired by Ubisoft as an illustrator.  He had been waiting for an opportunity to go back to drawing for years, especially after having worked as an animator in the video game industry in Montreal.  Given that animating for games is very different from animating for TV series or movies, Pierre simply missed being able to draw full time.  At Ubisoft, he now illustrates concept art, 2D game art, graphic user interfaces and many other things.


In the future Pierre hopes to return to the animation or graphic design industry as a character designer.


When he couldn’t find a paid job right after school, Pierre was asked to join a friend of his at Sparx* Animation to help him finish his short film.  A few graduates from the George Meliès School worked on the project and after a few months, Sparx* asked some of them to work on a few commercials.  One thing led to another, and that’s how he started in the industry.  A few months later, Pierre was asked to join the Animation department of Sparx* to animate on the direct to DVD “Mickey’s twice upon a Christmas” for Disney.  It was his first real professional job as an animator, and he couldn’t have asked for a better project.  Apart from being alot of fun, it was an experience that shaped his professionalism.

Pierre knew at an early age that he wanted to draw for a living, but in his late teens he developed a passion for design.  And so, after high school, he attended the Industrial Design section of the Pivaut School in France.  During his second year there, they started to use 3D programs and something suddenly clicked for Pierre.  He decided to stop studying design at the end of his second year, and moved to Paris to study at the newly opened George Meliès School.  There he studied Maya, as well as storyboarding, film techniques, life drawing, animation, sculpture and photography.  He also quickly developed an interest in characters.  Pierre graduated in 2002 with his short film “Lucas”.




Pierre Collet-Derby has been drawing for as long as he can remember.  As a kid he doodled in class, instead of paying attention, and when he was about 12 years old, his parents signed him up for a comic book class.  The class was taught by a local artist, and despite the fact that it was more of a social gathering for Pierre and his friends, he did learn a lot by observing the techniques of others.



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