Wooden Update for 2016 – WPJ #28

Been a while since I’ve posted an update to the Wooden Production Journal. Sorry about that. There have been times, recently, where I’ve pondered the sanity of it all.  The previous attempts to tell this story, I can honestly say, I wasn’t ready. My puppets were rudimentary and limited in both movement and expression. That’s how I built them, without knowing any better. So I shut the project down to regroup.  Then tried again.  But not really.  So it shut down again.

Since then, I’ve been focused on honing my animation skills by entering online contests. I’ve also improved my ability to model something quickly – (working under the pressure of a deadline will do wonders for your workflow!).

At the same time, the 3d animation software I use has continued to be updated and improved. Blender is now on version 2.76. They’ve implemented Pixar’s OpenSubDiv Library, which improves viewport playback performance. A whole host of modeling tools exist, not to mention the ability to sculpt the model first and then retopologize it for accurate mesh deformations.

And all of this is really wonderful, in general.  But what about “Wooden?”  Where is the progress?  Will it ever get made?  Why is it taking so long?  Those are questions I’ve been burdened with for years.

The characters I had designed originally, and had begun animating, were all lacking individuality and appeal.  They were so boring to me and I was not enjoying the process of creating the story BECAUSE the modeled characters were so uninteresting.


The first “Stockpot” I ever created was born of inexperience – a throw-away that I was actually taking seriously at the time.

I was very green in the ways of working in 3D space, and I’m afraid it showed.  My biggest problem then, and sometimes even now, was not having reference material handy to guide me through my creations.

I knew I wanted to make an old man face, but what does that really mean?  Without a concept specific to my style that was both well conceived in my mind and recorded on paper, there could never be forward progress.  Reference materials are, and you will hear the greatest artists on the planet urging this, the first things to seek out when starting the creative process.

The second version of Mr. Stockpot was created out of the same head-mesh used for the other characters in my story.  Doing that was a mistake because each of the characters ended up looking, more or less, pretty much the same!

And while this variant of the bespectacled woodcarver got the most mileage (and I actually think of the characters as looking like this) they clearly lack individuality.




Several more attempts were made to breathe life into this character.

I wanted a longer face, signs of old age, bags under the eyes and sharp cheekbones.

Each new face, the next as unremarkable as the first, was still based on the original mesh.  I continued to make the horrible mistake of “tweaking” things.  Pull this, push that.  Get nowhere.

Over the holidays, I saw a teaser for Disney’s Zootopia. It goes like this:

Story aside, the characters are animated brilliantly and have an amazing appeal. The fox is a caricature of a fox, the rabbit of the rabbit, the sloth of the sloth, etc. etc. Above all this, I imagine the animators must have had a blast playing with these puppets! A stark contrast to my own experience with my project.

So I took to Pinterest and started scouring images of old men’s faces – both realistic and cartoony.  I started sketching my designs and finally stumbled onto something I liked.


In Blender, I started sculpted a head from a cube and the result was something very different.


This head has personality and is not a cookie-cutter, normal looking approach.  I really like the style, and although I’m not convinced this is the “new” Mr. Stockpot, I like the direction I’m moving in.  And compared to the previous version, it’s night and day.


I am hoping to continue building these characters from scratch, and at least continue to grow as an artist, so one day I can finally tell this story.

Another update next month regarding the direction of Mr. Collinsworth.