ATB Cricket Illustrations – Character Design Study

Posted by on Mar 28, 2012 in Characters, Process | No Comments

In September 2011, ATB Financial contacted Pulp to create some characters that would be used in the Edmonton Comedy Festival’s advertising campaign. ATB had a fun concept of taking crickets and making them mascots/ambassadors of the festival. They wanted a traditional cartoon look to the characters. Personifying crickets was quite a challenge, but a terrific one. This was my first character design project at Pulp, and it definitely stretched my creative muscles.

This photograph was taken by Mathias Krumbholz, Wikimedia Commons.
The first thing that happens at Pulp with character design projects (and most projects) is style reference. We all had a discussion, and came up with the decision to make the crickets in a style that channels the classic Hanna Barbera characters of the 1960’s, but with a modern twist. The aim was for simple lines, flat colours with a shadow or highlight, and to be full of personality. I really wanted to capture a lot of expression, and having a 2D animation background really helped with this process. My goal was for people to see the crickets and believe that they had just paused a great cartoon, and they caught the characters in the midst of a hearty laugh.
This is where I began collecting reference photos for character style and cricket anatomy. Giving an accurate-to-life portrayal to our artwork is very important at the studio, so this research is key to each and every project. I gathered pictures like the one above for the cricket anatomy. Pictures of characters like Yogi Bear, Boo Boo Bear, Snagglepuss, The Smurfs, and Archimedes (from Disney’s The Sword in the Stone) were used for reference of expression, weight, body structure, and proportion.


When tackling a project, I like to take some time in the beginning to plan and doodle with pencils, pens, or markers. I then scan the best ones into the computer, and start working with them digitally. I started out with a process that many studios (like Pulp) and artists practice, called silhouetting. I did the silhouette exercises with a felt-tip marker to get a basic form of the characters down on paper. I focused on creating structures for the head with different geometrical shapes like squares, triangles, and circles. I then started adding body shapes, legs, arms, hands and antennae. After Corey and Kelly looked over the shapes with me, I moved on with the best ones to sketching out details with pencils.

These were the best concept sketches of the batch. There are four different styles, and one of the styles has three variations (1A, 1B, and 1C). I wanted to include realistic cricket features, so I gave them long antennae, forewings, divided abdomens, thick hindlegs, and the serration on the hindlegs. We liked the geometrical shapes with the character silhouettes, so I kept that style choice for the main body parts. There was no preference at the studio about the hand style, so I gave the client a few different options. There were a few with thick fingers, thin fingers, and some “mitten” styles. The nose was left to be more subtle so as to not distract from the more important features that depict expression such as the eyes, eyebrows, and mouths.
One of the specifications the client included was to make the crickets look like business people. Neckties, shirt collars, fancy shoes, and cuffs on their tiny wrists did the trick. These options were then sent to the client for feedback on a style choice.

These little guys were the favorites at ATB. They have contrasting (but similar) personalities that make them cooperate really well together. Above is a cleaner digital sketch for the final style confirmation from the client. I brought the pencil sketches into Photoshop and drew over them with a few different brushes to make them neater and to give them more definition. The client wanted to see the shorter cricket with a rounder face compared to the initial sketches, so I tried it out with this step of the process. It turned out after seeing that version of him, they decided to go back to the edgier face. I think that was an excellent choice because it added more character to the shorter cricket, and added more contrast between both crickets. After these versions were approved, it was time for some vector drawing! Woo-hoo!

This was the final cricket character design. There were four different poses needed for each cricket, and the first one was standing. The blue colour for the ties and cuff links was taken from the ATB visual identity palette. Both the blue and the green colours were chosen by the client. Another pose for the crickets was to have them sitting while laughing, as if they were watching the festival. We needed to include illustrations of human silhouettes (also laughing) and a photograph of theatre seats for them and the crickets to sit on. I sourced an image of theatre seats and manipulated it in Photoshop to change the colour of the seats from red to blue. I then took photo reference for the illustrations of the laughing silhouettes. After the silhouettes were illustrated and placed with the crickets and the seats, it was ready to go.

One of the other positions needed to be illustrated was one cricket standing on the other’s shoulders. The client had suggested having the taller cricket holding the shorter one (B), but I  thought it would be more ironic and funnier to have the opposite scenario (A). It’s silly to have the smaller character struggle with holding up the larger one, which I felt would be a better fit to their personalities. I sketched up the above options, gave them to the client, and they agreed with my suggestion.

Tadaaa! A few poses later, the crickets were ready to head over to the Edmonton Comedy Festival. The folks at ATB were amazing to work with, and made this project a blast. The shirt the cricket is wearing is the same blue colour as the comedy festival identity. ATB placed the festival logo on the front to complete it.

Here are the crickets at the festival. A big thanks to Aidan at ATB for the photos. The crickets were featured as stand-ups, posters, booth banners, and were on cards. It was really awesome to see the work in a real-life context as opposed to strictly online. I think having things in a printed format gives the target audience a more personal connection to the art, which is super important.
In case anyone is wondering how I gathered the photo reference for the silhouette illustrations, take a peek at the next picture…

As you can see, teamwork is a huge part of Pulp Studios Inc. This is usually how we get our photo reference for projects. It’s incredibly helpful to have these resources, especially when the interwebs just can’t provide the perfect shot of people laughing hysterically in a “theatre”. Thanks, fellow Pulpites!

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