Don’t let the title of this post fool you. This isn’t about setting boundaries. If anything, it’s about breaking through them. In this case, I’m talking about redefining the Creative Strategy + Design team’s illustration style—specifically, the way we handle our people illustrations.
Collaborative hand-offs are nothing new to us. Last year, members of our design team spent some time refining our general illustration style, playing with mood, color, and lighting, and exploring how we render the human figure and common objects alike. Then, for the opening of Red Hat Summit 2017, our amazing video team took that general style and ran with it. They produced a video that briefly introduced the story of famed British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing, exploring not only the legacy he left for modern computing and artificial intelligence (AI), but also the wonder of possibilities to come.
All of us on the team felt that the video exemplified a direction we wanted to pursue for our people illustrations: strong silhouettes, a consistent tone, and freedom to play with color, lighting, and mood as the needs of each scene might dictate.
The question then became, “How do we apply these principles on an ongoing basis and make these types of illustrations easier for our team to produce?” I jumped at the chance to start assembling some guidelines to help inform the process, and to identify areas where we had experienced difficulty in the past.
One thing that became apparent fairly quickly was that proper or improper anatomy—more specifically, proportions—could make or break a figure, regardless of the specific illustration style used to flesh it out. The most painterly execution can be rendered unintentionally comical by cartoony or warped size relationships. By the same token, even a flat, minimalist approach can yield striking results if it’s grounded in solid proportions.
Thankfully, even if you’re no expert (and I’m certainly not), the web is an amazing place to get started, and it’s fairly easy to draw from the immense fountain of knowledge that other artists have kindly offered. A search on anatomy drawing will yield plenty of useful information, and it’s on several of those examples1 that I based my proportion guides for this project.
First, I started by laying out height guides based on the examples I found.
Next, I fleshed them out, adding generic, idealized forms to start humanizing the figures.
Now, remember when I talked about boundaries, and breaking through them? Well, one of the barriers we’ve faced has been the difficulty in taking an existing illustration and modifying the person’s pose so that they’re doing something different. In many cases, the shapes we’d use to build the person wouldn’t be conducive to moving them around, posing and re-posing them. So, it was time to start fixing that.
The next step with the new guidelines was to take these forms and translate them into geometric shapes that could be more easily manipulated, regardless of your individual skill level as an illustrator.
After that, it’s a quick process to fill in those shapes to create silhouettes that can then be shaded or dropped into different scenes—provided that we also create clothing for them to wear and objects for them to manipulate! We’ll also create, of course, more varied viewing angles of the figures themselves, and a kit of parts that we can use to get a scene up and running quickly. This way, we can spend more of our time sweating the important details, and adding the natural human diversity that makes real-life scenes so interesting.
In conjunction with some basic head reference and examples of balance and center of gravity, which you can see below, these guides are just the starting point for this exploration. As additional members of the team become involved, the project will incorporate studies guided by photographic reference, and a retrospective on what worked and what didn’t in some of our past projects.
In this way, we can pinpoint the boundaries that were holding us back, and move beyond them—all because we know where (and how) to draw the lines.