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'SPAWN: ANIMATION,' THE (RE)MAKING OF SAM BURKE
Todd Details the Steps in Creating an Accurate Character
June 17, 2005
Copyright 2014 TMP International, Inc.

Two weeks ago I explained the steps of creating Officer Ainge, a brand-new character for Spawn: Animation. The artist didn't have much to go on by way of description and his first submission was rejected, but overall it was a relatively easy process getting to the final design. This week I am going to tell you about a much different experience, the difficulty we had with redesigning Sam Burke.

However strange it may seem, giving an animated makeover to our old friends Sam and Twitch actually gave us a lot of trouble. The animators had a huge hurdle to overcome when they started sending over renderings of these two; that hurdle was me. Their job was to make well-known characters look unique for this project while retaining the embodiment of the character, one that I designed more than 13 years ago.

The first images we received of Sam were rough sketches of six different facial expressions and a full body drawing. Sam was enormous according to them, his pants were baggy, his legs were short, he had a huge double chin and his hair was way too long. To me, faces are key, I had to get his face just right before I could address the body. I grabbed a pencil and made my changes right on their drawing of Sam's face. I gave him a haircut and modified his mouth and chin area. I didn't mind the baggy pants too much and his short legs would be addressed in subsequent drawings; I didn't want to bombard them with too many changes all at once. They looked over my sketches, made adjustments and a couple days later we received another round of drawings. This time I noticed how out of control his eyebrows were. You correct one area and all of a sudden another erroneous area pops out at you. I took some whiteout to the drawing and eliminated some of the thickness in the brow area. It was sent back and we were on to round three. Another drawing came back and I was finally satisfied with his face.

Now it was on to correcting his body. Plain and simple, he was just too wide. I mean Sam's a big fella, but he's not as wide as he is tall! I requested some of his girth be removed, moved up his waistline and adjusted where his knees were on his legs. His shin was about a third of the size of his thigh area and it just didn't look proportioned properly. The easiest way to get my point across was to again draw directly on their design showing how much I wanted him slimmed down and where I thought his waist and knees should be. Sam made his way to my desk a fourth time and he was looking much more respectable. Having gained some wrinkles, Sam aged a few years and he packed on a couple pounds along the way but overall I could still see my original character beneath all the changes. I may have been a bit of a thorn in their side when it came to the adjustments on Sam, but I couldn't have my boy looking like an obese slob. I had to take care of him like no one else would.

Looking back, I think part of the delay with this character was that we didn't have a conversation about his look before they got started. We didn't talk about any of the other characters, either, but since Sam and Twitch were pre-established, in my mind they were the easiest to bring to life. I didn't take into consideration how a designer reading a description would interpret the words. Bottom line is, no matter how unhappy I was with the initial sketches, the designers did deliver according to the description in the script. It stated that Sam Burke was a burly, disheveled, overweight man. Obviously those words can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. For example, if the reader is on the heavy side himself, Sam in their mind is automatically bigger than them. Burly and overweight to a guy my size could be quite a different thing entirely than that of a 215-pound reader.

Another important step in the process of getting Sam just right was the character lineup executive producer Terry Fitzgerald requested after all the characters were initially approved. From experience, Terry remembered that even if independently the characters look great, in relation to the others, their size might be a bit off. In a domino-like effect, one character throws off the next and so on, as was the case with Sam. Since there are a couple of big boys in the script, we had to make sure Sam was bigger than some, yet smaller than others. I wanted him taller than Twitch, but not a head and a half taller and having the lineup gave me a point of reference to work from. The lineup actually changed things for quite a few characters. Some needed to be shorter or thinner, and others taller or heavier depending on the size of the character most of their scenes are with. When you see your cast standing next to one another, it really gives you a better idea of how you want them to look and interact in relation to each other.

In the end, I feel we got Sam just where he needed to be. His makeover was a challenge, but anything worth doing is worth doing right. And like I said I couldn't let my boy down.

-- Todd McFarlane

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