Animator Sorren Jones: My Creative Process

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my creative process

By Sorren Jones

Illustrator, animator and photographer after work

Personal story

Step 1: Getting an idea

I begin a project once a potential story idea hits me. This really can be at anytime, from general observation, a discussion with a friend, inspiration from another source, or just plain out the blue. I jot everything down, nothing is too messy, usually plain text to start with, then I build on the text until I have a beginning, middle and end of a story I want to develop. I remain open minded about changing details all the way to the very end, I think flexibility is important.

There have been times when I have either written, illustrated or animated an idea which didn’t make sense to people and I was forced to change it, which at the time was frustrating but ended up being the right thing to do. Developing the initial story can take me a while, as I am a perfectionist, so I like to take some time with this bit. This is where not having client pressures and deadlines can be an advantage to me. However, a danger to that is too much time can pass, I am aware of this and remind myself of this often, so at this stage I remain focused and progress with the story, and not to procrastinate.

At the same time I’m progressing with my story I’m starting to think about how the characters in the story will look, so I will roughly scribble ideas down on whatever paper or drawing material is within reach. I’ve found inspiration can come from all sources. A lot of times inspiration for my characters hit me while at work, sometimes when I am not even thinking about it!

Step 2: Cast sheets

Once I have a story I am happy with I begin illustrating the characters on what I call a ‘cast’ sheet, this is basically an Adobe Illustrator document showcasing all my characters that I plan to ‘cast’ in my story.

Again, like writing the story, illustrating characters can take me a while as I want my ‘cast’ to look just right.

A cast sheet is a basically a large digital artboard with a plain background, which I create using Adobe Illustrator and it essentially houses all of my characters I will use in a project. The great thing is that it allows me to see how my characters work together visually at a quick glance. I want my characters to look different from each other but at the same time look like they belong together. Seeing them together all at once allows me to achieve these two goals.

When it comes to illustrating the text in my story I simply choose the characters I need from the cast sheet and ‘pose’ them like puppets as an illustration in my picture book.

Cast sheet

Step 3: Story and illustration process

Once I have completed my cast sheet with characters I am happy with I begin the story and illustrating process. This is the stage which will ultimately lead to the final illustrated pages of my book. It is both exciting and stressful at this stage. I start by creating either an Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop file that suits the format of the picture book I want to achieve. I take pieces of the text from the story and copy across to the pages of what will be my book. I usually have a line or two of text on one page with an illustration on the other. There’s probably a million ways to do this but this way works for me just now though I am definitely not set in my ways, and am open to change. I don’t like to restrict myself, especially if I learn of a better way to get things done.

The illustrating process is time consuming as it can take me a while to arrive at what I think is the best illustration, which tells the story both clearly and visually. It is normal for me to end up with many image variants before I ultimately pick the one that works best for what I need. I repeat this process for each page until I reach the end. I don’t always illustrate pages in chronological order. I’ve learned to focus on colour, colour pallets and fine details (such as backgrounds and textures) at the end when it comes time to wrap up production. This achieves greater consistency in my work. It is easy to forget how an effect or such was achieved early on in production.

Children's Book

Step 4: Backgrounds

Once I am happy with the final wording and illustrations I begin adding backgrounds. This really is a project in itself and can take a while to get right as the backgrounds need to fit with the characters and text. Again, I don’t always create my backgrounds in chronological order. Once the backgrounds are completed and ready I move on to colour.

Step 5: Colour Palettes

I go back to my model sheets and backgrounds and create a simple colour palette for each character and background, which I use throughout the colouring process. This ensures that everything is consistent. Colouring digitally is fun and fast, once colours and palettes have been determined. I love texture in my work so once the colours are filled I add subtle effects to help give my work a hand crafted feel.

This is important to me, as I worry a lot that relying wholly on computers will give my work a feeling of insincerity, which is why I like to mix digital with the appearance of hand crafted elements. I’ve learned as well not to get too carried away with effects and filters. They are great to experiment with and to learn from but I’ve found more often than not that less really is more.