Saturday, 25 June 2011

Bear designing - step by step

Okay, got a day on the desk at the Art & Craft Centre; not many people about; internet connection up and running - what better time to create the truely massive, picture-heavy post about the development of my latest panda design! Skip this one if you're not interested....

I always start - particularly with realistic bears - by looking at photographs, and sketching and describing the shapes. This helps me to work out what the pattern pieces should look like.

The face shape of pandas is very different from that of other bears - in fact, it tends to look different depending on which angle you look at it from. I think probably the best description of it - with regard to making a replica - is as a wide circular disc, with the muzzle and forehead built on top.
Here, I've just drawn a roughly panda-face-shaped piece - cut two and sewn them together and stuffed them.

Pandas have a large central bump to their forehead. I've started here by cutting a circle and darting it at quarterly intervals. It has turned out to be far too big a lump though, so I think I'm going to have to try something else.

Here, I've switched to a two-piece pattern with a subtly curved centre seam. My first attempt at this had a dart in it, but this flattened it far too much, so I've done it again without the dart.

This is what it looks like pinned onto the face frame. It still looks a little flat...

Now it's too pointy!

This is a better shape. And when sewn into place onto the face frame, it looks... like some awful gigantic growth! But designs often look quite awful in their half-finished state - press on! The next step is the muzzle.

This has two side sections, which join along the top, and a gusset underneath. It is too beaky though. It needs to be broader and squarer.

This is better. Looking at the profile picture though, the top of the muzzle needs to slope more - and possibly the underside of the bump should also be shallower: there's far too sharp an angle between the two. The end of the muzzle is too square, and the whole face just has far too many sharp edges. This could be solved by combining the head bump and the muzzle into one.

I love this shape! This is the perfect panda, to me!
The one thing that is worrying me is the flatness of the back of the head. I'm wondering whether I should alter the face frame to include more bulk there. However, I think possibly - looking at the photos - a panda's neck starts from the top of the back of its head. In other words, there is no 'back of the head'. So the next step is the neck.

I start with a basic triangular pattern - curved along the outer edge. Despite my precise measurements, for some reason it turned out to be far too big. So much trimming... and this is what I came up with. It's not bad - but there's a bump at the top which shouldn't be there.
I've come across a bigger problem here though: although this bear isn't the biggest I've ever made, because pandas seem to have proportionally bigger necks than other bears, the circular disc at the base of the neck is 100mm in diameter. Commercially, joint discs are only made up to 88mm. Either I need to reduce all the pattern pieces, so I can use a smaller joint, or I'm wondering if perhaps I can have larger joint discs made?
I think I might make some foam board joint discs, just to use in the prototype. Even if I can't get bigger joints, and have to reduce all the pattern pieces for the finished version, I find it easier to work with big bears.

Second attempt: this is he with the circular disc, and the foam board joint, inserted into the base of the neck. There are several problems here: one is the gap under the chin, which shouldn't be there. The other is that - when viewed from the back - the neck seems to taper towards the base. Really, it should be wider at the base.

This is better: I have removed the gap under the chin by sewing the circular disc at the base of the neck directly to the chin. He does look like he's studying his toes in that first picture, but I think this is probably just due to the looseness of the pins. Once the neck is sewn securely to the back of the head, I think the angle of the head will be better.
I also widened the base slightly (it is now 120mm in diameter), and it does look a lot better from the back.

The next step is the body. Again, much drawing and describing to try to get a handle on the exact shape. Basically, the panda photos that I have been looking at show short, wide bodies. And they have a distinctively slouchy look - almost as though the top half of the body is upright, but the lower half is horizontal. To illustrate, when you see, e.g. an American black bear sitting down, his tail trails behind him. When you see a panda sitting, his tail is in front of him - almost as if he were lying on his back.
Anyway, ignoring the [inconvenient] question of how the legs are going to attach, the real question here is how to create that half-horizontal body shape.

I'm going to try it with a two piece back - since I think most of the shape is there. The stomach is a single piece. I've sewn them together here. There are wrinkles in his bottom though, which need to be dealt with - I think I need to remove some of the fabric there.

Take two: I've removed some of the fabric from the bottom. This is more like the shape I'm looking for - sort of... The trouble is, it doesn't sit up on its own - hence why it's leaning against the bird food tub. It does look rather like a sack of potatoes.
The lower half isn't horizontal enough. A dart across the stomach will help.

This is really painful! I finished this last night, and went to bed very depressed - thinking it looked terrible. This morning though, looking at it, there are problems but there are definitely good points too. I like the shape in profile - that dart across the stomach is right, I think.
With regard to the negative points, the body is too big in proportion to the head. And it doesn't look good from the front. Really the body should look triangular - narrower at the top than at the bottom. I'm going to try darting the shoulders to make him narrower at the top.

I took the body pieces apart completely, and lopped a chunk off the top of each, so he's now shorter. It does look better. The stomach dart is creating some horrible wrinkles at the sides though, and the shoulder darts have done nothing at all to narrow the body at the top.
When I took the pieces apart, it was quite noticeable that the stomach pattern was wider at the top than at the base. This is because of the circumference of the neck. However, in fitting the neck disc to the body last time, the body did seem too wide at the top, so I'm going to start over with the stomach piece, re-drawing it so it tapers at the top.

Big step forward! The tapering at the neck is about right here, I think.
A couple of problems: for one thing, the body still doesn't sit up on its own. Also, the stomach, at the front, lifts off the table just slightly. I'm going to try adding some more fabric to the bottom, to prop it up a bit more at the back. Also, a dart underneath, to flatten it, and maybe a little more fabric at the front, beneath the edge of the stomach, to make it drop a little.

Bleh! One step forward, too steps back! This is awful. The body does sit up on it's own now, but the wrinkles are horrible. This looks like a gigantic wrinkled foot! I think I need to go back to the last step.

Okay, I've taken out the dart underneath - which I think is what was causing all the wrinkles - and the extra fabric to the edge of the stomach. All I've kept from the last step is the added fabric to the bottom. And I think I'm back on track. I like this - particularly the chimmney pot shape to the neck.

Hmmm. I like this from the side, but there's still something going wrong with the front view. The face still looks too small in proportion to the body. I think what really annoys me is the fact that you can see the neck joint beneath his chin. In photos of real pandas, the big face seems to block out the view of much of the neck and shoulders.
So, perhaps a bigger face?

Oh God - I don't like this at all!
The first two pictures are where the neck is pinned quite high on the head. The result is that he looks up rather, so I tried pinning the neck lower down (see second two pics). The angle is better, and in profile it looks alright-ish. The front view is terrible though; the face looks incredibly round and moon-like, with a tiny skinny neck beneath!
It does conceal the neck joint though.
I'm really not sure what to do now: my favourite photo is the profile pic in the previous step - but the front view of that version is all wrong.
But this larger face doesn't seem to work either. Looking at realistic pictures of panda, they have wide faces, but the shoulders are wider still than the face. Putting arms on this panda will balance out the neck slightly, but there's no way they're going to be bulky enough to be wider than the face.
What to do?
I have to admit actually, I'm sitting here typing, and the panda prototype is sitting next to me. He's looking at me (or he would be if he had eyes), and from a certain angle, there is something kind of endearing about him.

This is the trouble: if I spend too long with a prototype bear, faulty as it may be, it starts to speak to me; I start seeing the little ursine character in it.
Okay, I think I'm going to continue with the larger face. For one thing, I've already spent several days on the body, and I'm so tired of it. Secondly, I'm hoping the reason that he doesn't look right is that he has no arms or legs. Let's face it, no one looks great in that state. If it still looks bad once I've added the limbs, I'll revisit the head/body proportions and see if I can't come up with another solution.
In the meantime, onto the legs.

Look at those long legs! They have to be unjointed - simply because there's nowhere to put joints. The body has funny front corners, and legs jointed behind the corners would stick straight out sideways. Here, I've taken a standard leg pattern, that I've used before, flattened it at the top and then cut away fabric from the inside to draw the leg inwards. It fits nicely over the front corner of the body.
It needs to be much shorter, obviously, but otherwise, I think this might work.

I've just finished two shorter legs (just before the light disappears completely). Tomorrow, I'll sew them on and stuff them. I can't believe I managed to get it moreorless right the first time, after all that faff with the body. Such a relief!

Ta da! I love this - so cool, so nonchalant. The only down side for me is that he's no longer looking very realistic - he's looking a bit Baloo-like. I think part of the problem is that the legs go out sideways. Looking at pictures of real pandas, they have very strange legs - short and flat, and sticking straight forward - often looking rather piddly in proportion to the rest of the body.
I don't think I can do that on this body pattern though. Apart from anything else, he needs his legs that way for stability - they are creating a sort of tripod effect.
I will go with this. Maybe I might have to give up on the 'realistic' theme - but I think he is going to be a fantastic panda all the same.

Mmmm. My first attempt at the arms. That photo on the left is actually what I was aiming for - although the arm looks like it's pinned on upside down. The idea was that the arm followed the line of the body - going down the side, then out over the stomach, with the wrist hanging vertically over the edge of it.
It doesn't work though. Then, just because I was a bit stumped, I tried it the other way up, and actually it doesn't look too bad. It needs to be longer, and if I can find a way to turn the wrist a little, so the hand doesn't stick straight up like that, it would be a big improvement.

This is perfect. I have lengthened the arms, and rounded them out a little, and then cut them off at the wrists, and re-sewn them at an angle. They don't sit perfectly against the body, but well enough.
Ideally, I guess, I would have had weighted, unjointed arms, so I could make them much bulkier at the shoulder and heavier against the body. I don't think I could get away with a completely unjointed bear though.
This is good though! He looks casual but alert (it's the ears, I think, sitting bolt upright).
So, that is the long, drawn-out story of Benjamin the panda! Click here to see how he turned out.

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