Friday, June 5, 2015

Hugo Character Design

The design of the Hugo character - the star of the three feature movies that bear his name - has undergone quite a development from the original sketches to the last movie (which was done in CGI). In this post I will share with you some sketches and modelsheets relating only to the first feature movie, which was released in 1993.

It should be noted, of course, that the design for Hugo was originally conceived by Carl Quist Møller, the son of Hugo's inventor Flemming Quist Møller, who co-directed the movie with Stefan Fjeldmark. Carl, who also ended up animating on the first feature, has a very nice description of how Hugo was originally designed for a radio play and an illustrated children's book on his own website. And during his studies for the book illustrations Carl actually animated a short movie with Hugo in a somewhat crude but charming style. The film was run on Danish television in 1987 as an ad for the radio play.

When the idea arose to turn Hugo into a classically animated feature, Carl also participated in the redesigning of Hugo. But it was Stefan Fjeldmark who adapted Hugo into a more Disney-like character, as shown on these early modelsheets from 1991.

Stefan's sketches provided the Hugo design for the first few sequences of the feature, which I animated. The sequences weren't done in chronological order, but rather according to which ones had first been layouted for animation - also taking into account that no voices had been recorded yet, so we had to start with scenes without dialogue.

The first sequence was Hugo and Rita discovering the skateboard in the playground (which was more than half way through the movie), followed by Hugo walking the dark and lonely streets of Copenhagen, and then Hugo escaping from the two kids after having been put to bed in the dollhouse.

My interpretation of Hugo deviated somewhat from Stefan's, and was even slightly inconsistent between my own scenes. Nevertheless, after I had done this initial animation, Stefan had me do the sketches below, which became the first official Hugo modelsheets to be distributed among the other animators. It's possible that some of the poses were drawn on top of Stefan's roughs.

When the movie was eventually financed and moved into full production, more animators joined the crew and started drawing Hugo. Most of the character-driven scenes with Hugo and Rita the fox were animated by myself and my good friend Jesper Møller.

These sheets were copied from some of Jesper's scenes. The top two are from when Hugo meets Rita for the second time and goes looking for food in a dumpster. The third one is from Hugo's encounter with the French poodle Sabina Sandhurst, and the final sheet shows Hugo sliding back and forth on the deck of the ship.

Jesper had a slightly different take on the Hugo character, who in his interpretation looked a bit younger than in my version, especially because of the bigger head. In order to have a unified model for the entire team to follow, we had to agree on how Hugo should look. So here are the final construction sheets for the first movie, which I did based on a compromise between Jesper's and my own version (I still think the head is too big, but hey, I let it go, because as some may know, I'm not the stubborn type :)

Jungledyret Hugo body proportions, 1992.

Jungledyret Hugo head construction, 1992.

Rita the fox had a similar, if somewhat shorter, journey. These are Stefan's initial sketches for Rita.

And this is an official modelsheet based on roughs from my first sequence. Rita pretty much stayed the same throughout the rest of the movie (more Rita modelsheets in the previous post).

Final Rita model, 1991.

Here's a couple more sketches of Rita. They are throw-outs or animation layouts from the two friends' first meeting in the Copenhagen Zoo.


  1. I wonder what people mean when they say "Disney style".

    What does it mean anyway?

  2. They look more like Don Bluth to me...

    1. That I don't get either. Don does not really have a style for design, just preferences with hair and fabrics.