Starting with Ugly

Recently, I watched a video where Designer, Mig Reyes, gives some backwards advice, asking creatives to break things, and start with something ugly. Since I saw that video, I’ve been trying to get this thinking into my creative process. I tend to shun the bad stuff, ignoring it like an embarrassing younger sibling. Distancing myself from my mistakes is really counterproductive and I admit that the imperfect steps that help me get to the end of the work are incredibly important.

As Mig says “Ugly is part of the process”.

That is always true for my work as well. It can be scary and frustrating, but more often than not, ugly becomes a beautiful place to start. In the spirit of embracing the broken, I took my latest project and documented how I got from ugly to appealing. I’ve give myself projects when I’m not animating, to reinforce my skills and keep working. The latest is a series of animated valentines which I send to friends. I wanted to add to the series of animals I created (just two so far) and picked my favourite animal the rabbit.


step 1



Using reference images and videos I sketch out some possible solutions.

I also use a few post-it notes to stick to simple shapes. I get some interesting shapes and plunge into illustrator to create my masterpiece. step3 Wow, ugg-gly. I need to think a bit more about this. Something got lost in the translation between analog and digital. I take a step back and consider what I want this character to look like.


Starting with pastel colour and thinking of my other pet love characters, I know I want a pastel palette, but not too pastel. I want something muted but still lively. Maybe something with a Wes Anderson kind of feeling. step4

There was a lot of experimenting but I finally narrowed it down to these colours with some accents colours.


step 5 I create a stronger character and I’m happy with the colours, but the eyes are weird. They look glassy. It’s consistent with the wide eyes of the other characters but it just doesn’t feel rabbit like enough. I’ve been sticking to the use of hearts shapes wherever I can but for this project the constraint is not working so I let it go.

Breaking Things


I try a whole different attitude and I feel it starting to coming together. I do need some lids for animating the character but I can redesign those later. Right now I need to figure out what attitude I’m looking for in this character even if it breaks from the emotional attitude of the others. I experiment with the eye colour and size for a bit and settle on large loops. Just to be sure now that I’m less afraid of breaking things, I try a few more rough shapes to analyze the jaw, nose and chin placement.

Final Render

I try one final placement reversing the jaw shape but I still find the pear-shaped face more pleasing so I got with it.
step8 OK, something I’m happy with. It’s a good base for animation later on and I can easily create other parts and shapes will be required for more natural movement. Some shapes can be distressed in After Effects but it’s always nice to have some exact shapes for parts like paws. I work digitally but I think in a traditional puppet-style way when animating. That means I often replace shapes at times rather than distort them. step-9_03 This has been a good exercise.

Breaking things apart and switching up my process makes me look forward to being wrong instead of always trying to get it right.

The process is proving useful to me.

Props to Creative Mornings

This month, “Ugly” is the theme of Creative Mornings, a set of inspirational breakfast talks for creative of all kinds. It’s held in cities worldwide, so visit the site to find the one nearest you. You can see the full version of Mig’s talk there too.