The infamous villain, Soapy Smith, as illustrated by Veliz. "Soapy had a very distinctive sombrero, so you can't just slap any hat on him," Veliz said. "How do you make him an animated villain so that he's recognizable but not creepily recognizable? A villain is a villain, but Soapy Smith is a villain that we all know." Averyl Veliz' rendering of Madam Burnet, a character from her animated story "A Klondike Tale." "At the last minute, I decided she needed a dead fox around her shoulders," Veliz said. "I thought it made her that much more menacing. That's what's fun about visual development. You twist, tweak, add and subtract until you get something that really works for you."
A conceptual sketch of early Skagway from Averyl Veliz' "A Klondike Tale." "I did kind of create an imaginary Skagway in a way," Veliz said. "But it's a tent city. It's Skagway before Skagway was even Skagway. You can't see (the Golden Stairs) in real Skagway but I popped it in there for a visual clue."
Story last updated at 2/17/2010 - 2:23 pm
JUNEAU - Averyl Veliz saw a totem pole come to life.
She saw Eagle-who rested atop wolf, bear, whale and beaver-spread his wings as he awoke, splintering the wood that had previously encased him. The totem's other members followed suit, trading in their wooden form for that of the land of the living.
That was Veliz' vision, an initial idea that opened her creative floodgates and led her to write and illustrate a fully developed story, "A Klondike Tale." The work currently exists as a treatment in book form that Veliz hopes will someday be made into an animated film. The book includes concept sketches, color studies, character variations and scene models that demonstrate the intensive process of visual development.
"Instead of animating, I'm creating screenshots," Veliz said. "I'm creating characters and designing scenes and settings in an animator-friendly manner so the people down the line can stick to my drawings. I could give them something that might look pretty but if it can't be moved around on the screen then it can't be made."
The story was developed as a master's thesis project for Veliz as a student at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. The process of her work was a "constant interplay" between story development and sketching.
"Sometimes the characters will reveal themselves through imagery, then you have to go back and change it to fit the story," Veliz said.
Veliz is a third generation Alaskan who grew up in Healy, near Fairbanks. Her grandparents lived in Juneau, the same town that Veliz now calls home.
"I feel like I have a lot of roots here," Veliz said.
Her Alaskan heritage is evident in her story, which follows a cast of characters-both animal and human-through a series of events that take place around the turn of the 20th century in Skagway.
"There are a lot of fun snippets of Alaska in the story that only Alaskans would get, like inside jokes almost," Veliz said.
Veliz took a great amount of inspiration from her home state while working on the conceptual drawings for the story. Her illustrations reference many general Alaskan characteristics like fields of fireweed and true-to-life landscapes. She also includes specific references such as a design from Ketchikan's Saxman Tribal House. Since Saxman is a Beaver Clan House, she took a creative liberty and embedded its design into a depiction of a beaver lodge in her story.
"It's a play on words, really," Veliz said.
In order to illustrate her characters and backgrounds correctly, Veliz had to perform extensive research on the history of the time period and the rules of traditional Tlingit design, which she heavily incorporated into her imagery.
"There are a lot of intense rules about thick and thin (lines) and where the lines go," Veliz said. "There's a lot of symbolism, and it's fun understanding the symbolism because it helps you know what you're looking at."
Veliz used Tlingit rules and symbolism in her animal characters, who convert themselves into human form throughout the story. She also translated the Tlingit design elements into the creation of her human characters.
"The cool thing about the Tlingit art form is that they only work in three colors-a primary, secondary and tertiary color," Veliz said. "I put in my own colors but I kept that rule of thumb and it's harder than you think. It's fun sitting and thinking of what combinations of three colors you can come up with and how it affects the characters' moods. But simplifying can be harder."
Part of the magic of animation for Veliz is the freedom of creation that it allows. As long as the rules of the world she creates are consistently followed, anything is possible, including a living totem.
"That's what's so fun about animation, you're stretching believability," Veliz said. "I liked the idea of a totem coming alive and waking up, and then I had to figure out the why, the how and the who."
Her "who" includes a host of fantasy characters as well as historical figures such as Soapy Smith and his sidekicks.
Veliz performed extensive research to make her version of Smith as true to life as possible, pouring over historical photographs and biographies to pick up clues to inform her sketches.
"It's difficult to get characters exactly how I want them, especially when you're dealing with historical figures like Soapy Smith," Veliz said. "The photos that we have are quite terrible and fuzzy, but there's enough of a silhouette. I probably did eight different versions of him but I only show two in the book. You just have to keep playing with it to make it work."
In creating the fantastical elements of "A Klondike Tale," Veliz found bits and pieces of her life ending up on the page.
"It's funny how your own artwork can cause you to reflect back on yourself," Veliz said. "You don't think that there's anything of you in it, but then you look back a couple months later and it's almost a mirror image of what you were going through at that time."
Now that her story is developed and organized, Veliz will work to have the tale adapted to the screen.
"The idea in itself kind of scares me, but I think-just like the rest of it-the pieces of the puzzle will come together," she said.
Libby Sterling may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The work of Averyl Veliz will be on display upstairs at Zephyr Restaurant (200 Seward St.) through the month of February. View more of her work on her blog at http://averylveliz.blogspot.com/.