What do Cheeky Little Media, Atomic Cartoons, Cyber Group, Cross River, Ferly and Kaiken Entertainment all have in common? Yann de Preval’s character designs are all over their new shows.
The character designer’s unique graphic touch will be prevalent on TV screens and in pitch meetings this year, as upcoming shows like Cyber Group’s 50/50 Heroes (pictured) and Cross River’s Virtual Past hit the market. Announced just a few weeks apart, the two new series join a half dozen more shows featuring de Preval’s character designs that will begin airing this fall and into 2021. His robust resumé already includes work on DreamWorks Animation Television’s Turbo FAST and Titmouse’s short web series Hanazuki: Full of Treasure.
So how did the Montreal-based designer get hired onto so many new projects? Part of it comes down to his varied background.
In the past decade, de Preval has designed characters for studios such as Atomic Cartoons (Hall Monitors), Ferly (MiniMecs), Cheeky Little Media (Spongo, Fuzz and Jalapeña) and Kaiken Entertainment (Dragon Girl, Mascoteers). Now he’s back as a freelance designer for frequent partner Titmouse, where he previously designed characters for Mao Mao for Cartoon Network and served as a visual development artist on Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur for Marvel.
And after a decade in the character business, one key secret he’s learned to making characters stand out is finding a small detail—like an eyepatch or a scar—that sets them apart.
“But when it comes to creating characters for TV, the most important trait an artist can have is versatility,” says de Preval. “What producers want is always changing. Sometimes they have an exact idea of what they want, and sometimes they’ll just ask you for something new.”
For Titmouse, being able to work with an artist who is comfortable pivoting to different looks helps keep their work fresh, says the studio’s chief creative officer, Antonio Canobbio, adding that this is a skill de Preval has in spades.
“We throw the craziest stuff at [him], and he always welcomes the challenge with a smile,” says Canobbio. “When drawing cartoons, you have to make a lot of graphic decisions. The balance between animation-friendly designs and keeping the characters appealing is a huge undertaking. Yann knows how to walk that line.”
Production companies have connected with de Preval’s work because it lends itself well to comedy, and being able to make toons look and feel funny can be a big draw for studios, says Jérôme Nougarolis, a producer at Cross River.
“Yann has a very particular graphic style,” he says. “His characters are designed in a modern and dynamic way. It’s perfect for comedy series, and especially for Virtual Past.”
After so many years and projects, it’s hard for de Preval to describe his own style, but he knows a big draw for studios is that he’s always trying to change to keep up with their ever-present demand for something new. He says he’s been influenced by the graphic yet cartoony art style he picked up while studying in France at university Supinfocom, which sets him apart from artists who studied in North America and elsewhere.
Looking forward, de Preval wants to work on original projects and hopes in the future—once his workload lessens a bit—that he has a chance to develop new properties he can pitch to the market. Until then, he’s keeping busy learning and producing art, because he always wants his look to grow and evolve.
“There are so many more productions out there because of streaming services, but I always have to be a step ahead, changing up my art to stand out as more talent comes along,” he says. “I’d love to do more work on feature films and I’m always looking for the next opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone because that’s where a lot of creativity can come from.”