What Can Pooh Teach Me About Shape And Design?

In my new class Draw a Circus of Characters Exploring Body Shapes and Proportions, Winnie-the-Pooh characters are used to explain the importance of shape in character design and how shape can be used to make a first (and lasting) impression. In this class I use the set of Winnie-the-Pooh characters to show how shape can be used to as a device to help distinguish one character from the another and how shape is used to relay and visually enhance a character’s personality.

In this class, I use A.A. Milne characters to demonstrate how a successful set of characters have evolved across time (1920’s – current) and media (picture book – screen) to align with a new, more modern audience.

Here are some fun facts that I found out about Winnie-the-Pooh along the way.

  • During World War I, a Canadian soldier named Harry Colebourn made a pet of a black bear cub he bought from a hunter for $20. Named Winnipeg (or ‘Winnie’ for short) the bear became his troop’s mascot and later a resident of the London Zoological Gardens, where Christopher Robin (son of author A.A. Milne) loved Winnie so much that he named his own teddy after her.

  • Unlike Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore, and Tigger. Rabbit was not based on a toy owned by Christopher Milne.
  • You can see all of the real plushies that inspired the characters at the New York Public Library, with the one exception, Christopher Robin lost his Roo toy in the thirties.

  • In the 1920s, A.A. Milne began writing collections of stories and poems that became the booksWhen We Were Very Young – which introduced a bear named Edward and a swan named Pooh.

  • At first Milne was reluctant to hire a political cartoonist E.H Shepard to illustrate his collection of stories. Taking the initiative, Shepard created a portfolio of sketches for the stories. Even visiting the Ashdown Forest for inspiration for the setting of the stories. He then turned up unannounced at Milne’s home, handed over his portfolio and won the approval to illustrate all of the stories we know so well.

  • Owl and Rabbit were created by A.A. Milne and illustrator Ernest Shepard only to add a little more variety to the character list.

  • In 1961, Walt Disney purchased the motion picture rights from A.A. Milne’s widow, Daphne.
  • Being empathetic to the original illustrations (and toys), Disney redesigned the original characters for a series of Winnie-the-Pooh shorts in theatres in the late 1960s.
  • In 1977, the trio of Winnie the Pooh shorts made up Pooh’s first movie releaseThe Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

  • Pooh remains Disney’s second best-selling character after Mickey Mouse.

  • The 1980s the Winnie the Pooh characters were brought up-to-date for two television shows,Welcome to Pooh Corner and The Mini Adventures of Winnie The Pooh where Christopher Robin became a 6-year-old tomboy named Darby.

    What do you think about the changes in the Winnie-the-Pooh characters?