Visual Development

Bonny’s Island is the story of two shipwrecked children stumbling into a treasure hunting adventure on a mysterious island. This project is the documentation of the visual development process and its artwork for the story idea. When I initially created the story I intended it to be told as a family-friendly animation movie.


Bonny’s Island is a personal project I created as a part of my bachelor’s thesis to demonstrate my ability in developing the visual look and feel for a story and my skill in visual storytelling.


The goal for this project was to define a visual style suitable to the story, its intended medium, and audience, along with exploring different ways of translating the story idea into visuals.

Story Creation
Art Direction
Visual Development
Adobe Photoshop
Pen & Paper
12 Weeks

Visually Classifying The Story

When I created Bonny’s Island I was strongly inspired by 80’s adventure movies and literary adventure classics, while I also imagined the story to be lighthearted, funny, and occasionally played out in exaggerated and fantastical ways. To speed up the process and narrow down the direction of visual style exploration, I created a list of prompts.

Visual Style Prompts

Project Plan and Milestones

With the story set, there was the option to explore and experiment with various visual styles and then narrow them down to one most suitable to the story. Considering the 12 week time frame I decided to focus more on the actual world-building and visual storytelling, as I was striving to visually define as much as possible of the story.

Cutting on exploring a unique visual style, I decided to use established guidelines and style guides of animation master artists, which I’d picked under strong consideration of the defined style prompts.

Artists and projects that influenced the visual style of Bonny’s Island
Ollie Johnston
Nicolás Villareal
Hans Bacher
Tangled Styleguide

Having my project goals defined, I laid out the following milestones and worked on them with a nonlinear and iterative process.

Reference picture I made during a field trip to the tropical house of the zoo in Karlsruhe.


Key to each step of my process was extensive research and building a visual library, which would help me understand what I was going to design, generate new and exciting ideas and help to create designs that would be believable.

Some of the resources I used to build my visual library, which inspired and shaped the look and feel of Bonny’s Island.

Story Moments

I then sketched out the major story beats to create a first visual representation of the entire story. This was a helpful step to better understand the characters and it also served as the foundation for the later color keys and color script.


The initial story was very character-driven and its length quite ambitious, being a little too mature and breaking the possibility of creating a holistic visual big picture within 12 weeks.


I changed the story to a more plot-driven one and rethought what I would elaborate on, which reduced the number of story moments and allowed me to visualize various parts of the story.


In retrospect, I view the changes made to the narrative somewhat critically. It was reasonable to adjust it to the target audience, but a change in favor of too broad project goals seems questionable. For the future, I’d consider breaking the project down into smaller manageable chunks, focus on one and extend the project if the deadline allows it.

Character Design

For the characters, I used a combination of Ollie Johnston's character guidelines and a basic geometric shape language to create unique and easily distinguishable designs. Following these rules, my goal was that the characters would look believable, alive, and possess the functionality to be usable in a 3D animation pipeline.

Basic geometric shape language


is the best friend everyone wishes to have. She is fun, warmhearted, and always there to cover your back when you’re in trouble. The confident young woman has indigenous roots but grew up in Miguel‘s family. Both kids are like siblings, with Tica taking the role of the older sister. She is tough and always one step ahead to outsmart others.

Design Decisions

Her design was quite challenging as I tried to give her indigenous traits that only hint at her original roots. I did a lot of iterations of her face and hairstyle until I found a satisfying solution. Her costume is based on a mix of traditional Spanish and other European dresses from around the 17th to 18th century. To highlight the native background in the costume, I designed the shoulder scarf based on colorful Peruvian patterns.


is an energetic young teenage boy who can‘t wait to explore the world and its mysteries. As a quick and agile kid, he is not afraid to take on any challenges, though his goofy and naive character often gets him into trouble. His rash courage has always led him and Tica into big adventures.

Design Decisions

At the beginning of Miguel’s design, I was going with a hairstyle that was standing up and blow-dried to the back. As this felt too cocky, I explored some shoulder-long hairstyles that were messy and suited his goofy character much better. His costume is pretty simple and based on casual European clothes from the 17th to 18th century. To give the character an iconic trait, I added the mustache, of which Miguel is actually pretty proud.

Ol‘ Hunter

is a portrayal of manifested greed and madness. He is hunting Bonny‘s treasure to gain power over the seven seas. To achieve his goal, he even goes so far as to enslave the entire monkey population of the island to make his evil plan work. His hot-tempered being adds to his crazy and unpredictable character.

Design Decisions

In the initial story, Ol’ Hunter was a two-faced villain. On the one hand, he was a charming yet mysterious sea dog, whose stories were loved by the harbor town kids. On the other hand, the greed for Bonny’s treasure had awakened evil inside him that would stop at nothing.

In the revised story, the charming character was omitted and the crazy and greedy elements in the old man‘s design had to be pushed further. His costume design is pretty simple with the main intention to keep his cranky and angular shape easily readable.

The Monkeys

are the largest group of inhabitants on the island. Ol’ Hunter, who had many years to pursue his plan, quickly discovers the little fellows’ love for sugar. Soon enough, he has figured out how to enslave them with a special syrup made of the island‘s sugar loaves. The monkeys turn out to be pretty useful minions for his treasure hunt, helping him build the operation base and mining system.

Design Decisions

Exploring their design, I liked the idea of including the cone shape from the dominant sugar loaf motif in their head and hairstyles. It added a vivid element to them; the pointy shape further bears the possibility of making them look dangerous in certain scenes. In contrast, Rikuni (old wise monkey) is more square-shaped to show his old and slow physicality and his solid understanding of his world.

Color Keys and Script

As I intended to create a heartwarming family story, I chose to work with a vibrant and colorful palette. To match the lighting and colors of each moment with the emotional progression of the story, I created a chart in which I defined how dramatically positive or negative each story moment was.

Visual Narrative Color Concept

Calm and happy
moments use a bright and harmonic color schemes


Dramatic moments use a strong contrast in lighting, as well as warm and cool colors.


Suspensful moments use a reduced spectrum and dull colors.


Fantastical moments use an unnatural color scheme to push the otherworldly action.

Final Color Keys and Script


My objective for Bonny’s Island was to create a visual style that would enhance the storytelling, be suitable for an animation movie and speak to a family audience, and furthermore use that style to explore different ways in translating the story into visuals. My biggest challenge was to manage the scope of this project under the given time frame and to decide what aspects of the story I would visually elaborate. I wanted to create a visual package that covered the core concept and aspects of the story and that served as a foundation for any further visual development.

As a result, I am quite satisfied with the amount of work I created, that I was able to visually explore and outline the story as a whole, and I like how the style I developed captures a certain playfulness and vividness.

Moving forward I’d love to explore the setting more, as it has come short in my process. Initially, I also thought about creating some look of picture paintings, putting everything together, and showcasing how a scene in the final animation movie would look like. For future projects, I would narrow down the scope and pick a specific story part or two to focus on. This way I should be able to take everything to a more polished final look while still giving a visual direction for other parts of the story.

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