"Velma Kelly "

by Umaimah Damakka

Inspiration for my art comes from different things: daydreams, books, songs I love, a picture I saw on the Internet, and much more. In most cases, it’s from stories that have happy endings and things that are whimsical. This specific project was a bit different for me; my inspiration came from the 2002 musical ‘Chicago.’ I was never really into musicals until I went to the US the minute I watched Chicago. I saw Velma Kelly in that beginning scene, surrounded by the blue lights; I fell in love with her character (and musicals). I immediately felt this need to see Velma exist as an animated character, which this project is about. Cartoons have always been a massive part of my life. They’ve been with me when I was the only child and watched me grow into an artist.

The fun thing about re-designing a character is you can create this whole new world for them even if they’re based on existing concepts; they become yours. I loved the set design and dramatic red lighting we see in the 2014 Cabaret Broadway show. It made the performers stand out on stage and translated the mood of each number correctly. I knew that style of lighting would be perfect for Velma Kelly’s character. The repetitive use of red inspired me to use it as the theme color for this project. We see it show up frequently in her make-up, props, and environment.

I also wanted her to still exist in the 20s; looking for references wasn’t as easy because I had to look for genuine pictures of performers back then; what helped me here were vintage fashion catalogs. When designing characters, it’s essential to explore, so I love to sketch different ideas first. I started with six sketches of girls that I saw as Velma, but the third one stood out to me the most; her expression, the clothes, and fringe hanging off her frame gave her an exciting silhouette which is essential in character design. I could see her being glamorous and feared.

With the third being my final choice, I brought back hints of red and dark colors to maintain her edgy personality. This project was so fun to work on; I pushed it further by designing a set of props; this helped me see the items Velma will use. Everything is designed to emphasize shape and show how dramatic the owner is. My favorite is the murder weapon. Even though Velma has a gun in the musical, I changed it. Hairpins were the rage in the 20s, and I thought someone as fashionable as she would frequently accessorize with them. It only made sense that she uses it in place of a gun.

I specifically chose to speak about this piece because sometimes people think inspiration can only be something you get from abstract concepts, but no, it doesn’t stop there. You can find inspiration in existing concrete ideas that you enjoy and attach your voice to them. A lot of the exceptional media in the world are from people retelling their favorite movies or books. Creativity does not have a limit.

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