The Beauty and the Beast market square surprise

Here in The Netherlands we have something called Sinterklaas. It’s an annual tradition that’s mainly meant as a fun party for children, much like Santa Claus and Christmas are for English speaking countries. (Though this doesn’t stop us from celebrating Christmas as well. There’s just less to no emphasis on Santa Claus.) Young children traditionally receive a lot of presents from Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, teens and adults tend to make surprises for each other. Using the word ‘surprise’ is a bit funny in this sense, as we Dutch people use that English word, but pronounce it in a Dutch fashion, because while getting a ‘surprise’ is a surprise, it’s a planned and handcrafted one.

A ‘surprise’ will be something an anonymous* relative, friend, colleague or classmate will have made for you and it will highlight either a personal trait, mock a hobby or will be a lovingly crafted reference to something you’re passionate about. You’ll usually have to wreck it to get the (small) present inside.
(* It is anonymous in the sense that: a pre-arranged group of people will agree to celebrate Sinterklaas together, write their names on a piece of paper, crumble it up, put it in a hat and everybody will have to pick one. The name on the crumbled piece of paper will be the person for whom you’ll make the surprise, but you may not let the person known you’ve picked them.)

In 2013 Sharon, my girlfriend, and I chose to make surprises for each other. It didn’t take me long to figure out I wanted to do something with her passion for Disney, in particular the film The Beauty and the Beast. So I started drawing, as I usually do.

My idea was to build a part of the village from The Beauty and the Beast and hide the present inside one of the houses. I started with the second obvious building: Gaston’s tavern. (The most obvious would be Beast’s castle, but if you look at it, it is actually rather run-of-the-mill.) And as soon as I started drawing, photoshopping and pasting everything on cut out cardboard I knew: I wasn’t going to make an entire village, it took a ridiculous amount of time! Either I’m too slow or model building from scratch is tremendously time-consuming. Whichever, the plan was downsized to just the town square with three houses, a fountain and some other accessories.


I started by drawing the market square from a top down view so I knew where I wanted to place what. With that established, I picked a scale (4 centimeters to the meter) and drew the facades of the houses with pencil and ruler to scale. These pencil drawing were then scanned and were opened in either Mango Studio Debut or Photoshop (depending on what I felt like) with my Wacom drawing tablet plugged in. I recreated the inked lines and then started coloring in Photoshop.

While I won’t detail the drawing process in Photoshop (I’ll save this for another article, someday), a large chunk of my time went into this. Not only because coloring can be very time-consuming, but also because I wanted to reuse portions of art. Photoshop is ideal for this as its option to work with layers allowed me to draw the basic walls for the front of a house and reuse these for the sides, without the detailing the façade might have. This meant creating the drawings with this in mind. It saved me time on the long run, but it was still rather tedious work.

When the first building was done, I started watching the first opening song in the movie for inspiration of other buildings. As my girlfriend is fond of reading, the bookshop Belle visits was chosen next, followed by a fish shop, simply because I liked the style of the building.

Lastly, I chose the accessories: the proud baker, the frisky triplet girls who are smitten with Gaston, a handcart and Belle on the fountain with her favorite book, singing to the attentive sheep. These accessories functioned not only to make the scene more detailed and lively, but also to add the perception of depth to an otherwise very two-dimensional affair. I already did this by adding three-dimensional aspects to the buildings (windowsills, shutter boards, signs, etc.), but I didn’t want to rely on just that. All of these accessories are screenshots from the DVD that I digitally redrew with the originals as basis (pretty much like using trace paper). This had to be done because the DVD footage was way too grainy and low resolution compared to my crispy house textures.
When all the buildings were done and everything assembled, this surprise took way longer than expected, planned or what should be reasonably expected. Had it been any other person, then I would simply have binned the idea and created something simpler.

Finally, here’s a few interesting details and jokes I added into the scene:

  • Gaston’s tavern features a sign with a very unfortunate moose, as Gaston’s an avid hunter;
  • Through the windows of Gaston’s tavern, we see a scene from the song ‘Gaston’, in which the subject is crazy about himself;
  • The fish shop sign features a pun;
  • The fish shop also has Teen Gohan from Dragon Ball Z waving at my girlfriend (surprisingly, I got her to watch that with me);
  • The bookseller sign can actually move with the wind;
  • Gaston’s tavern roof was very large and removable in order to hide the present, so I added two unplanned windows later on to break the dull tile effect;
  • I’ve found out that I really, really hate to cut cardboard.

Link 26 October 2014 1:23