I'm starting work on some art direction and character designs for my senior film (I'm not calling it by name yet since it's still pretty tentative), and the biggest concern I have with this project is "the look". I want to have a piece that's visually appealing, so if the story (or even the animation, although let's hope not..) doesn't strike anyone at least the visuals will. Also, I've been very fixated on expanding my horizons, so with this piece I want to go further than simply having unique character designs.
Having said all that, I had a real hard time getting actual references for the style I'm aiming for. I want a look that's sketchy and minimalistic but stylish. Since I'm anticipating having a lot of backgrounds, I figured that would be my most effective option. I also wanted to have a watercolor-y, picture book-esque thing going on. Finally, after much searching, here are some references:
This is pretty much the aesthetic I'm going for. I love the use of loose, flowing lines and vivid watercolors.
Besides that, the whimsical feeling of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends is another good one. The flat but detailed backgrounds really appeal to me:
On top of that, I really like the feel of the art direction in Disney's 101 Dalmations. It's loose and sketchy, but very deliberate. It might seem sloppy, but a lot of care's gone into the backgrounds: