My primary question comes from a fledgling animator's perspective. I'd like to capture the general look and feel of a lot of South Florida's cities, while also combining it with my urban-fantasy/science-fantasy's quirks. What I'm not sure about... is what sort of balance to strike between clear real-world inspirations (especially when it comes to road/city layout, the look of buildings, the arrangement of residential, industrial, and business areas) and the purely fictional designs (especially with the alternate history in-mind). Forgive me if this question and its context are a bit wordy... I've been building on this idea for a few years now, and am finally at a point where I want to, and can, make something concrete about it.
To add a bit of context:
The primary setting of many of my stories is set in an alternate South Florida (one that was separated from the rest of North America sometime in the 1830's, about 170 years before the series' present day... a channel was carved through the middle of Florida through abnormal means, turning Lake Okeechobee into a colossal river that allows water to flow from the Atlantic Ocean into the Gulf of Mexico... turning South Florida into an partially flooded island). The new river is about 40 - 50 miles wide, North-to-South, and cuts through the peninsula, creating some very rough coastlines.
To speak of the alternate history, this is one where the United States, as we know it, does not exist. Britain, as we know it, is a different animal. Its monarchy was effectively wiped out during the tyrannical reign of a "god-king" (ruling from 1356 to 1556, until he was destroyed), and the concept was dissolved following a period of instability and uncertainty (between the 1560's and 1650's). Fast-forwarding a bit to the 19th century... I'd like to imagine that this alternate Britain has some colonial hold on North America (made a bit difficult by the Spanish Empire, American Natives, and the supernaturally vigorous flora, fauna, and geography). This, somewhat haphazardly, leads us to the Sionna-Seminole Wars (1810's - 1850's), when Florida was bifurcated (conflicting contemporary reports point the finger at both the Seminole and Nature itself, as both Europeans and Seminole received substantial casualties from the event). The Seminole were eventually subjugated, the island colony of St. Sionna was established (the alternate Southern Florida). St. Sionna would achieve independence in 1930, following a catastrophic war. And now, in an alternate 2006, we have a modern island nation in the midst of a strange, hazardous world.