Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Character Design Research

Character design is something that has become so varied since the beginning of animation that audiences will pretty much accept anything that has any sense of appeal about it. I personally have a lot of favourite cartoon characters, from both the Golden Era and the post-UPA and television eras. Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston, two of 'Disney's 9 Old Men' out together 'The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation'. It is a tome of animation information, containing tips and revealing secrets, but one feature they deal with in particularly really applies to this part of my research: appeal.

Appeal maximises the potential of your cartoon character and it is something that is as difficult to put into words as it is to put into your characters but essentially, I personal like to describe it as: when you look at something and immediately know you like it. Appeal in cartoon characters has changed since the advent of the 'plot' in animated cartoons. Before in the Golden Era, cartoons simply had to look appealing because sound and colour was limited, but now their must also have an appealing personality.

SpongeBob Squarepants is a great example. He is a simple shape for the eyes: square. He is an happy and joyous colour: yellow. And he is 3 parts annoying and 7 parts hilarious. You can analyse all cartoon characters in shapes, break them down in all the components and try and make sense of why you like to look at them so much, but rarely will you find a reason. It is such a human thing and every human is different. Spongebob annoys the hell out of a lot of people and some people aren't fond of cartoons whatsoever.

Before I present some of my favourite characters and the reasons I like them so much, here is a very concise history of how cartoons have changed from Golden Era and why. This is to help in understand how sense of 'appeal' has been altered and changed so radically by the industries changes.

During the 1940's the UPA (United Productions of America) completed changed animation norms with their radical new style. Disney's realistic approach throughout the thirties was rapidly replaced by this new exaggerated cartoon look that really hit home with audiences. It was so popular in fact, that Disney attempted to change his style, although with limited success. The sketchy-look of films like Jungle Book, 101 Dalmatians & Sword in the Stone were down to the influence that the UPA had on the industry.

The new style was quicker and easier to draw and audiences didn't expect things to look quite as good anymore and studios knew this. So budgets were cut, people were sacked and the principles of animation that were so strong throughout the 1930's were thrown out of the window. The steady transition to television over the next few years made a new home for this style of animation in new, cheaper cartoons.

Here are a few of my favourite characters:


Goofy is a great character, with a great sense of appeal: even though he isn't the most attractive looking character. He is all lumps and bumps and even though Mickey Mouse got made rounder and rounder, all future versions of Goofy still have a certain sense of this ugliness. Art Babbit's walk gave Goofy his personality. It is truly amazing. His limbs break and bend and his feet are even on backwards in certain drawings, but nobody notices because it suits the character. Really, Goofy was the first 'dumb' character that we all fell in love with. These days its Patrick Star or Scooby Doo. Since Goofy, all characters have a certain degree of stupidity to help with their sense of appeal.

Daffy Duck

Daffy Duck was the first really wacky character in animation. He is completely over the top, absolutely ridiculous and completely lovable. He is a very appealing character to look at. The way his eyes narrow when he hatches a sly plan or the way his beak seems to have a hundred millions ways of sitting on his head after an accident. I particularly love the way he looks when he gets paranoid. Essentially, the Warner Bro's 'twin eyes of paranoia' were created for Daffy Duck.


Stimpy is a retard. It's an offensive term these days, but essentially that is what he is. He has no brain, doesn't feel any kind of pain and can't rhyme two words together and you get this from just one look at his character. He is a kidney bean with eyes and a big blue nose (Tex Avery style). I often find it difficult to think of character more appealing that Stimpy and finding the words to describe why I like him so much is very difficult. I just do. He is fun to look at and just overall, very appealing.


Cow is probably my favourite cartoon character. I love Feiss' style of cartoons and always have since I was a kid. It is very much a hybrid of John. K's stuff, but I always love the way it was lined and the sense of size the animators manage to imbue in her. When ever she moves the screen shakes and whatever she does is completely over dramatic. The title card for the very first episode of Cow & Chicken says everything about cow. Her arms are on backwards and it shouldn't make any sense but it does. I love the way the animators give her cow habits, but make her look so awkward doing them, very often she behaves more like a dog than a cow. He design is terrific, I love her nostrils, one always bigger than the other: everything about her is bovine and that is why she has so much appeal.

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