Developing Characters

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DK
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Developing Characters

Post by DK » Fri Jan 16, 2009 10:32 am

Thought this might make an interesting discussion.

In my mind there are really only a few great animated characters that have really successfully managed to span generation gaps like Spongebob, Zits,(cartoon strip), Ren and Stimpy etc

So....How would you go about developing a strong animated character from personality to design?

D.K
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Post by slowtiger » Fri Jan 16, 2009 12:03 pm

Ugh ... you open a can of worms here.

John Kricfalusi would say only characters with a solid construction, designed by artists who knew the principles of drawing very very well, have a chance to survive.

Disney and the like would say that only a protected intellectual property, safely shielded against any change from non-authorized personnel, could qualify as a beloved character, and it must be lifted from european children's book culture.

Chuck Jones would've probably credited the group effort of writers, animators and directors (with the occasional totally insane person) in creating characters like Bugs and Duffy.

Anime fans would probably just point out the size of the eyes and the length of cloaks and hair waving in the wind as the main ingredients for a great character.

Hollywood execs would say "It's all in the voice!" and cast just another celeb - to hell with visual design.

I could add more to this list but leave this as an exercise to you.
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DK
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Post by DK » Fri Jan 16, 2009 12:27 pm

But...it's an interesting can of worms slow :)

I thought some points in this extract may also apply to animation.

It's an from King Features Cartoon (Cartoon Strip)
Submission guidelines.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON MISTAKES MADE BY ASPIRING CARTOONISTS?
They often place too much emphasis on coming up with a novel character or setting. A strip starring a giraffe won't get critical acclaim just because there's never been a giraffe strip before. Humor is the most important element of successful comic strips, followed closely by well-defined and interesting characters.

In many cases, aspiring cartoonists develop too narrow a premise. Syndicated comics are meant to last for decades. A cartoon about a character who always falls asleep at the wrong time or talks about just one topic day after day, will quickly get repetitive and boring. Develop characters and situations that will allow you many avenues for humor in the future.

Very few aspiring cartoonists pay enough attention to their lettering. The words need to be lettered neatly enough, and large enough, that readers can read them without difficulty.

Newspapers usually print comic strips about 6-1/2" wide. They usually print single panel cartoons 3-1/8" wide. Have your local copy shop reduce a few of your cartoons to printed size to see if your lettering is still legible when reduced. There shouldn't be too much writing either. People prefer reading shorter, quicker-paced comics. Many aspiring cartoonists don't use waterproof drawing ink to finish their drawings. Pencils, ballpoint pens, and most felt-tip pens don't reproduce well enough for syndication. Aspiring cartoonists should learn how to use pens and/or brushes with waterproof drawing ink.

Finally, many aspiring cartoonists develop comics that are too similar to already successful strips. Newspaper editors aren't going to duplicate a comic that they already print.
http://www.kingfeatures.com/subg_comic.htm

Cheers
D.K
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Post by gyula » Fri Jan 16, 2009 1:31 pm

interesting topic DK:
i am not sure character is enough tough.
american style cartoons emphasize more on character development and
design, while i think story is much more important, of course we all identify
with characters throughout the story, but can we identify with
the character without a story ?

if i look back, thinking what cartoons i liked, first thing comes to my mind
are stories or actions, then i think of which character actually did that in the
story.
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Post by GCharb » Fri Jan 16, 2009 2:20 pm

Hello DK!

Personally, I devellop characters based on the story I wanna tell, not the other way around.

Start with a great line of story, read it a few times then let yourself feel the story in your head, then, for me at least, a character will popup.

Then, draw a rough sketch of it then play the part with it, if it gets to a point your character becomes believable, then you getting there.

In character devellopment, you need to take advantage of the media you plan on using for it, sometimes, the character shows you which media you should use for it.

In all, character develloping is a personal, feeling type of process, not a science, far from that.

90% of guts, 10% of techniques.

GC
Last edited by GCharb on Fri Jan 16, 2009 4:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by chucky » Fri Jan 16, 2009 3:50 pm

I agree with GCharb, it's all in the story.
Spongebob only exists because of his seaside location and his 'sponge-out of water' interaction with his environment/acquaintances.
Ren and Stimpy is all about the situations that a cat and dog find themselves in- especially being owned and treated like a child...-it's all a little perverse really, so by making the chihuahua a scheming megalomaniac with his only ally a moronic nose goblin collecting cat, the character design is merely a matter of fulfilling those characteristics, although when those designs are not so coincidentally, absolutely brilliant, there is no wonder that success follows.

Great stories inspire great art, and besides a cool looking character has little hope of inspiring an audience on its own without a framework to operate in.

Who cares about road runner? It's Wile Coyote, that we all love, his look has totally evolved from his purpose.
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The world we live in

Post by jwlane » Fri Jan 16, 2009 4:44 pm

OK, this is true enough to make me laugh out loud.
slowtiger wrote:Ugh ... you open a can of worms here.

John Kricfalusi would say only characters with a solid construction, designed by artists who knew the principles of drawing very very well, have a chance to survive.

Disney and the like would say that only a protected intellectual property, safely shielded against any change from non-authorized personnel, could qualify as a beloved character, and it must be lifted from european children's book culture.

Chuck Jones would've probably credited the group effort of writers, animators and directors (with the occasional totally insane person) in creating characters like Bugs and Duffy.

Anime fans would probably just point out the size of the eyes and the length of cloaks and hair waving in the wind as the main ingredients for a great character.

Hollywood execs would say "It's all in the voice!" and cast just another celeb - to hell with visual design.

I could add more to this list but leave this as an exercise to you.
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Post by FCSnow » Fri Jan 16, 2009 10:09 pm

Most of the cartoons we create are short, one time pieces with simple stories and character. If this the case then we need not dwell on characters or stories.

However, if the animation will be long or a series, then characters and story matter. I'm working such a series, "Sasha the 1st", and I find my self constantly think about how my characters are going to react to different situations.

My character designs are part artwork and part written. I learned from a creative writing class that you want your characters to be consistant from one episode to another you have to create a "Character Sheet" which lists all their character traits (good and bad). All I've done is add a drawing of what they look like from different angle (simular to what animator use).

With a character sheets in hand (assuming there is more than one character), you can explore a story line, sometimes (if you're lucky) the story will almost write themselves.

Consider the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Without the serpent, their is no story. Without Adam's and Eve's chararter flaws, there is no story.

Good characters are nothing without a good story, (and the reverse).

F.C.Snow
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Post by Pixelpusher » Sun Jan 18, 2009 12:56 pm

I've grown up with cartoons all of my life. The Bugs Bunny show was a staple because as a kid, we only had three television channels and Saturday morning cartoons were about the only exposure I had to the world of cartoons. Now, I'm 44 years old, have a 15 month old baby boy, and I am exposed to tons of cartoons on many television channels. As of late, the two that really stand out to me as being watchable for someone my age are Phineas and Ferb (that cartoon is the best in my book,) and Spongebob. OK, so there's also Wow Wow Wubbzie (very simple characters,) Chowder, Flapjack, and a few others, but most of the latter are a little strange to watch. I don't really care for a cartoon that relies on gross humor for the basis of it's story. The story is important and it should be the driving force behind the character and sub characters. Phineas and Ferb is great to me because there are the main characters, and then there is a subplot with Perry the Platypus and Dr Doofenshmirtz. I think it's genious.

I'm still learning, but the characters that I develop will be used to further viewership to the television station that I promote and will probaby only be spokestoons for that purpose.
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Post by slowtiger » Sun Jan 18, 2009 1:41 pm

Phineas and Ferb? Ugh. Not my cup of tea. They serve as a typical example of stylish flat "characters" I can't emotionally connect to.

I said it before: I'm feeling happy because I not only saw all that Hollywood cartoon stuff but also a healthy diet of european and eastern-european animation as well as lots of experimental animation.
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Post by gyula » Sun Jan 18, 2009 6:00 pm

i was also watching with my kids the belgian tv the other day, the new Winny the poo series which are running daily here. they are beautifully drawn, nice 3D graphic, cute characters, but we both agreed with my kids to switch channel and watch some other (2D) cartoon after the adventure (!) of 3D Winny, where the story was that he came down the hill with his friends and walked up the other side of the hill.
I didnt know to feel sorry for Milne or Disney.

The kids (one is 4 the other is 6) interestingly agreed with me.
Its kind of like we got bored of that 'flat 3d world' through the years and our kids inherit our style, our search for quality, right away. they dont have to start watching all the crap since they born, they take over our style along the way...the new generation needs, interesting, new (alternative?) cartoons..sorry 3D Winny, but we need stories and repetition of once successful characters are just not enough.
Last edited by gyula on Sun Jan 18, 2009 7:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Developing Characters

Post by human » Sun Jan 18, 2009 6:53 pm

DK wrote:How would you go about developing a strong animated character from personality to design?
Here's a few random ideas:
1. "Strong character" is a vague term. What's your criterion? Ability to convey a wide range of feelings? ability to convey one persistent attitude in an unforgettable way? General like-ability? General hate-ablity?

2. "Strong character" for whom? Both four year olds and their grandparents? The big elephant in our room is that nobody ever talks about a filmmaker making a choice to animate for mature storytelling. Your examples of strong characters indicate that it isn't even on your radar screen. I don't watch TV; haven't for years. The strength of SpongeBob, I gather from having glimpsed ten seconds, is a regressive infantilism with a generous side order of campiness.

3. Likewise, where's the conflict that drives your characters, making them strong? Are we talking 1979, where we lived in a culture capable of conceiving strong conflict as a woman trying to tell her husband she doesn't love him without crushing him? Or 2009, where the conception of strong conflict is a supernatural shockwave which slices through defending armies (the latest X-Men movie; I caught it last night.) (Do you think I feel we're living in dumbed-down times?)

4. If your characters get their strength from being rooted in a time and place, then the right costume and props are important. In any event, your characters usually get their strength from community--their telling interactions with others.

5. It is my impression that art direction and style are independent variables from character personality. If you have a hero and a villain, they can express the same personality traits whether the genre is Art Nouveau, Chinese woodcuts, or Atomic Age kidneybean shapes.
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Post by Magnatude » Mon Jan 19, 2009 10:22 pm

Must have Patrick Warburton doing at least one of the voices... lol.

Seems like a lot of cartoons today focus on the promotion of toys.
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Post by banjar » Tue Jan 20, 2009 7:10 pm

A strong story is always at the top of the list. Of course, the particular niche determines your choices, from single panel cartoon to full feature or a series of shorts, all set the limits to what you can do with character development. Thus, TIME is a big factor, how much time do you have to develop character?

But even when the story is weak, having some variety in the character's personality can make a story all by itself. Spiderman comes to mind in this. Instead of a straight hero who does good and nothing else, he is given some depth by having emotional and social issues connected to his disguised hero work. This creates interesting side stories.

In game development, using a three-point character makes everything simple. That is, pick out three things that you want your character to express and stick with them through all situations. If your hero is brave and generous, also add a weakness like clumbsiness to create built-in drama-creation and comedy.

These are all cartoon characters so how much depth can you really take them to, anyway? The real human depth and element comes out in the story line and the voice talent. For example, In Search of Nemo, how else can the audience relate to an anthropomorphic story of a cold, slimy fish except through the voice talent? Nice graphics are always a plus, but the voice over and sound track is where the audience pays attention to the story line.

Disney's Fantasia had no voice over, but the classical music carried the storyline through the pantomimed emotion of the characters.

What else can I say? It's an art. And nobody can really explain it, but you know it when you see it ... or when you experience it.
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Post by chucky » Wed Jan 21, 2009 4:04 am

Banjar, I'm not having a go at you but, it looks like you've missed the vital ingredient here, there's more to character than a vocal gymnastics and the situations they are placed into.
Character as you know from the people you know around you comes from the choices we make.
Like this one..... I don't have to embark on any bruising lecture about character, it's just I'm a little feisty and full of myself. I will however apologise for any discomfort accrued during the process.:P

Game development is COMPLETELY different.
Game characters are constructed necessarily without much character at all.... game characters are the empty vessel that we insert our own character and make our own decisions. That's why often they are purely an assemblage of interesting design elements.

With cartoon characters it's different, they have to entertain ( make interesting decisions)
otherwise we'd sit around and watch people walking aimlessly around like some noob playing GTA.

We don't have to agree with the choices a character makes to enjoy watching them, in fact some of the most fun characters to observe in animation, live action or real life have to be watched through a gap between ones fingers. You know what I mean :wink:
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