Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Bland" Be Banned!

John Kricfalusi has another provocative topic regarding "bland" character designs that can be found in this recent post. For the record, though I admire John's knowledge of Hollywood cartoons greatly, I often respectfully disagree with his stance on the characters and stories in the Disney features, as I find he's too dismissive of a lot of wonderful art. However, I do see his point this time around in regards to the way kids are often designed in the Disney films. I'll admit there is a generic template that Disney has adhered to in many of their kid characters, with only minor variations in the facial types.

John has posted a bunch of photos of famous Hollywood kids from live-action films of that bygone era, which he rightly acknowledges as having more personality traits and physical variation than their animated film counterparts. Just for fun, I've decided to draw some quick caricatures of 6 of his photo examples in an attempt to show how these particular kids could be adapted as animatible cartoon characters, with an eye to exploring different head shapes and facial features to show distinction of character "types", as well as unique and interesting silhouettes. The likenesses are only so-so, by the way. What I'm really trying to do here is show how a character designer could start with photo reference of a specific "type" as a jumping off point to creating a design that communicates that particular personality to the audience. So here they are:

1) Beaver Cleaver - The All-American Boy: I've also added a baseball cap to this likeness to exaggerate his distinction as the cleancut kid that would make his Mom proud, despite his propensity to get into typical boyhood dilemmas. Physically, the Beav has downward sloping eyes, buck teeth, and a square face. His facial features suggest a trusting look that communicates his naivete and basic goodness.

2) Bobby Driscoll - The Mischievous Imp: Bobby has pixie-like features in his slanted up twinkling eyes, small pug nose, and devilish grin. His face shape and placement of features are a series of 'V' shapes. You just know this kid is up to some youthful prank, but you can't help but like him. In his teenage years, Bobby of course was the voice and model for Disney's "Peter Pan". Here then is where I would disagree with John's assessment in a previous post of Pan as being "generic" in design. Pan was a deliberate caricature of Bobby Driscoll and is therefore quite a "specific" type in my opinion.

3) Will Robinson - The Inquisitive Whiz Kid: His long face, vertically stretched facial design, and slight build suggest a kid that would rather read books and build model kits than go out and play sports. He is the typical "Brainiac", quite fluent in math and handy on the computer.

4) Alfalfa - The Gangly Casanova: He of course was the oddball, awkward looking stringbean among "The Little Rascals", with his stretched out, skinny physical build, big expressive eyes, and that cowlick that shot straight up like an antenna. Yet despite his physical ungainliness, he fancied himself a "Lady's Man", always ready to serenade some young cutie with his off-key singing. I'd suggest that Disney's "Ichabod Crane" is the adult equivalent of this character type.

5) Opie Taylor - The Bumpkin: With his goofy gap-toothed smile, tussled "Sheep Dog" red hair, and a generous helping of freckles, Opie is the kid that's just made for running barefoot through a pasture, climbing trees, and gnawing on a big slice of watermelon. No big city living for this small town boy.

6) Danny Partridge - The Conniving Schemer - (I had to find a different photo to work from to draw this guy) His face is wider horizontally than the others and his narrow, shifty eyes also follow across that side to side facial pattern. His mod, uncombed 70's era long hair communicates that "Rock Star" self-assured sleaziness. You know by looking at him that he's up to no good, trying to make a fast buck by hustling some poor unsuspecting schlemiel.

These drawings are by no means the only ways to portray these distinctively different kid "types". There are so many varied approaches one could take to accomplish the same goal. The key, though, is making a concerted effort to study real faces of kids in order to come up with more "specific" characters as John K is always trying to encourage. Otherwise, by just designing something out of your head with no research, you're likely to end up with the same "bland" or "generic" character designs that we've seen in countless animated features and TV shows. As my Sheridan Character Design students soon become aware of each year, I insist on them keeping a sketchpad and using it to record all of the wonderful array of character types they see all around them. Also, I prefer that they take a more "caricatured" approach to drawing people, as this is the best way to develop unique and interesting personality types through humourous exaggeration and visual shorthand. Again, I'd like to thank John Kricfalusi for this interesting topic as a springboard for me to expand on the theme here on my blog.