Saturday, October 20, 2007

What is a Character?

This is a question that we haven't directly addressed yet, but I think it's important to consider. Certainly, a character in animation is not limited to the rounded biped anthropomorphized animals that we see most often in commercial animation.

There are at least two principles that come to mind when defining what constitutes a character in animation:

As we've learned from multiple seminar panelists this semester, humans are preprogrammed to recognize other humans. Thus, we are visually tuned to recognize both human faces and movements. In addition, we have an innate tendency to 'see' likenesses of ourselves even in inanimate objects. Thus, the headlights and grill of a car are a face to us, as are icons such as :)

(Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics goes into this subject in much greater detail).

In my opinion, squash and stretch, silhouette, and other principles of classical animation derive from this innate tendency to see ourselves in the world. In other words, even highly exaggerated/abstracted character animation 'works' because our minds are programmed to fill in the gaps. (The facial gesture reserach group also has looked into this)

Since we can recognize even highly abstract characters physically, a series of moving drawings/images become a character when a viewer can can identify with it emotionally. Moreover, this property can be independent of how realistically the character is rendered. For example, in his celebrated film 'Blinkity Blank', Norman McLaren pushes the idea of abstraction to an extreme. His character - a hen - is composed of the simplest graphic shapes, but is remarkably expressive as it dances around the screen. The character even disappears for several frames at a time, but the discontinuities do not prevent the viewer from looking at the hen as a character.

A still from 'Blinkity Blank':

Bill McClure mentioned during his presentation at seminar that all emotions are learned, an observation that implies that character animation is poised between the delicate interplay of nature (i.e. abstraction, which is genetic) and nurture (i.e. emotion, which is learned).


1 comment:

Ryan said...

This got me thinking about other examples of simplistic characters. One such animated character is Bit from the movie Tron. Bit had the ability to emit the sound of the word "yes" and "no", it beat like a heart during it's idle state, and it could morph into an orange yes shape and a red no shape. Norman's hen is a fine example of a simplistic character, but the example of Bit shows that "seeing the face" isn't necessary.

Another example of a character could be the falling feather in the beginning and end of Forest Gump. The feather goes on a journey, it reacts to it's environment, and it overcomes challenges (crossing the street, dodging traffic). I'm not saying that the feather is an absolute character...but that it could be...depending on the definition.

A living thing that has the ability to act or function independently to do or say something.

In the case of Bit and Feather, it is not necessary that the thing be sentient.

Yes? No?