Friday, November 23, 2007

More thoughts on what makes a character

Can water or smoke be a character? In the era of big-budget effects films, it's common to hear people refer to "hero" waves or drops or puffs. So are these "hero" elements characters as well?

Animators are taught from the very beginning to exaggerate what they see in real life, an idea that is manifest in various principles such as squash-and-stretch, anticipation, breaking joints, etc. But even though an animation as simple a bouncing ball can have character, this does not mean that a bouncing ball IS a character. To give an animated object character is to imbue it with personality, but a character is more than just personality - it is an entity that we can recognize as a living, thinking being i.e. one of our own.

That is not to say that a bouncing ball can never be a character (there are obviously shades of grey here), but I feel that there is a threshold that separates the bouncing ball with character from the bouncing ball that is a character.

Phew, that was a real tongue-twister of a post.

The first few seconds of this video also depicts the difference between having character and being a character. The water has personality, but then morphs into a water character.

1 comment:

USC Animation - Visualizing Art and Science said...

In terms of a strict definition of character animation, a wave may not be a character. But in terms of production and pipeline, in the world of 3d animation, certain effects shots are being animated and rigged as characters. Look into issue 14 of HDRI 3D magazine, there is a great article on the waves in Surfs up. The article describes the waves as characters that needed to hit performance beats. The waves were also rigged with an elaborate and complex character rig. The animators worked with two different rigs to choreograph the waves with the primary characters in order help to drive the mood and emotion of any given scene.

Do performance beats and choreography define a wave as a character? Probably not.

But what defines a character in character animation may be different than what defines character in effects animation.

I believe, its an emotional connection i.e. the acting, that brings a character to life. Love, joy, melancholy, anger, sadness, hope, fear, passion, etc... When we experience these emotions in life it makes us better animators. But its emotion plus the connection those emotions make the helps define the character (the key word is connection). A poorly animated character can show emotion (i.e. Scott McCloud's iconic sad face) but never connect to the audience. This level of emotional connection can determine the threshold you talk about. Therefore, the challenge for the character animator would be to imbue a wave or fire with the ability to create an emotional connection, without having a face to animate.