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Designing characters for a diverse global audience?

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Designing characters for a diverse global audience?

Postby beowolfe03 » Fri May 25, 2012 8:19 am

I'm in the process of designing two contrasting "host" characters for a series of animated educational lessons aimed at the (mostly female) third-world native teacher base in countries such as Africa and India. Our goal is to create a series that teaches teachers how to teach children---basically, a free animated teacher's college for these native teachers who may have a 4th grade education themselves (which is a very common issue.)

Outside of a BA at a liberal arts college and following animation avidly for 20 years, I am pretty darn new to this process. I've tried to read up as much as I can, and there is a plethora of info on developing characters aimed at a modern "first world" 12-16 year old audience, but

A) Does anyone have tips to keep in mind when designing characters aimed a diverse, multicultural global audience?

B) Are there a few common core rules to keep and mind no matter what kind of character you're designing?

Thanks!
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Re: Designing characters for a diverse global audience?

Postby Charles » Fri May 25, 2012 10:42 am

My approach to designing characters as well as that of most professional character designers is...

1. Employ fundamental artistic skills in the design and development of the characters.

2. Keep in mind that your characters are going to be animated and as such, an element of engineering is involved in their design to make sure they animate properly considering the medium.

3. Utilize design principles that enhance the visual appeal of the character.

4. Keep in mind the character of the character. What is the character about? How does the character behave? What motivates the character? What are his or her or its personality traits? etc...

5. Character Design is a fine art. It is also an ancient art that goes far back into history.

6. Be mindful that characters build empires. Look at what Mickey Mouse did for Disney, what Bugs Bunny did for Warner Bros, what Homer Simpson did for Rupert Murdoch and FOX. Characters can be big business.

5. Have fun and enjoy the creative process involved in designing and developing characters.
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Re: Designing characters for a diverse global audience?

Postby beowolfe03 » Tue May 29, 2012 7:43 am

Thanks for the tips, Charles. I really appreciate the help!

I think my main struggle lies in direction. I can't actually get feedback from anyone to see if any of the characters I've made could possibly be a legitimate solution. My boss is afraid to give me feedback, not only because he fears he'll stunt my creativity but also because he admits that he knows nothing about character design/animation. Basically, he feels he can only say whether or not my rough sketches have "the magic", which could mean anything from a 75 year old man who doesn't watch cartoons. He won't let me show my work to anyone except him, since "his is the only opinion that matters" so I feel like I'm shooting bats in the dark.

As of right now, this is the information I've been given:

    - Character is a book with no arms or legs
    - Gender neutral/ "female in essence" (a committee decision to keep character PC and avoid stereotypes.)
    - Exudes wisdom but not a dusty oracle
    - Think of an experienced 50-something school teacher
    - Lovable, like someone's grandma
    - Still spry and interesting
    - Must be contrasting with secondary [pencil/bookworm] character, who is a novice teacher (preferably gender neutral/male.)

As a creative director/instructor, do you feel there is non-variable information about the character that is imperative to give to a character artist before she starts developing?

I'm strongly against a "gender-neutral" character for many technical reasons. I know that the more human characteristics we give a character, the more relatable they will be, so wouldn't eliminating a clear gender hurt the humanity and relatability of that character in the long run? (It's certainly makes creating a personality and backstory difficult anyway.)
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Re: Designing characters for a diverse global audience?

Postby Charles » Tue May 29, 2012 12:48 pm

Welcome to the world of professional character design. :D

That goes with the territory. Neutralizing your characters and finding that 'safe' area that clients sometimes look for. This is part of what you do and it does take skill. It may not be fun, but it is still a challenge.

I can't tell you how many times I've presented really unique and appealing designs only to have them watered down by the opinion of a single individual or a committee of people who were marginally qualified at best.

Back in the day when I presented my portfolio for work, the images consisted mostly of designs I had done on my own. Much of what I did professionally was unusable. It's ironic, as the art that got me the job was work from personal projects along with the choicest stuff that came from studio gigs, and a lot of that consisted of development art and rejected designs. Then once I got the gig, it became a process of neutralizing characters. Not always but more than I care to remember.

The key to succeeding in these situations...

1. Emotionally detach yourself from the project.

2. If you really need to do the project, then do your best to give the client what they're looking for. Even if it means compromising on principles that you know will make the character/s more appealing.

3. Try as best as you can to educate the client as what makes a good design, and why giving a character an edge, even if it is a subtle one, will enhance and strengthen the character and create more appeal.

4. If this doesn't work, keep your mind on the financial compensation you're getting.

5. If that doesn't work, be sincere and excuse yourself from the project. Tell the client this isn't the kind of project you're suitable for, and vice versa. I don't recommend taking this approach, but sometimes it's the only alternative if you can't get your heart and mind into it. Unless you need the cash and the work experience, you may be better off walking away from projects that you're not able to get into with enthusiasm. You want to give the client everything you've got to offer. If you're not able to do that, maybe the client can find an artist better suited for the job and you can find a project that will bring the best out of your art and encourage your creative and artistic growth.

I suggest sticking with it and doing the best you can with what you've got to work with.

It's not as bad as you may think it is. Be sure to draw plenty of your own designs on the side. It'll help to keep you sharp.

Good luck!
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