Characterisation in 2D Animations

Characterisation in 2D Animations

The main problem that animation faces is that it is an overtly fake diegetic form The viewer is presented with a constructed reality of drawings and paintings which may represent the real world but unlike photographic film does not look like it The challenge therefore is to create characters that may believably inhabit their particular diegetic reality Animators have strived to find a way to resolve this issue through their character design and an awareness of how to deliver narrative information through their characters This essay will illustrate the solutions that animators have found to make their audiences believe what is put in front of them

In 1914 Winsor McCay took up the selfimposed challenge of making dinosaurs live again via animation The result was Gertie the Dinosaur a semilive act with McCay performing onstage with the projected film behind him Gertie herself was obviously an animated projection and to make her believable she had to have a strong individual character

McCay achieved this through his own interactions with the character of Gertie He talks to her and asks her to perform tricks which she obliges to do We are also drawn attention to the fact that she is thirsty and she drains a lake The performance would climax with her picking up McCay as he exits the stage and bounding of the screen with him on his back

Through this series of call and response between the live action McCay and the animated Gertie McCay creates the illusion of human understanding within the animated dinosaur There is also at one point a look of glee in her face after a fight scene when she throws the defeated mammoth into a lake Through the human interaction and the animation McCay has anthropomorphically endowed the animated creature with human emotions he has made her believable to the audience by giving her recognizable human traits

In his book Understanding Animation Paul Wells recognizes that the use of attributing animated animal characters anthropomorphic characteristics has become a mainstay of character development It will be discussed in further detail later in the essay

The basic principles of characterization as a narrative strategy in animation have been summed up by Wells The character may be understood through its costume or construction its ability to gesture or move and the associative aspects of its design It is pertinent at this point to discuss these aspects of character design

Regardless of if an animated character is an animal or human animators rarely try to completely reproduce natural form As such the problem is that they are presenting viewers with unnatural looking beings If the viewer is to accept the characters shown before them the characters themselves must be presented as believable This is why animators rely on exaggeration of individual features to suggest certain character types Halas and Manvelldescribe this in their book the technique of film Animation Characterization is achieved by the distortion of shapes and forms big eyes big mouth big nose large head small body etc

What is stressed by animators is the gesturing parts of the body particularly the features of the head The eyes nose mouth and ears are all vital in creating the illusion of human emotion There is a general rule of thumb with regards to which shapes go with what characters kind gentle characters tend to have soft rounded faces with wide smiles and large rounded eyes Porky Pig is a great example of this principle He is the embodiment of the jolly fat man Villains on the other hand are much more angular They often have a rather sharp chin and small eyes and a crooked mouth that somehow lends itself to a wicked smile They are often presented as grotesque much like the Evil queen in Snow White and her incarnation as the old crone These generalizations serve as visual shorthand for the viewer they optimise the impact of the character through economy and allow the viewer to make connections and process narrative infor

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