Thursday, July 12, 2007

Character 2 - Crossover Characters - Chemistry

I hope I haven't given the impression that I think that characters have to be either/or abstract or realistic.

It's more important that they are specific and somewhat detailed characters, not just cliches. At least for the kinds of stories I like.

I still believe in the star system, whether we are talking about live action movies, television, short cartoons, feature animation, drama or comedy.

James Cagney is specific and chock full of charisma and talent; Tom Hanks is Mr. Normal.
Cary Grant VS Hugh Grant.
Foghorn Leghorn VS the Family Guy Dad.

Stars have to have more extravagant qualities than your next door neighbor, but that concept is out of fashion these days.

3) Crossover Characters
These are characters that are partly realistic and partly preposterous. Every degree of mix of the two categories is possible-as long as the characters are engaging and SEEM real in their contradictions and charisma.

Let me adjust this definition. Interesting isn't good enough. A star has to be magnetic and specific. You need to recognize their basic attributes but they can't be totally predictable!

Olive Oyl

Ren

Well there are lots more characters that are combinations of abstract and realistic traits, but I'm worn out from my last few posts and need a break.

Maybe you can do my job for me and describe which of Olive or Ren's traits are based on observed traits in human nature and which are preposterous or impossible.


Chemistry is also important.

The chemistry between characters is very important too. If you have a bland character and a cliche character together, there is no real chemistry. Or worse, 2 bland characters, like in a movie I saw lately.

You can have an underplayed character like Alice with an exaggerated character like Ralph, but they should both have specific and interesting characteristics if you are going to want to see them over and over again.

That's why I think animation and comedic characters have generally been more complex and charismatic in shorts and television than in features. Good short characters are easy to write lots of stories for.

Many animated feature characters are basically throwaways, blank slates that you ride through the spectacle with.

How many animated feature characters could hold up in a series of shorts? That's the true test.

I'll get to more of that with the next character post about Disney style characters.

These fit neither the abstract, nor the realistic categories of characters.

They are their own strange inbred entities that exist in mutated form only in the cloistered world of Cal Arts animation.

Then there's Dreamworks, a whole other level of ....what?

Check out this magnetic chunk of star quality

33 comments:

Jorge Garrido said...

Olive, as John said, is as fickle as real girls are. She always dumps Popeye for Bluto, a huge jerk. Girls always like jerks with muscles (I need some muscles) What she REALLY wants is a nice guy like Popeye, as long as he's not a wet noodle. Girls hate wet noodles.

She was thin, which was the flapper style at the time, but so thin that it becomes an abstraction. That is pure caricature, starting off with a real trait and exagerrating it for laughs and cartooniness.

Her voice is high pitched, like all girls' voices, but so high pitched that it's not realistic. Again, start off with something real and exagerrate it.

Olive's arms are magical rubber hoses with no elbows. Complete abstraction.

Olive's feet and hands are gigantic, she has no breasts, and has had an "ugly" face. These are are real supposedly physical undesirable traits in girls, but are again exagerrated to be hilarious.

Despite this, she is still very cute and likable, because of the drawing style. I guess this is an abstraction. In real life most girls aren't cute when they're ugly.

She does real feminine things, like take care of babies well, go shopping, try to rollerskate and get kidnapped.

That's all I can think of.

I disagree with John that Tom Hanks is bland. Tom Hanks always plays different characters, but he's like Jimmy Stewart.

Ever seen Road To Perdition? He's got range.

Roberto said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

I'm genuinely curious... Because you frequently mention Family Guy, South Park and other mainstream cartoons with more than a hint of disdain.. Not that you aren't entitled to that opinion, but being that you've told us everything you think makes a great character, I would really like to know what it is exactly that you hate about notable characters in today's prime time cartoons, like the Family Guy dad (Peter Griffin) or Cartman, or Bender, or Fry, other than the fact that they're horribly animated and/or designed.

It's just that while the animation/design could obviously be better in any of those shows, the characters are really what carry them and they're ultimately why the shows continue to be successful, in my opinion. I can see every positive personality trait you've listed in your previous posts in every character I've named here, especially Cartman. If you've already covered this, let me know and I'll try to find that post (sorry, I haven't quite read all of them.)

Anyway, I really love the fact that you're sharing your knowledge with us. I could never get this kind of information in the horrible art College I went to, and for you to take the time to do this is a testament to your own great character. Thank you, good sir.

harpo said...

part 2 was great, you had me smiling and your points are very clear. So nice of you to link Peter Lorre's fantastic face. So much going on there, just beautiful.
And Douglas just jumps on your skin! flickering eyes

For a second there I thought that green Dreamworks-chick was wearing a Mc Donald's sign on her head, but it's a crown.
I don't see her having any real specifics (oh wait she's green...) plus she's totally uninteresting.
Her voice doesn't help either.

As for Ren, I don't see wich of his traits are impossible.He has the same feelings like everybody. He just doesn't express them the right way or he goes too far. That's what makes him a great character and why the viewer can feel sympathy for him.

Art F. said...

i think that you could film family guy and the simpsons with real-life actors and it would still be the same product. i don't even know why these shows are animated. and why the hell is there a simpsons movie anyway? cartoons should be animated, and i see no characters doing cartoony things in either of these shows. and shrek = blech.

John said...

Rens traits that are based on things real humans would have are
Desire for material things,Feeling as if he dosent belong with the people he's with,and thinking that he is supperior to those around him.The Absrtact trats are the fact that he is very worldly, calm, and intelligent, yet at the same time he can go nuts over the smallist thing also he can seem to be almost like a father figure at times even loving and at other times be the biggest jerk youll ever meet but noone around him can be a jerk to him hes the only one who can do it.Also the Irony that he thinks he can beat up just about anyone andyet he's a small little quivering chiwawa(I have two of my own and there exactly the same they think there pit bulls). As far as Olive oil she is a real girl not to pretty but not fatter than a 12,000 pound hippo sure shes freakisly skinny but she still could be identified as a Semi-realistic human.But her personality is much more abstract She sails the sea with muscular sailer with an obseeion with spinach and a fat moron who survies off hamburgers!Not exactly what you'd expect if you first saw her.But after Sailing the seas and getting kiddnapped by sinbad the sailer she can still go home and cook up some dinner.There both unbelievibly great charecters with prsonalities youd never forget!But lets face it if your sittin down and watchin a cartoon fro recently your not laughing at anything the personalites are like blander than boiled personalities and within 2 seconds your thinkin of weather or not to eat the macaroni in the Frigerator before it goes bad because The cartoons and they're carecters are incredibly bland pointless and boring!I mean if someone walked up to you and said cartoons the first thing you'd probably think about is bugs bunny I can pretty much guertee you your not gunna be thinkin about Squir Boy(or if you do you have HUGE problems)Thats the power cartoon personalites once had!

Andy J. Latham said...

The Simpsons, Family Guy and the like are of course going to win no Oscars. However, I don't think they require the constant snobby panning they get by many in the animation world. Although they are animated, they are not watched for the animation. The Simpsons was once the funniest thing on TV, until it started to slip a long time ago.

I think the mistake is in comparing a dialogue-drivent cartoon like the Simpsons with slapstick cartoons from Tex Avery and the like.

Cartoons don't HAVE to just be physical and more than live action stuff does. Noone looks back at Chaplin and Keaton and thinks that all films have to be like them.

As for why shows like Family Guy are animated...things happen in that show that cannot happen in reality. Well they can, but it would cost a fortune to make them happen with live action. Also, as much as you all may disagree with me, the look of the characters ARE funny, no matter how badly animated they are.

As for partnerships, I think Stewie and Brian work pretty well together - a baby with world domination plans vs a straight-played, sometimes alcoholic dog.

I'm not saying the formula used in Family Guy, the Simpsons, Futurama, South Park and the like should always be used, but once in a while it does work.

Right, I'm late for work now!!
----------------------
Visit Andy's Animation

akira said...

i like your test of a good character being whether or not it would hold up in a short or if it can only survive because it's going through some spectacular adventure... i think if it should be able to survive without a song in the short too...
based on that i'm trying my best to come up with good disney characters (in preperation for characters part 3) and all i'm coming up with are donald duck, and maybe the song of the south characters, .. i think the 7 dwarves could actually hold there own in shorts... i wonder why haven't they milked the jizz out of them yet, or did i miss it??

Roberto González said...

Well, the seven dwarves did appear in some World War shorts. I like that test too. I often think in that therms when I see an animated movie.

I agree with matt and I think an answer to that would be interesting. I disagree about Family Guy, most of the characters in that show are completely uninteresting and they don't have a clear personality to begin with.

Brian and Stewie have some chemistry once in a while, but I don't even know which are Stewie's traits to begin with. He's like a weird mixture of Sideshow Bob and The Brain, and he sometimes have some feminine traits. If he's really a psycho why is he often so bland? Once in a while he is really violent, yes, but normally he's just a pedantic jerk. Ren is an interesting psychopathic character, Stewie is a fraud. Brian is the most decent character in FG and he hasn't got that much of a personality either.

As for why the hell is there a simpsons movie, I would say Why not? It's not going to be Tex Avery artwork in it, that's for sure, but it seems that there is going to be pretty funny, even visually. And I'm happy to see 2D animation again in feature films.

I think some Pixar characters could hold up in a series of shorts, especially Monster Inc. characters.

Jorge already did a great description of Olive's traits. As for Ren he's greedy, jealous and can be a total jerk, but he's also fragile and he can feel remorse. It's natural that being a bad tempered guy an idiot like Stimpy would get him on his nerves, but he still loves him cause he's his partner and always shows appreciation for him.

As for his abstract traits, well, his fragile nature is usually exaggerated, also his psycho traits. He can get totally mad, lunatic in one scene, but he still have the ability of coming back to normal again.

Clinton said...

hi John,

The constant competition between Bluto and Popeye for Olive Oyl reminds me of the constant competition between Mr. Nice Guy and The Jerk for any woman. I hope everyone knows what I'm talking about...wait, Jorge already said it :) I guess that's why I always felt sorry for Popeye because he was the nice guy always being dumped by Olive for the jerk, Bluto. Another duo that had good chemistry back in the day was Perfect Strangers, remember that show? Larry was the conservative, up-tight guy. His cousin, Balki, was the free-spirit. I reckon having two similar characters on the stage would be very boring. There has to be two opposing forces trying to balance with each other.

Max said...

I know that Seth McFarlane (creator of Family Guy first did better animation!
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5958677805294802057

Jim Rockford said...

Ren exhibits human traits like Lust,jealousy,greed,selfishness,arrogance,remorse( ..although only ocassionally)rage,fear when confronted with threats by people or things bigger than him,he is a bragger and often very cocky,he displays protectiveness over stimpy at times.he has feelings but usually keeps them buried....like in "stimpys big day" where he told his pal.."get out of here who needs you" and then went to pieces after he left.Ren also likes to be the "big man" and the center of attention.
I have also seen Ren display insecurity. all these are very realistic human traits that all of us have seen time and time again in our day to day lives.

As Jorge pointed out Olive oyl's most realistic traits are that she is incredibly fickle and likes to dump Popeye for the musclebound jerk.
Like real girls she seems to enjoy playing Popeye and Bluto against each other for her own self indulgence and ego. "oh they're fighting over me"
then she invariably gets pissed at both of them for "acting like men" and fighting and thinks they're both immature and then Popeye has to bring her flowers and do all the make up things us real guys have to do to get back on her good side.
She also seems pretty shallow,and vain.Popeye and Bluto often have to wait on her.

Jim Rockford said...

"i think that you could film family guy and the simpsons with real-life actors and it would still be the same product."

They actually did a live action episode of Family Guy after someone made that same comment to Seth MacFarlane.
For some reason all the cartoons today are mostly sitcoms done in animated form,which is a waste in my opinion too.
As John keeps pointing saying,where are all the cartoony catoons today?
I dont see the point in using animation the way its being used today,you can do things that are wild ,rediculous and fun that can only be done in cartoon world,and yet we use the format for dull sitcom style poorly animated pop culture fart joke fests like Family guy

Jim Rockford said...

Regarding the "simpsons movie"
I am suprised it took them so long.
it seemed a rather obvious next step for Matt Groening

JohnK said...

"i think that you could film family guy and the simpsons with real-life actors and it would still be the same product."

They did it 50 years ago. It was called the Honeymooners.

Those characters had distinct voices, physical appearances, expressions, mannerisms and lots of individual quirks to their personalities.

The stories came out of their personalities. They didn't just plug the model sheets into pop culture references.

Live action does live action a million times better than animation does. But you still neeed stars.

K said...

Hey JohnK. So you really don't care for CalArts, clearly. Where then ought an aspiring animator of college-age go to for an availing education, assuming they're not yet skilled enough to be hired for work in the industry? If CalArts isn't it, and none of the other universities in the United States do any better, then what should an imminent student be looking for in a school?

Jim Rockford said...

Speaking of live action sitcoms being done in animated form,does anyone remember "Wait till your father gets home"?
It was pretty much a knock-off of All in the Family.

Fco. de Borja said...

Family Guy in life action? Well… I guess will cost a lot of money to train a dog until make him talk and to find a baby with fluent English

JohnK said...

>>I guess will cost a lot of money to train a dog until make him talk and to find a baby with fluent English<<

well that's really magical, isn't it.

Jim Rockford said...

The fact that Brian is a dog is merely incidental but not relevant,that character could easily make the transistion to a live human actor and lose nothing since he displays very little canine traits
anyway so the fact he's a dog is pretty much disposable.
Seth MacFarlane used a similar talking dog character in his "life with Larry" short.it was just done to be ironic,in that the dog was the only person with common sense and displayed more culture than the humans who surround him.
About the only thing I can say about Family Guy or SethMacFarlane is that he is a talented voice actor,other than that his work is pretty much crap.(just my opinion)
I think its funny when I read articles where critics hail his show as "smart comedy" simply because it endlessly refrences obscure pop culture subjects,rather than being creative.and of course the fact that it is rude and off color means its "adult"
South park pretty much covered that ground though.
but i guess it gives people with a comprehensive knowledge of pop culture a smug feeling of being in on the jokes.

Mr. Semaj said...

I know that Seth McFarlane (creator of Family Guy first did better animation!

I remember that cartoon! Seth should've found a better way to differentiate American Dad from Family Guy.

So you really don't care for CalArts, clearly. Where then ought an aspiring animator of college-age go to for an availing education, assuming they're not yet skilled enough to be hired for work in the industry? If CalArts isn't it, and none of the other universities in the United States do any better, then what should an imminent student be looking for in a school?

His assertion is to learn the stuff on our own, since today's art schools supposedly don't teach us everything there is to know.

harpo said...

I like watching the simpsons and family guy
but visually it's not a rollercoaster.
At first John's view here seemed on the hard side to me but I get it.

Imagine a cartoon with the warmth & star-quality of (for example) popeye with the budget of a show like simpsons or family guy.( the whole town of springfield throbbing away ;)

Looking forward to part four!

uncle wiggly said...

american dad is possibly the worst thing i have ever seen, even more formulaic and lame than family guy. at least you could develop some different characters, for cryin' out loud...

btw john, what do you think about rocky and bullwinkle? while the animation is usually pretty limited, it has interesting & likeable characters, great story lines and a unique sense of humor. plus, i've always liked those long, meandering story lines, something no one would ever dare to do now on a TV show. hmm, i guess i better add the R&B DVDs to my list of things to buy (right after popeye, i love the popeye posts! i had forgotten about how bizarre those cartoons were.)

William said...

I'm suprised Family Guy's Peter Griffin is essentially a perfect, undiluted blend of Homer Simpson and Ralph Cramden; and they can get away with it.

Tom Hanks is a great actor in the sense that Jimmy Stewart is a great actor- the modern Cagney would be someone like Jack Nicholson. But then again, when he dies who will take that up?

I.D.R.C. said...

I think the mistake is in comparing a dialogue-drivent cartoon like the Simpsons with slapstick cartoons from Tex Avery and the like.

If you heard a joke and you thought it was funny, does that mean you watched a good cartoon?

I like watching the simpsons and family guy...

I want to know what you mean by, "watching".

When I look at them, I am overwhelmed by the sensation that I am not watching anything. What is there to watch?

Frankly I think both shows are funny. They just aren't really "shows" in a visual sense.

They are excercises in minimal-ness. I can't say minimalism, which has as artisitic point. It's minimal-ness --providing as little as neccessary because it leaves more money to disappear in other ways. I can't support that. I deserve better.

K said...

Mr. Semaj wrote,

His assertion is to learn the stuff on our own, since today's art schools supposedly don't teach us everything there is to know.

Hi Semaj. I've read this blog long enough to know that - but I'm also aware that JohnK himself attended an art school (I think it was Sheridan?), and from what I gather the vast majority of working animators have also attended an art school of some sort. I can't speak for John, but I doubt that it is his assertion that formal art education at any of the art schools in North America would be completely unavailing. Surely there must be somewhere with something worthwhile?

harpo said...

idrc: sorry if my choice of words confused you, I am sure your knowledge of dutch is perfect.

Gabriel said...

i didn't bother to read the comments, but Ren for me is more than just an angry bastard. What I think is really great and believable about him is that he is a lot of the times simply trying to be bold. He's insecure, so he must demean Stimpy. He's defensive, if someone tried to analyze him like i'm doing he would lash out at the person, and you'd know it's because he's afraid of being figured out, afraid of looking at himself in the mirror. Life has treated him badly, and he build this wall of antagonizing distrust around himself, for protection. We all know people like that.

Tom Dougherty said...

I just want to say that that She-Shrek is just about the ugliest, least acceptable fucking thing I've ever seen. Fuh-hucking hideous.

It looks like a snowman made of rotten meat.

baggersteve said...

I think one of the appeals of a show like Family Guy or the Simpsons can be explained wit hthe help of Scott McCloud's 'Understanding Comics'. I am sure someone here has commented on this highly influential book before, so I shall keep this brief. Basically, McCloud observed that the simpler a character's design, the more universal that character's appeal. A specific design is precisely one character; while a circle, two dots and a line can represent all of us.

I don't really understand the people who say Family Guy has no imagination, or need not be animated. On that show, they have something mad or surreal happen very often! I don't see, to take a couple of examples that spring to mind, how a candy tree that feeds on children, or a giant talking lispy bee, could be done, in live action. (I know comedy is subjective, and a lot of readers of this blog wouldn't find either of those ideas funny or interesting, but I do!)

Speaking of bees, something which relates quite closely to what John is talking about here are the two previews for the new megabucks CGI movie, Bee Movie. The previews have Seinfeld and a bunch of other actors wearing ridiculous costumes and grappling with giant props. These previews are really funny! I'd enjoy seeing a movie like that! Nobody does that kind of silliness anymore. But instead, we will be treated to yet another CGI movie

What I'd really like to see is if Fox gave John a stack of money and said, 'Please make us an episode of the Simpsons. Do whatever you want with them, as long as it's entertaining.' That show would be a bloody classic! Plus it would allow the Simpsons to end on a unique, high note.

Tamsin Parker said...

John, I think you'll find that the character of the Nostalgia Critic from the web series of the same name is a very interesting one. At first glance, he's a human version of Jones' Daffy Duck, but his personality is a lot more complex than meets the eye, and it takes quite a bit of watching to get to know him. He's a sarcastic, bratty mess, yet he's intelligent and increasingly more insightful at the same time. He screams and yells at bad movies, but because he has no real friends.
His actor, Doug Walker, is a big Ren and Stimpy fan, and both Daffy Ducks are the number 1 inspiration for his comedy. He's a real nice guy and he is wonderful at timing.

Tamsin Parker said...

John, I think you'll find that the character of the Nostalgia Critic from the web series of the same name is a very interesting one. At first glance, he's a human version of Jones' Daffy Duck, but his personality is a lot more complex than meets the eye, and it takes quite a bit of watching to get to know him. He's a sarcastic, bratty mess, yet he's intelligent and increasingly more insightful at the same time. He screams and yells at bad movies, but because he has no real friends. Now there's an iconic character for you; one with a mixture of preposterous and realistic traits.
His actor, Doug Walker, is a big Ren and Stimpy fan, and both Daffy Ducks are the number 1 inspiration for his comedy. He's a real nice guy and he is wonderful at timing.

Tamsin Parker said...

Oh, and Gabriel, great description of Ren.

harpo's description is also good because I actually relate to some of those traits in the description; I take my feelings the wrong way or I go too far.