Thursday, July 12, 2007

What makes a character a character? pt 1 Realistic VS Abstract


Who doesn't want their cartoon characters to be true stars? To be a truly iconic character you have to have these properties:

A Specific Design
A Unique Voice (an extinct concept)
A Specific Personality
Specific Mannerisms

By these criteria, Popeye would be just about the greatest and most creative character ever.
Not only is his design, voice and personality completely unique, so is his dialect!

E.C. Segar made up a dialect that I've never heard anyone speak except Popeye. "Infinks is almos' as iggorant as aminals!"

4 Broad Categories Of Characters

There are only a handful of sweeping general types of characters that cartoons draw from.

1) Realistic-personality based on human observation

These are characters that are identifiable, because you know people like them in real life. They are believable. You can put them in preposterous situations and it makes it really fun to see how a realistic character will react in an impossible situation.

The better the writers, actors and directors of these characters, the more specific and engaging they become. They can be simple or deep but have to be specific to really be engaging.

To create rich characters that are based on reality, you have to be very observant of human nature, both in its broad categories, and then in its detailed specific variations.

To act a real character, or draw one, or write dialogue for one, you have to have keen senses. You have to constantly be able to notice details that escape the average artist or writer.

It is the talent of caricature that makes identifiable characters engage the audience and not every creative person has this. Some writers who are good at plot may not be good at character. It's a different ability.

This is less about imagination than it is about acute senses. It's about pinpointing interest in what really exists and leaving out the boring parts, or the parts that everyone has in common.

Sincerity and naturalness from the artists and actors is needed to pull this kind of character off. Audiences respond well to honest depictions of characters culled from the street, that aren't Hollywood insincere lies.

Bugs Bunny - Street Smart Wiseguy

Bugs is a regular guy. A teenage wiseass, class clown type. He's just like someone who was in your class.

When he was created, this was so unique that he caused a huge sensation - just because he was so uncartoony, but in very cartoony situations.

Moe Howard - Bossy Asshole
Moe is a caricature of a type of person we all know. He is my species. A very specific version of a relatable general type of actual human.

George Liquor - Republican

George is also a realistic personality. A republican disciplinarian type. I've known many variations of this type and combined my favorite parts from different examples into one uber-Republican.

Bluto - Bully

Every guy in the world was either a bully or has been bullied by someone like Bluto.

2) Abstract Characters

- A made up "Created" personality, not realistic but entertaining. These types of characters are truly "created" because they don't exist in nature. They aren't based on observation; instead they come more from the imagination.

Elmer Fudd
Elmer has a weird combination of specific characteristics:
He's completely hairless, retarded and wimpy-yet wants to kill helpless things, then cries when he succeeds at it.

He can't say his Rs and Ls and has a very distinct timbre to his voice.

Does anyone know an Elmer Fudd in real life?

Daffy Duck
A complete lunatic that says "woo woo woo" when he gets excited and bounces and flies all over the screen like a maniac.

This is my favorite character!

Interestingly, they changed him from a made up abstraction to a realistic character later- a selfish backstabbing coward.

I like him better when he's just unpredictable and crazy.

Curly Howard
Who can explain Curly's character??
He has a million unique mannerisms and vocal exclamations, but you somehow always know what his emotions are-even though they are expressed in completely abstract ways. Jerry Howard was a creative genius.

He took all the basic human emotions and made up a new acting language to express them to us. Wow.

Stimpy's personality couldn't exist in real life. He is an idiot-who can also create a Happy Helmet. He is empathetic to those who are meanest to him.

He's an abstract idiot and genius at the same time.

Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis made up a sort of retard character that has a million completely unique expressions and mannerisms.

There are lots of "clownish" characters in comedy, but not too many as specific and abstract as Jerry.

PopeyePopeye is a complex collection of weird traits that shouldn't go together.

He's an old skinny man who can beat anyone up.

He has a good heart but picks fights sometimes just to get his orneriness out of his system.

He has the strangest dialect ever in cartoons.

He has a man's reproductive organs where everyone else has a face.

Skinny upper arms and thick lower arms.

He eats raw soggy spinach out of a can.

Amazing that someone made up such an odd assortment of traits. How did Segar do it?

Realistic Characters Can Work Well With Abstract CharactersThe contrast between an identifiable character with a cartoonish abstracted character if well handled can add up to a lot of fun and laughs.

All these characters have something in common, wheteher they are "realistic" or "cartoony".

They are all really specific in all their details. Their looks, voices, mannerisms, expressions, everything.


They have charisma and that's what to me, makes a true character and a star.


3) CROSSOVER CHARACTERS- combining observation with imagination

4) DISNEY CHARACTERS -neither realistic nor created abstractions