There is an article in the Winter 2006 issue of Eye Magazine on contemporary character design with reference to Pictoplasma, entitled ‘Emotion Graphics’. In her article, Jody Boehnert attempts to decipher whether this ‘new sub-genre’ has a level of visual meaning beyond the cute anthropomorphic designs they depict. As Jody quotes, from Lars Denicker, director of Pictoplasma, ‘We are looking for iconic characters that gain their meaning through their design…..’. Character design is nothing new of course, the likes of Max Fleisher, Windsor McCay, Tex Avery and good ol’ Walt designed characters much in the same way on and off screen for which some gained the status of icon well before our time. The principles remain the same for any designer today : Acute observation of a character’s personality and role which must be conveyed through its form, expression, posing, colour, and in animation, movement and timing. What could be remarked upon with regards to Pictoplasma and other character driven work is the fact that a more acceptable understanding of what a character may look like, in terms of form and style, is beginning to seep into our everyday culture. Rather like UPA had broken the Disney tradition of character design in the 50’s by developing more graphic and simpler designs, maybe Pictoplasma is changing the shape of things too. However, beyond the design and its purely graphical representation, are we getting any more emotional about the work ?

The article’s title, ‘Emotion Graphics’, provoked more thought for me than the actual article’s content. To what extent can we say that character based design, especially within animation, is any more emotional than purely abstract or non-figurative works or indeed design per se? Furthermore, the whole process of dwelling on this one brought with it many ideas I previously had about distinguishing between animation, as a genre, and motion as in motion graphics. Animation; your Daffy Duck, Aardman chickens and company are like a form of graphic literary novel – well developed with various plots, structured just as the book intended and first and foremost character driven. Motion graphics on the other hand could be seen as the poetic counterpart – short, heavily metaphoric and symbolic, closely linked with evoking emotion on a particular theme. The many techniques shared by these two disciplines in order to emotionally involve the audience are similar in nature but are used in varying effect. The advantage of character driven narrative is of course its efficiency to communicate intended emotions and meaning. Non figurative works need a little more patience and digging maybe but the intensity of the message is not any more present or less emotionally engaging.

*Comments most welcome on a random ramble – Nothing too serious and far from a well structured piece of writing but it is only food for thought.

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