Thoughts on storytelling and the world of animation. Caution! SPOILERS!

Blog #6 – Anatomy of a ‘toon

One of my hobbies is doll making. Not the creepy glass-eyed porcelain antique reproduction types. I prefer clay sculpting by hand in one-inch scale.

I had to do some research on artistic anatomy in order to figure out what I was doing, and also to make my dolls look ‘right.’  The human body is quite fascinating in its proportions, and part of getting the look right was getting the proportions right.  These proportions are the pretty much the same whether drawing, sewing or sculpting.  If you get something too off, say a nose too long or a lower leg too short, you’ll find it a bit disturbing until you’re able to correct it.  It’s HARD, especially hands, feet, and faces.

However, in the animated world, these proportions are merely a guideline.  I mean, seriously.  Look at the lineup below.

Wild, eh?  In spite of the wide variety of bodies and features, they are STILL proportional and easily recognizable as human.  Two arms, two legs, two eyes, nose, mouth, hair, etc.  Arms bend in the middle at the elbow, eyes are centered on the head.

Once taking the general guidelines into consideration, animators can gently nudge these proportions to their own ends.  Making someone fat or thin, tall or short, big eyes or minimal, all contribute to tell the viewer something about the character.  Jessica Rabbit, for instance, is meant to be a sex object.  classic nightclub wear, sultry makeup, and a sensuous figure, there’s no doubt about how she’s going to act and how other characters will react to her.  Marge Simpson, on the other hand, is wearing sensible shoes, pearls, a simple dress and a wide eyed, amiable expression.  She kind of screams ‘Mom.’  The hair and skin coloring tell you she’s not to be taken too seriously, she is a comic character.  The Queen of Hearts, with her dumpy figure, elaborate dress, and self satisfied expression tell you she’s greedy and not likely to be the star of any show.  Betty Boop also has sex appeal, as shown from her short dress, curvy body, and garter, but her expression and exaggerated makeup tell of of wide eyed innocence.  She is a flirt who falls into silly adventures.  Olive Oyl is tall, with huge booted feet and a gangly, rubbery body.  Again, she is not meant to be taken seriously.

Exaggerated features are also important in character development.  Sagging jowls, long earlobes, a drooping nose can all be signs of old age.  Long beards or glasses are generally a sign of wisdom.  Oversized eyes can denote naivete or stupidity.  Angular body lines can indicate a harsh, demanding character, as demonstrated by Cruella DeVille and Jafar.  The soft, rounded figures of the fairies in Sleeping Beauty and the mother in Mulan tell of warm, comforting characters.  The colors they wear can also reveal a bit about their personalities.  The bad guys generally wear reds and blacks and dark purples, softer pastels for the heroines.  There are plenty of exceptions, of course.  HOW they wear it is important, too!

Of course, all of this seems to get thrown out the window when Miyazaki enters the picture.  Many of his non-human characters are unlike anything I’ve seen.  And yet they still have their own symmetry and proportion.  in My Neighbor Totoro, we really have no idea what Totoro is, nor can I really figure out what he COULD be.  Some sort of mutant owl rabbit?    Still, he has two arms, two legs, two eyes, a nose, a mouth, and two ears, all evenly spaced and aligned.  Yubaba  from Spirited Away has a normal body but oversized head.  Somehow it works but gives an incredibly surreal quality to the film.  You KNOW you’re not in Kansas anymore when you encounter a creature like her!

Proportion is important, as well as symmetry and color, when designing a character.  Each feature, from nail color to heel length, can speak volumes about their personality and role in the film.  I felt this might be useful as we’re all considering our upcoming animation project, and recommend studying a little art anatomy and proportion before attempting to create a character.

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6 thoughts on “Blog #6 – Anatomy of a ‘toon

  1. jhogeland on said:

    I have always noted what the appearance of a character said about their personalities, but have probably not given their proportions enough credit. When I look at a character for the first time, I look at their dress and movements long before the actual shape of their bodies to get a handle of what kind of personalty to expect from them. After you pointed it out, I’m reminded of “chibi” characters in Japanese animation. It’s not just Miyazaki that throws the general rules of proportion out of the window, but anime in general. This is especially with the use of “chibi” characters. Like the designs of the 5 American characters, the depiction of a chibi is used to illustrate a certain characteristic (generally “cute” or “childish”).

  2. cruiz89 on said:

    I think this is a really great topic to look into. The human anatomy is so intricate and I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you to create your dolls. However, like you said, cartoons are completely different because they tend to be disproportionate and exaggerated to make a point. It kind of brings us back to one of the key principles of animation, exaggeration. Without such, we would not take Jessica Rabbit or Betty Boop as a sex symbol. I think the fact that not every animated character looks alike speaks for the different personalities that appear in films, television shows, etc. Making each animated character unique.

  3. Its so true, not matter how much you want to make fun of “cartoony” characters there’s a reason they still make sense to us. All cartoon animation seems to be is an exaggeration of life, to make it funny, entertaining, something to take us out of our lives and into something enjoyable. No matter the origin there is usual some rhyme or reason to the proportions, even to the exaggerated. Whether I’m drawing a real person or I’m drawing an anime person I have to flip the picture like a mirror to see if anything juts out too much and morphs the picture more than intended or wanted. And I still don’t know what Totoro is but I’m so glad you brought up Yubaba, her proportions are so weird but you still make sense of her as a person as opposed to say, Kaonashi (No Face).
    Also, I didn’t think about how angular and sharp Maleficient and Jafar are as opposed to their curved and softer lined heroes in the film, the design really makes the personality. And your right! Disney villains generally are colored black, red, and purple! I was about to comment that now-a-days there’s less color confinement to characterization since we now live in a world where any color goes in fashion, and even any colors together are in fashion. Although as time went on you do get variations that rely more on characterization than “evil” coded colors, such as Clayton wearing yellow as common to 19th c. explorers and Mulan’s and Atlantis’ bad guys since they’re more military graded. Although either way, there does seem to be a certain shape, color, and physical characterization to a character that defines them even in this age as the good guy or bad guy.

  4. Pingback: Blog Comments for Post 6 | animusoflife

  5. Pingback: Comments for Week 6 « cruiz89

  6. Kendra Prasad- Hist 389 on said:

    The physical image that an animated character portrays is probably the most important aspect of the entire animation. Usually this is the first impression that we have of a character, as the visual usually precedes the vocals. You bring up an interesting point on the adaptations of the human anatomy that different animators take. The animators are able to make their characters unique, while still making it evident that they are meant to be humans. And, although some of these characters may have yellow skin or abnormally large heads, we still view and relate to them as humans.

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