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.