As has been detailed previously, ALL of my characters for this animation project were based on the same head mesh, which resulted in four characters looking rather familiar to each other. Not much variation was applied. In some cases, when designing characters, I think it’s okay to have resemblances. Afterall, every human shares the same facial structure.
But what makes one person identifiable over another? I was in a situation once where I had to pick a bad guy from a police lineup. That is not an easy thing to do because the cops loaded the dice. Black hair, twitchy looking, long faces. Each of the suspects looked the same, which is to say “guilty”, and I failed the challenge.
There’s a “Seinfeld” episode called “The Cartoon” in which George is dating a woman who looks amusingly similar to Jerry.
I thought this was a really funny plot point because it illustrates how different we all look, and yet, somewhere on the planet, there is a human being that looks strikingly and freakishly like yourself!
What’s great about “Seinfeld” is that ALL of the main characters (Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer) and even the secondary players, are all distinctly different in both physical appearance and personality. That’s a major reason why the show worked.
When your main characters look too alike, they lose their individual appeal and you risk losing your audience. I think it’s one reason “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride” is not very memorable (the plot didn’t help). Even the names of the main characters are identical – “Victor and Victoria”.
Yes, Burton’s is a very specific visual design that people love. But take a closer look – the eyes, nose, brows, head shape, neck, body are almost all identical. You could swap the costumes from one to another and no one would really know the difference. To me, there’s a real lack of individuality.
Now consider the differences between the parental figures in the film. The first several scenes of “Corpse Bride” are among my favorites due to the variety. Here you see a consistent style and uniqueness.
The release of “Frankenweenie” made some on the internet wonder if young Victor was the same as old Victor due to the similarity in features. I would argue they’re not the same person, just a tired copy.
Tim Burton has been extremely successful and his scenes and style are both dynamic and inspiring and often poorly imitated. I suppose he knows what he’s doing.
When I fully realized my own characters were basically carbon copies, I started to get depressed. Yes, the voice acting, hair style, costume and mannerisms help define who the character is, I think it’s really important to design the character with physical attributes (large jaw, beady eyes, small forehead, etc.) that instantly make the character unique based purely on appearance without going overboard. Additionally, the characters have to look like they “belong” in the movie.
Take Kung Fu Panda for example. I love the character design. The unique caricatures of the animals really makes them stand out. They were all created for this world and not one of them looks out of place. They each have their own distinctiveness.
On the other hand, if they put some pigs or some rabbits in a police lineup, could you identify the one who was tearing up your garden? Probably not. I think the reason for this is because the pigs and rabbits only exist as generic background characters inhabiting a village and they never upstage the main characters.
So what is the point of all this?
I still struggle creating/maintaining an identifiable style. After 2 score and some odd years, I just draw the way I draw, based on habit, and not technical correctness. I’m really all over the map. What I’m trying to do now is draw my character and use it as reference for sculpting.
I didn’t follow this process the first, nor second, time I created Mr. Collinsworth, and my original concept (far left) shows how bad it was. I am learning, with the help of Blender and it’s sculpting properties, to create fresh, unique characters within my own established style and without outside influence.
The process of creating something fresh has been eye-opening and it brings me even closer to having eccentric individuals that complement the amazing performances already provided by the voice actors.
Mr. Brahms and the Witch are still works in progress. I look forward to revealing them soon enough. I have a number of irons in the fire currently so I’m making little headway with “Wooden”, but it remains in my mind and is moving, in my opinion, in a very good direction.