Sunday, February 21, 2010

How watching cartoons can help us create unique characters

I’m stuck waiting for my daughter while she practices softball, in the family lounge. A cute little boy is with me and the television’s been set to entertain him. He looks to be about four years old and so of course, he’s into cartoons.

A cartoon I’ve never heard of before is on with weird-looking,butt- ugly characters. Ugly as they are, however, they’re each very unique so I'm fascinated by this show against my will.



One has no neck and no chin. His face is a long, rectangular block that sticks into his shirt. He has teensy ears that stick straight out, a nose much larger than his hands, and huge bug eyes. His shirt is tucked in and his pants are pulled up to his armpits.

Another character has a gigantic circular face with a small button nose, a long smile, and a pencil-thin neck that doesn’t look large enough to hold up her head.

Yet another character has a pointy chin, a long straight nose that has a point on the tip. She has an extremely pointy widow’s peak dipping down into her forehead.

Then there’s an old evil scientist in a white lab coat with a chin a zip-code long, two or three times as long as the rest of his body. His hair sprouts out of his pointy head like the hairs at the top of an onion. His eyebrows are thick and slanted around kohl rimmed eyes. He’s hunch backed and has teeny shoulders.

Another boy has a triangular head with his bug eyes sprouting out of the top of his head.

A military man has one straight eyebrow, a flattop white haircut, and a long white mustache that stretches across most of his face. His nose looks like a big cube.

Not that we want our characters in to become caricatures. That would be too Johnny Depp for my liking. Just looking at Johnny Depp in “Alice in Wonderland”, “Charlie & The Chocolate Factory” or “Edward Scissorshands” freaks me out. Give me more characters like Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean” who are intriguing multi-dimensional characters that push the boundaries without totally shattering them.



Caricatures like the cartoon characters staring at me on the TV today are good lumps of clay with which to mold characters.

The same can be done with their personalities. Start with personality types such as the evil scientist, the bubbly cheerleader, the maim-kill-die soldier, the geeky school boy, the computer nerd, the super jock, the cowboy, the rock star, the high school slut, the sweet and shy girl next door... Then round them out, smooth them down, add a few twists and turns. Maybe combine two or three character types.

Why can’t a cowboy also be a computer nerd in his off time? Are all cowboys macho men just because they ride the range and get dusty? Some will be practical jokers. Some will be sweet quiet dreamers. Some will be loud-mouthed jerks. Maybe one’s a serial killer or an ex-cop trying to get away from it all.

Play with the clichéd caricatures. Have fun with them. Put your cowboy in the city. Drop your computer nerd in the country or let him be drafted into the military and wind up in the middle of a war zone. Put the characters in situations uncomfortable for them and find out how they cope out of their comfort zones.

I absolutely loved watching Vin Diesel in “The Pacifier” when his big tough-guy character got dropped into the middle of four kids who were scarier to him by far than being dropped into the middle of the worst battle zone. The character was totally out of his element. His character started off almost as a caricature of a hardened military operative. He went through fire and came out a different, better person.

Do you have any tricks to create interesting, unique characters? Care to share?

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You'll also want to see what Amarinda Jones, Anika Hamilton, Anny Cook, Barbara Huffert, Brynn Paulin, Bronwyn Green, Dakota Rebel, Kelly Kirch, Molly Daniels, Sandra Cox, Regina Carlysle, and Cindy Spencer Pape are up to, so make sure to visit them also. :)

7 comments:

Sandra Cox said...

Great ideas, Ash.
I liked V in The Pacifier too:)

Molly Daniels said...

My sons love Phineas and Ferb!

B.B. Walter said...

Ashley, having just seen Phineas and Ferb for the first time the other day, I have to say I agree. The caricatures of the characters in this show are captivating because they are so unique.

Great topic to bring up, playing with your characters to mold them in something unique!

Ashley Ladd said...

Yesterday was the first time I saw this cartoon, too. My kids, older now, are into anime. Two are anime artists. So I'll probably always have cartoons in my house as long as they're here. Two are young adults who don't seem keen on leaving anytime soon.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Ashley- this is great. It is so important to create characters that are really three dimensional. Cheers~

Nicole McCaffrey said...

I'm a big fan of birth oder, for some reason, and I'll nearly alway put together types that clash. Two last-borns, or an only child and a first born. \

It's eerie when you study the personality traits thrust upon us simply by the order in which we were plopped into our families, LOL, great for creating characters, throw in a few twists and turns, put them in a situation where they're out of their element, and the fun begins.

Regina Carlysle said...

It's FUN to twist those characters around and put them in an unfamiliar element. Who doesn't like watching the big tough guy playing with a child? Or hugging her? I love that. Real awwwww moments.

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