Creating Characters
Characters: Creating Characters
Print this page Print this page

Making characters work

To make a character work well it has to be the right character for the part. It has to look right, move right, dress right, have the right surroundings, and come over with credibility. In effect, the character has to be properly caste, rehearsed, and performed. This might seem obvious, but many animated stories fail because the characters have one-dimensional personalities, and are put into contrived situations.

To give the characters depth you need to consider what they say, how they say it. The body language they use. Who are their friends, relatives, colleagues, and neighbours. What is their education, intelligence, experience, upbringing, talents, fears, hopes, motives, allergies, mannerisms, habits, impediments, philosophy, etc.

Although working these aspects rarely creates characters out, anyone who has an idea for a character will often base it on someone or several people they know, and the various attributes will be there in the background. You would not have to make up all the elements of the characters but would have to know how that character would behave in a range of circumstances.

An interesting thing about characters in newspaper strips is that these usually have single-minded attitudes that represent a human idiosyncrasy or obsession. They tend to see the world in terms of this attitude so everything gets interpreted in a way that is both odd yet predictable. You can get a good insight into someone's personality by knowing what their favourite cartoon characters are.


Building up a character definition

A character is a set of definitions. Here is a character gradually being defined:

  • A man
  • An old man
  • A fat old man
  • A fat, rich old man
  • A wise, fat, rich, old man
  • A wise, fat, rich, powerful, old man who is king

Each new element gives us a broader and deeper view of the character, and also suggests the setting that the character might be in. Characters in animation rarely have great depth. This is primarily because the stories are usually very short, and so tend to exploit only the main attributes of the character.

In general, cartoon characters sum up well-defined attitudes and represents well-established types of people. This is the reason why they come across so strongly 'when they work'. What makes one character work while another doesn't? Here is a rough guide:

Characters should be:

Easy to identify with: They should want the sort of things we want, or can easily understand people wanting. We may not want to be a terrorist, but we can well understand terrorists wanting to achieve their goals at any cost.

Consistent with the story: In real life we 'fit' into certain surroundings. James Bond is always at ease in the glamorous situations he finds himself. Someone with all his capabilities but having a different social level would not be so well suited to the role.

Suited to the technique: The technique should not hinder the flow of the story. Even crude cut-out techniques will work well if the idea is suited to it.

Memorable as a design: It is not easy to come up with a unique design. If the character looks like many other characters then try to use props like glasses, earrings, cigars, pipes, etc. that make an added feature. Men can have moustaches, and beards, while women can have fancy hairdos, jewellery, etc. There needs to be some distinguishing features that make the character stand out. The way the character looks is only part of the design, it should include how the character performs. Study live-action characters to see what makes them memorable.

Link: Fairy stories


Defining characters

The basic rules for defining a character are: Who, Why, Where, When, Which, What, How.

  • Who is the character?
  • Why are they in the story?
  • Where is the character?
  • When is the character doing what they are doing?
  • Which personality attributes are essential to the story?
  • What are they doing with those attributes?
  • How are they doing it?

Take Robin Hood as an example:

  • Who is the character?
  • Where is the character?
  • In Sherwood Forest, Nottingham
  • When is the story taking place?
  • In the 13th century
  • Which personality attributes are essential to the story?
  • Skill in archery and daring
  • Why is he in the story?
  • To fight the wicked king
  • What is his purpose?
  • To overthrow the King
  • How does he do it?
  • By raising a band of rebels
Contents Previous Page Next Page

Email: Page last updated: