Creating Characters
Characters: Creating Characters
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Sherlock Holmes is known by the phrase "elementary my dear Watson" (though in fact he never actually says this in any story). It sums up his character of being condescending. Bugs Bunny says "What's up Doc?", and presents himself as friendly and open to other persons problems. The phrase "Another fine mess you've got us into Stanley" shows the resigned attitude of Oliver Hardy to Stan Laurel. The phrases themselves will immediately bring up images of the characters. It is not easy to come up with a catch-phrase, but the starting point is to think of an opening or closing phrase to a conversation that somehow sums up the person attitude.

It helps to act out your characters or get someone to act them out for you to get a feeling for how they will perform. This includes the sort of facial expressions they make. List ideas about the character and describe them as you might describe someone you know very well. Use a tape recorder to record ideas as they come into your head. Think of phrases they might often use that could become identified with them. Make up random situations and think how they might act in them. Get someone to question you about the character as though you knew them well. The endpoint of this approach will be to sort out the 'definitely right from the definitely wrong' aspects of the character. This can be refined later. Your characters should appear act in a spontaneous way. That is what you should aim for with a character.


False identities

As we grow up and become more aware of the world around us we start to care what the world thinks of us. We start to dress smarter and to cultivate mannerisms we feel enhance our image. We notice others who have similar tastes and those who don't. We feel more at ease with those we identify with, and pick up signals and signs they give out. This is one level of communication that reinforces language. Characters in stories also give out signals in the way they are presented. When we meet people we don't trust is often because of what they say and do is inconsistent with the signals they give out. A woman's intuition is based on this, just as a man's are. It is when we ignore our instincts that we get misled or fooled.


Finding an identity

If a character started life in a comic strip or book, then the creator will probably have spent a lot of time on development. Very often the character is based on the creator, or someone the creator knows very well. Also, the nature of comics and books is that they can be written and go through many changes before being produced. If those characters are then recreated in animation, they will already have an established audience, who are familiar with both characters and situations.

Many stories are based on the theme of someone being tricked or persuaded to do something they later regret. It comes up in love, crime, comedies, espionage, etc. Drawing up characters who intend to fool others is not easy. It is one thing for someone to change their clothes, accent, and life style, but ingrained habits, reference points, and sense of humour are difficult to disguise. An aware person would sense the inconsistencies with such a character. Well written detective stories have detectives who are able to anticipate the criminals moves through his knowledge of their habits.


Character drift

This happens when a character starts out at one level and then by increments drifts to another level. Let's imagine a boy with a dog. The dog does clever things (for a dog), but soon becomes a bit too clever for a dog. It has now taken on the aura of a super dog or a sub human. This drift can easily happen when the storyline comes to a halt and needs to change direction. The characters change of personality is simply used as a device to help the drama, but in fact undermines it. Characters in a story should not compete with each other. In an animated series where there are a number of characters, it is too easy to let them overlap in personalities to the point where they 'drift' into each other, and they lose their distinctive personality.


Attitudes of characters

Certain people have jobs that give them attitudes. A second hand car salesman may tell you that of a scrap heap of a car is perfect. On the other hand a garage mechanic will look at your perfect car and find it full of faults. A dress saleslady will tell you how beautiful you look in a dress that you find ugly the moment you walk out of the shop. A nurse may convince you that everything is OK while telling your nearest relative to prepare for the worst. Politicians will convince you that the economy is on the right road, while you hunted fruitlessly for a job. Adverts everywhere will tell you how much better your life will be if you buy the products advertised. If you are taken in by these people, then you cannot even trust yourself. It is in the interest of most people to look at a situation from a one-sided view. Every job has some aspect of this biased viewpoint, and this is reflected in the character of the person.


How do we see people?

We see people first as Gender, secondly as a Role, and thirdly as a Personality:

Gender: When we walk down the street we look at the opposite sex who appear to be attractive, and make a mental assessment of their potential in the sense of saying "I wouldn't mind knowing him/her". We are all the time assessing others, and being assessed by others. Our awareness or regard for this affects how we dress, act, and present ourselves.

Role: The role of the person gives us further information. If we can see what they do by their dress or actions, it enables us to assess them further. A pretty girl working as a cashier in a supermarket might well be assessed differently from the same girl working as a production assistant on a film. Men are even more aware of how 'rank' comes into the assessment of themselves. The fact that they have a more limited range of appearances than women requires them to take on more defined attitudes of assertiveness.

Personality: The personality of a person does not come across so quickly. We need to know the person to some extent. When we first meet someone and wish to impress them we tend to exaggerate our personality traits, and 'volunteer' information about ourselves that we would not do to those we are not attracted to. In return, the other person will react by a positive or negative response. This will be done by leaving 'openings' that allow further demonstrations of who we are, or by blocking off the conversation, or directing it away from self-presentation. It is worth studying the scripts of plays to see how characters introduce themselves to the audience via the situations that present their personalities.


Characters taken from other media

It is common to use well-established characters from comics, books, and toys for cartoon series. This can be a big problem as the assumption may well be that all one has to do is to make the characters move. The first problem is design. Characters drawn for a book may be very detailed and difficult to animate. The choice is to simplify the characters so they are easier to animate, or create situations that do not require too much animation.

The second problem is voices. Comic strip characters might imply their accents by the region they live in, or the phrases they use. The author might have a clear cut idea of what accent they have. This is fine for home use, but cartoons often have voices dubbed for abroad. There is also the aspect of dialogue. A comic strip doesn't offer much scope for extended dialogue, whereas a film can offer a lot more, but... it does have to be consistent with the character. It is common for a comic strip character to take on quite a different personality when turned into a film... and not always for the better.

A third problem is that incidental characters in a comic strip may take on a much larger role in a film, so need to be developed in their own right. This can lead to a different type of storyline. Some of the now famous Disney and Warner Bros. characters originally started as 'bit part' characters in other cartoons, and were developed as personalities in their own right. Check out the potential of the incidental characters in comics to see what their potential is.

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