I started my research for this project by playing about with the ultimate walker rig to see what its capabilities were, and then I looked into some animated characters who have a similar body shape. In animation, the design choice to have no face usually communicates a sinister character whose motives or true identity are unknown or ambiguous. I thought this could be a possible theme for one of my shorts, but thought it would be more interesting to explore other personalities and emotions with this limited rig instead of falling back to what the design usually conveys.
I looked to existing characters in animation to see how animators portray emotion and personality through characters with limited designs. Some characters that came to mind were Sultan (the footstool dog in Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’), Sheldon the egg (in ‘Garfield and Friends’) and Mike Wazowski (in Pixar’s ‘Monsters, Inc.’).
The Magic Carpet
The ‘Magic Carpet’ from Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ (1992) is a character who has no face, voice or limbs, but relies solely on body language to express emotion and personality.
The designs for the characters in ‘Aladdin’ were inspired by Al Hirschfeld’s minimalist caricature drawings. Supervising animator Eric Goldberg, who was responsible for animating the Genie, said, “I look on Hirschfeld’s work as a pinnacle of boiling a subject down to its essence, so that you get a clear, defined statement of a personality. There’s also an organic quality in the way one line will flow into another: It may go along the back of a neck, down the spine, across the behind and the down the leg–all in one single line that is very, very elegant. I wanted the Genie to have that kind of elegance.” Another supervising animator Andreas Deja, who was in charge of antagonist Jafar, said, “Hirschfeld’s work teaches you fluidity, appeal and simplicity…This assignment taught us to be simple and direct, then your statement will be clearer and easier to follow on the screen.”
Both Goldberg and Deja get straight to the point here, by stating that characters must have a defined personality that is communicated as efficiently and clearly as possible. This will be one of the most important goals for me to always keep in mind when animating (and designing) a character.
The Magic Carpet is a great example of where personality has been clearly displayed, even through a character with a very basic structure. The Magic Carpet was animated by Randy Cartwright, who admitted that it was a challenge to achieve a range of emotions through a character that was essentially a rectangle. Cartwright said, “It’s a challenge. The Carpet has no face, he has no voice, he has no body…I can’t use any of my normal ‘attitude’ poses. So I just have to figure out how to fold him in such a manner that I give an impression of thoughts going through his head.” He described animating as “It’s essentially like acting by origami”, as he used a folded piece of cloth when he was animating to help him imagine the positions of the carpet.
It can be seen from the image below that he used the folds and twists of the material to represent the line of action that a human body would form when expressing these emotions. For example, when the Magic Carpet is curious, it twists round similar to how a person would turn their torso and head to look back over their shoulder. Cartwright maximizes the Magic Carpet’s basic anatomy by using its tassels to mimic hands and feet. He said, ” I can create the impression of a head by folding the carpet over and and having the tassels act like arms and legs in an attitude that makes you imagine the expression on the face – and if you imagine the expression on the face, of course,you’re imagining the head.”
Cartwright’s work on the Magic Carpet has shown me that breathing life into characters with very simple anatomy requires some thinking outside the box and making the most of what the model has to offer. It is important not to get bogged down with minute details of expression and to focus on the overall body language and silhouette instead. Cartwright fully utilizes the freedom of the medium by acting through an inanimate object to give it a personality and likability. As director John Musker described, “A pantomime character – doesn’t speak at all – but, in the Disney tradition, he has a personality.”
Cartwright is an American animator who started his career as a trainee in Walt Disney Studios. Don Bluth gave him his first opportunity to do some animation on ‘The Rescuers’ in 1976. Cartwright filled Glen Keane’s shoes as Ollie Johnston’s trainee, where Johnston would reminisce about ‘the good old days’ at Disney and provide invaluable critique on Cartwright’s drawings. He moved to Taiwan to work a a directing animator on ‘The Little Toaster’ and worked in Japan for a while, but has spent most of his career working for Walt Disney Studios. In addition to being a supervising animator on ‘Aladdin’, his impressive resume includes animating Belle in ‘Beauty and the Beast’; Zazu in ‘The Lion King’ and Prince Naveen in ‘The Princess and the Frog’. As well as specialising in character animation, Cartwright has worked in pre-production as an additional story artist on films such as Dreamworks’ ‘The Prince of Egypt’; Aardman’s ‘Chicken Run’ and Dreamworks’ ‘Madagascar’.
Cartwright animated a CGI sequence on Disney’s ‘Pirate of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl’ where Captain Jack Sparrow and Barbossa are sword fighting in and out of shafts of moonlight and their skeleton becomes visible on parts of their bodies. When he went to work on ‘The Princess and the Frog’ after this, he said,
“…it was great going back into 2D animation because I really missed it…the CG animation is interesting but it doesn’t give me the same satisfaction that sitting down and struggling with drawings does. Drawing is hard but when you actually succeed it’s very satisfying. With CG if you really succeed the computer has done half of it…it doesn’t have the same satisfaction for me as traditional animation.”
Even though I personally prefer 3D animation over 2D, I can see where he is coming from and makes an interesting point. There is definitely a unique fulfilment that comes as a result of being persistent with a difficult drawing and finally getting it right.
I’m inspired by how Cartwright delivers a meaningful, believable acting performance through all of his characters: regardless of the medium he is using. It is evident that when he is working on a scene he is always keeping the character’s unique personality and purpose in mind.
See more of Randy Cartwright’s portfolio here, including his showreel, storyboards and story development artworks: http://www.fibble.net/portfolio/home.html
Lucas the Spider (2017)
The second animator I researched is Joshua Slice, who is responsible for the episodes of ‘Lucas the Spider’. The adorable character of Lucas came to mind when I was looking for examples of how personality can be expressed in under 30 seconds.
Watch the episodes of ‘Lucas the Spider’ here: https://www.youtube.com/user/joshuaslice/videos
Slice created the character as a personal side project to his job as a professional animator. His goal was to challenge people who are afraid of spiders to see them as endearing instead. He wanted to use jumping spiders as a reference and see how far he could push the cuteness aspect. I admire Slice’s ambition to change peoples’ opinions of spiders. Thanks to the combination of Lucas’ design, the way he is animated and the voice of Slice’s nephew; he has achieved a truly lovable character.
During pre-production, he was continually showing his design ideas to his friends who were afraid of spiders. This gave him an indication of which designs were really striking a chord with people. This is something I think I should be doing more often with my work. I definitely have more confidence in sharing my work with others compared to the start of the year, but I don’t do this on a regular basis. I would like to try getting more regular feedback from my peers in my class, and also from friends and family who aren’t artistic to get different points of view.
I like the style of animation Slice uses, he makes use of spiders’ scuttling movement and uses quick movements to comedic effect. He also shows Lucas’s childlike personality through the way he gestures with his front two legs like arms and his huge eyeballs are also very expressive.
Joshua Slice is an American 3D artist who specializes in character animation. He has animated for studios such as Pixar, Walt Disney Studios and Blue Sky. Some films he has worked on include ‘Big Hero 6’, ‘Zootopia’ and ‘Epic’.
Watch Slice’s impressive reels here: https://vimeo.com/user1036762
Animation Style Research
Here are some examples of animation styles that stood out to me:
- “Salesman Pete” – Strong poses with clear silhouettes, exaggerated squash and stretch, comedic timing.
- “Presto” – Poses held for longer with fewer inbetweens, sudden cartoony movements.
- “Penguins Antarctic Documentary” – lots of body movement within each expression and change of emotion, lots of gentle squash and stretch in the body.
- “Coco Animation Breakdown” – this video was really helpful to see the process professionals use to animate. I tried out using the same process for my shorts and for my shots in the 30-second short.
The Faceless. Available from: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheFaceless [Accessed 8 March 2018].
Solomon, C. (1992) COVER STORY : ‘Aladdin’s’ Inspiration? They Rubbed Hirschfeld. Available from: http://articles.latimes.com/1992-11-08/entertainment/ca-5_1_al-hirschfeld [Accessed 20 March 2018].
Al Hirschfeld Foundation. Available from: http://www.alhirschfeldfoundation.org/timeline/1953 [Accessed 20 March 2018].
Aladdin (1992 Disney film) (2018) Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aladdin_(1992_Disney_film)#Design_and_animation [Accessed 26 March 2018].
Culhane, J. (1992) Disney’s Aladdin: The Making of an Animated Film. New York, NY: Disney Publishing Group. Accessed from: http://files.animation.ir/video/Aladdin-Artbook[animation.ir].pdf [Accessed 2 April 2018].
Randy Cartwright (2018) Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randy_Cartwright [Accessed 10 April 2018].
Randy Cartwright (2018) Available from: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0142200/ [Accessed 10 April 2018].
Randy Cartwright Portfolio. Available from: http://www.fibble.net/portfolio/home.html [Accessed 10 April 2018].
The Tiara Talk Show. (2016) TTTS: Interview with Randy Cartwright, Animator for “THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG”. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LwNio1DjGo&t=36s&index=17&list=LLgas6-OXCeWK7QW7RdrorZA [Accessed 12 April 2018].
WalrusRider. (2018) The Animator Behind “Lucas The Spider”. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGMgO1YGw-8 [Accessed 1 May 2018].
The Dodo. (2018) Lucas The Spider Creator Explains How He Makes People Fall In Love With Spiders | The Dodo. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoYVZmKSYFg [Accessed 1 May 2018].
Josh Slice (2018) Available from: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm5921516/ [Accessed 3 May 2018].