Concerning the Post
Well, it’s been a bit since I did an animation related post, but we have another post going around on tumblr. You guys have probably seen it by now. It’s the one with this gif:
There’s been a few responses to the initial post, including a joke made at the expense of CalArts, other people ripping this post apart, some guy with an anime avatar claiming that all western animation is the same, and at least one post commenting that “Sans is Shaped Like A Friend.”
These designs actually don’t bother me. The rounded head and the big eyes make these characters look friendly and non threatening. Designs like this are meant to play on human’s natural instinct to protect babies. Designs like this are pretty standard in shows where the protagonist is meant to be appealing to a large audience. Disney has been using this formula for years.
Contrary to what this posts suggests however, the character design for these characters do show enough variation worth looking into. While these characters do share some similar characteristics, the way they’re depicted in the actual show itself shows just how distinctive these characters can be. Lets take a look.
I’m really not to familiar with this show, but just from pictures and gifs alone, I can tell that this show isn’t too preoccupied in trying to look like other shows. The design seems to be ugly in a very deliberate way. From what I gather, this show has a strong appeal towards nostalgia, and I can actually see that. The designs look like the were lifted from the doodles in some grade school notebook. Personally, I don’t find this shows art stye to be particularly appealng to me personally, but I do have to give them props for making something so unmistakably their own.
When I see Star Butterfly, I see somebody’s deviantArt persona personified. Normally that would be considered a bad thing, but given Star’s character in the show, it seems all to perfect.
Star is the perfect example of a parody sue, with her design emphasizing the fact.
- Her horns seem to recall the fancy hats and headbands created by many fan artist’s oc’s. You can find headbands like these at your local Hot Topic or else in comic conventions everywhere. Star Butterfly is totally a character who’d go out of her way to buy one of them
- Along with her hair, these horns also serve another purpose. While Star’s face and eyes all give off the babyish round design people are meant to find appealing, her horns and her hair add an element of danger. Star is a destructive character, though it may not be so obvious at first. These spikes are subtle reminders of the fact.
- Her teeth and mouth are actually very fun to draw. It would be very easy to give a character like Star a set of perfect teeth, but for whatever reason, her mouth seems to be filled with nubs. Perhaps its from chewing her wand all the gosh darn time.
- Her clothing changes from episode to episode. This is both reminiscent of many straight mary sues in fiction, but in the context ofa cartoon in gives the audience variation.
- Perhaps the greatest asset to Star design is her jaw line that actually moves with her mouth, and squishy cheeks the animators are actually allowed to squish (all these characters have the same kinda cheeks, but this show takes advantage of the fact on a regular basis) something actually kind of rare in this style of animation. this allows for some truly great expressions from her character.
And lets face it, we all knew at least one person who acts like Star in some way or form, inflicting their forced cuteness on the world. Star may look like a self insert character from a Sailor Moon fanfiction, but she’s written like the people who write the bad fanfiction in the first place. Her design is entirely intentional.
Dipper and Mabel
I’m sorry, but the initial post really doesn’t do Dipper justice. I mean he’s given an incredibly out of character grin. Admittedly that Grin seems right at home with Stay and Clarence, but Dipper never, ever makes that face, something I’m sure has been done intentionally in the character inception. Heck, I don’t even think Mabel is allowed to make that face.
If anything, that first gif shows why big smiling face with soulless staring eyes are inappropriate for most characters. Facial expressions on the character designs are just one kind of way cartoons arre meant to be set apart from one another. Take a look at these faces:
While Dipper is certainly allowed to smile, the faces he’s most often seen with are meant to communicate his status as straight man to the rest of the cast, something usually accomplished be giving him a serious scowl. Contrast this with his twin sister Mabel:
Despite sharing a character base with Dipper, Mabel’s expression embody excess. Even her unhappy expressions stay away from subtlety
The big exceptions for both of these characters seem to occur when acting out of character is the entire point. Mabel picks up some subtler unhappy expressions when the moment is genuinely meant to make the audience feel sad.
Meanwhile Dipper’s out of character squeeing is only funny because of how uncharacteristic it is for Dipper to make an expression like that.
Heck, the only time I think Dipper made the face featured in the original gif was in a scene playing up how creepy that expression really is.
So here we have two characters who have an in universe reason for looking the same, and yet both characters are still distinctive enough to be recognized as their own characters. Compare that with, for example, Dragon Ball Z.
There really is a lot to like about this show, but Character Design is not one of them. I’m sure anime can have a wide range of art styles, but the ones that seem to get popular always seem to have a similar art style, and in the case of shows like Dragon Ball Z, it can be really hard to distinguish characters from one another. When searching for those gifs, I actually had to make sure those two really were separate characters.
Gumball is a blue cat drawn in a deliberately flat art style. This show is a love letter to many, many different styles of animation, and the main characters themselves resemble graphic design in their flatness. This of course is contrasted beautifully with the live action backgrounds. This is probably the only case I will mention where the design decisions are less character based and more art direction based, but these decisions are ultimately what made this show so unique to begin with.
Here we have a character’s whose round cheeks are purposely meant to evoke the characters youngness. Though this is of course present in the other characters as well, Steven is notable in that his young looking features are an actual plot point in the series, as well as one of his defining traits.
Steven was designed to be the ultimate little brother (A bit ironic since he’s older than pretty much everyone except Star on this post) and his design looks it.
Finally, I’d like to point out that if these characters were all standing next to each other and silhouetted against some harsh light, then it really wouldn’t take much effort to tell who’s who. Dipper has his hat, while Mabel has her hair. Star has her horns, and Gumball has his ears. Even Steven and Clarence, who in real life would likely have similar body types feature enough extra traits to set the two apart.
Besides. We have plenty of other characters who don’t use that basic head shape:
And let’s not forget our favorite rectangle head is coming back as well