Dr. Toon: The Animation Critic's Art - Part III
In our first two installments, we have covered the generic, universal tools needed in order to practice the art of critique. I have only one cardinal question for my readers to keep in mind when evaluating an animated work: What was this work trying to do, and how well was it done? This month, I will begin to apply these concepts specifically to animation. Although I wish these subjects could go in a hierarchical order, the components of an animated short/film are so integrative that I find such rankings impossible. Therefore, I shall begin with evaluating character design.
If an animated work is going to relate a story, there must be agents to carry out this task. It makes sense that a) Their design must facilitate the acting ability to affect a story; b) They should be in some way engaging or appealing to the observer, and; c) They are appropriate to the context in which they function. Let's examine some successes, failures and in-betweens.
Keep in mind that character design need not be complex as long as it adheres to the concepts stated above. At a recent (boring) meeting, I observed one of my colleagues sketching characters from The Simpsons and South Park on his notepad. The drawings were not appreciably different from the actual characters seen on TV. In fact, it takes little facility to draw them, but that does not mean they represent inferior designs.
Both Homer Simpson and Eric Cartman are capable of expressive acting, and have the added advantage of voice actors that add to their nuances (more about voice work later in the series). Although the former is a bright yellow humanoid and the latter a ball with undersized limbs, their designs are appealing; Homer, who portrays a benighted Everyman, looks the part. Cartman's design strongly suggests the child he is. Both feature rounded rather than angular design, a style that has historically been more pleasing to animation audiences. This allows for instant audience appeal. The same can be said for the characters in Gene Deitch's imaginative Tom Terrific series.