Inspired 3D Short Film Production: Visual Elements of Effective Character Design -- Part 4
Character Development Tool 4: Behavior
No matter how effectively you design a character, his true nature will ultimately be defined by his actions, reactions, and interactions. As the comedian Bill Maher once suggested, You are what you do. In most short films, there simply isnt enough time to fully develop a character this way. Therefore, you must apply shortcuts to successfully characterize through behavior. Exaggerated mannerisms are often quite effective in this capacity. A man who strokes his chin, a girl who twirls her hair, or a cat that limps will be immediately identifiable every time he or she is displayed on screen. In Moonsung Lees Bert, the small vegetable characters trip and fall often. This recurring mannerism helps to identify them as children. Often, providing a character with one or two quick initial actions or gestures is sufficient to tell the audience all they really need to know about a characters personality and goals (see Figure 58). In The Wrong Trousers, Gromit (the dog) reads a birthday card at the breakfast table and dismisses it with a roll of his eyes. This quick, singular action indicates that he is not only more intelligent than your average illiterate canine, but perhaps a bit less childish as well. Within a few seconds of seeing this character for the first time, viewers have all the information they need to decide whether theyll identify with (or at least be interested in) this character.
Character Development Tool 4: Behavior
Choices Probably the most effective situation in which you can fully develop a character is by showing how he attempts to solve the main conflict of your story. This is where the men are separated from the boys, the strong are separated from the weak, the cunning are separated from the foolish and often the living are separated from the dead. No choices are more telling than those made under pressure.
Behavior is made up of actions and choices. How your character dictates or responds to the events and other characters of your story will define his personality. Is he confident or meek? Intelligent or mentally challenged? Selfish or altruistic? Stubborn or flexible? Serious or comedic? If he decides to kill someone, he will be seen as a villain. If he decides to kick a dog, he will be seen as a really horrible villain. If chooses to run from danger, he is either a coward or rather practical. If he chooses to face a threat head-on, he is either brave or stupid. Keep in mind that in order for a characters decisions to inform an audience of his nature and personality, his choices must not be obvious or trivial. Youll learn nothing about a character who simply chooses pleasure over pain or wealth over poverty. Rather, a character will define who he really is based on the difficult choices he makes for instance, wealth-plus-misery vs. poverty-plus-happiness. Choosing between two negatives might shed some light on a character as well. In Martin Scorseses Casino, a pair of cheaters is caught with their dishonest winnings. One gets his hand smashed by a hammer. The other is given a choice: The money and the hammer or no money and the door. The latter might seem like the obvious choice to most people, but a particularly greedy masochist might take the former. Choosing between a pair of positive scenarios can also be rather difficult. Two dates for the prom sounds like an ideal situation, but the ultimate decision will leave at least one member of the equation somewhat disappointed.
Probably the most effective situation in which you can fully develop a character is by showing how he attempts to solve the main conflict of your story. This is where the men are separated from the boys, the strong are separated from the weak, the cunning are separated from the foolish and often the living are separated from the dead. No choices are more telling than those made under pressure.