Significance of character design of non-human creatures

It’s often been said that a character’s design is supposed to tell the audience something about them and complement their personality and role in the story in some way. Non-human characters provide unique challenges and opportunities for animators because they possess features that no human could ever have. The popular kids’ movie Monsters, Inc. does a great job of designing characters to perfectly fit their roles in the story. For instance, the main character, Sully, is huge and strong but also fluffy and colorful; his timid but loyal sidekick Mike is small and has a very large and expressive eye and mouth; and the villain Randall is a slippery and surly-looking lizard voiced by Steve Buscemi. What are some other examples of non-human characters with particularly appropriate or memorable character designs? What is it about their designs that provides insight into their characters more broadly?

  • This is a great topic! I liked your example from Monsters Inc? Perhaps you can make the topic title, " How character designs of non-human characters in animation tell the audience about their character?" Or what are examples of non-human character animations designs that speak to their character? – birdienumnum17 3 weeks ago
  • Fun idea. First thing that comes to mind is Inside Out, where emotions are literally personified into characters - anger, sadness, disgust. You don't even need to hear them talk in order to understand what they represent. Maybe an interesting comparison would be between good visual depictions of personality (this was done often and super well in older cartoons) and less creative character designs. Consider all the possibilities of 2/3D animation and how those opportunities can be squandered! I'm thinking of the recent Lion King adaptation here; realism doesn't necessarily translate to an expressive character. – dbotros 3 weeks ago
  • I think that the design of non-human - or even monstrous - characters often provides insight onto ourselves. That is, the grotesque or Other often reflects our own anxieties about the human condition. When the worst aspects of our psyche/appearance are exaggerated and externalized into non-human characters, they are easy to dislike because they represent the "worst" parts of ourselves. At the same time, mythologically heroic characters represent the best of ourselves, with their looks and demeanour exaggerated to show the potential for goodness and beauty that resides in the human condition.This topic puts me in mind of Peter Jackson/Andy Serkis's portrayal of Gollum in LOTR. The tragic beauty of the character resides in his "fall from grace narrative," for he straddles the line between ultimate corruption and ultimate redemption until his last moments.Smeagol's design incorporates elements of the innocent - his wide eyes and naiveté - while the distorted and expressions of Gollum connote his malice and cunning. Examining the ways in which Serkis/the animators at Weta Digital played with the tension between these two personae can reveal how the archetypes of good and evil originate within our own soul (or psyche, if you prefer). – Rhys 3 weeks ago
  • This is an interesting topic, and one becoming more and more relevant as animation makes a resurgence in popular media. One interesting area the article could address would be how and why human elements are included in these character designs, as a means to evoke audience familiarity with the emotions of the character (you mentioned Mike Wazowski's eye as an example). Moreover, it might be worthwhile to discuss the uncanny valley and it's effect on the considerations of animated character design.The game Thomas was Alone is also a really pure example of this philosophy of character design, each character being literally a differently sized four-sided shape. – DanielByrne 3 weeks ago
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