John K. Stuff- Character Design 1

Is a Cartoon Good because of it’s Style?

Does a cartoon’s style make it attractive. But what really makes it work is a combination of things. In this article it talks about Tex Averys and Ed Benedict’s work, stating that “what really made it work is the combination of Tex and Ed’s terrific poses and acting – and of course Tex’s timing.”

It is Ed as a functional designer and Tex as a functional storyteller, and the combination of those contributed to it working. It discussed how the character of Deputy Droopy would have still worked if drawn in a different style.

Different characters can have the same likability.


Ed Benedict, Tom Oreb, Gene Hazelton, Ward Kimball, John Hubley, Fred Crippen, Bob Kurtz, Bill Hertz designed character to complement the overall design, essentially sculpting them to the context of the stories and environments they inhabited. These were not stiff designs based on model sheets. They had to be able to pose the characters functionally and fit them aesthetically into their environments. How many character designers today can do that?

The Character Designer Plague

The reuse of character design is common today- as talked about by Stuff.
So today we are overrun with character designers. Everyone and his rat wants to be one, and honestly I can’t blame them with the situation being what it is now. People write me all the time and ask me how to break in at the top the business and skip all the steps of learning how things work in cartoons. They want quick answers to the secrets of getting a unique style and a top salary. When I disappoint them by recommending they learn the trade first, many roll their eyes and just go off and copy what the last 30 years of visual plagiarists have done and each year there is a whole new crop of individual stylists who are exactly like the last batch, only with more broken gene sequences in their DNA.

I see the same character designs in hundreds of cartoons, only they seem to get drawn worse with each new generation. Some character designs I’d swear are in every cartoon. I see Dee Dee from Dexter’s lab in every cartoon, sometimes with gender reassignment, only with the top of her head or the bottom of her feet chopped off. Chopping off finger tips is also a good way to convince an executive you’re hip. (It’s much easier to draw hands that way too). There is some kind of one-eyed blob that’s in a thousand cartoons. Cartoons get sold that are so primitive that their “design” consists only of the fact that the designers never learned to draw at all. (, 2017).

The most crucial part of cartoon design is bringing the characters to life- through the storyboards, layout or animation. Challenging yourself to tell the story through the characters and their unique poses and expressions.

Maybe I’m crazy, but that’s why I think cartoonists want to make cartoons. Not to just do their own assembly line bit in the abstract, divorced from the rest of the production and then complaining when it doesn’t somehow come to life in the finished product. (, 2017).

Do we need character designers? 

Does a character actually need to be designer? The word character refers to a personality at first, not a design. In the golden age of cartoons, the personalities were animated, designers evolving from these.

 All the artists contributed to the evolution of the characters, and this process created the most entertaining successful characters in history. Really, the animator (or in the case of TV, the layout artist) should be bringing 3/4 of the design to the screen in his poses and expressions. (, 2017).

Look at Bugs Bunny, arguably one of the greatest characters ever created, he evolved from a mix of different cartoonists working together, with brilliant directors letting them do their thing. evolution_of_bugs_bunny_1939___2010_by_stranglynormal-d8qjmu6.png

Taking this into consideration it would be appropriate to say we need ‘redesigners’ and not designers. Chuck Jones was less of a “designer” than a “redesigner”. He merely applied his sense of shapes to classic principles and existing characters. (, 2017). 

“Cool Design” is Anti- Character

This type of character design, popular in modern cartoons and intended to look cool for it’s own sake. Although good for commercials and instructional films, in which characters are more symbols, it is not effective in giving personalities or making characters seem alive.

This is essentially ripping off older versions of things- imitating it superficially to trick executives that it is the “new hip thing.”

Animation is about magical characters more than anything else and magical characters have to be able to do things. That takes a lot more than just some abstract design floating around the screen. (, 2017). 

References (2017). Character Design 1: The Character Design Fallacy. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 May 2017].


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