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Character Design: Upholding Character Integrity

In this entry, I may come off as ranting a bit because I will be discussing the topic of character integrity. I would consider this to be my all-time biggest pet peeve when it comes to designing characters. I believe that preserving character integrity is the defining mark of a good character artist. The irony of this post is that I may ruin some character integrity just by writing about it. Please be advised that there may also be some disturbing images as well due to the subject matter. I apologize ahead of time!

What exactly is character integrity and why is it important?

Character integrity is what you do when you remove all of your personal biases, artistic style, and preferences from your artwork, ESPECIALLY if you are drawing a character that is not your own. It’s what gives the character their uniqueness and allows them to become a fully fledged “free thinking” individual outside of yourself. It helps maintain your suspension of disbelief that this is a real-life breathing individual, not just a flat two-dimensional drawing. It’s staying true to your model sheets. Anyone can draw a character, but if you are not staying true to who the character is, then you are not creating a successful representation of the character.

Some thoughts about character integrity from my Disney Days:

When I was working at Disney, this was one of the core values that they instilled in EVERY cast member upon hire. There was a whole training class on this topic and it didn’t matter what your line of work was, you had to take it. That’s how important it is! It wasn’t just for artists. It was for everyone.

For instance, you wouldn’t say to a guest that Mickey was getting hot and sweaty inside the suit, so he/she had to swap out with another cast member so he/she could go take a smoke break (yes, this happens)… you would say something along the lines of “Mickey went to go get a bite of cheese and he will be back shortly!” or something to that effect. It’s a way of maintaining the suspension of disbelief, or “preserving the magic” as Disney would say.

mickeySmoking.jpg

Nobody wants to see that.

In the case of us artists at Disney, I got very frustrated with some of the other artists when they would say “that’s not how I draw Mickey!” First of all, if you even have to say that phrase, then you’re drawing him wrong. Period. I unfortunately heard it on more than one occasion. The only correct way to draw Mickey is in the Disney style. Granted Mickey has evolved over the years (like many other characters of his time period), but he has always maintained his personality through each incarnation, even if the style changed slightly. You should always do your best to maintain the style that was set forth by Mickey’s original creators. You should not be creating some bastardized version of your own. I have always looked at this as very selfish. You’re amusing yourself, not others.

Monster Mouse

Mickey is an actor and can don lots of outfits and disguises. His personality always shines through no matter what outfit he has on. One of the more popular “versions” of Mickey that I experienced artists drawing was representations of Mickey dressed up as different monsters. In most cases, this is acceptable, as long as you keep this in mind: Mickey is a friendly mouse and is not the type of character to set out to scare anyone (unless it’s in good fun, of course). He’s not an evil blood-sucking vampire; he’s only dressed up as one and he still smiles for pictures.

vampireMickey.png

See, he’s not-so-scary!

Runaway Brain (click to watch)

Runaway_Brain.jpg

In the mid 90’s, Disney created a short titled “Runaway Brain.” This short has unfortunately been omitted from a lot of Disney collections because Disney felt that the portrayal of Mickey did not stay true to the character. This couldn’t be further from the truth, since the character in Mickey’s body is actually the monster and Mickey himself was in the monster’s body. Mickey still maintained his personality, but outside of his own body! Some people cite this short as one that defiles Mickey’s integrity, but it does not in fact, since it makes sense for the story.

Disney Princesses

princess

Another popular portrayal that you may have seen around is the combination of the Disney Princesses in a single image. As far as integrity is concerned this is absolutely not okay, with the exception of one rule: the princesses should never interact with one another or acknowledge each other’s existence.

Why is this? Well, the princesses exist independently of one another in different time periods and in different countries. For the same reason, they should also not be represented in costumes since they are not actors like Mickey and his friends. If you look at most of the Disney-approved images of the princesses, you will see that they are not looking at each other or interacting with one another at all. This is in an effort to preserve the integrity of the character.

As you can see, character integrity has always been very important to Disney and it has been a key part in what continues to set them apart from their competition. People go to Walt Disney World and Disneyland to escape reality and visit a fantasy world. Character integrity plays a key part in maintaining that suspension of disbelief and providing the escape that their guests are looking for!

Okay, enough about Disney.

How does character integrity play into my characters on Schmitty’s Toons!? Well, some of the integrity is obviously in the design of the characters. Since they were originally created in Flash, part of preserving their integrity was in maintaining their Flash-style even when they were hand drawn (or in the case of 3D animation, they are cell-shaded).

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Just like Mickey, my characters have also evolved over the years as my own artistic style has evolved. The wonderful thing about being the creator of my own characters is that I am the one who sets the rules of what is acceptable in terms of integrity!

Throughout all of the style changes over the years, the original personalities have still maintained. Dippy is still a nervous, friendly duck with terrible luck, Master Sazuke can be a friend or foe depending on the situation and regularly practices martial arts, and Pelican is a deranged platypus that just wants to be just like the rest of the bird crew. If someone other than me were to draw them, they MUST draw them with all of these things in mind, otherwise they are not staying true to the characters.

In summary, don’t under any circumstances add your own personal touches to someone’s existing character design. If you decide to draw Mickey, then draw Mickey. He’s a very challenging character that has stood the test of time and adding your own touches is not going to improve on him. If you want to be creative, then create your own characters, set your own rules for them and hopefully other artists will then want to emulate you and your style therein maintaining your characters’ integrity.

What are your thoughts about character integrity? We’d like to hear them in the comments!

Schmitty out.