Thursday, January 16, 2014


In my years of character designing there is one issue that always comes up from time to time  when I have designed characters for animation or puppetry.  The best way to describe the issue is through illustration:

This is Hank, he is outgoing and a real story teller.  Phil is Hanks other friend.  Phil is a glass half empty kind of guy, but always there when you need him.  Then there's Julie, the cutest girl in town. She sees the good in everyone.   These would be my initial rough ideas for the characters.

After I turn the art in for approval here is the typical first response from the art director, producer, or network.  “Great we love hank!  Phil is so funny and gloomy!  We like Julie, but how will people know she’s a girl?   Can we give her hair?  Put a bow on her head? Or maybe big eyelashes?

CRAZY MAKING!  This note comes from men and women.   How is this an interesting or good story telling or design choice? Any boy / man character can be a lump, a ball, or a bucket.  The second it’s a girl we must feminize and give sexuality to the character.   In my career I constantly fight against this outdated notion, if Hank and Phil are basically lumps and that is the world we have established then Julie needs to be a lump too, with a feminine character voice thoughts and behavior.  That’s how we know she’s a female.  Even when we were making Robot and Monster an executive wanted me to make J.D. more slim and “Sexy”.  What the exec didn’t get was she already is the sexiest monster in the show, exactly how she is.  The exec was projecting their own ideas of what is attractive into the Robot and Monster world and story.  Needless to say I did not let that happen. 

This whole idea can fall under the banner of “Make Interesting Choices” when you are designing, Illustrating etc.   And don't fall into this unimaginative trap.

P.S. I'm recuperating nicely and starting to ease back into working.  Thanks for all the well wishing!


KyleM1701 said...

This article is basically sound and reasonable. The only problem is you're still defining gender through specific traits even if they aren't visible. For instance, referring to the girl blog as "the cutest girl in town". She's sweet. If that's your idea of identification of gender through personality then it still rubs the wrong way.

Dave Pressler said...

I see your point, I was specifically using that description to illustrate my point of defining "Outward appearance". It would be the same if the character was "Tough, and strong with a heart of gold" or "She loves to debate, and can whip anyone in Ping -Pong. The character traits are subjective to the story that is being told and how that character will support the narrative. If you are getting into the more general debate of female roles kids entertainment, that is a whole other topic beyond what I was talking about here.