Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cartoon Silhouettes

I have a fun game for everyone to play that could also be educational. If you click on the above image, you'll find silhouettes of 34 different cartoon characters. Even at the small size all of them should be recognizable (which in itself is an amazing feat---for the characters, and your BRAIN!). I've talked a little about character design on this blog. I wanted to test the theory that a memorable character, one that is entirely unique and original, will have some semblance of strong design. Which boils down to having contrasting shapes and forms, which in turn should reduce to a distinctive silhouette. This isn't perfectly scientific, because pop culture presence, humor, voice, and writing all play a role in constructing the perfect character. But I'm speaking purely visually.

I'm going to guess that you'll be able to identify most of them (if not all of them---depending on your familiarity with the characters). You should notice right off the bat which one's pop out the most to you. Some are recognizable, but have much more complicated shapes. Notice the variety! Especially in the somewhat limited cartoon genre.

Notice the pairs of characters I've included. If you're designing a duo---design them together. See how the negative space around the pose is crucial to making them look active and dynamic—how each character fits into the other.

Here's the take away. When you're designing a character, pay attention to the form...think about positive and negative space, and how it would translate to a silhouette. The language of cartooning lends itself to this so well, which is why so many characters become icons. It might be fun to do a quick line-up of some of our FableVision characters, to see how they stand up to the silhouette test.

Hope this was fun! Let me know your thoughts :)

UPDATE (6-23-08) I just found a great post over at Aviary by Meowza who offers a great analysis on the importance of silhouette and foundation in character design. Definitely go check it out!


Floyd Bishop said...

What a great exercise!

I just posted this with a link to your blog over on Channel Frederator.

Allie said...

This is great Bob! What sticks out to me is how the characters that pop the most have personality that is coming through in their poses (for example
Spongebob, Mickey, Mighty Mouse)... This is a fantastic model to keep in mind when we're designing characters.

platypotamus said...

great exercise. that image is definitely a keeper - one for the reference files.

would be kind of interesting to do one with characters that don't have strong silhouettes - just for comparison.

Anonymous said...

Who is the 3rd from the right, 3rd row from top?

Alex Dudley said...

Cool, I recognize all the characters!
To answer the question above me, that's Mojo Jojo from the Powerpuff Girls.

Brad said...

cool image.

who is fifth from the left,
second row?

Renee Kurilla said...

It's Mr Crabs!

Régis Soares - Repórter said...

Please help!
Who is the fourth in the first line, the first in the line tree (dont recall the name), the second in the fourth line, the fourt in the fourth line and the last one?

Andy Norton said...

It's a good excercise, for those that are well acquainted by animation, and for those that are trying to design their own characters. What a way to make a good point in design so clear, and fun.

Juan Carlos said...

There go all the names, some in Spanish

(Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Fred Flinstone, Ren & Stimpy, BART SIMPSONS, Squarepants Bob Sponge, Felix The Cat, Road Runner)
(Marge Simpson, Yogui Bear, Stewie Griffin, Popeye, Don Crustaceo, Charlie Brown, Bugs Bunny, Vilma Flinstone, Mighty Mouse)
(Bullwinkle, Oddy, Goofy, Calamardo, Dexter, Dexter, Mojo Jojo, Olivia, Pink Panther)
(Betty Boop, Arnold, Casper, I SAW BUT NO REMEMBER THE NAME, Taz, Bobby, Pinky & Brain, Martian)

pedreiro said...

WTF theory?

This should be called "darn it, i can recognize a cartoon looking at its shadow!!1!!1!!1shiftone!"

RocMegamanX said...

(From top left; going left to right; top to bottom)

Mickey Mouse
Daffy Duck
Fred Flintstone
Ren and Stimpy
Bart Simpson
Felix the Cat
Marge Simpson
Yogi Bear
Stewie Griffin
Charlie Brown
Bugs Bunny
Wilma Flintstone
Mighty Mouse
Mojo Jojo
Olive Oyl
Pink Panther
Betty Boop
Peabody and Sherman
Pinky and the Brain
Marvin the Martian

Wow...I actually got all of them!

That's good, right?

Anonymous said...

I may have found this a little time after it was posted, but what the hell. RocMegaManX (Very funny name - funny cause its not true in this case). It seems you were almost there - you only omitted Road Runner at the end of line one (After Felix the cat) and goofy on line three (after odie). My comment, being somethng of a cartoon fanatic, is give me a challenge. Also where are the superheroes?

Stephanie said...

This is really, super neat. I would like to use this graphic as my Facebook profile picture (for the fight against child abuse! Change your FB profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood. The goal is to not see a human face on FB until Monday. And please share to invite your friends to do the same.). Can I get permission to do so?


Bob Flynn said...

Go right ahead, Stephanie. We just request it not be used for commercial purposes.

Anonymous said...

what is the one next to Casper and Taz?

Anonymous said...

What is the one next to Charlie Brown?

Anonymous said...

Nice photo! I remembered all of the cartoons that I have watched long time ago!

ashli said...

recently found these as fonts-thought they were nifty! recognized all but about 3 or so. after searching around, was able to find/figure out all but ONE! looked & searched 4EVAH!!! and FINALLY discovered that final one, after checking out this post & 2 otha linked ones abt this: bobby from bobby's world. literally NEVER have seen NOR heard of that show, cartoon, or character before this very day. peeps kept mentioning calvin from calvin & hobbes, but i KNEW that wasn't him! anyway, this is a fun thing-thanx! i'm luvin' it~! [& thanx 2 every1 who posted all the answers before me, too--it helped.]

Anonymous said...

Nice! Pro Designer Tip: The beauty with silhouettes is that they're recognizable at very small sizes, making them ideal for logos. (Learnt that recently from a design guru I follow on YouTube ;)