I often check out the Character Design Blog, which features interviews and showcases of work from commercial character designers in games, illustration, animation, comics and films.
A source of inspiration for contemporary character design is Pictoplasma, who publish a series of books as well as running events.
American artist, Ray Villafane, carves pumpkins into a variety of character heads. Check out the pictures here. Happy Hallowe’en!
What he may or not realise is that he is following in a very old tradition of folk art. In the past, toys were a luxury that many working people couldn’t afford to pay for – so they made their own. Apples were an ideal medium for carving dolls heads out of and this folk art is still practiced in rural America. I have also seen a British example in the V&A’s Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. The Museum of Childhood has an extensive collections of historical toys and is a fantastic resource for ideas for character designs.
I am currently experimenting with apple heads myself, since finding this wild apple on an isolated tree at the top of a mountain in the Pyrennees when I was on holiday this summer. I call her Mrs Applebaum and am using her as the starting point for developing a new character.
Mat Collishaw’s show Shooting Stars at the Haunch of Venison in 2008 explored the legacy of Victorian imaging technology in our parallel era of rapid technological development. The most powerful presence in the show was Collishaw’s contemporary zoetrope, Throbbing Gristle, featuring small characters created through rapid prototyping that appeared to come to life under the flickering lights of the gallery.
An interdiscplinary background in engineering, photography, sculpture and watercolours proved to be a fertile ground for the innovations in moving image technology developed by Charles-Èmile Reynauld, arguably the first person to create frame-by-frame animation in the classic form that we understand today.
Deriving from a praxinoscope that he had invented in 1876, Reynauld’s patented a Praxinoscope Théâtre in 1879 and then an improved version, the Théâtre Optique, was patented in 1888. This invention was able to project hand-painted, animated, moving images and was adopted commercially by the Museé Grévin in Paris in 1892. The Museé Grévin was a famous museum of waxworks, which also featured a Cabaret Fantastique, a small theatre with shows from magicians. The Théâtre Optique opened there in 1892 – three years before the Lumière Brothers had perfected the first film camera and demonstrated moving, photographic images in 1895. The Théâtre Optique was open until 1900, when it was superseded by cinema and closed down. Before his death in January 1918, in a fit of depression, he smashed the surviving Théâtre Optique mechanism and threw all but two of his picture bands into the Seine.
Here is a reconstruction of Théâtre Optique by the Museum of Cinema in Girona.
Here is a reconstruction of one of the two surviving Pantomimes Lumineuses that were screened at the Théâtre Optique, Pauvre Pierrot from 1892.
Scratchy goth-style, ink animation integrates well with the Horrors overall styling in this video for ‘She is the New Thing’ directed by Corin Hardy.
THE HORRORS “She Is The New Thing” from LOUIS MARINO on Vimeo.
A maximalist design style with pastiche from Hindi pop art and political propaganda posters, Capital is an in-your-face anti-imperialist pop video directed by Alexey Terekhov for the band Lyapis Trubetskoy from Minsk, Belarus. Not always easy on the eye, but definitely original and worth a look.
Strong visual storytelling, iconic, minimalistic design style and faintly disturbing, Motomichi Nakamura is a perfect example of less is more. Here is We Share Our Mother’s Health with music by the Knife (2006).
We Share Our Mothers Health » By Motomichi Nakamura from The Knife on Vimeo.
Here is an example of Nakamura’s expanded animation work with projections on Manhattan Bridge as part of Bright Nights in 2010.
“Bright Nights” outdoor projection at Manhattan Bridge from Motomichi Studio on Vimeo.
The RSA Animate films have become one of the most popular channels on You Tube. A powerful example of how animated drawings can be used to convey complex ideas, the films use animation to illustrate RSA lectures. Not only does this make the lectures more understandable, but it has brought a whole new audience to these ideas. The latest in the series is ‘The Divided Brain’.
Check out the RSA Short Film Competition. Deadline December 19th.
A short film by Osvaldo Cavandoli from the La Linea TV series which aired on Italian TV from 1971 – 1986. This film is a great example of minimalist design: less is more!
The influence of the La Linea films can be seen in contemporary motion graphics and commercials, for example Raimund Krumme’s commercial for Hilton Hotels.
“Dancing Couple” for Hilton Hotels from Acme Filmworks on Vimeo.
Deadsy, directed by David Anderson, written and narrated by Russell Hoban, 1989, is one of the films that typify the creativity coming out of the UK in the 1980s, back when Channel 4 showed challenging and innovative films. Integrating animation with rotoscoped footage and manipulated video, it typifies what Alan Cholodenko describes as the way that animation complicates our view of what is real as opposed to what is imaginary:
‘… in a certain sense animation may be thought to be that which indetermines and suspends the distinction between representation and simulation, what makes it impossible to say which is which, as it indetermines and suspends all things.’
 Alan Cholodenko, The Illusion of Life: Essays on Animation (Sydney: Power Publications, 1991) , 21–2.