Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Child-like minimalism

This 'Adventure Time' thing has been taken up as a series by the Cartoon Network. I have to admit, the short had passed me by completely until I saw Cartoonbrew posted the new about the series a few days ago. I watched it, didn't really like it and left it at that.

But then, yesterday, I saw Pete Emslie posted about it here. It offended Pete a little more than it offended me but I was really glad to see the post as most of what was in the Cartoonbrew comments was gushing and Mr.E's post added some balance.

The main things Mr.E first points out are the main reasons I didn't like the short - it's written to be random and that just doesn't do it for me. It's not that I don't love surreal - check out a couple of the blog links to the right to see some of my favourite surreal and hilarious posters. But this Adventure Time thing wasn't really surreal. More just... random. To me, that seems like lazy writing. But, hey, some people loved it so who cares what I think, right?

But Mr.E, an artist of such ridiculous talent, knowledge and experience, took issue with another major aspect of the short - what he called "child-like minimalism", when referring to the design. As soon as I read that I knew what he meant. To me, this thing is expressionless. As Mr.E points out, watch it without the sound and you'd have no idea what the characters are feeling. So that, plain and simple, is not acting. It's not life. And, if it's not life, it doesn't warrant the term "animation".

Sounds harsh? Yeah, it sounds harsh as I write it but it's just part of a thought process here.

But something really didn't sit right about what Mr.E said about it in his post. A part of me wanted to jump to its defense. Why?

Well, you see, the thing is, I love preschool animation. I love shows for the younger children. And I love child-like minimalism. I do. I think it gives a show charm, sweetness, innocence. I love it. And, as a sweeping child-like minimalism generalisation goes, I feel the need to defend it. Pocoyo has really simple designs and that is fantastic. So does Pingu. Peppa Pig - who couldn't love Peppa Pig?! That's totally child-like and mimimalist. And there are many more examples that I can't think of right now (it's early).

I would vehemently defend child-like minimalism.

It's not as easy as you might think too. A show I worked on several years ago had very simple characters and was designed to be child-like. The difficulty was that animators kept over-thinking the emotions, putting in too much of an adult thought process. Children's emotions are very simple, very extreme. And there is no thought required to switch from one to the other - children just react. It's not what adults do and it seems harder for animators to achieve without constantly being reminded that the characters must act like young children. Pingu does this wonderfully.

But these preschool examples have expression. If you turn the sound off, you know what the characters are feeling. Some of them don't even have dialogue. It's all in the acting.

All in the acting.

A cartoon needs expression. And I think that's what's missing here. And while I don't think 'Adventure Time' is totally without merit (I do think the design of the dog is quite funny and something about the colours appeals to me) I think Mr.E is right. When you turn the sound off, you can't tell what the characters are feeling. And that's a problem.

I do think it would have been possible with these designs. I think they could have worked really well actually. There's a huge amount of potential in the body shapes and even the very simple faces could have been used to get across exactly what the characters are feeling. But it doesn't seem to have happened.

But, yes, I would defend child-like minimalism. I love it.

Actually, I had started to write a different post and then got sidetracked on to this one but the other post was about something I'm seeing where I am right now, something I'm doing myself too - killing scenes. And it relates to this. I'll continue that thought tomorrow.

If I remember.


Pete Emslie said...

Hello Bitter,

You make a very good argument for this type of minimalism being used in some shows aimed at young kids. I actually agree with you regarding this approach being employed on "Pocoyo", and in that instance it seems to be done right. I too appreciate the simple appeal of "Pocoyo", but in looking at these designs as compared to those in "Adventure Time", I see more good cartooning at work in both the "Pocoyo" character designs themselves and the simple yet clear type of poses and expressions they're capable of. Besides, how can one not like that crazy duck? :)

Anyway, very good analysis of what I guess we've now dubbed "child-like minimalism". Yes, it can certainly work in the right context when handled by talented artists with a better knack for visual appeal.

Mr. Trombley said...

Dear Sirs, The difference is immeadiately obvious. It is the difference between what a child could draw and what a child would want to draw.

A similar difference exists between terror and terrific.

Anonymous said...

Good point, Mr Trombley - reminds me of a particular episode of Nickolodeon's Rugrats where for some reason they're telling stories about pictures they drew (I think) and the story told by Tommy was accompanied by the type of drawing a two year old would draw (I think he's meant to be two) - a bunch of crayonic mess that was animated to follow the tale and made total sense.

No I wasn't fucking HIGH.

Toole said...

Now I wish this blog allowed anonymous comments.

Bitter Animator said...

You could just get another gmail account for comments you don't want to put your name to, I guess.

Mr.T, yes, you're right. That's like the old 'children must see a child protagonist in order to like a show' thing. It's the difference between what they are and what they aspire to be.

Mr.E, I'm honoured you popped along to my humble blog and love to hear you like Pocoyo! I think it's a really fun show and it's one of my current favourites from the younger children end.

Anonymous said...

In these cases, I agree that "child-like minimalism' can be used on stuff like "Tickle-U" or whatever they show on Nick Jr. Child-like minimalism can be used if it is meant to be child-like.

However, I don't think that excuses shows like "Adventure Time". This is meant to be on the Cartoon Network, and although I question its audience repeatedly, at least give the child something to go for. Don't have blank faces with no sign of emotion other than a curved line for a mouth.

Meanwhile, off my soapbox, I can't wait to see your "killing scenes" post.

A new reader, J. Spumkin, aka Rutherford Kliyzex