Millie Crayon: The Changing Role of Character Design ?
(2021) Personal work
At its core, character design is the authoring of invented characters. Due to this, anthropomorphism often features in the these creations, and a review of the contemporary field uncovers several meaningful uses.
It is helpful to note the distinction between characters which are narrative, and those which are not. For instance, we come to know the former through exposition, as with sequential art and animated cartoons. Story-telling requires characters, and our knowledge of narrative characters is aided with biographic insights.
Enter the Mascot
Mascots generally avoid the exposition that comes with storytelling. Above all, they can represent any organised group, from a sports team to a student club. Many corporations use mascots as spokespeople for their consumer products. What is crucial is that a mascot is made to be recognised and understood at a single glance, without need for a shared language or enculturation. Since they emerged, it was evident to marketers what potential lay in mascots, which could appear in various media, and in spaces where advertising was not permitted.
Post Digital Characters
The affordances of the internet have proven to be fertile ground for pictorial characters. These web-native characters have much in common with mascots, eschewing narratives in favour of embodying ideas and values. Having emerged before the mobile web, these characters would later transition into becoming collectible vinyl toys. Today’s character designers increasingly explore techniques that place them in the physical world, thereby ensuring the stability that is inherently absent from the internet.
Character Design Within Personal Worlds
Further to how a character appears, illustrators may create the space they occupy, thereby staging where events might unfold. This correlates with what the screenwriter Bob Foss has termed the plane of events; the imagined setting where characters dwell. Illustrators have been known to craft personal worlds which are revisited whenever needed, and can be realised in different media. Character design and the expansion of a personal world can certainly have far-reaching implications for independent entrepreneurship and merchandising.
Emerging Web Trends
Further to characters being visible on websites, today’s social web and cellular MMS have given rise to memojis and messaging stickers. These can be potent marketing tools, and are driving interest in character design. In addition, 2021 saw the demand for PFP NFTs reach new highs, placing digital collectibles in the limelight, and bringing the value of character design into ever-clearer focus.