Visual style or tradition within creative industries

Within the creative industries, there are many types of visual styles utilised in character design. I really like cute and simplistic designs and want to explore this more for my own character.

Japan in particular is well known for their character designs, especially in their usage in manga and anime. There are different sub categories of character design within manga and anime, but they often have quite a distinct appearance that immediately labels them as such. An example of this would be the usage of large eyes. They are used to primarily express emotion but can also enhance the characters cute appearance, like in the example in fig 1.

fig 1

Japanese character design aesthetics can also be found in character mascots. Often characterised by their cute appearance, they are very popular in Japan. They are known as ‘Yuru-Chara’ and are ‘used to promote a region or brand … [to] help drive sales and create publicity’ (Jenkins, 2020). These character designs can be printed onto merchandise but will most often be prevalent is the use of mascots in Japan, they have become large part of Japanese culture.

Related to Yuru-Chara is the popular Kawaii character design. Kawaii culture also originated in Japan and is used to described something being cute. This cuteness can be ‘expressed through childish handwriting, speech, dress, products, shops, cafes and food’ (The Conversation, 2016). Some cute characters were designed specifically to be made into merchandise. This growing trend of character merchandise helped popularise Kawaii culture worldwide. As well as the Yuru-Chara characters, Kawaii characters are also utilised in other situations in Japan such as themed cafes, printed onto public transport like trains and airplanes, and even having their own devoted theme parks such as Sanrio Puro-Land in Tokyo.

Sanrio are one of the companies in Japan who have designed many famous kawaii characters. Their most famous character is Hello Kitty (fig 2). She is an excellent example on the overall appearance of a Kawaii character design in the successful combination of cuteness, simplicity and aspects of childhood. These characters often use the concepts of anthropomorphism and personification within their designs, such as the lazy egg character Gudetama (fig 3). 

fig 2

fig 3

Another Japanese character style similar to Kawaii is Chibi. It translates as ‘Little’ and is often where a popular existing character from an anime or video game series have been redesigned in a more childish design. In fig 4, you can see how the proportions of the character has been made much smaller, whilst the head and eyes are drawn even bigger. This method of designing characters is quite simplistic but it also very distinctive.

fig 4

However, this cute style of character design is not only limited to Japan. Many character designs from around the world used similar features. One notable example is the character of Miffy (fig 5), created by Dutch illustrator and author Dick Bruna. Miffy is a little white rabbit and is the main character in Bruna’s popular children’s books. They are well-known worldwide, having been ‘translated into more than 50 languages and have sold more than 85 million copies worldwide.’ (miffy.com n.d.). Miffy was designed in a simplistic way, which aided the character’s popularity as the illustrations were very universal and easy to understand. Bruna advocated a simplistic character design as he argued it helped to portray emotion easier. ‘His minimalism was also expansive: by a minute tilt of the head, a blink of the eye, or the relation of Miffy to a particular room or a landscape, he was able to capture much of the emotion of early childhood experiences.’ (Thames and Hudson, 2020). This shows how a more simplistic design can still portray emotions well a more complicated design.

In relation to the Japanese Kawaii characters, Miffy is also on lots of merchandise worldwide, and there is even a Miffy museum in the Netherlands. This demonstrates how popular this style of character is and how it isn’t just children that like this style of character either. 

fig 5

Simplistic character designs can also be seen used in popular American animations such as The Simpsons, Adventure Time (fig 6), Powerpuff Girls and the modern Disney shows such as Gravity Falls and Star vs The Forces of Evil (fig 7). These all seem to utilise bright, blocky colours and, similarly to the types of character designs I’ve previously mentioned, a very cute and simplistic design. You can see below how the face of Princess Bubblegum from Adventure Time (fig 6) is very minimal, using only two dots for eyes and a small line for her mouth (similar to the design on Miffy). Despite this, the animators are able to express her emotions easily.

fig 6

fig 7

Overall, these character designs are all very successful and their popularity illustrates how using a simplistic design can be really effective at expressing the emotions of the character. I am definitely going to use my research into these character designs as inspiration for my own character design.

References:

fig 1 – My Anime List (n.d.) Ayumu “osaka” kasuga. Available online: https://myanimelist.net/character/183/Ayumu_Kasuga/pictures [Accessed 25/10/2020].

Jenkins, C (2020) Yuru-chara: these are japan’s most popular mascot characters. Available online: https://theculturetrip.com/asia/japan/articles/yuru-chara-these-are-japans-most-popular-mascot-characters/ [Accessed 26/10/2020].

The Conversation (2016) What is kawaii – and why did the world fall for the ‘cult of cute’? Available online: https://theconversation.com/what-is-kawaii-and-why-did-the-world-fall-for-the-cult-of-cute-67187 [Accessed 26/10/2020].

fig 2 – Fandom (n.d.) Hello kitty. Available online: https://sanrio.fandom.com/wiki/Hello_Kitty [Accessed 26/10/2020].

fig 3 – Schmidt, A (2016) Gudetama the lazy egg is the Hello Kitty of Japan’s millennial generation. Available online: https://qz.com/756797/gudetama-the-lazy-egg-is-the-hello-kitty-of-japans-millennial-generation/ [Accessed 26/10/2020].

fig 4 – Crunchyroll (2015) Is the order a rabbit?? wonderful party! limited edition comes with chibi chino figure. Available online: https://www.crunchyroll.com/en-gb/anime-news/2015/10/22/is-the-order-a-rabbit-wonderful-party-limited-edition-comes-with-chibi-chino-figure [Accessed 25/10/2020].

miffy.com (n.d.) Biography. Available online: https://www.miffy.com/biography [Accessed 25/10/2020].

Thames and Hudson (2020) The making of an illustrator: Dick Bruna’s Miffy. Available online: https://thamesandhudson.com/news/the-making-of-an-illustrator-dick-brunas-miffy/ [Accessed 26/10/2020].

fig 5 – miffy.com (n.d.) About Miffy. Available online: https://www.miffy.com/about-miffy [Accessed 26/10/2020].

fig 6 – Fandom (n.d.) Princess Bubblegum. Available online: https://hero.fandom.com/wiki/Princess_Bubblegum [Accessed 26/10/2020].

fig 7 – Star-Butterfly Deviant Art (2019) Star-Butterfly. Available online: https://www.deviantart.com/star-butterfly/art/Star-Butterfly-786713083 [Accessed 26/10/2020].

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