Thursday, 1 March 2012

Cute and Appealing: The Welcoming Circle

Behold the circle
The circle is a fundamental building block in animation, as I was taught at Sheridan College. We were forced to draw circles on a sheet of paper until they turned out perfectly round. Even our life drawing teacher would not start a lesson unless our canvas was full of perfect circles and lines. While being the easiest shape to draw, I believe it is also a very powerful shape in terms of its design and its appeal.

from right to left: Felix the Cat, Mickey Mouse, Peanuts, Snoopy, Hello Kitty, Doraemon, Super Mario, Pikachu, Homer Simpson, Powerpuff Girls, Twilight Sparkle, Angry Birds
Take a look at these cartoon characters, and at least one of them must appeal to you. Each of them have had or still have their huge followings in popular culture. Their fame extends beyond the animation enthusiast audience. You will also notice that some of these characters are among the biggest brands of merchandising in existence. Some of them make millions to this very day.

A pattern emerges here, and if you look closely, it takes the form of a circle. While many other cartoon character design involve other elements like dangerous triangles, organic pear shapes and edgy squareness, it is the circle that endures mass opinion. These characters, despite being quite different from each other, involve the circle in their designs in various forms.

Although it was originally utilised as an easy design concept, it could be argued that the circle has a subconscious broad appeal among the masses, in every corner of the Earth, whether you are in America, Japan, or Europe. Mickey is well known across the globe, but Bugs Bunny is not. Why is that? To be honest, no one really knows for certain why the circle is so appealing, but theories abound on the welcoming, softness of the circle. It is, after all, more welcoming than the triangle.

Behold the triangle
I do love the triangle, and use it a lot in my artwork, whether it is in composition or design. It is dangerous, sharp, and angular. But for the broad population, it has quite an oppressive, evil character about itself. A theory on the human response to shapes could be found in our reaction to everyday nature and our animalistic instinctiveness. The sight of jagged sharp teeth signal danger. Even broken glass, sharp rocks, and knives, signal danger on a subconscious level. Perhaps this could have been a minus for Sonic the Hedgehog. Despite being a highly popular and beloved video game character, he was nowhere as popular as his industry rival, Super Mario. Although his head was cute and round, his hair and shoes were dangerous and jagged.

"That's... no good!"
Perhaps we are turned away by the dangerous angularity of the triangle, or similarly edgy geometric shapes. The circle, on the other hand, is a soft, undamaging and friendly creature. In nature, we see the Sun, a circular celestial body. And who doesn't like the Sun? Who could live without it? Let's eat an apple, it is round. Peaches are nice too. The inviting shape of the circle makes us want to come closer and touch it. Some more arty farty or religious types would suggest that the circle represents the egg, eternity, unity or completeness. I understand the symbolism, but I personally wouldn't go that far into analysing it.

Let's get real. The circle is cute, and cuddly, bouncy and sweet, just like babies! A theory that I do agree with is that our instinct to care for infants is hard wired into the human subconscience. After all, the future of the human race rests on the fate of the new generation. If babies were ugly disgusting creatures, wouldn't parents just want to do away with them at first sight? Our instincts want for us to care for babies. The sight of a human being that is round, small, big-headed and cuddly, only makes people want to snuggle and feed them... oooh you are so cute! Babies do have that round, circular cuteness to them that make us want to adore them, no matter how much we hate it when they scream or wet their pants.

This nurturing for infantile figures carries through in our appreciation for things that are cute, including the cartoon examples listed earlier. A look again at some of these dozen cartoon characters above will reveal that they also have proportions quite similar to that of a baby's. Their bodies are quite small in comparison to their big heads. This concept of cuteness, roundness and appeal is not new, but is sometimes cleverly applied to character design on purpose.

Moshi Monsters, Club Penguin
Roundness and cuteness can do great wonders for appeal and design. Take for example these childrens' MMORPG's, which my niece is currently an addict of. She is a fan of Moshi Monsters. Katsuma the bunny may look bad-ass, but he still has that big forehead and tiny body that makes any kid want to pet him. Moshi Monsters in my opinion are definitely more cute and appealing than Club Penguin, that other MMORPG, so badly designed it makes me want to puke.

Now all this talk of cuteness, roundness and circular perfection is just theory of course. Spongebob Squarepants is predominantly square, yet has mass appeal. ...Well... he still has those big round eyes and circular pores. As I have mentioned in the previous post, the animation principle of Appeal has many layers to it. While visual appeal makes one layer, character appeal is another dimension altogether. But it doesn't hurt to try and put this concept of visual cuteness into practice, to strive for a more appealing design. I will explore this application of visual cuteness in the next post.

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