TRENDS IN CHARACTER DESIGN
Lars Denicke and Peter Thaler, co-founders of Pictoplasma, reveal four exciting new directions in contemporary character design
The co-founders of Pictoplasma reveal the latest trends in character design, including the reimagining of faces in response to selfie culture
More so than ever before, characters do not belong to their creators. As they become charged with our projection, imagination, fantasy and longing, they gain a virtual identity or life of their own, making them independent from their creators. This has arguably always been true, but in times of an omnipresent internet, the speed of their diffusion has increased. Characters now act as autonomous agents, roaming freely across media, spreading like wildfire across social networks and attaching themselves to other artefacts beyond our control. Once our creations are released into the void, we seem to have to let them go. The recent Pictoplasma Conference explored this trend; its theme was Character Upload – and the opening titles and the talks explored the challenges for artistic creation and authorship designers face in our age of extreme viral circulation.
One example embodying these issues is Sean Charmatz’s Secret World of Stuff. Charmatz creates characters by using Photoshop to add simple lines to his photos of found objects, such as egg boxes, pizza, leaves and bin bags. He has a huge following on Instagram and his work is often shared without proper credit – a big issue for artists today. The reason for his viral success probably lies less in the character design itself, but in the work’s ability to tell simple short stories in one image. There are silly stories, but also images related to friendship, family, death or loneliness. This emphasis on storytelling is present in many fields, from branding to interface design, and makes this an exciting time for designers and their characters.
Another character that has taken on a life of its own is Edel Rodriguez’s illustration of Donald Trump, which has been featured on many magazine covers, from Time to Der Spiegel, and has been appropriated by many at political demonstrations. Rodriguez has made this Trump icon his signature, constantly recombining the colours and elements, and his viral work draws on other trends in illustration, with an eschewing of realistic depictions in favour of typographic and symbolic abstractions.
Contemporary character design is both exciting and ever-evolving. As technology advances and becomes ever more complex, designers are using these advances to go in the opposite direction – playing with their characters in ways that are perhaps simpler and more child-like than in the past. New technologies are shaping the way characters are created, and the way they interact with audiences, and as we become increasingly obsessed with our own image, tweaking the way our own ‘character’ or self is portrayed online, artists are reimagining faces and expressions in innovative ways.
Read on to discover more about how modern life is shaping character design, and sometimes, vice versa.