Favorite / Least favorite character designs.

I’ll go first.

I don’t know why, but I find this character endlessly appealing.  Best-designed character on animated television today.  Not even the other characters on the same show stack up, with the possilbe exception of a couple of the villains.

There were Kim Possible dolls in the stores for a while, but I thought they blew it; they gave her real hair, which seems beside the point to me.  The point of her hair seems to be that it remains in its solid Jennifer-Aniston wave, not that you could imagine running a comb through it.

I often bring up character design when discussing animation and my wife starts looking at me like I’m speaking Chinese.  In some recess of her psyche, there is no “character design,” there’s just what people look like.  And yet, to pick only one tiny example, I would say that a good reason for the relative success of A Bug’s Life over Antz was purely character design.  Theirs were friendly and fun-looking, ours were comparatively “adult,” sophisticated and even a little creepy-looking.

The bottom line for character design, for me, is “when I look at this character, do I want to know more about them, or less?”

Case in point.

My other favorite, Sally Impossible, I could not find of image of online.

Hmm — Kim Possible, Sally Impossible? More than coincidence?

Animators: no fair nominating your own creations.

*not a contest
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47 Responses to “Contest!*”
  1. robolizard says:

    Barnyard makes me endlessly sad [well… not endlessly…] but an interesting note, they DID remove the cow’s udder after the Colbert Report pointed out that male cows shouldn’t… shouldn’t have them…

    My favorite character models are always going to be the ones from Invader Zim [], all of them actually. Unlike any other cartoon models they managed to speak the show’s central themes and emotions of SICKNESSSS. Its anime mixed with pure strain of the character’s mind. Also, its… [sniff] its just beautiful…Vasquez is definetly… mah favorite artist. Homer Simpson comes in second, Dexter’s Lab [just Dexter from that show actually…] third tied with Toy Story’s Woody aaand… Dr. Venture and Master Shake tied for fourth. Yay verily.

    [When looking over this list actually, I’d also put Chuck Jones’ 50’s Wile E. Coyote and the characters of Finding Nemo at first too… sneeze]

    My least favorite designs would have to be…. Jimmy Neutron characters… because they’re so antiseptic. Also the ‘Butt Ugly Martians’ [] partially for Nickelodeon thinking they could ever replace Zim… [single tear drop]. Also the Monster House kids are just hideous.

    • Todd says:

      Wile E. Coyote. He’s great. As is Mr. Jones’s Grinch.

      I appreciate the flatness and simplicity of the characters from Dexter, but for me the height of Genndy Tartakovsky’s art is the characters from Samurai Jack. They pass that test I spoke of earlier: I want to look at them, I wonder about them, I want to know more about them.

      • robolizard says:

        Samurai Jack was better designed in the classic sense, but Dexter was probably the last of the ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’ type characters. Also those colors were great.

        I just wanted to add Super Mario and Pikachu. Although not predominantly cartoon characters, they both sold an empire based merely on thier design.

        • Todd says:

          Super Mario and Pikachu

          I’ll give you Pikachu. Pikachu, even for those of us too old to have participated in the Pokemon thing, has that ineffable something that gets under your skin. Even if you’re baffled by it, it still affects you.

          Speaking of video game characters, Lara Croft certainly needs to be mentioned.

          And how about Giger’s Alien? An indisputable classic to take its place alongside of Karloff’s Frankenstein monster and Lugosi’s Dracula.

          • robolizard says:

            Oh yeah, absolutely Giger’s Alien… as long as we’re in live action films, Chaplin’s Little Tramp should have his own spot, as should of course Darth Vader… the Marx Bros created character designs which have become part of the languague of America really.

            Also, still in the subject of video games, classic Genesis Sonic characters [] will probably live in my heart… foreverrrr… so will the ingame Dr.Robotnik, but I couldn’t find a decent picture of him…

            Oh, and Gonzo from the Muppets. Definetly up there.

            Something interesting to note, Nintendo fighter ‘Super Smash Bros Melee’ could be a study in what makes character designs appealing. As one of the GameCube’s first titles they had to premiere all of the characters, and really not even thier official games could do it as well… []. Granted not all of them are beauties, but they are the most beautiful versions of what they should be. As someone young enough to revel in Poke’mon, I also wanted to point out Mewtwo [in the Smash Bros. pic, he’s the one to Link’s left, floating]. He’s suppoused to be a clone of a cuter monster, and really he is pretty hideous and yet respectful seeming at the same time, like the darkest contents of a preteen’s soul [or many adults’ souls really] manifested into a form… ahh..

            Lara Croft I can’t judge, having never played the games, but on the subject of Playstation icons, I’d put Crash Bandicoot at worst. With no waist and made to seem ‘extreme’ [much like Sonic actually, but at his best Sonic has a softer look and soul to him] eh… he seems so pale. He was popular when the ps1 was starting out, but now he kind of drifted into memory… Sora from Kingdom Hearts… a definite add. Squaresoft managed to make a photo realistic girl seem so in tune with Disney without being obnoxious. Yea verily.

    • greyaenigma says:

      The Zim characters are things of awesomeness.

  2. rennameeks says:

    Before answering to the topic of the post, a note about character design that your wife might understand: animation is unlike real life in that everything is created to meet the creators’ specifications. Nothing “just looks that way.” Everything you see in every shot was created to look the way it does. In live action, you can add makeup and such to change an actor’s physical appearance, but underneath it all, the character they are playing is still going to resemble them in some fashion – there’s a definite physical limitation. In animation, you could plunk 20 artists down in front of computers to create the same movie and end up with 20 different animation styles.

    Of course, I’m sure that you’ve tried that tact already…ah well.

    Though the list of my favorite character designs gets to be quite lengthy, Spike from Cowboy Bebop is a great example. Though he’s got green hair, it’s not outrageously green. One of the greatest animated anti-heroes of all time. I’m also a big fan of Disney style from The Great Mouse Detective up to The Lion King. Not so much so when moving too far back or forward.

    As a side note, character design combined with killer voice acting is one of the reasons I really got into the Venture Bros. (which is really how I ended up here in the first place), so it bears mentioning. Specifically, my favorites visually are Dr. Venture (Rusty, not Jonas) and Dr. Girlfriend…if I *had* to pick visual favorites, that is.

    Least favorite? Where to start…. Many of the other shows on Adult Swim have crappy character design. I think rotoscoping is neat, but that doesn’t mean that I want to watch stuff like Tom Goes to the Mayor. It’s just too affected. Characters from movies like Polar Express bother me. The faces are so flat and fake-looking. I hate seeing that sort of design in video games too. I prefer a more naturalistic look, like in Shrek. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate simpler artistic styles. South Park has a great simplicity to it. But it doesn’t exactly jump to the top of one’s list when considering great character designs.

    • Todd says:

      Spike is a great piece of character design, and the characters in VB are generally wonderful across the board, esp. Dr. Girlfriend. You can tell that the creators are really in love with those women.

      The characters in Polar Express bring up an vital paradox in animation, which is the closer an animated human character comes to looking realistic, the less lifelike it will appear to be. The characters in Shrek have this problem too; the monsters and animals are appealing, but the humans look stiff and lifeless (no matter how brilliant the voicework is). But I know people who can’t even watch Polar Express because the character design gives them the heebie-jeebies.

      • craigjclark says:

        That’s what Roger Ebert calls Uncanny Alley and I have to agree with him. Animated human beings are much better when they’re stylized, as the ones in The Incredibles were.

        • rennameeks says:


          Besides, they’re ANIMATED. If we want to see people that look real, we’ll watch something with live-action actors. One of the perks of animation is that the entire world the characters live in is stylized, as are they. Even if the style has a live action vibe to it, it’s still more stylized than real life.

          Artists can paint lifelike portraits of people, but if you look closely enough, you’ll still see the brushstrokes.

          • Todd says:

            And let’s not forget, “art” is short for “artifice,” which has the same root as “artificial.” The whole point of something being “artful” is what looks like reality has been conjured through artificial means. The whole point of art is that it’s not reality.

        • I think the more widely used term for that is the “Uncanny Valley” and there’s no field it applies more directly to than character design. Well, maybe robotics.

    • popebuck1 says:

      I hate watching Tom Goes to the Mayor – partly because the storylines seem to be constructed SOLELY to be pointlessly cruel to the main character, but mostly because the animators seem to have gone out of their way to make every single character look as HIDEOUS as humanly possible. These are supposed to be ordinary small-town Americans, and they look like hideous gargoyles out of a Bosch nightmare.

  3. eronanke says:

    #1- Anything Don Bluth has, pretty much, ever done.
    #2- Batman and Batman Beyond. Those shows had blocky, yet sleek characters. I enjoyed them x3000
    #3- I was going to second Cowboy Bebop.
    #4- CLONE HIGH. I loved the abstraction in the design. They did ‘cartoonify’ many famous historical figures and made them personable. My favorite? Cleopatra, since they kept her in profile a lot of the time and made her movement very representative of Egyptian art. Also: Mr. Butlertron.

    • Todd says:

      1. Mmm, I’m not with you on Don Bluth.
      2. Bruce Timm’s designs for Batman et alia are a smashing success, pretty much across the board, and I think have become a classic of the form.

      I forgot about Clone High. Those guys look like relatives of the Daria folk with a little Genndy Tartakovsky thrown in.

      Oh. Hey. Powerpuff girls. Incredible. They don’t have fingers! Their hands look like flesh-colored raindrops!

      • eronanke says:

        Booo on Powerpuff.
        And you’re going to tell me you didn’t like the character design on “Titan AE”? (His last, and best, so far as I know)

        • robolizard says:

          Honestly I was going to put Don Bluth on ugliest too. Compared to Disney movies his characters were always either overly adorable or ovely precocious, like a ripoff of Disney than anything else. I kept him off Feivel with his hat worked well and Dirk the Daring was beautiful, but everything else… eh… like… a rip off of Disney made ‘for adults’ [except for ‘All Dogs go to Heaven’. Heaven’t seen it for probably 8 years… but the memories are good..]. For ugliest I should add this–> [], Rover Dangerfield. The movie that could have been campy… but was just pure badness [CN replayed it alot when I was wittwe].

          • eronanke says:

            Don Bluth: A Refutation

            Ok, I admit, some projects were crap. But can we honestly argue that Disney is alway on top of thing? I mean, for god’s sake, they FIRED their non-CGI men. SAD!

            Case For:
            Titan AE
            The Pebble and the Penguin
            The Land Before Time
            An American Tail
            The Secret of NIMH

            Case Against:
            A Troll in Central Park
            All Dogs go to Heaven (which *I* didn’t like at all)

            The Final Blow:
            Dudes, this is the guy who animated Pete’s Dragon. Are you going to tear down the man who drew Pete’s Dragon? I’m gonna have to call bullshit on that one.

            • robolizard says:

              Re: Don Bluth: A Refutation

              I’m going to have to do a wierd eyebrow thing on Anastasia. From castin the Russian royal family as heroes rather than the fools they were, romancistizing the fact that Anastasia’s body was never found, giving Rasputin a wacky bat, etcetera etcetera. One could do a film about what happened to Jimmy Hoffa, but that wouldn’t be as marketable…

              Actually an American Tail, although not perfect, was very good, and the only movie for children to actually talk about immigration and the Jewish dream, and of course he gave Disney a good run for thier money plus his films are a precursor to more mature fair that doesn’t attempt to up thier maturity through filthy humor for filth’s sake[a la Bashiki or even Krisfaluci]… so I respect him for what he did… but his designs… look a little foooot… look at him! He’s so little foot!

              • eronanke says:

                Re: Don Bluth: A Refutation

                Anastasia was a romanticised story LONG before the animated version. Just ask Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brenner.

                • robolizard says:

                  Re: Don Bluth: A Refutation

                  Maybe so… but any movie where you fight Rasputin in a big animated finale… ehhhh… it would be cool if he had the power to heal the sick all along… but to NO AVAIL…

            • robolizard says:

              Re: Don Bluth: A Refutation

              Oh man! I didn’t read the first sentence… lists always… [draws an ADD child running toward a list]. Anyway THE GOOD NEWS IS Steve Jobs reinstated the hand drawn wing when he got hired on Disney’s board of directors…

              Disney, unlike Don Bluth, alas, does nothing new. Thats why thier projects went down the drain after The Lion King; imitation. Sebastian and Flounder were sincere comedy reliefs. Meeko and the Hummingbird from Pocahantas were forced. Even thier brilliant post Lion King efforts, such as Mulan, Lilo and Stitch, and Tarzan suffered from looking too much like the movies already made; they’re great but not nearly as effective. [Hunchback of Notre Dame has some of Disney’s greatest scenes [the intro, Hellfire] and its worst [Hugo, the Jason Alexander voiced gargoyle who had no place to be in this dark movie]. Hopefully Disney will make films for adults… but until then… [looks into the sky. Littlefoot winks back].

              Pixar’s on the ball so far but Bird’s Rattatoullie [] looks suspiciously generic…

            • Todd says:

              Re: Don Bluth: A Refutation

              Case For:
              Titan AE
              The Pebble and the Penguin
              The Land Before Time
              An American Tail
              The Secret of NIMH

              I haven’t seen Titan or Penguin, but I find the characters in the other pictures dull and uninspired, tending toward the cute and bland.

              I certainly give Don Bluth credit for setting up his own shop, doing work worth doing and carving out his own niche in the shadow of Disney, and doing so at a time when there was no one else even remotely on the horizon to challenge their supremacy in the animation field, but his strategy seems to have been doing Disney designs but not as well.

              • eronanke says:

                Re: Don Bluth: A Refutation

                Rent “Titan AE”. I think it’s the best he’s ever done.
                And I must dissagree with you, esp. regarding the Secret of NIMH & An Ameri can Tail. Bluth can draw mice real well, darn it.

  4. urbaniak says:

    Here you go, babe.

    • Todd says:

      There is much to dislike about the execution of the characters on Family Guy. I think Stewie, the dog and the mom work well, but I have a hard time watching the rest of them. When you compare the designs to those of the Simpsons, which manage to be utterly improbable, horrifically ugly and completely charming at the same time, the distinction is clear.

      • The amazing thing about the Simpsons characters is how codified they are; how similar in their basic design and yet every one of them is completely distinctive. The show has real style all around, while the Family Guy reminds me a little too much of the kind of drawings you’d find adorning the “candids” page of a high school yearbook. I do dig Stewie’s design, though, whether he’s consciously ripped off of Chris Ware or not. And the dog is the only character I find remotely interesting all around.

    • Favorites, though they don’t always adhere to your “I really want to know more about that character rule, are any of Alex Toth’s old, clean designs. Particularly the ones with a lot of superclean, chunky black areas in them. Who can deny how great this guy looks? How solved his design is:

      • Todd says:

        Alex Toth ruled when Bruce Timm was knee-high to a grasshopper. I have a framed cel of the Wonder Woman he designed for Superfriends, complete with separate cel for her mouth.

  5. craigjclark says:

    My favorite character designs have to be for Space Ghost and Moltar — Alex Toth was an incredible artist, even working within the limitations set down by Hanna-Barbera. On the other end of the spectrum you have the extreme crude characters in 12 Oz. Mouse, which work for the aesthetic of the show.

    Don’t have a least favorite, but if I think about maybe I’ll come up with one.

    • Todd says:

      Well, if we define “favorite” as that character we want to know more about, then “least favorite” would be that character we wish we had never seen. That’s how I feel about the human characters in Barnyard — I want to erase the images of them from my imagination.

      • craigjclark says:

        Well, using that criterion, I’m going to have to go with most of the characters in Madagascar. Maybe it was just the way they sang “The Birthday Song” in the trailer, but I absolutely did not want to see that movie.

  6. urbaniak says:

    I want to know more about this character.

    (Image by )

  7. Todd says:

    My favorite Bruce Timm design. It teeters on the edge of barely being presentable in the realm of children’s entertainment at all. Making the scarred half of his face blue somehow makes it okay, but if one thinks for even a minute about what that face represents, with no lips or eyelid, it’s horrific beyond belief.

    • robolizard says:

      Complete agreeance on that one. Also, probably the best drawing in any of Bruce Timm’s shows was when the second face was first revealed in its wholeness.

      I never liked the first Joker though, kind of an obnoxious clown, but the one revealed in ‘Batman Beyond’ and ‘Justice League’ truly gives Two Face a run for his money.

  8. ghostgecko says:

    It was the little teeth that were so creepy in Antz. Like dentures. I couldn’t stop staring at them.
    I initially liked Bug’s Life better, but after rewatches, y’know, there’s different reasons to like them both.

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