Oscars: 5 Animation Directors on How to Make a Character Memorable

8:00 AM 2/19/2016

by Carolyn Giardina

Joy's ('Inside Out') hair is blue and Marnie's ('When Marnie Was There') a mysterious blonde, but none of that's by chance.

Original Screenplay: Inside Out still - H 2016
Courtesy of Disney•Pixar

  • Inside Out

    "She was probably the most difficult character to write for," admits writer-director Pete Docter of the movie's inner heroine, who serves as the peppy and enthusiastic would-be ringleader of the little band of emotions who inhabit, and jockey for position in, the mind of 11-year-old Riley. "We realized anyone who's happy all the time doesn't feel genuine. Luckily, one of the writers, Meg LeFauve, had a great point about giving Joy [Amy Poehler] a sense of vulnerability, which was really important. Design-wise, we wanted her to be kind of an explosion; we looked at fireworks. Her body positions are kind of like a star. She's yellow, which seems genuinely enthusiastic … with blue hair and a green dress. She has the broadest range of color, which hopefully shows that she has the most emotional range."

  • Shaun the Sheep Movie

    Says Richard Starzak, who directed this stop-motion film with Mark Burton, "Rather than an antagonist, we needed an obstacle, because the point of the story was for [protagonist] Shaun to get his family back together." That obstacle is animal containment officer Trumper. "Trumper is someone doing his job who goes off the rails. We gave him square facial hair — short, dark hair — and a love of uniform and weapons. We thought of his backstory — maybe he failed to get into the police and was a bit bitter. His uniform looks military, with a lot of pockets, radios, chains — a little over the top to make him look a little more scary than he should be."

  • Boy and the World

    Directed by Brazilian artist Ale Abreu, this hand-drawn film depicts the wonders and troubles of the modern world as seen through the eyes of a young boy who leaves the idyllic surroundings of his family farm for a trip to the big city. "One day while going through one of my old sketchbooks, I found a drawing of this character," says Abreu. "I changed very little in the character from that early drawing. The simple colors and lines, the scribbled look ... I especially like the fact that he does not have a mouth or eyebrows. On the one hand, this limits the expressions the animator has to work with, but on the other hand, it allows for the audience to participate by 'imagining' the character's expressions based on the subtle nuances of his eyes or body language."

  • When Marnie Was There

    Based on the British novel of the same name by Joan G. Robinson, the hand-animated film follows Anna, an anguished 12-year-old who befriends Marnie, a girl who lives in a mysterious stone mansion. "Since we moved the setting from England to Japan, it would be easier for the story if Marnie was also Japanese, but I decided to make her blond-haired and blue-eyed. It creates more mystery that way, and I figured it would draw the viewer's eye more," says director Hiromasa Yonebayashi of Japan's Studio Ghibli. "I wanted to create a character who feels slightly different each time she appears, and who feels like she's somewhere between dreams and reality."

  • Anomalisa

    Except for lead character Michael and Lisa, the woman he connects with, all the characters in the film, dubbed "Everyone Else," look vaguely similar. Michael's "struggle to connect with other people is represented in the film by populating the world with uniformly faced and voiced characters," explains Charlie Kaufman, who directed with Duke Johnson. "The face was 3D-printed in different sizes so it could be used for various-sized men, women and children." Adds Johnson: "The look was created by photographing 30 or so faces of varying ages, sexes and ethnicities, and then combining the images in Photoshop to create a composite."