Amazing World of Gumball test footage

I am a huge fan of the TV show The Amazing World of Gumball. I think it is the best show since Ren & Stimpy. Here is Ben Bocquelet’s test to pitch the show. Gumball has a huge cast of characters, done in a variety of techniques. This quick film finds a way to introduce a bunch of them in a high energy style.

Animated Characters as Actors

The title of this post might make it sound like this is another “animators are actors with pencils” speech, but it’s about casting characters into roles other than who they were to begin with.

Recently I was reading an essay by Peter Kramer on Buster Keaton’s The Blacksmith. Part of his approach was through the idea of “Comedian Comedy”. This is any show where the comedian’s personal style is more important than the character he is playing. Mr. Kramer paraphrases Frank Krutnik:

Comedian comedy is characterized precisely by a fundamental mismatch between the identity of the performer…and the role he assumes within the fiction.

Actors like Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, and Jack Black bring their own distinct personalities to every comic part they play. Audiences come to see the actor do his special thing, rather than understand the nature of the character he’s cast to play. It is a special place in performance. Krutnik writes:

The comedian is marked within the text as having a privileged status compared to the other characters/actors: he is less fictionally integrated and has a relatively disruptive function in relation to the fictional world.

While this is rare in animation, it does happen. I am thinking of Mickey Mouse in a few of his classic shorts, like Gulliver Mickey or The Brave Little Tailor. He played Bob Cratchit in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, along with Scrooge McDuck an the rest of the Disney gang.  Mickey’s casting as Bob Cratchit seems a natural direction for him, rather than a mismatch.  A more disruptive example would be Daffy Duck playing Robin Hood.  He’s clearly not heroic figure to begin with, but that’s part of parody.  Cartoon characters are great for parody of classic work. At this point, Star Wars is a classic work, and hats of to Seth MacFarlane for putting his Family Guy cast into it.  Please comment if you can recall any other examples.

To be able to do move beyond their origins, characters cannot be too extreme, too specialized. A toy spaceman, a talking car, a one eyed monster, or a superhero are made to fit into unique contexts. It’s easier to create a “Teenage mutant ninja turtle” than a “funny mouse.”

Boolieman rig

This is an interesting concept for an animation character rig. Boolieman is designed to work like clay. It’s limited in that the surface can only have 1 color, and has an odd tendency to merge with itself. I can imagine some cool uses. The 11 second club demo at the end doesn’t go in the direction I would take it. You would want to create work specifically to take advantage of it’s special abilities. Maybe a fantasy creature instead of a biped?

The Boolieman Rig | Claymation rig for Maya from Brent Forrest on Vimeo.

The World of Commedia Dell’arte

Here is an excellent set of youtube videos to educate you on commedia dell’arte. In this first video, she refers to the British TV show, Fawlty Towers, which helps to understand the characters.

This next video describes how the commedia traditions carry on to Chaplin and the Marx Brothers. She also mentions The Lion King.

This “character shape” video is great for animators, who often need ideas for creating specific characters walks. The “rich old man” is a character in Commedia, and the instructor mentions Mr. Burns, the Simpson character.

What I like about this next video is the approach to scenes. Have the character enter with a strong emotion already in place. And have them leave changed. When teaching animation, I get students describing their character as “just standing there, then something happens.” That doesn’t grab the viewer and bring them in at all.

This next video was included in my sub-verbal characters post.

Sub-verbal Characters – Updated

See update below.

I’m not sure if there is a proper word for these characters, so I’m calling them “sub-verbal” which means any character who speaks in gibberish.  The Tasmanian Devil is probably the most well known cartoon character to sound this way.  He was occasionally able to get out some English, but is generally known for his animal sounds.

Another of the great sub-verbal characters is the Muppet, “Swedish Chef”.  Throughout his faux-swedish, he would pepper in some understandable English.   I believe he now works as a writer for Ikea catalogs.

But one sub-verbal character that is on his way to being forgotten is “White Fang” from the Soupy Sales show.  White Fang and Black Tooth were both supposed to be dogs, but all you see are their “arms” which reach into the scene.  White Fang is very argumentative, and very entertaining.

And this gem featuring Alice Cooper.

UPDATE: I have recently learned term “grammelot” which wikipedia describes so:

Grammelot is a term for a style of language in satirical theatre, a gibberish with macaronic and onomatopoeic elements, used in association with pantomime and mimicry.
The format dates back to the 16th century Commedia dell’arte, and some claim Grammelot to be a specific universal language (akin to Lingua franca) devised to give performers safety from censorship and appeal whatever the dialect of the audience.

(Macaronic, btw, refers to text spoken or written using a mixture of languages)

Here is the video that introduced me to grammelot.

Here are selections of the Three Stooges:

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