When creating a comic trio, you can either make them all very similar or each very different. Very similar trios are those groups of triplets, like Disney’s Huey, Dewey and Louie, or Hamish, Hubert and Harris from Pixar’s Brave. Triplets have a fairly specific use in comedy, so it is more common to create trios from individuals who are themselves unique.
The reason for making them different is to develop conflict within their group dynamic. While trios are often engaged in conflict with out side forces, the comedy comes from how they relate to each other. Most comic trios develop organically, but there is a formula you can consider for creating three contrasting personalities.
The best characters will reflect those traits we see in ourselves. How do you get three different characters who all seem similar to us in some way? You make each one reflect something common to all humans. The famed psychologist Sigmund Freud sorted out human personality into three components. The Id, the Ego, and the Superego. The theory is that everybody has these three sides to themselves, and together they make a whole.
The id is considered the most primitive of the three. It is like the child who hasn’t learned to wait to get what it wants. The character is impulsive, and often concerned with bodily desires. He or she can also be very emotional when meeting resistance. Often, this is the first, most easily recognized character.
The superego is the most thoughtful. It considers what is right and wrong. This is what is learned through society.
The ego tries to negotiate between the two others.
Here is a convenient graphic:
Sometimes the ego is the leader of the group, but they can simply be the protagonist with two very different buddies. They can also just be the nice, in between one that follows the others.
A good example from animation are the three main characters from the television show Futurama. Bender the robot is easily identified as the id. He’s boozy and loud, always looking for an easy way to get ahead of others. Leela is the smartest of the three, she makes good choices. Fry, the out of place human from the past is dim witted, but this is his story and the other two support him. He is the ego.
In the Powerpuff Girls, the superego is actually the leader, Blossom. The id is Buttercup, the feistiest of the three. Bubbles, the fun loving one, is the ego.
While looking for examples of movie trios for this post I found these next images.
The original three Ghostbusters. Bill Murray as the sloppy, skirt chasing Peter Venkman is the Id. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) is analytical and cool, he is the superego. Ray Stantz (Dan Akroyd)is the one pushing the Ghostbusters business forward, he is the face of the group and works with the others as the ego.
Of course, the trios don’t have to be funny. The three pictured above are easy to identify. Gollum, the id, craves only the ring. Sam, the superego, only wants to take care of his friend Frodo. Frodo, the ego, is the protagonist of the story and he must work with the others as he sees fit.
Once you understand the basic idea, it becomes easy to recognize who is who in most any trio.