Every year, artists from around the world converge on Berlin for the Pictoplasma Festival: three days of exhibitions, animation screenings, workshops and lectures that celebrate character design. I talked with nine of the participating artists to get their thoughts on art’s role as a mode of communication. Fittingly, they didn’t just answer with words, but with images as well.
“We call character design a language because it communicates – nothing as complex as Ulysses – but it communicates simple things in a way that is as reduced and international as possible.”
– Peter Thaler, Pictoplasma co-founder
I want to communicate the feelings I get when I model with clay: joy and happiness. When you play with plasticine, it reconnects you to childhood. It’s a moment of joy. I put a smiling face on everything because that represents me when I’m creating.
Since I communicate with images instead of words, I can reach a much wider audience than if I was writing in Italian. I love Behance because you can get so much feedback. It’s not always positive feedback, but by sharing images we have a bond.
São Paulo, Brazil
Luciana: The most important thing is empathy, the fact that you can connect to the character and at the very least have a sense of where he’s looking or what he’s looking for. In the case of educational videos, using characters gives us visual metaphors for very abstract concepts. When you add a character and animate them you can connect to that concept and relate to it in a more palatable way. It makes all the difference.
Paulo: It’s like you’re getting help from another part of your brain. it’s not just spatial-visual processing. You are getting help from the social processing too. It makes it easier to understand complex stuff. Working in animation we try to explore things that are difficult to describe in words. But animation also uses music and dialogue so it’s a very complete medium.
Alejandro: When we decided to start our own studio, it took us about a year to merge our ways of drawing into the Brosmind style. We had to agree on how to draw everything – people, faces, objects, animals – so we developed a kind of dictionary for our visual language.
Juan: Yeah, the “Brosmind ABCs”. Now we can literally cut an illustration in half – Alejandro draws one side and I draw the other – and in the end there is only one image in one style because we are drawing in the same language.
Alejandro: And when you want to express something visually, there will always be different interpretations, but I think it’s a great form of communication. Characters can express ideas and concepts super-quickly and easily.
I like to draw the mood I’m in right now. That became a project, and actually I want to make a book out of it, so often when I make illustrations I have this theme in my head to capture a specific emotion. I sometimes use words, but they are not as important to communicate a message as timing. For example I love standup comedians who have the courage to be really slow and dry – like Tig Notaro or Zach Galifianakis. But for me it’s easier to draw jokes than to tell jokes.
For me, animation is a meditation because I can express the thing that I can’t say in public. I don’t have set grooves in my mind; I don’t think in terms of what’s taboo or offensive. I’m lucky that my style is kind of cute and colorful, because when that mixes with taboo topics people can take it better, they won’t get offended. If my images and drawings were realistic, people might feel differently. It’s good practice for me to be able to use animation to express myself.
Overseas, people don’t understand the political situation in Hong Kong, they don’t know much about the relationship between Hong Kong and China, but people can feel my emotions about it through my work. Even though it might be a crazy style, they can sense it. I think my visual language communicates things like this very well.
In all of my work the characters are always feeling something. Every element I choose, the colors, the shapes, everything has to do with how I feel. I couldn’t draw a character standing still in a blank space. The characters communicate something instinctive. I feel something and I just have to put it into an image. I’m used to expressing myself with drawings, actually I’m terrible with words.
That’s why I like to draw fast and why I love digital so much. Ideas can come so quickly. If I could just plug a wire into my head and directly make images, I would have thousands. Since I can’t download my thoughts, I have to find some time to sit at the computer and start drawing. It’s the best when I can work fast and just get it out of my head. There are so many images floating in my head and I really wish I could draw them all, but it’s impossible.