Representing Diverse Communities Through Character Animation

By December 13, 2021 February 29th, 2024 Animation, Digital Marketing, Video Marketing
Laundry Lane Productions animated characters

Diversity and representation in character animation is an essential aspect of the design process. What we create and the stories that we tell should reflect our society at large and foster a sense of inclusivity. Ensuring that storytelling reflects the diversity of our society is one way in which we ensure authenticity and build trust with the viewer. Characters are designed to represent people or personalities, in order to connect with the audience these characters must be inclusive.

Why Diversity Matters

Our society includes so many different people with unique backgrounds and distinct experiences and perspectives. When we tell stories or create content, accurately reflecting the society we live in is essential. Stories have the power to teach us about other people, prevent harmful stereotypes, and help people feel safe and accepted. This diversity is integral to telling authentic stories that connect with and inspire the audience. Diverse representation includes representing disabled people, CALD or indigenous communities, diverse genders or sexualities and many more community groups.

Modern consumers value diversity, both seeing themselves and their communities represented and seeing diversity more generally. In fact 62% of people say a brand’s diversity or lack of it impacts their perception of the brand. Creating characters that are able to connect to individuals is the core of character animation.

Generating Empathy

Storytelling is an integral part of the human experience. Stories themselves have the power to break down bias and foster inclusiveness, by generating empathy we drive viewers to take action. In turn diversity increases the opportunity for empathy in storytelling, that is the ability to emotionally understand what someone else might be experiencing. By reflecting real people in society or real emotions and expressions in storytelling we create empathy. Being able to relate to characters helps us empathise with them, making the content more impactful. Empathy is what drives action. If there is something the viewer can do once they have watched the content, empathy is what will motivate them to do so.

Increased Reach

Diverse content that tells a story and generates empathy connects better with people. From a business perspective, diversity is important because connection and empathy is what draws people in and generates engagement. Higher engagement means higher reach and in turn higher return on your investment. 71% of consumers prefer buying from brands that align with their values. By creating inclusive content, this also speaks directly to particular audiences and can help you reach your target audience more effectively. Further, diversity creates a more interesting visual experience that viewers engage better with. Finally, modern consumers are largely passionate advocates for underrepresented community groups and themselves, they demand diversity from brands and won’t stay interested if this isn’t shown. People are more likely to make a purchase or interact with an ad if they consider it to be diverse. Refusing diversity costs as consumers speak with their wallets, if a brand doesn’t show diversity they aren’t interested.

Why Use Characters

As viewers we connect better to stories when they include people – this is no different for animation. Seeing animated characters immediately draws our attention as a viewer and connects us to the content. Stories are largely driven by characters, who they are, what they need and how they act. Characters create a face for viewers to connect to as they portray emotion and give us emotional cues. They can also be created to specifically target a community group by representing them. Characters present an opportunity to create a connection between the brand and the viewer and strengthen the relationship.

Characters in Motion Design and Animation

From a design perspective – character animation is the use of characters to tell a story. It’s a way of creating or pushing a narrative, creating a personal journey or adding a human or emotional element to a story. Characters can be very realistic, human-like, animalistic or abstract. Creating characters that aren’t necessarily human but still display human qualities like emotional expression is a way of creating diversity without being so literal about it. Particularly for content aimed at children, abstract animated characters including animals can help soften the message and shift the tone of the content.

Visually, diversity looks better. A set of characters on a screen who look the same are boring. Characters will always differ in some way – diversity is a visual technique to make them more visually engaging so they will always be different heights and shapes and colours. As this is how communities look in society, viewers are more engaged because the designer is drawing on those cues of the real world.

The Character Design Process

Choosing how the characters look depends on the brief and the project. The starting point in the design process is largely informed by trends; what’s happening in the design, motion graphics and broader entertainment industries. Designers take inspiration from what they are seeing and what they enjoy viewing. They can then tailor the design to the messaging and content that you are trying to communicate. This will also influence how accurate to reality your characters are – a more playful, light hearted message might mean you can be a bit more abstract with your characters.

The typical process for an animation designer creating characters usually begins with visuals and illustration. If the content is longer or very character or narrative driven designers might spend time creating a personality for a character they will design. This could be considering the characters motivations, moods, pain points or how they might spend their time.

Creating characters realistic and specific to a community group is a great way of connecting with a specific target audience. For this process, designers can look for work that members of the community are doing to draw inspiration from. Where possible you can also employ members of that community group to create characters their community can relate to. Creating characters that are more abstract is a great way of branding characters. Introducing brand new personalities that incorporate your brands colours, tone and style. These characters are more bespoke to the project which helps make them seem like they belong in the world you’re creating. This can also create brand recognition over a series of projects and establish a stronger brand identity.

Diversity is important to modern consumers for themselves and for the wider society and brands need to embrace representation in order to accurately reflect modern society. In design, diversity is important for this reason and to add visual interest to design elements. Creating characters is an essential part of many animated projects whether these reflect people or just human-like expressions or experiences.