Pictoplasma is moving its conference on contemporary character design from Berlin to NYC this year. The two-day event will take place September 5-6 at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at NYU, with confirmed speakers including Friends With You, Akinori Oishi, Aaron Stewart, David O’Reilly, Tim Biskup, Motomichi Nakamura, Fons Schiedon and Gangpol & Mit. Pictoplasma is also accepting entries for the animation screenings that will take place during the festival.
Earlier Pictoplasma character design conferences have received positive reviews, but I’ve always found it difficult to warm up to the idea of Pictoplasma. My biggest reservation about the enterprise is that they try to sell the idea of “character” as new and fresh, and as something that is proliferating as never before. This would be true only if their conception of “character” was created in a bubble and ignored the rich history of character design that came before them, which is sadly what Pictoplasma does as a movement.
Pictoplasma says, “Our visual culture is being revolutionized by a new breed of characters, abstract and reduced to minimal distinguishing graphic features.” I say, look at the work of Fifties character designers like Tom Oreb, T. Hee, John Hubley, Ernie Pintoff, Bobe Cannon and Ed Benedict who also created “a new breed of characters, abstract and reduced to minimal distinguishing graphic features.” They say, “In the process of a truly explosive movement, [characters] invade digital media, animation, advertising, art, fashion and street art.” I say, look at Walt Disney’s iconic use of Mickey Mouse beginning in the late-1920s, in which Mickey was a character who transcended individual media and boasted an all-encompassing presence in film, comics, books, toys, advertising and fashion.
Those with even the slightest grasp on history will have trouble looking at what Pictoplasma purports to be revolutionary and groundbreaking–like the characters in the lineup heading this post–and finding anything novel about the creations. This type of character design was already done decades ago, and I might add, with far more skill and invention. An awareness and respect for the artists who pioneered the “character design movement” would encourage today’s artists to build upon their predecessors’ character design work and push forward into uncharted territory instead of merely churning out pale imitations of earlier works.