characters for illustrated hypertext
[digital] Character Animation
New Riders Publishing, 1996
ISBN 1-56205-559-3 $55.00
A recent book, [digital] Character Animation, is intended primarily for readers who use computerized animation to create cartoons, films, and commercials. But anyone interested in graphically-rich and expressive hypertext will find it fascinating. The column provides a thorough grounding in the design of visual characters, both still and in motion. Of widest interest, [digital] Character Animation provides a knowledgeable and intriguing look into visual rhetorics for conveying personality.
Animators have long struggled with a fundamental contradiction: convincingly realistic art requires craftsmanship and care, while animation requires 24 images per second. The medium thus compels the animator to rely on abstraction and simplification. Perhaps because of this limitation, animators (especially Maestri) have long been fascinated by the quest for ways to convey personality, individuality, emotion and action with great conciseness -- and to attribute these qualities to abstract drawings or mundane objects. In [digital] Character Animation, Maestri shows how to make a stick figure convey sadness from the way it walks, how to make a vacuum cleaner look startled, how to make a soap box dance for joy. Maestri's close observation will fascinate anyone interested in writing, painting and cinema. The book will be of special interest to writers interested in creating visually rich but writerly hypertexts, hypertexts in which concise, compressed images support the writing rather than replacing it.
Remarkably, Maestri's book, while firmly practical, is largely independent of specific software programs. The book is filled with exercises -- many of which gave rise to the illustrations that accompany this essay -- yet these exercises are designed to accommodate a wide range of 3D modeling and animation packages. It is surprising that this can, in fact, be accomplished -- and indeed that inexpensive, general-purpose consumer software can do so much in untrained, inexpert hands.
Of course, images in a hypertext need not be crisp, photorealistic or literal to be effective. Often, line and atmosphere express more than realism. But, because writers are not always skilled at drawing,helpful tools and concrete starting points are ever welcome.
For some hypertext writers, [digital] Character Animation, in conjunction with the modeling, drawing, and rendering software that are becoming ever more powerful and widely available, will provide entry to a considered addition of visual rhetoric to their writing. Other writers may have no desire to create visual hypertexts, but the discussion of these rhetorics and techniques will provide a broadening perspective on the craft of hypertext.