Cutout characters advice

I’m working on episode one of an animated series and would like some feedback to make sure I’m headed in the right direction. There are 9 characters and I have been working on designing each one. For each character there are 5 basic poses: front, back, side, 3/4 front, 3/4 back. The characters are all cutouts and I want to make them as versatile as possible. So, I will include in each basic pose extra drawings to allow for more variation.

For example, the cutout of the front view will also include extra heads that could be switched to: left side, right side, 3/4 right, 3/4 left. Along with these heads are the extra mouths for lip syncing including two sets–one smiling, one frowning. In this way I would be able to simulate rotating the head. I would follow this basic concept for the other poses as well. I’m putting each character together and rigging it and testing it in a separate TBS file so that once I’ve finished, I can drop it into the library.

So my question is, is this necessary or not? I’m sure there will always be a pose or expression that is unique or I didn’t think of and I could go on endlessly trying to cover every possible pose or view. At the same time, it seems wise to get each character set up so that I can pretty much do anything with it. Any comments or feedback would be appreciated.

There are many schools of thought on approaching the use of cutout characters. Ultimately it will boil down to a personal decision. But here are some points you might want to consider.

Cut outs ultimately evolve as they are used, which is to say that you can’t anticipate every future situation so your rig and its associated assets will just keep expanding in scope as you encounter additional needs.

Having said that, the best guide lines for planning and building your characters initially is to work from a storyboard rather than trying to build all purpose puppets.

Your storyboard is where you will plan out the your characters’ actions and be able to identify what poses and movements you will need each puppet to perform. Then you can build and rig accordingly.

Yes, you will not totally anticipate every need from the storyboard but you will get most of the requirements and the rest will evolve as you start animating.

This approach is far more productive than trying to guess what you might eventually need. This way you don’t spend too much time over designing your characters. Animation isn’t a spontaneous puppet show. With each new episode you let the storyboard tell you what enhancements you need to make to the characters and over a number of episodes the characters will evolve into very flexible and versatile creations. -JK

Thanks, JK! That was just the advice I needed! One of the things I wanted to avoid was getting too complex and to remember to “Keep It Simple.” After I had made this post, I checked the TB wiki on cutout characters and it seemed to support the “all encompassing” construction idea. However, I will now go through my storyboard and map out what poses and expressions I will need for my first episode and then go from there.

BTW, I’ve found your tutorials and the counsel you’ve posted here in the forum to be a big help! Thanks!

I can see where it is easy to get the impression that a cut out character needs to be rigorously constructed when reading cut-out tutorials. That is somewhat misleading because the tutorials or articles are so biased on their focus of cut-out characters out of context. It is important to remember that the cut-out character is a means to an end and not the end itself. We only create cut-out characters to reduce the amount of individual drawings that we need to make to perform our desired actions for a character in our story telling.

The emphasis is really on the story telling not the complexity of the cut-out. Tutorials take the character out of context to allow discussion of the construction techniques and the animating techniques but we never want to lose sight of the actual goal.

I’m very please that my comments and articles and tutorials have been beneficial. And I always enjoy getting feedback to reinforce that fact. I do my best to be helpful. -JK

JK, thanks for that advice.

I have also been developing my series, and between writing and preparing actors, was spending a lot of time creating “all purpose puppets”. When I read your post, I switched my focus to what my STORYBOARDS require and now I’m laying out my scenes in TBS…

…the process is moving MUCH faster now, and is a lot more fun.

Thanks, man!


That is great to hear. I really appreciate the feedback. One thing that I try to do is to listen closely to comments and feedback that I get relating to my tutorials, articles and just general Q&A postings. I try to use that feedback as a learning tool so that I can better understand what is working and where I can improve in my techniques for communicating and informing my readers. I’m not a professional teacher or educator so I don’t have much in the way of formal teaching experience. I have, on the other hand, had years and years of management and mentoring experience so that’s what I try to draw on when I attempt to help others. So hopefully I’ll just keep improving in my methods of communicating. -JK