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The Science of Cute and Creepy

Happy February first everyone! I will be participating in blogging 201 this month, so let’s get started shall we? This challenge is “what is my angle?” so I decided to take the theme a little bit literal.

The question of the day is: what makes something cute vs. creepy. The short answer is that it is all in the angles.

Cute Curves Vs. Harsh Angles

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Using Fungus Fairies as an Example…

Let us take a look at the ultimate example of cuteness: babies. What makes infants so darn cute? The secret is in the circles. From their big round eyes to their stumpy little legs, babies and infants are made up almost entirely of circles and curves. Subconsciously in our minds, particularly in women, we associate soft lines with babies. This means that any product or design that has proportions similar to an infant is perceived as “cute”. A lot of cartoons, particularly chibis, use these proportions.

Another instance of the use of curves is when it is meant to reference the female form. The curve of the breasts and hips are used as inspiration for products ranging from cars to cell phones. Anything meant to be “sexy” is typically slim in design with few sharp angles.

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Changing lines ages the little fungus friend…

On the other end of the spectrum characters who are meant to be evil or creepy are designed with rougher edges in mind. Good examples of this principal are seen in pretty much every Tim Burton movie where he uses strange proportions, pointy faces and spindly limbs to purposely make his characters creepy. You’ll also notice that villainous characters are either unusually thin or have overemphasized masculine traits.

Simple Symmetry Vs. Just off Center 

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This guy looks like a proper gentleman

There is a basic formula for the proportions we find attractive in another human being. A symmetrical face is usually a sign of favorable genes and good health. While few faces are truly symmetrical, characters or creatures that are meant to be “good” will often have perfectly symmetrical designs.

moresketches
This guy will probably eat your face

Traditionally a face with glaringly obvious asymmetry is a sign of injury or disease. Back in the other corner with our friend Mister Burton, his designs are rarely symmetrical. Putting the nose slightly off center or making the eyes two different sizes can vastly change the look of a character. High levels of asymmetry can invoke feelings of fear or distrust, even if there is no actual danger.

Warm and Welcoming Vs. Green and Ghastly

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This guy is colour coded to be a hero

This one is pretty obvious. Warm colours are associated with light and flowers and all those good things. Heroic characters will usually be associated with a warm primary colours (go Gryffindor!).

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According to Disney this guy is probably a villain

Dark and cool colours, particularly green (Slytherin), are associated with villainous characters. Green has a dual association with plant life or with sickness. Disney has abused the heck out of the colour green to represent their villains. Black, the western colour of mourning, is also paired with villains.

The Uncanny Valley

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Wall-E doesn’t look very human but is super adorable

Sometimes animated characters and non-human objects are given a few human characteristics. This is done mainly for the purposes of animated movies to give characters expressions and to tell a story. A staple of this principal is giving robots big expressive eyes and eyebrows. A good example of this is Brave Little Toaster or Wall-E.

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Put human eyes in a metal skull and you have a murder machine

The uncanny valley is when an animated character or non-human object is given enough human characteristics to no longer be “cute” but is not accurate enough to be considered “realistic”. The result is something rather unsettling. This can be used intentionally like in Terminator when poor Arnold’s face is slowly being peeled away to reveal a machine, but the eyes remain more or less intact. Or it can be completely unintentional like when animation intended to look realistic ends up looking like a melted Barbie Doll.

Now these rules are obviously not the be-all-end-all character design traits in every story. There are plenty of stories that intentionally break these rules, either to better serve the story, or to raise tension. It is fun to play around with proportions and see what kind of personality a character can adopt.

Starchip13

4 thoughts on “The Science of Cute and Creepy”

  1. Loved the interpretations of appearances into characterisations. Such minor changes bring such a major shift in perceptions of the reader minds. Thanks for such an insightful post. This will help us writers in writing descriptions of good or villainous characters in our stories.

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