Pictoplasma, the global clearing house for contemporary character design and art, commissioned director David O’Reilly to create the show open for Pictopia, the Pictoplasma exhibition taking place in Berlin this week.
Set to a hollow yet pleasing rendition of “When You’re Smiling,” O’Reilly tells the story of a skeleton looking for character parts in a warehouse-like digital space. Once the pieces are chosen, he replaces himself with the bits to create a generic but adorable little guy who walks through a mirror onto a stage.
WYS sparked some discussion at Motionographer headquarters. Although it seems innocent enough on the surface, O’Reilly’s film is subtly subversive: The central figure transforms itself from a human form into a clichéd icon, one assembled from samples of Japanese pop culture—a tendency that’s obvious in much of the character work at exhibitions like Pictopia.
In broader terms, “When You’re Smiling sets up a debate about the nature of animation and character design as triggers for empathy,” said Motionographer’s Justin Cone. Do characters—especially simplified, cuddly critters—act as psychological mirrors for audiences? If so, what sort of relationship is that? What kind of stories does that encourage/discourage? Are some stories being left behind?
As the opening for a gathering about character design, O’Reilly’s film couldn’t be more appropriate. It once again shows his penchant for intelligent iconoclasm expressed through engaging narrative. He reminds me of Brad Bird’s famous insistence that animation isn’t a genre, it’s an artform.