Many recent animation series have relied heavily on dialogue. Examples include "South Park", "The Simpsons", "Family Guy", "King of the Hill" and others. This approach has certainly produced engaging characters with depth, but can non-dialogue characters do the same? This is a question an American animation producer recently asked in our Linkedin group.
A color stylist for a major animation studio answered the question with an emphatic 'yes'. He pointed out that Tom and Jerry cartoons were a perfect case in point, even decades after they were produced. According to him there was a simple reason for dialogue-heavy cartoons. Without dialogue, you need action, and action is expensive to animate.
A number of group members then started listing what they believed to be engaging non-dialogue characters. These included Gromit, Snoopy, Wall-E and Pingu, who according to an IP developer had set something of a standard for such characters.
He went on to say that, "the removal of the language barrier is potentially important here. I have pitched a few animation projects in the past where the people asking for submissions were intentionally trying to go down the Pingu route... and for a compelling reason too. It removes the need for dubbing and therefore makes it an attractive proposition for potential buyers from other cultures."
He then went further, pointing out that, "for online character properties non-dialogue characters would, of course, present an enormous opportunity. They can be understood by everyone... no need for translations."
A British creative director then said that the most important thing characters and their stories need to create is emotional impact. The question then becomes whether this is best achieved using dialogue, body language or both. Both dialogue and body language have great potential for engaging an audience, but they also have their limitations when it comes to the kind of content they can communicate.
The color stylist who had earlier been adamant that characters without dialogue could indeed be engaging, responded by reminding everyone that much of our communication is non-verbal. Consider how much can be conveyed with a gesture, a telling glance, or the set of the mouth. Given that we, as human beings, constantly communicate non-verbally, it should be easy for a character to engage us without dialogue.
What do you think? Why not share your thoughts about non-dialogue characters... here.