Pictoplasma Berlin review: highlights from the character design and animation festival

17 May 2017

Pictoplasma is a twice yearly conference and festival held in Berlin and New York, which exists to celebrate the art form of the character. As the festival enters into its 13th year, hosts Lars Denicke and Peter Thaler set out to investigate characters, as they “roam freely across media”, leading to this year’s theme of Character Upload.

The following films, artworks, talks and performances are ones that I felt gave me a new perspective on character and character creation, showing different ways a hand-drawn or computer-generated dot for an eyeball can jump off the screen (or page) and really resonate with you – making you feel like they are really alive, and possibly your friend.

Rémi Forcadell and Arnaud De Boc: Pikuniku

Rémi Forcadell and Arnaud De Boc: Pikuniku

Pikuniku is an “absurdist puzzle exploration game” which is currently in production by Parisian artist and coder Rémi Forcadell and London-based game designer Arnaud De Boc. The game focuses on a very simple, yet super cute, character named Pikuniku who is made up of a red oval shape, propped up by long, wobbly stick legs. Yet despite such simple shapes, there’s a lot of personality packed in there.

Everything in the game is about happiness, with absolutely no violence or death, the aim being to rebuild the community of the Worry People. The world Pikuniku is set in is very minimal – the creators want players to focus on the character and interactions, rather than the environment.

Co-creator Arnaud De Bock explained a lot of the process behind the creation of Pikuniku and the world he inhabits. He spoke about the importance of physics in the game and how they have used a technique named Procedural Animation to ensure the character reacts to space and the other elements within the world. Procedural Animation adds unpredictability, with different outputs each time, making the characters feel more alive as well leading to an overall sense of silliness and fun.

The game is due for release next Spring, but you can sign up for updates here.


Eran Hilleli: Style Frames


Eran Hilleli

Eran Hilleli: Character Synth and Style Frames

Eran Hilleli is an animation director based in Tel Aviv. As part of Pictoplasma he shared a short film, a talk and an art piece, giving us outsiders a great insight into his practice and approach to character design.

In creating the characters for his short Style Frames, commissioned for the conference of the same name, instead of designing the characters first then building digitally, he developed more organic methods, building shapes first then trying them with different walking patterns and movements, to see which characters felt like they were coming to life. This spontaneous approach to character design was really compelling, especially learning new ways than drawing a character on page first then building him or her afterwards.

He also spoke about his work considering different approaches to character design and how a character can come about. Using music software and equipment, he has been exploring ways to breathe life into a character with unexpected outputs. His piece as part of the Character Walk at the AG Cemetery Museum showed a beardy head on a screen linked to a synth keyboard, so people can play the character as they would a piece of music, in order to make him move, come alive and even fall apart or change face shape all together. This spontaneous and interactive approach to character design makes the viewer feel like the animator, bringing the head to life and giving him personality and movement.


Jack Sachs: Star Friend


Jack Sachs: Mountains


Jack Sachs: Plant Prints


Jack Sachs: Plant Prints

Jack Sachs: Fizzy Buzz at Volume Gallery

Jack Sachs is an animator and designer (and one of It’s Nice That’s Ones to Watch 2017) known for his bright, bold and humorous computer-generated faces, which came to him as a result of an injury to his drawing hand in his final year at Camberwell College of Art.

In his exhibition Fizzy Buzz at Volume Gallery, Jack extended his bug-eyed characters to inhabit an installation, going back to his hand-drawn routes and showing digital prints alongside large-scale painted pieces, film work, sketches and murals.

It was great to see his work come to life and feel just as alive across so many disciplines. Being in the room felt like being in the middle of a Jack Sachs-ian universe party, with his pieces with names like Screw Friend and Star Friend joining the fun.

Joseph Bennett and Charles Huettner: Scavengers

Created for Adult Swim, the short film Scavengers follows two characters on a journey, scavenging in the forest surrounded by surreal characters that help and obstruct them along the way.

Scavengers is animated in a classic, almost Disney-like style, but the level of strangeness of the creatures and situations makes this a very special piece to watch.

As you follow the surreal twists and turns, at no point is the next step expected. Every time you think you’ve caught up and you know what’s happening, something new is thrown in your way. These interventions are always via the most imaginatively designed animal invention possible, who in turn is getting in the Scavengers way using an unexpected and delightful method.

Sophie Koko Gate: John Daker

Sophie Koko Gate: John Daker

Sophie Koko Gate is an animation director who has been making “freaky stuff” for clients including Lena Dunham, MTV and The Guardian. She is also part of “art pop love band” John Daker, along with collaborator Rachel Sale, who played with their live band at the festival Character Performance night at Acud Macht Neu.

I am finding it hard to describe just how funny the computer-generated character of John Daker is. He has been animated to dance along with Sophie and Rachel to songs inspired by moments such as seeing a sexy women’s choir. John Daker is a large nosed, cornrowed, awkward creation, who they describe as a “freaky animated character who has no soul”, but I would say he definitely feels alive and an entrancing sight to watch. John Daker feels like a Sasha Baron Cohen character moulded in pixels, who would definitely look at home leaning on the counter in a suburban phone shop with his cornrows and cheesy suit.

In Sophie’s talk as part of the conference she said John may be due a “rebirth” soon – so I would encourage you to see in him in his current state, as well as whatever form John takes next.

Matt Reynolds: Hot Dog Hands

I have no words. I just can’t get it out of my head and will never be the same again. If you ever get the chance to watch this, please do – but be prepared. Here’s the trailer. Enjoy.

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