“Most of us can identify with simple, iconic characters and their emotions. When Sozi triumphs over her self-doubts people can see themselves in her.” It’s this relationship between character and audience that inspires many designers to create works which are more accessible and interactive. 

South Park animation director Ryan Quincy

For participating Belgian artist Sam de Buysscher (toyfactory.be), the Character Walk exhibition offers an opportunity to create more personal work. He says: “Play and humour always come up in my work. For the Inkygoodness project I created a game with my Character Totem, The Mood Twister, which has four faces expressing different emotions… the idea being that visitors can interact with the piece.”

It was refreshing to see a diverse collection of exhibitions on the Character Walk this year; a marked change in direction for an event that often appeared to champion the same pool of established artists. Perhaps in reaction to critics and comments from the audience, Lars admits: “In the beginning we needed to make a very distinct point [with the work], now we can open up more.” 

Snake by guest speaker Amandine Urruty

Embracing a new direction with a collection of personal work, Ryan Quincy (ryanquincy.com) showcased his paintings at the festival. He said: “This is the first time I have exhibited outside the US, so the experience has been really great.”

Known internationally for his work as animation director on South Park, his personal work is inspired by experiences and close relationships. Melancholic characters drift silently across the canvas: “[In the paintings] some of the characters are holding hands, or smiling, you get a glimpse of optimism among the bleakness.” 

Artwork from Jeremy Dower’s Canis Mortuus Familiaris exhibition

By contrast, French illustrator Amandine Urruty (amandineurruty.free.fr), has created a repertoire of cheerful, weird characters. Working from her home studio, she says:

“I spend long hours on the Internet searching for all kind of pictures; ugly tattoos, wedding cakes, dogs with dresses, offensive halloween costumes… to build my drawings.”

A wood carving and print workshop

Her working methods leave nothing to chance, as she meticulously plans every illustration. “I begin by making lots of small sketches on my notebook, until I find an idea. Then this sketch is refined in Photoshop before work begins on paper. My chosen medium – colour pencils – doesn’t allow to make any mistakes.”

Half the fun of Pictoplasma is getting your hands dirty, and this year attendees were offered the chance to create their own characters at one of two interactive workshops. British toy designer Matt JOnes lent a hand at the Lunartik Plastik Surgery (lunartik.com) workshop: “I’m a huge vinyl toy fan, and the workshop was a great way for people to learn about the process and make new friends.”

Exhibition by Roman Klonek

Reflecting on this year’s event as a whole, the feeling was a little bittersweet. The quality of the exhibitions was mixed, and there was a distinct lack of connection between the audience and speakers. The overall experience lacked the magic of previous years, in part due to the underwhelming venue and absence of a clear theme. However, the event culminated in the Missing Link Show; combining a visual display of costume, dance, music and performance for the last night of the festival; an interactive, exhilarating, high-speed ‘dance-off’, accompanied by musician Dan Deacon. It was a magical ending.

As for the future of Pictoplasma, Lars Denicke offers: “We want to continue to explore characters which are iconic and exist in cultural and folklore practises, and somehow re-mix these ideas up a little bit. In the long term we’re interested in examining the separation between conceptual art and commercial practises, working on the border between fiction and authenticity.”

Totem, by Raymond Lemstra as seen on the Character Walk

Plans for Pictoplasma 2012 are already underway, and an abundance of ideas could inspire a fresh direction for the festival. Taking an innovative approach will assure the future of the festival, creating a unique experience that will delight and entertain audiences for years to come.

Photography by Sam de Buysscher, Johann Chann and Guy WJ Mayfield

A head of its time

Animator Dante Zaballa began working with Matias Vigliano last year, after trawling the internet looking for creative work. United by their love of character, and a desire to create something new, the pair began working on experimental animated loops. Their short film entitled The Head – a kooky little piece about a head that goes about trumpeting its horn and eating stuff – is their first collaboration…

LH: Hello Dante! Can you tell us about your background?
DZ: “I’ve always loved animation, since I was a kid. My experience working within the animation industry was quite frustrating; there isn’t much of an industry in Argentina so I ended up working in motion graphics for a long time. It was strange because when I ended up working for the big clients I found it very boring and not as creative as I wanted it to be.
“In the end I abandoned my motion graphics career and, wanting to make something of my own, I started creating animated loops at home.”

LH: How did you meet Matias?
DZ: “I was sending out blanket emails to companies requesting work when I discovered Parquerama Studios (parquerama.com) thinking it was a company (it was actually Matias’ website). I ended up writing a very sincere email to him saying how do I survive in the industry, I want to create my own work, and asking fo advice. He sent one back expressing similar frustrations.”

LH: How did your working relationship evolve?
DZ: “We got to know each other a little bit, I went to visit him at his gallery where he said he’d love to see his characters move, so we started experimenting with animated loops – short animation tests – and then began making up stories for his characters. In the space of a couple of months we became really close friends.
“Little connections between the loops expanded the animation, and it became a short called The Head. All the illustration work is Matias, I just animate.”

LH: How has your first experience at Pictoplasma been?
DZ: “It’s my first time in Europe and my first time speaking in front of a lot of people, so I’m not sure how it went. It was hard to get up and talk as my English is not great, but it was really cool.”