Database for Animation Studies


Carefully Constructed Yet Curiously Real: How Major American Animation Studios Generate Empathy Through a Shared Style of Character Design

Contemporary computer-animated films by the major American animation studios Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks are often described as evoking (extremely) emotional responses from their ever-growing audiences. Following Murray Smith’s assertion that characters are central to comprehending audiences’ engagement with narratives in Engaging Characters: Fiction, Emotion, and the Cinema (1995), this article points to a specific style of characterization as a possible reason for the overwhelming emotional response to and great success of these films, exemplified in contemporary examples including Inside Out (Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen, 2015), Big Hero 6 (Don Hall and Chris Williams, 2014) and How to Train Your Dragon (Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, 2010). Drawing on a variety of scholarly work including Stephen Prince’s ‘perceptual realism’, Scott McCloud’s model of ‘amplification through simplification’ and Masahiro Mori’s Uncanny Valley theory, this article will argue how a shared style of character design – defined as a paradoxical combination of lifelikeness and abstraction – plays a significant role in the empathetic potential of these films. This will result in the proposition of a new and reverse phenomenon to Mori’s Uncanny Valley, dubbed the Pixar Peak, where, as opposed to a steep drop, audiences reach a climactic height in empathy levels when presented with this specific type of characterization.

  • Title (Japanese)
  • Publish Date
  • Authors
  • Publication
Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal
  • Publication Volume
  • Publication Page Number
  • Publication’s Website
  • DOI
  • Keywords

Related Lists