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Pictoplasma: The Worldwide Character Design Encyclopedia

Our work is published worldwide through "Pictoplasma", an encyclopedia detailing the most interesting and significant characters on the World Wide Web.


Pictoplasma, 217 Pages Deluxe HardbackBook

Author - Peter Thaler
Editor - Robert Klanten & Michael Mischler
Publisher - Die Gestalen Verlag - Berlin / Germany
Published in Western Europe - USA - Asia


by Peter Thaler

Pictoplasma was founded at the beginning of 2000 to serve as a platform for an extensive collection and archive of contemporary character design. The characters on view at www.pictoplasma.de and the selection include in this book have been contributed by artists, graphic designers, animators and production companies worldwide.

Character design is the most universal of graphic languages. Characters work independent of cultural context and narrative structure. They are entirely self-referential, defined by clearly distinctive characteristics and have a life on their own.

Whether used as corporate logos or icons - their significance stretches far beyond their function as mascots. Character design not only produces a universally recognizable identity, it also manages to link viewer and concept on an emotional level, turning these simplified and abstract representations into key players of today's world of image. They enable easy, instantaneous identification with and differentiation between products and brands.

Signs and symbols of a predefined vocabulary are readopted, distorted and placed in a new context. In order to establish a common denominator and access an entire generation, a popular tactic remains to appropriate characters from collective childhood images. These nostalgic references are the endlessly quoted, reworked and re-sampled in logos, graffiti design and flyers. Eventually , the new creations are themselves integrated into the common vocabulary, either in reference to a collective memory or as independent units of language.

Since the surge in demand for these characters is mainly Internet-related, it is primarily on computers that they are produced an viewed. The world Wide Web has triggered an explosion of both the need for and the feasibility of quick, simple and global communication. The web is flooded by a stream of images, information and unnecessary data. In order to combat diminishing attention spans and ballooning information overkill, iconography attempts to reestablish an emotional bond between viewer and content.


Illustration by Atalier Mädchen - Switzerland


In the early days of the Internet usage the technical limitations of data throughput necessitated a drastic simplification of visual language. Many of the early character representations that populated the World Wide Web drew on the aesthetics of first generation game consoles and home computers. When efficient means of data transmission became prevalent and it was discovered how to create and send images as mathematical formulae, new standards evolved. Flat, precise, high-resolution vector graphics are the current backbone of computer-designed animated web graphics. It is these technological breakthroughs that continue to dominate the aesthetics of the medium to date. The most successful designs are those who do not attempt to conceal their origins, but turn them into an integral feature instead.

Neither the online collection nor this book could ever aim to be truly comprehensive. Instead, we have chosen a selection of examples that reveal important tendencies and provides glimpses of the diversity of contemporary character design and the multilateral flux of aesthetics influences. Therefore, the techniques used to create the characters are of little relevance - it is often difficult to trace them in the finished work in any case. Whether drawn or painted, whether pixel , vector or 3D rendering, the only important trait remains the character's uniqueness.

On the other hand, the seemingly diverse collection of characters is united by an anthropomorphic appeal that arises primarily from the depiction of eyes. The presence of eyes stimulates the viewer into some level of emotional relationship with what he is looking at . The process of reducing the characters to their essentials, making them more and more abstract, increases their ability to both contain and convey a brief, but significant moment or emotional attitude.

The infinite variation of the motifs illustrates the vast potential inherent in the process of reduction and simplification.

- 5th October 2001 -