Pause Festival 2017 gave me a chance to see the Character Supervisor responsible for my favourite childhood Pixar film, Monsters Inc. But while I’d gone in hoping to find a winning a formula for character backstory development, I instead was treated to a half-hour lecture on tentacles and big blue fur.
There’s nothing better than seeing someone who loves what they do — as Brian Green clearly does — talk about it. With an energy I’m going to call ‘confused genius’, Green initially rushed through an overly technical explanation of how Pixar built each individual part of a tentacle for characters in Monsters Inc and Finding Dory, detailing in depth the math, code, physics — and purpose built computer programs — that go into making octopus suckers that suck, detach and wobble like the real thing. After 20 minutes of being whacked over the head with detail, the audience’s attention began to wane.
But then this nugget: Green finally turned to why he personally believes it’s important to nail each component is important: ‘Making your character believable is about making them vulnerable. Giving them vulnerabilities is how the audience accesses them in a familiar way, and so how they can lose themselves in the film’ Boom, I thought, there’s a nice sticky takeaway.
For Green, physicality is an entire story in itself. And every movement of your character, whether octopus, human or monster, help show reveal its weaknesses and, therefore, humanity. The missteps, the over-confidences, the shrugs and sighs are recognised and processed by an audience long after the character open it’s mouth. So sharing these secrets is the fastest shortcut to getting inside the viewer’s head.
There could be a crucial lesson for brand articulation in this. While surely few people would ever admit to having ‘weak’ characters as their favourites, Pixar know that in reality, the work they put into the peripheral and unconscious cerebral considerations, is just as important as anything else. Character for them is a string of reflexes and intimacies that tell a holistic story. So when asking how our brands can be more believable (dare I say, authentic) don’t be afraid to show blemishes, what they’re overly enthusiastic/eager about, what they’re sick of, or even their achilles heel. A little vulnerability can go a long way.