Appeal is about creating a character that is engaging and interesting to the audience – one that the viewer will sit through until the end of the story.
This doesn’t mean just fluffy bunnies or tweeting birds, and it’s not about the audience thinking the character is adorable. Appeal in a character corresponds to what would be called charisma in an actor. A character who is appealing is not necessarily sympathetic – villains or monsters can also be appealing – the important thing is that the viewer feels the character is real and interesting.
There are several tricks for making a character connect better with the audience; for likable characters a symmetrical or particularly baby-like face tends to be effective. A complicated or hard to read face will lack appeal, it may more accurately be described as ‘captivation’ in the composition of the pose, or the character design.
Even villains and antagonists need appeal: indeed, often people seem to be drawn to villains more than heroes.
If a character lacks appeal, why would you care what happens to them? Good conceptual design (as opposed to the principle of solid design) and style have a small part in appeal, but they aren’t everything.
Appeal doesn’t end there – it is not limited to just the physical appearance of a character. The other important aspect is how you build appeal through performance. Consider our case study character again: Remy the rat is again unusual for a rat because he doesn’t walk on all four legs for fear of getting his hands dirty before he eats. In fact, food is so important to him that in his lightning brush with death, he still holds his cheese off the ground in a near catatonic state.
The most interesting people to watch are those with exaggerated features or bizarre wrinkles, not perfectly smooth models. It’s much the same with someone’s mannerisms: quirks and imperfections are what create interest. As with any successful stand-up comedian, they get you to relate to the story, making a link between your feelings and the character’s.
Build a back story, even if it’s a small throwback. Take Peter Pan’s Captain Hook. One of the things that makes him appealing is his fear of ticking clocks, because the crocodile that took his hand also swallowed a clock.
Appeal can also be built up on multiple levels. Disney and Pixar has shown this successfully: its work is greatly appreciated by both adults and kids.
From Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson:
Early cartoons were basically a series of gags strung together on a main theme. Over the years, the artists have learned that to produce a feature there was a need for story continuity, character development and a higher quality of artwork throughout the entire production. Like all forms of story telling, the feature has to appeal to the mind as well as to the eye.