10 Ingredients to Create The Perfect Cartoon

I’ve been a fan of animation my whole life, but particularly over the past few years, I’ve become especially passionate about the medium and its history. In doing plenty of research and watching loads of cartoons, I started to consider what exactly makes a good cartoon. There’s lots of great cartoons, but there’s also lots of middling or dreadful ones. There must be certain qualities that help to tip the scales, one way or the other, into creating something that really resonates with people.

If there was a way to know exactly how to make a cartoon, then everybody could make something great – maybe even a perfect cartoon. After a lot of introspection, I think I’ve finally figured it out. Obviously, it’s just the opinion of a random bloke, but I really feel that if you want to make the best possible cartoon, this is definitely worth reading.

1. It must feature full animation

Going back to the beginning of the medium, many cartoonists have experimented with all sorts of animation styles and mediums. However, it has been proven after watching many classic cartoons that the only form of animation which best expresses their creators’ interests is the style known as ‘full animation’. In this style, everything is constantly moving and as smooth as oiled-up butter, allowing for all the details to be appreciated by the audience in real time.

Some claim that there are only 24 frames in a second, but video games are frequently applauded when they achieve frame rates from 60 frames to 1000s per second. Considering the interplay between video games and animation in terms of visual expression, I can’t see why these standards shouldn’t apply to the cartoon world. After all, the smoothest cartoon is the greatest cartoon.

2. It must use the classic style

Art direction is very important, as it forms the whole visual backbone of the cartoon. Although there are many different art styles worth considering, it’s possible that this could overwhelm people looking into becoming a fan of animation. There’s already so much out there that even another unique looking cartoon might cause a kind of sensory overload.

With that in mind, it’s a good idea to use the classic style – an art style that frequently appears throughout the works of a single creator. It provides enough of the familiar by never visually changing, but allowing for new stories that can challenge the viewer. The recent works of the Walt Disney Animation Corporation such as Frozen and Frozen II demonstrate this excellently, as their central characters share the same facial appearance whether they are human, animal, or vegetable.

3. It must be contemporary

Time moves in a chronologically forward direction, so it can be surmised that all progress and standards move forward in a similar fashion. As such, the most recent cartoons are the only ones that will and should be watched, as they are in line with our modern standards – standards which are more enlightened and understanding in the ways of artistic appreciation by virtue of being the latest standards.

All previous works become outdated and poorly aged by comparison, even if they’re only a week old. After all, we are always moving forward in time, so our standards move forward rapidly enough as to retroactively redundify from the past. It is more worth your time to learn from recent examples such as comedy classic The Prince and introspective drama Chicago Party Aunt, than crusty old time capsules like Looney Tunes and Regular Show.

(Until this article is a week old. Then delete and swap out the recent examples for whatever’s come out just this second.)

4. It must be timeless

In order for a cartoon to not become dated even more quickly, it has to feature a timeless quality about it. This involves ensuring that the cartoon is entirely of the era in which it is produced (for that is the most advanced standard that society has reached), but also ensuring that the cartoon can be easily understood by people at any point in the future (for that is the most advanced standard that society will reach). A mix of pop-cultural references and universal truths is often a good shorthand towards accomplishing this objective.

5. It must feature narrative efficiency

It’s good and all to observe various “aesthetic” qualities, but what really ensures a good cartoon is the narrative. Most of this guide will consist on constructing and improving the narrative, since that is the only quality that matters.

Unlike the universe, a cartoon cannot go on forever. It has a limited time in which to tell its story, so all aspects featured in a cartoon must utilize narrative efficiency. In other words, everything you see given more than a nanosecond’s glance must directly contribute to the plot. Anything that doesn’t add to the plot, whether in big or small ways, is clearly filler that will be skipped over. There is no time for flights of fancy, experimental moments, or things that personally interest you and nobody else. Time in a cartoon is finite, and everything must serve the plot and only the plot.

6. It must be humorous

Many of the finest cartoons are inherently humorous, so it’s worth observing and internalizing how they construct cartoons from a narrative perspective. Doing this, we can clearly see the value of the joke – a moment that is intended to elicit laughter and general whimsy from the audience. Therefore, it is vital that your cartoon features as many jokes as possible, from big set-pieces to little gags such as the classic “character says they won’t do a thing because of their principles and then immediately does that thing because they’ve been offered money”. There can never be enough jokes in your cartoon, as seminal classic Hoops has frequently proven.

7. It must adhere to the long history of animation

As we all know, the history of animation began in the United States of America, with its earliest origins dating back to a series of cave paintings found in Boston’s wintry tundra, drawn by the celebrated cartoonist Chuck H. Disney in the year 6093 B.C. Many cartoons have been made all over the world, but it’s very clear that only the Americans have gotten it right, from the side-splitting satire of The Top Cat to the dramatic masterpiece that is the 1990s Spider-Man cartoon.

Other countries have attempted to produce their own works, either emulating or foolishly deviating from what America has gotten right, but none can even begin to compare to a cinematic triumph like Norm of the North. With this in mind, it’s clear that only the perfect cartoon can be created within the confines of the United States.

(Outsourcing any amount of production to other countries, be it minor or substantial, does not infringe on this quality. Feel free to outsource if necessary.)

8. It must not feature any ambiguity

Life is often stressful and lacking in explanation, leaving many people in a constant state of existential ennui and dread. To provide relief from this waking nightmare, your cartoon must make everything exponentially clear and candid. Explain what your characters are going through to the last detail, eliminate all unnecessary elements that would otherwise complicate your intent such as visual storytelling and music, and never dare to leaving anything open to interpretation. Your cartoon should satisfy the audience’s desire for pleasure and amusement, which is derived from the contentment of understanding everything.

9. It must feature emotionally compartmentalized scenes

Cartoons have been known to feature many moods to create an emotionally complex tapestry, from funny scenes to sad scenes to heartwarming scenes. Some cartoons attempt to blend these moods together, but these result in emotionally unclear works that upset and alienate. Cognitive dissonance must be avoided at all costs, so your cartoon must have scenes where there is only one clear emotion at any given time. The short films produced by Pixar after 2007 should be studied to further understand this principle.

10. It must not feature any unintended audience reactions

It has been suggested in some circles that, after the base principles that govern our reality such as gravity and our economic system, life is ultimately subjective. People will react to anything in all manner of countless ways, deriving from their own experiences, thought processes, brain wirings, opinions and so forth.

I do not believe this to be true, as our formula demonstrably functions to create the perfect cartoon every time. But since this is the most recent school of thought, and therefore the most advanced, enlightened school of thought, we have to consider that possibility for the time being.

Accepting the idea that a single person might react to your cartoon in ways you never intended, it is imperative that you do not accidentally inflame their senses. Ensure that your cartoon can only be interpreted in one way, and remove all aspects of a work that might dare to provoke unforeseen reactions. If a person laughs at a scene that doesn’t feature a joke, you’ve failed. If someone doesn’t cry at a sad scene, you’ve screwed up. And if anyone even slightly finds themselves attracted to one of the characters, you will be drawn and quartered. (Not literally. Though it wouldn’t be so bad if it were…)

This is arguably an extension of the rule that cartoons must not have ambiguity, but all rules are built on top of previous rules. That is how society moves forward, towards a more enlightened and understanding society that knows better on all the subjects and secrets of the universe.

With this guide now in place and put out there into the world, I firmly believe that people will now be capable of making the best cartoons we have or will ever see. Following rules is a boon to creativity, and everyone who follows the rules lives a happy carefree life. So doing this will make you happy and carefree too. Have a wonderful day.

Special thanks to Nobaddy for providing feedback and suggestions that have resulted in a perfect article. Screenshots obtained from many classic cartoons.

FrDougal9000 writes for hardcoregaming101.net as Apollo Chungus. When he isn’t writing about video games, he is cultivating his love of animation that’s only increased over the last few years as he’s explored the wide, weird and wonderful world of the medium.

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