Blinking cartoon characters

As the father of a 4-year-old, I watch a lot of cartoons. Ok, confession, most of my favorite programming is animated as well. Anyway, I’ve lately become obsessed with watching the characters blink. It seems that the vast majority of cartoons make the characters blink rather frequently. It’s interesting, because it usually passes completely below my consciousness radar and yet when I’m thinking about it then it’s all I can pay attention to.

Anyway, my question is whether anyone knows the history on when cartoon characters started to blink and why it’s so common to have characters blink. Were there focus groups where audiences freaked out due to non-blinking characters? Some psychology study somewhere? There’s at least one show I know of, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, where characters don’t regularly blink, but perhaps that show is already so disconnected from reality that show that it doesn’t matter?

My guess is that it’s because not blinking makes a character creepier. I recall an interview with Anthony Hopkins on his portrayal of Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs, where he commented that part of his technique for playing Lector was to simply not blink. That was live action and not cartoon, of course but it seems like the principle would likely cross over.

I was thinking the same thing – but I’m wondering, when and how did they determine this? Was blinking something that animators did right from the beginning, perhaps realizing during their own initial animation tests that non-blinking was too freaky?

Also, is it really practically universal?

Dunno, but the little I do know about animation makes me think that blinking is about the easiest thing an animator can do with a character – just two eyelids for a frame or two every now and then.

Ah, but how often and how far apart is “every now and then,” exactly. A decent average is 10 per minute at fairly random intervals. It’s also more than a frame or two. A blink lasts about 4/10 of a second, which works out to be about 10 frames if you’re animating at 24 frames a second, or 6 frames if you’re animating on 2s at 30 frames a second (that means 15 fps).

That being said, most of the time your character doesn’t have to blink until it helps you convey an action or emotion. Because animated characters often have very large eyes, blinking is more noticeable and can be distracting if used as often as in real life. In clay stop-motion animation, a blink can be especially glaring.

Blinks can be expressive, they can fill up a pause and be reactionary without needing dialogue to accompany it, so I think they were included for that reason.

A lot of times the only thing animated in cheaper cartoons is the eyes and mouth. Just enough animation to remind people it is animated.

I seem to recall the old Bozo cartoons had very little movement. they are fun for young kids to watch, but I remember losing interest by the time I was 8 or 9. too cheaply done

Try watching an old Rockie and Bullwinkle show sometime. I swear there are points that a character will be talking for 30 seconds and nothing moves on the screen except for the mouth randomly opening and closing.

Done right, minimal animation can work pretty well.
Check out the eye movement with Gumby.
They move side to side and in/out for a 3d effect.

I still enjoy Gumby every once in awhile.

The Flintstones blinked and they started in 1960. Tennessee Tuxedo (1963) was a blinking mad man. However, Underdog (1964) didn’t blink unless it was to convey emotion. If someone knows some cartoons from the 1950s, it should be pretty easy to YouTube up some examples and see. Won’t answer the why but it helps answer the when.

Damn you all for making me conscious of my blinking.

Hey - you guys are all breathing! Feel that breath - in…out…in…out…

But when my cat blinks, it doesn’t make the sound of piano keys being struck.