I have not seen TOTAL DRAMA ISLAND very many times but every time I stumble across it, I am really impressed at the visual quality of it. The idea of a heavily script-driven flash cartoon based on the SURVIVOR type reality series frankly doesn't interest me in the least, but the look of the show invariably wins my admiration. I don't know who does it or where it's from (Canada?); all I know is that if someone asked me to design a cast of vain 20-somethings of the reality TV type, I would begin by jumping out a window. Whoever does the job here has conjured up a cast of boldly stylized human characters that are cohesive in design but strikingly iconic as individuals. They also are a hell of a lot of fun to look at. These characters look deceptively simple, but as I said in my previous post, simplicity is one of the most difficult things to achieve. In faces like these, one pixel-width can make or break it. The flash animators here do a fine job of articulating the expressions, always with careful subtlety. The range of facial animation is limited, but it is appropriate to the tone of the scripts and the tracks, and the physical action is often pretty involved and specific.
I especially like the goth girl with the ghostly skin tone and green hair. The host character looks somehow as narcissitic and arrogant as he sounds (the overall voice work is squeaky, but not bad). Even though there is a kind of limited prevailing vocabulary in the design work, the characters stand out archly against each other: no two have similar body types or even postures. The attention to detail in costume is also adroit and well observed. The overall background designs are snappy, attractive and well worked out. I can only imagine what a show like this would have looked like had it been done back in the 1970's--probably like MR. T or CHUCK NORRIS cartoons, at best. And although I long ago grew weary of the retro-50's look in cartoons (even when it's well done, which it often is) something here sets it singularly apart from that pack, for me anyway. Maybe it is the attention to contemporary physical details and perhaps to the equally up to date color palette. Ironically, although there is a lot of gross-out humor, visual grossness is nowhere to be found. The look of the show remains persistently and almost ferociously decorative, which I guess you could say is a counterpoint to the humor, which is, of course, all about ruthless competition.
I like this work a lot. It's simple, stylized and punchy. I don't know who watches the show and I have never heard anyone talk about it, but if it really is being overlooked and I'm not just in the dark, then I think that's too bad. As a huge fan of Robert Smigel's TV FUNHOUSE, THE SIMPSONS and SOUTH PARK, I have to admit it's kind of refreshing to see a satire show that doesn't shoot for the ironic choice of deliberately crude or ugly artwork. Hats off to the designers, artists and animators of this show on some of the sharpest looking visuals currently on TV.