When I proposed my project to the tutors, the question was raised as to whether what I was looking at was anthropomorphism or zoomorphism. In truth, I had considered these to be two sides of the same coin, or maybe a spectrum with ‘human traits given to non-humans’ on one and and ‘animal traits given to humans’ on the other.

However, there are possible problems with this construction – it was pointed out to me that anthropomorphism and zoomorphism could, in terms of narrative purpose, be very different, to the point that considering them in such a way wasn’t feasible. So I looked more carefully into both terms, to try to gain a better understanding of the differences, and any similarities, between these two ideas.

Zoomorphism is defined as when “animal attributes are imposed upon non-animal objects, humans, and events and animal features are ascribed to humans, gods and other objects.” (LiteraryDevices) Its function is to examine these things through animal forms and imagery. In a narrative, this involves using animal references and symbolism to better illustrate ideas in the text, e.g. a character: “By creating a text with instances of zoomorphism, it will provide the reader with an insight over the personality of the person the text describes as animal-like, and also what animal that person resembles.” (Nilsson, 2015)

Anthropomorphism on the other hand is when one “ascribes human traits, ambitions, emotions or entire behavior to animals, non-human beings, natural phenomena or objects.” (LiteraryDevices) In a wider context than fiction, the tendency of human beings to anthropomorphise non-human entities and phenomena may be to assist in our understanding of them: “Anthropomorphism helps us to simplify and make more sense of complicated entities.” (Nauert, 2015) If we project human traits onto these things, we can better put ourselves in their proverbial shoes – an idiom which is, in itself, an anthropomorphism. The applications for this in fictional works are obvious. Anthropomorphising an animal, for example, enables the audience to empathise with the human-like traits imposed onto it by the creator of the work.

In popular consciousness the more well known idea out of the two is anthropomorphism, which I believe leads to conflation of one device with the other. Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido’s Blacksad series, for example – which the header image of this post is from – is set in a world of humanoid animals. However, most characters are essentially entirely human in form and behaviour except for their animal heads, which are used to convey cues about the characters to the reader: the police, for example, are various canines; an assassin is a cold-blooded lizard, etc. According to the above definitions, zoomorphism is the more accurate term to give these characters. However, they are described frequently by critics and reviewers as ‘anthropomorphic’, e.g.:

“Beginning in 2000, the series follows John Blacksad, a black cat private investigator who solves all manner of heinous crimes in a 1950’s America populated by anthropomorphic animals.” (Crisis on Infinite Thoughts)

“…it is an anthropomorphic noir series, set in 1950s America, centering around eponymous trench-coated private investigator, John Blacksad, a lithe, witty and cynical cat.” (Comics Alliance)

Similarly, Google searches for “Blacksad anthropomorphic” or “Blacksad anthropomorphism” return around 120,000 results, whereas the corrresponding searches with “zoomorphic” or “zoomorphism” return only 900-1100 results.

So while in literary terms there is a distinct difference between zoomorphic and anthropomorphic characters, in wider usage the term ‘anthropomorphic’ has become something of an umbrella term for many kinds of human/animal hybrid characters. This catch-all interpretation of the term is what I was initially using in my research question.

Upon examining these definitions, my focus is not on one or the other in particular. My interest and intention is to experiment with combinations and contrasts of animal and human form, and animal and human behaviour. I feel limiting myself to strictly anthropomorphism or zoomorphism would mean excluding certain mixes of human and animal, and indeed would exclude one or the other of the characters I plan to work with for this project. One of them, the Leopard-Man from H. G. Well’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, is an animal that has been physically altered to try to make it more human – a very literal example of anthropomorphism, giving something non-human a human aspect. The other character, one my own invention, is a human cursed with an animal head in a story that will play on the symbolism and connotations of the animal in question – which puts it firmly under zoomorphism.

On reflection, then, I should reword my research question to place less emphasis on anthropomorphism in particular, and replace the usage of that term with something more all-encompassing of human/animal hybrid characters in general. This will both keep the scope of my research open enough to experiment freely with, and provide a more accurate summation of what my project is concerned with.

Edit: after some consideration of the above points and the discussion had with my tutors, I am altering my research question accordingly:

“How to use 3D animation to explore ways to animate combination human/animal characters, for the purpose of altering the audience’s perception of the character for different narratives.”

Akhtar, Z. (2014). Blacksad Amarillo: Sorrow Is Not An Aesthetic Choice [Review]. [online] Comics Alliance. Available at: http://comicsalliance.com/blacksad-amarillo-sorrow-is-not-an-aesthetic-choice-review/ [Accessed 15 Jan. 2017].
Díaz Canales, J. and Guarnido, J. (2010). Blacksad. 1st ed. Dark Horse.
Draper, M. (2015). Blacksad comic review. [online] Crisis on Infinite Thoughts. Available at: https://crisisoninfinitethoughts.com/tag/blacksad-comic-review/ [Accessed 15 Jan. 2017]
LiteraryDevices Editors. (2013). Zoomorphism. [online] Available at https://literarydevices.net/zoomorphism/ %5BAccessed 15 January 2017]
LiteraryDevices Editors. (2013). Anthropomorphism. [online] Available at http://literarydevices.net/anthropomorphism/ %5BAccessed 15 January 2017]
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Why Do We Anthropomorphize?. Psych Central. [online] Available at https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/03/01/why-do-we-anthropomorphize/11766.html [Accessed 15 January 2017]
Nilsson, J. (2015) Hunter and the Hunted: A Bakhtinian Reading of Zoomorphic Instances in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Linnaeus University. [online] Available at http://lnu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:796001/FULLTEXT01.pdf [Accessed 15 January 2017]
Wells, H. G. (2010). H.G. Wells Classic Collection. 1st ed. London: Gollancz.
Header image from:
Crisis on Infinite Thoughts, 2015. Comics You Should Read: Blacksad. [Online] Available at: https://crisisoninfinitethoughts.com/2015/08/17/comics-you-should-read-blacksad/. [Accessed 15 January 2017]