Why cartoon characters often only have three fingers
If you’re a fan of animated movies and TV shows, chances are you’ve spotted a recurring feature among your favourite characters.
Not sure what we’re talking about? Look closely at the hands of Genie in Aladdin, Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones, Homer Simpson...
Now do you see it? That’s right... they all have three fingers, instead of four.
Emmy-award-winning animators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh offered some insight into this peculiar trait back in 2017, while discussing how they bring their cartoon characters to life.
In a video for BBC News, they observed that hands are often the most difficult part of a character for animators, and answered that oft-asked question: Why do cartoon characters only have a thumb and three fingers?
“Everybody shortens it to three fingers and a thumb... just simply for an economy of line. When you're having to animate 24 drawings per second, dropping one finger makes a huge difference," Marsh explained.
They also had some advice for aspiring animators.
“Don't use any erasers and draw with a Sharpie as much as you can, because it keeps you from going back and fiddling with it, and you just keep doing bigger and bolder shapes,” Povenmire suggested.
Another 2017 video from YouTuber ChannelFrederator offered even more insight into the animation trend.
While they acknowledged the simple reason that drawing three fingers is more efficient than four, it was also pointed out that early animation styles involved characters drawn from circles, which wouldn’t leave much room for extra digits.
“Using five fingers would have made Mickey’s hands look like a bunch of bananas,” Walt Disney himself once said,
ChannelFrederator dug even deeper and pointed out that many animated characters are animals, meaning we wouldn’t associate them with five-digit hands.
Addressing Japanese animation, he suggested that its tendency to include five-digited characters in anime series and films is to do with the cultural superstition that the number “four” can sound similar to the Japanese word for “death” and is therefore unlucky.