Anyways, hopefully this will be helpful for people to look at, and feel free to give me your two cents on the subject, I'm sure there's something I've forgotten to cover.
And without further ado, here's the guide!
How to Find a Good PB
So, you're looking for a PB for either disney_high , animated_high , or just for fun. This can be a frustrating experience to be sure, but don't worry! Gwen is here to help you out, with assistance from her trusty sidekick/bff Kabby and of course, her lovely pbs and characters, as well as some of the others who are currently being used over in both communities.
Well, most obviously, pick a character! Then, if you're stuck on ideas, I would sincerely recommend heading over to either PB Updates or Hollow Art. Both sites have a really handy tag system that can help you find people based on age, gender, hair color, ethnicity, and pretty much anything else you could ask for, and they're great resources for icons. (Another good source for actually finding icons is WikIcon, which has a really extensive collection of icons of just about everyone.)
When starting to look for a pb, it's important to keep in mind that this is the person you're picking who best represents the character, not just someone you think looks pretty. Some things should be fairly obvious (i.e. Alice should be blonde, Simba should be male, Lilo shouldn't be older then Roz, etc), but some aren't, and this is where the confusion starts. There are lots of things to keep in mind and lots of factors to consider when picking an appropriate pb, and I'm going to try and discuss the most important ones here with plenty of examples.
When picking your character's played by, your first instinct should never be "Well, I really liked so and so on this popular tv show, so I guess I'll use him as my played by because he's omg so hot!" This often leads to disaster and frankly, is just downright lazy. Your played by should look like the character, and if they don't, it's really just going to make you look like a bad rper, even if you're not.
For example, while yes, Jensen Ackles is an attractive young man, and apparently Supernatural is the best thing since sliced bread on television, he is not a good choice for say, Dimitri, even though he has brown hair and an angular face. Jake Gyllenhaal is better because of his expressions, and also because his nose is fairly prominent without being unattractive, which was one of the most distinguishing things about his design in the film.
icons by carp, 1jobonthisship and midnightshow
Remember, you're playing Dimitri, not Dean Winchester.
While it's true that sometimes first instincts and gut feelings about a pb are definitely accurate and leave you with excellent pb choices, sometimes looking around for a bit is the best way to find someone who really works for the character. When looking for a Lewis, I looked through every glasses tag on every pb website I could find looking for someone who even remotely resembled him, and my hard work was rewarded with Constantin Gastmann:
icons by blevcons
That being said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using a popular or 'overused' actor for your played by. If they look like the character, that is what's really important at the end of the day. Never sacrifice a good match just because you feel uncomfortable using someone because of their popularity. Here are some examples of people with well known actors
as played bys that really work quite well:
icons by ether_bunny, 1jobonthisship and mayonegg
Both Nicholas Hoult and Hunter Parrish are extremely popular pbs for original characters on Livejournal, especially in places like sixwordstories. However, considering Nicholas Hoult has very mischievous facial expressions, occasionally reddish hair, and very similar facial structure to Peter Pan, not to mention his fluffy eyebrows, it would be stupid to sacrifice using him for the sole reason that he's popular. Similarly for Hunter, his range of expressions from goofy to very sincere (and his occasional mic in hand shot) make him a fantastic Danny.
One of my other 'overused' pbs was picked specifically because he was overused. When thinking of who to use for Chris Barker (Bolt), I stumbled upon a promotional image for Charlie St. Cloud and realized that Zac Efron was basically making the exact same face as Bolt in some of the posters featured in the movie promoting the tv show:
Not only does his nose look similar to the general slope of Bolt's face, but using a popular actor that's well recognized and sort of overused really plays along well with the idea that Chris is a popular actor who people would recognize on the street, i.e. I know this dog. In cases like this, it's kind of fun to have a little bit of fun with the preconceptions of what makes a good pb.
Remember, what's ultimately most important is that your pb looks like your character, not where they come from or who they are. Popularity or obscurity really doesn't matter at all.
Models versus Actors, and a Question of Expression
There is nothing wrong with using models rather then an actor for a particular character, and you should not feel intimidated if your perfect pb isn't from some television show or movie. The one thing to keep in mind is that actors generally have more icons and images out there to use, and generally have a wider range of facial expressions then passionless photoshoots. Expression is perhaps one of the most important factors when finding a played by. If your character is cheerful and bubbly, having a pb with little emotional range will just feel wrong, and you'll start noticing it pretty much as soon as your start playing them. After all, it would just be strange to have icons of Dory where the only face she makes is a blank model look. Expression can really make or break the played by.
To use another personal example, while looking for a John Smith played by, I extremely reluctantly settled on Chris Pine because he was blonde, less pretty boyish then someone like Justin Hartley, and has a bit of an edge to him. What really sealed the deal for me was that John and Chris make incredibly similar facial expressions all the time:
icons by 1jobonthisship
To ignore this just because Chris is a popular actor would have been stupid.
Basically, pick an pb (or at least icons of that pb) who shows the same range of emotion as the character. This helps enormously when playing them, and helps the person you're playing with know how your character is really responding to their post. Having a limited range of expressions can sometimes impede people's ability to tell what your character's tone was, and in general, it's just a good idea to use someone who does have a nice variety. You never know what your character can get up to!
It's a well known fact that sometimes animation crews turn to the voice actor for inspiration in designing a character. John Ripa (the supervising animator for Jim Hawkins in Treasure Planet) openly admits that Jim's design is very heavily inspired by Joseph Gordon-Levitt's, so much so that the character and the actor both make the same faces, and have incredibly similar facial structure.
Sometimes so much of a voice actor is put into a character that it's almost hard to think of anyone but that person playing them. Another good example is Susan Murphy and Reese Witherspoon in Monsters vs. Aliens, or even Iago and Gilbert Gottfried in Aladdin.
This does not mean that every voice actor is going to be the perfect choice for a played by. For example, Joan Cusack - while incredibly talented and wonderful - does not look anything at all like Jessie, not to mention is way too old to be a high school student As such, it makes much more sense that Kabby decided to use Lauren Ambrose, as not only is she much younger looking, but her face is rounder, her nose less pronounced, and in general, she just looks more like the character.
Just because someone voiced a character does not mean that they physically resemble them at all. After all, Ash and Kristofferson from Fantastic Mr. Fox are voiced by adults, and using either as their pb would just be bizarre beyond belief. Using a voice actor just because they provided the voice is just as lazy as picking your favorite actor from a tv series, and considering many people who provide the voices aren't the sort of people who get iconed on insanejournal, it's honestly just easier to pick a different actor more often then not.
Actors do not always play characters who are the same age as them. This is a simple, well known fact, and to turn down a good pb just because the actor's actual age is greater then the age you are making your character is a bad move. It is incredibly common for people who are in their thirties to play teenagers on television and in movies, and if the pros are able to get away with this, then why shouldn't we? Oftentimes, people will surprise you with their actual age when you look it up.
For example, my personal choice in an EVE (from WALL-E) played by is Alexandra Daddario, assuming that EVE was anywhere between a sophomore and a senior because of her wide blue eyes, dark hair, round face and very pale skin:
icons by hollow art
Alexandra is actually 24, and has played characters in their mid to late twenties on shows like White Collar, but was also cast in the Percy Jackson films as a 17 year old Annabeth Chase. My personal favorite example of this is that when Smallville started, then 24 year old Tom Welling was playing 14 year old Clark Kent. When Superman Returns was released, Brandon Routh was actually two years younger then Tom, but was still playing the adult version of the same character.
Judge age responsibly, and look at the other characters already accepted into the game for a reference as to how old your character should look. For example, even though Nina Dobrev is 21, her features make her appear much younger then some of her peers, even in her more recent work for The Vampire Diaries. In a game like Disney High where actors like Penn Badgley and Michelle Rodriguez are being used as seniors, Nina would fit in much better with the underclassmen, in that she really appears closer in age to Alex Pettyfer or Georgie Henley, even if she isn't that young in real life.
Unfortunately, played bys of certain ethnicities are often hard to come by. This does not under any circumstance make it okay for the player to settle for changing their character's ethnic heritage for the sole reason that they were too lazy to bother looking for someone who at least could pass for the original ethnicity.
Lilo Pelekai should never ever ever look like this:
icons by hollow art
You may laugh, but I've seen it done before. This also isn't saying that you have to use an English girl for Wendy or a Russian for Anya - because seriously, that would be sort of insane - but if your character isn't white, it's really not okay to use a white actor to represent them, just like it wouldn't be okay to use a Hispanic actress to portray painfully whitebread, blonde haired, blue eyed Cinderella or Alice. Again, look for someone who looks like the character. No one is going to split hairs over where exactly they came from so long as they look like the character, and if the character isn't white? The pb needs to represent that. Tiana should be black, Pocahontas should actually look Native American, and there is no universe where Matt Bomer makes a good Aladdin pb, no matter how attractive he may be.
Let's face it. Like real people, some animated characters just aren't that attractive. Therefore, their AU counterparts shouldn't suddenly look like impressive stud muffins either.
As our case study, let's look at Sid the Sloth from the Ice Age franchise. In canon, Sid is often referred to as homely at best, smells like a dead thing, has an impossible time finding a mate, and in general is kind of a massive yet loveable fail. He looks weird, his head is an upside down triangle, and he's sort of shaped like a pear.
So your first thought when looking for a pb for Sid should not be any of these people:
icons by frakkingcylon, tryslora and startingseeker
Ed Speleers, Sterling Knight and Alex Pettyfer are all way too attractive to be Sid. Instead of going for any of these 'popular' choices, Kabby picked Milo Cawthorne as Sid, and while it's true that he isn't hideous or anything like that, he is far more awkward and disheveled then any of the afore mentioned candidates:
icons by icondust
Again, it looks lazy and stupid when you just use the first blonde kid who pops up on pb updates. Looking for the right fit can take time, but it's certainly worth it.
Non-human characters can be both incredibly easy and incredibly difficult when it comes to selecting a played by. It's easier in that it's generally less important to match up facial structure in that not many people really resemble cats or dragons or woolly mammoths, but also more difficult because you have less to go off of when thinking about how to make your character look like a human version of their animated counterpart.
Lions and Tigers and Evil Koalas, oh my: How to adapt animal characters
First and formost when adapting an animal is thinking about what their fur/feather/scale color is. It's always a good jumping off point, especially when looking at a character who actually has a realistic hair color as their body shade. Let's look at some of The Lion King characters at Disney High.
icons by frakkingcylon, painted_veil and newborn
Each lion (with the exception of Vitani, because let's face it, it would be silly for Nuka's sister to be a red head if he's not) has their hair color match up with their mane or fur color. On top of that, all three actors look approximately the right age for sophomores in high school, and make expressions and even have body structures similar to their animated counterparts. This is an example of doing it right.
The next thing to really consider is expressions and other prominent facial features. As I've said before, expression goes a long way to making a good pb, especially when you are adapting a non human. For example, when thinking about who to use for Marlin, I wanted someone who looked grouchy and frustrated all the time without looking really intimidating. On top of that, Marlin (as he's a fish) doesn't really have a nose, so whoever I was picking needed a nose that wasn't exactly very well defined from most angles. I ended up going with Gregory Smith because he best fit these characteristics.
icons by winchesterway
With Manny, I needed someone who was similarly grumpy, but also had a number of snarky smirks to play off of his sort of obnoxious sense of humor. Although John Krasinski isn't really someone most people associate with being bitter and grumpy, he does make a number of wonderful expressions that just scream Manny the Moody Mammoth. On top of that, his hair is brownish reddish like Manny's fur and his nose is about as trunk like as you can get on an actual human being. Therefore, perfect Manny played by.
icons by 1jobonthisship, hollow art, the_twilight and icondust
Mittens is another character who's bitter and snarky but with a good heart. When looking for a played by, Kabby wanted someone who not only had black hair and green eyes, but someone who had the same range of expression as the original character. Leigh Lezark fits the bill perfectly with her dark hair and green eyes, not to mention pale complexion but also because her range just fits the character so well.
icons by hollow art
If you're really stuck on your animal played by, it's best to focus on expression and how that relates to your character, and making compromises about things like hair color is always a good way to get unstuck. For example, it would be silly for Dory or Marie to have blue or white hair respectively just because the original characters do. When stuck on hair color, it's best usually to either 1. use the next best thing (i.e. blonde for white, black for blue, etc) or 2. turn to the voice actor. Again, what's really important is that your character ends up looking like their counterpart. Instead of killing myself looking for a blue haired teenager to represent Stitch, I used Skandar Keynes because his hair was dark, and he has really wonderful devious expressions, which worked perfectly for everyone's favorite evil koala.
icons by peristyle
They Did the Mash: Monsters, Aliens, Talking Cars and other non human characters.
Again, start with the easy stuff. What's their primary body color? What sorts of faces do they make? Are they fat or skinny? Once you've got a good idea for that, it shouldn't be hard to put the rest of it together.
For example, when looking for a played by for Mater, Kabby didn't get bogged down in the 'he's a tow truck :| ' business, but instead thought about what were some of Mater's most prominent features. He's brown, and has large buck teeth, and in general is awkward yet adorable. Therefore, Jon Heder was an obvious choice, because he's quite goofy, has a very toothy mouth and brown hair.
icons by delineate
Similarly, her pbs of choice for Jumba and Pleakley both represent the character physically and with their range of expressions. She substitutes the purple and green for black and blonde hair and has produced two excellent pb choices for two wonderful characters who might initially seem a bit challenging because of their incredibly unusual body types.
icons by hollow art and scarletticons
And once again, if you're really stuck, voice actors can come in handy here. It's been popularly assumed by the fanbase that a humanized Lightning McQueen would be pretty similar in appearance to Owen Wilson, his voice actor. As such, when I was looking for a good match, I ended up going with Alex Pettyfer because he seriously does look like a junior Owen Wilson:
Another good example is Robin Williams and Genie. While it's very true that Robin isn't huge, blue and magical, he does have the same spirit as Genie in most of his press photos and other roles, not to mention his general demeanor. Therefore, he makes a perfectly fine Genie played by, and saves a lot of time and effort hunting for someone else who would fit. Other good examples include Emma Thompson and Captain Amelia, David Hyde Pierce and Dr. Doppler, and Paul Newman and Doc Hudson.
Let's put what we've discussed into action. So, you've decided you want to play Kayley from Quest for Camelot. First, let's look at a picture of her and think about what a good pb would need to have going for her.
As she's the main character, Kayley's a fairly attractive young woman whose hair changes with the limited budget of the film. She is predominantly brunette, and her face is somewhat round. Ideally, we want someone who incorporates all of these traits.
Well, how about Alexis Bledel? You say. She's an attractive brunette who looks like she could pass for a high school student.
icons by hollow art
While it's true that Alexis is pretty and brunette, that's really where her similarities with Kayley end. Her facial structure is very different from the character's, and therefore she's just not a perfect fit. Let's see if we can find someone else.
Kristen Stewart's pretty! And a brunette! Plus I totally loved her as Bella Swan, so she's the perfect pb for my Kayley!
icons by hollow art
Kristen's definitely better than Alexis was, but she's still not a perfect Kayley. Her face is just slightly too long and her cheekbones aren't quite right. And again, just because she was Bella is not a good reason to use her for a played by, no matter who the original character you're using her for is.
Let's take a look at Kayley Arthurs's real pb.
icons by delineate @ IJ
I chose Anna for Kayley because not only is she an attractive (sometimes) brunette, but her facial structure is frighteningly similar to Kayley's. (If you don't believe me, take a look at the first icon and the screencap I posted above.) She also is generally much happier in her icon sets then Kristen is, which is always important when you're playing a character who spends most of their movie being frighteningly optimistic about just about everything.
Now, happy pb hunting! Hopefully you've learned some tips on how to tackle this occasionally daunting but ultimately rewarding task. If you put in the effort and find someone really good for the character, roleplaying with other people will become much more fun, and I highly recommend thinking over your choices carefully. Take your time! See who else is out there! I've discovered some of my favorite actors through pb hunting, and have come to appreciate ones I already liked even more. Impulse decisions are not always the best ones, and sometimes there really is a diamond in the rough just waiting for you to find them.
Many thanks to Kabby for beta-ing this. <3