Thursday, March 30, 2006

Beautiful People 12 and Lovable Ducks

Hey look at more Rod Scribner crazy Daffy Duck faces from the Great Piggy Bank Robbery!
Andrea put a new scene up on his killer site-go there and see the rest! Then search for Gruesome Twosome on his site too.

Make sure you comment and thank the rascal for doing this for everybody! He's your pal.

I can't think of any controversy to stir up today so you'll have to satisfy yourself with envying the natural beauty of these great stars.

I gotta run down to a TV Land shoot-it's about the most popular catch phrases on TV in the last few years I think...

I'll find some crap later to stir up the pot again.

Buy some shirts and underpants!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Barber Shop 7 -readability

Hey go ahead and read the funnies and then I'll give you some bull afterwards.

OK, well I don't know how amused (if at all) you were but I'm going to tell you some other principles of good drawing and storytelling that have to do with readabilty.

By readability I mean how easy (or hard) it is to see the pictures and how well they draw you to the important points of the scene.
If you are already a pro, you probably know all these concepts, so I'm really just offering this stuff to young artists who could use some tools to help drive their ideas home.

Readabilty is made up of these tools:
Where you place your characters, BG and props within the panel (or screen if it's a movie).
I like to use simple staging and I usually focus on the characters.
I see some modern comics and shows that have complicated or cluttered images that make it hard for you to see in an instant what is going on.
I don't believe in filling the panel or screen with wall to wall detail. It makes your images and story hard to read.

Sillhouettes and negative shapes
The characters in this comic have more details than in my cartoons because we don't have to draw as many drawings for a comic as we do for animation. We can spend more time on each drawing in a comic.
Details can be dangerous if not carefully placed or if your characters don't have clear sillhouettes.
Look at the panel 1 on page 1. The barber is holding up his razor. It reads because there is a big space all around the blade. His whole body reads becausem it is a simple sillhouette. There is almost a tangent where his little finger hovers above the mirror's border. Had I noticed, I might have moved his hand up a bit more to clear the border better.
If you look at almost every panel you can see big negative shapes that draw attention to whatever the import action of the scene is.
Negative shapes are just as important as filled shapes-not only in your overall sillhouettes and composition, but even in detailed areas-such as a face. Note that between the characters' eyes and the sillo of the head there are empty spaces that help draw attention to the expressions.
I see a lot of young artists who will fill a whole face with the eyes, nose and mouth, so that there is no empty space in the head. That makes the face a jumble and hard to read.

Line of action
Look at the last panel on page 1. You can draw a line right through the barber's body, then through his neck and his head. This line of action makes him lean forward.
This is a concept that has really been lost in many cartoons today. I'm amazed when I see whole TV shows or movies where the characters are just standing or sitting straight up and down or equally bad-every bit of the body is zig zagging in every direction.
Almost every panel in the comic uses lines of action. I just picked the last panel of page 1 because it is so obvious-but the first panel also uses one for the barber, although more subtle.

Nature is asymmetrical or organic. Math is geometric.
I like art that is organic-that uses the rules of nature rather than the stricter and simpler rules of math.
When you see a scene that has 2 or 3 characters in it and they are all lined up with equal distance between them and they all are on the same angle, that to me is very artificial and boring. Poo on that.

On page 3, look at panels 2 and 5. Note that George and Jimmy are closer to each other than either is to the barber. George and Jimmy are almost one entity. No one is exactly in the middle of the panel either.
This concept of asymmetry is carried all the way to the details of all the forms. No 2 eyes are exactly the same, nothing on a character is exactly the same on one side as the other.
Even the eyes are different shapes on top than they are on the bottom. No perfect ovals.

Now even though this is a cartoon, I feel that making everything seem so natural makes all the crazy stuff that happens in the story more believable.
It's part of why people get so intensely involved in the stories of my cartoons. They just seem more real than what else is current.
It makes the cartoons warm. Many cartoons today are like staring at wallpaper that swears. You may laugh at the dirty jokes but it's very hard to be pulled into the stories because everything is so mechanical or artificial.
I invite cartoon designers and artists to comment on how many times their boss at some modern studio told them to make their drawings more even and mechanical.

Hmmm...a thought about characterization. I mentioned that I like things that seem natural. Well not just in the drawings but in the personalities of the characters too. Some cartoonists and all execs think you can define a character simply with a few rules and catch phrases-Chuck Jones for example. He says Bugs Bunny can never lose and can't ever pick a fight. I say, "Why not?" and so did the other WB directors. Some of Bugs' funniest films are the ones where he loses or is a big heckler-"Tortoise Wins By a Hare" is my all time favorite Bugs cartoon even though he loses.

Human nature is neither simple nor completely predictable. In modern cartoons the execs want you to figure out all 3 traits of a character before you ever animate a cartoon and then never to vary from this mathematical formula again.

Someone a while back told me I didn't understand George Liquor's character. Something to the effect of "George is a republican. Republicans are bad. Cigarette smoking is bad. Therefore George should smoke."

While I welcome the suggestion, I have to say that I grew up with someone very much like George Liquor who hates smoking and is very conservative.

I believe that all humans are full of contradictions and opposing motives. Which is why we are all crazy. And entertaining.

This story is about 2 conservative guys who have a lot of hate for certain things but they also have the capabilty to be soft and gentle. The pages in this post show that contradiction and I think that's what is funny about it.

My favorite panel is the bottom right of page 2 where Harvey just loses it and says what he really thinks about hippies.

Then in an instant both he and George lighten up at the generous suggestion that Harvey give the one decent young lad a couple nicks on the face and all is once again right with the world.

Now buy a Goddamn t-shirt and support natural insanity!

Beautiful People 11

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Mr. Horse rough to solid

Here are some models created from Ren Seeks Help.
One of the biggest problems creatively I've faced over the years is getting an original idea to survive the assembly line system of making cartoons-especially the Saturday Morning cartoon system I began my career in.

When you do an original drawing (if you are any good) you tend to put a lot of life and action into it when you first think of it. Then it has to be traced, cleaned up, animated and assisted and colored. Each of these steps along the way tends to tone the drawing down.

This happens naturally even if you clean up your own drawing-it loses some of the guts and spontaneity.

Now imagine if your whole production system is geared on top of that to purposely tone everything down!
That was the system in the 70s and 80s and is still the system at most studios today.

In my own studio and the service studios I work with, I have to constantly beg people not to tone down artwork.
The layout artist tones down the storyboard drawing. The animator tones down the layout, then the assistant tones down the animation key and then in Korea the "on model" department erases everything and traces a pose off the model sheet.

This whole process tortures me so I always have to teach people first-to not have an inclination to tone down a drawing I hand them-and then give them some techniques to help them preserve the life of the drawings.
These are some key poses I roughed out for Ren Seeks Help. I then gave them to my most solid artist in Canada to do sample cleanups. Helder Mendonca is a really great cartoonist whose strongest attribute is his ability to construct characters out of solid shapes. He is a natural talent who learned a lot from Jim Smith-another artist whose drawings are really solid.

If you look at the roughs you can see how I try to build up my poses out of simple shapes and then lay the details on top of them. And I attempt to wrap the details around the bigger forms. This is not natural to me. I naturally draw flat and had to teach myself construction, I'm not the best at it at all but I like it when I see it so I try for it.
Helder then tries to preserve the flow of the poses and make the drawings even more solid-these 2 concepts are very hard to balance-they are naturally opposed.
We did these samples and handed them out to the rest of the artists as guides.
Mr. Horse is a particularly hard character to draw-well all horses are! Do you remember when Dreamworks did a press release for "Spirit" and told everyone that no one had ever animated a horse with personality before? They explained that it was because a horse's mouth is too far from its eyes, so you couldn't draw expressions on one. Their solution was to shorten the snout to bring the eyes and mouth closer together. Uhhhh....ok.
Boy, try to draw gestures with hooves!! Yikes. Most artists are terrified to draw Mr. Horse. Helder loved it. He did a lot of his own scenes that are just killer. He drew the great pistol-whipping scene at the end of this cartoon.
He draws a good maimed frog too.
One of my favorite "solid" style animators is Bob McKimson. He animated a lot of stuff for Bob Clampett (as well as other directors) and he could draw really realistic subtle acting. He did the scenes in Falling Hare where Bugs is sitting on the wing of the airplane reading about gremlins and scoffing at the stories "Gremlins, little men..what a fairy tale!"
This - to me - is the best looking Bugs Bunny ever animated.

Clampett told me that McKimson had a photographic memory and when Clampett handed out scenes to McKimson, he would act out the whole scene live and Mckimson would just memorize every human gesture and expression Clampett did and then turn around and animate it just like Bob acted it out.


Hey, Brian Romero posted some Mckimson drawings of the greatest cartoon character in history-Adolph Hitler! Go check 'em out. He has 3 sets of drawings. The first and 3rd are McKimson's animation, and the middle set is Rod Scribner.

Also look at the rest of his blog. He has lots of great stuff there. Make sure you comment and thank his ass.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Specific Acting in Looney Tunes-Duck Twacy

While we're on the subject of specific acting you might wonder where I got the idea to do it in cartoons.

Specific acting is something we all take for granted in live action because each real actor is a live person who brings his or her own personality and observations of other humans to the screen or stage.
This is something all humans have naturally. Everyone you know has specific faces he makes and gestures she does we expect to see this kind of acting in our favorite TV shows and movies.

Most of us don't expect to see it in cartoons. Why? Because hardly anyone does it. Why? Because not very many artists ever thought of it and because it is hard to draw.

I accepted generic acting in cartoons when I was a kid, because I was so mesmerized by the sheer magic of drawings that were moving at all.

I started to become a bit more discerning when I was a teenager and I realized how much more sophisticated the Warner Bros. cartoons were than the other classics-particularly in how much more believable the characters were.

I found myself particularly attracted to Chuck Jones' cartoons and I noticed not only his slick drawing style, but also the unique expressions he drew.

I especially liked when he would invent an abstract expression that no human could actually do-like the famous "D-uh" take he draws where the two whites of the eyes are joined and one is bigger than the other. Thanks to Pat Lewis for finding me this frame below!

I used to copy all the funny expressions Jones did and talk to my friends about it. They thought I was a real weirdo let me tell you! Anyway, Jones' cartoons tend to be pose to pose, so whenever he invented some funny pose or expression, he would hold it long enough for you to notice it. That's cool!

When I was 20 I discovered Bob Clampett's cartoons and was instantly blown away by how much richer and more inventive they were than even my favorite cartoons of my childhood.
As a contrast to Jones' work, Clampett's cartoons are not pose to pose, they tend to be moving constantly. The amazing thing is that so much information is happening and yet it all reads - even without holding every idea!

He would have characters act and in a single sentence there would be a bunch of custom tailor made new and specific expressions to describe each inflection of the dialogue!

When I began freeze framing his cartoons a whole new world opened up to me. I realized why his cartoons were so exciting-something was happening on every frame! Not just bookended in the held poses. Clampett and his animators could control all this information and make you absorb it and understand it all. This is fantastic control-I can tell you from experience, it's really hard to do and back then no one else was doing it.

My pal Andrea, (Duck Dodgers) has done a great service to cartoon fans by posting still frames of classic cartoons all over his site.

Below are just a few frames from one scene of Bob Clampett's The Great Piggy Bank Robbery.

Note that the first frame is pretty normal looking.

This is animated by the great Rod Scribner. He uses every part of the drawing to get across subtle distinctions in the characters' mood at each instant of his acting.
He even changes the shape of the pupils during the animation to add color to the emotion.
This scene was one of the great revelations of my life!
Many of these expressions can't be described in words. I know what Daffy is feeling on the frame below but can't tell it to you. The picture speaks better than any words can.
Sometimes a duck has teeth, other times he doesn't. I remember an executive telling me to change a storyboard panel once because "ducks don't have teeth." It was a talking duck, by the way.
Look at the picture below sideways but don't let your Mom catch you.

That goes double for the one below! (I've seen this in real life many a time!)
Seeing Jones' cartoons and Clampett's cartoons gave me the idea to look not only at cartoons for acting ideas, but to look at real life, study actors and on top of all that even invent physically impossible expressions that can only be drawn.

I'm hooked on specific acting and can never go back.

Click the link below to see more of this scene, and if you scroll down the page fast it will animate! If you are a young cartoonist and want to learn fast, I suggest you copy these drawings and then go freeze frame more old cartoons from the 1940s and copy them over and over until you start to absorb all the great principles of the best cartoons ever made.

Hey Andrea, isn't there another close up scene of Daffy near this one that's even crazier?
"Hey, what's the matter with me? I'm Duck Twacy!"

Specific Acting: Lost Episodes of Ren and Stimpy

Hey folks,

Lemme talk about two little concepts in my cartoons:
1) The "Spumco Style"
2) Spumco Acting

OK first, as I've said before, there is no specific frozen Spumco style. The style of every scene in every cartoon I do depends on
who is drawing the scene (both storyboard and layout),
who painted the background,
what the scene is about and
how the artist and the characters are feeling at that particular moment.

In a very general sense the Spumco style is a combination of my style (which changes all the time) and the styles of whichever star artists happen to working on the cartoons with me. That's why not only do all the cartoons look different, but even from scene to scene characters and backgrounds change styles.

By star artists I mean the artists who have special talent - have a personal style, appeal and outlook. Not many artists have this but Spumco tends to attract them.

Now this very concept-of allowing individual artists to bring their own style to the cartoons is in this modern era of blandness unique to Spumco. Just about every other studio is completely anal about forcing all the artists to follow the model sheets and all draw the same. Every cartoon has to have the same look every week for 10 years running. To me, that is a waste of talent.

The other important major aspect of the Spumco style is the specific acting. In other words, we try not to repeat stock expressions over and over again. I have a rule that you are never allowed to draw the same expression twice in your life at Spumco.

To make this task even harder, the expressions you have to make up have to also fit the particular character and the very particular emotion he or she is feeling at this one unique moment in his/her life.

Whew! Sounds impossible? It almost is but we try for it and that's where the most fun is for me.

By the way, you really have to have strong fundamental drawing skills if you are going to try to draw specific custom made acting. Ask any artists that have ever worked for me how hard it is to do.

So below are some frames from the Lost Episodes of Ren and Stimpy. These cartoons are further experiments in the specific acting we used in the original series.

The amazing thing is many of the artists who did this work were very young and for some it was their first job.

We also had Ren and Stimpy veterans Eddie Fitzgerald, Jim Smith and Vincent Waller drawing the show.

Look at the pics below and I will tell you who drew them and then see if you can define the Spumco "style" in simple terms.

me-although Ren is an inbetween...


Helder Mendonca shows us duck lust

Fred Osmond has an eye theory for you...

This is a combo of me and I think Nick Cross...but it's a caricature of me.

This is a final drawing by Katie Rice inspired by a rough from Nick Cross. I enjoy combinations of different artists' styles. When you let people create and influence each other you end up with lots of new ideas and drawing techniques.

Here's Katie

Here's a layout by...(I don't know yet!) but it's from a tiny scribble I wrote on my timing notes.

Here's me. I make this face all the time.

This is Warren Leonhardt

Jessica Borutski.

Katie did the girls and Luke Cormican drew Ren.

Nick Cross drew this great stylish picture.

The Zone
I've talked to some of my artists about the "zone". This is a creative state we all want to be in all the time. It's when all the rules and restrictions that you need to be a good artist and to plan your scenes are lost for a sublime moment in your subconscious and then somehow out of nowhere weird things just flow out of your pencil that you could never think of using mere logic.

It usually happens at about 4 in the morning. I was in a zone when I drew that Ren above. His eyes don't make any physical sense, but you can tell exactly what he's feeling from the weird shapes. It's weird but specific at the same time.

Specific acting is not likely to happen for you until you get a good grip on the basics first. Drawing well constructed stock expressions is difficult enough. Specific acting is the next level up.