Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Importance Of Having A Lot Of Influences

Check out this article to see how to tell different Flintstone animators apart:

Animation tends to be a really inbred artform. Even in the Golden Age. Most animators are influenced by a very small school of a single animation style. There are the Disney imitators, the Warners imitators, the Hanna Barbera imitators, the Anime imitators, even the Dic imitators. Now there are even Tiny Toons imitators! An imitation of an insincere imitation!

The most prevalent house styles today are the Cal Arts style (every Disney, Bluth, Pixar and most feature cartoons), or they are Spumco influenced (Cartoon Net and Nickelodeon and many of my young fans), or they are Dic influenced (Shrek and most Dreamworks stuff).

In the early days of sound cartoons most animators were influenced by comic strips and there was a huge variety of styles at the time...HUGE! There have been way more cartoon styles drawn by individual comic book and strip artists and for a few decades the rule was "anything goes". Sure each major artist had his imitators, but overall, comics was a very healthy and varied field.

All these artists had their own sets of heroes and influences, some were more cartoony, some illustrative and a ton of variations on those general themes.

Chester Gould, George Herriman, Windsor McCay, Harvey Kurtzman, Milt Gross, Sullivant, Billy DeBeck, Chic Young, Jack Kirby, Virgil Partch, and on and on. Tons of different styles and approaches.

I think that animation in its early days was heading in healthy directions with the Fleischers, Terrytoons and the New York studios all exploring unique styles and giving their animators freedom to express themselves.

Men like Grim Natwick, Carlo Vinci, Jim Tyer, Willard Bowsky, Bill Tytla all drew in completely unique styles and no one seemed to be doing anything to force them into a house style or mold. Each house style was the sum of the artists that happened to be working there. At Terrytoons, it seemed to be very random with no control at the top at all, and to me that's a good thing for some studios to be.

The Fleischers had a studio vision, Dave or someone gave its cartoons a structure and statement that most other studios at the time didn't have and that's why their cartoons are so great even now. Terrytoons are pretty much an aquired taste by really picky eclectic artists and cartoon historians.

But all the artists at that time were influenced by many other art forms, not just other animation like the situation we have today.

The concept that all cartoons have to follow one style and one form was started by Walt Disney, who in my opinion diverted the natural tendency of a young art form to develop in random and varied directions and find itself, to a stilted inbred medium that quickly went against everything the medium was naturally capable of.

Walt's greatest talent was to convince everybody else that he was right and that everyone else was wrong, even though he was the most wrong of all.

When he came to the west coast, he somehow managed to convince all the other cartoonists to make cartoons like his, bland and boring and very generic in design. All of a sudden, cartoonists who previously were making cartoony and fun pictures like the guys at Looney Tunes, started making their cartoons more and more generic. If you watch Bosko cartoons from 1930 and then watch some Looney Tunes or Merry Melodies from 1934, you can see a big decline in design, fun, cartooniness and gags.

Luckily in 1935, Tex Avery and Bob Clampett came along and brought cartoons back to their roots and followed their own unique visions, rather than being low budget inferior clones to Disney's big budget bland and sappy non-cartoons.

Well I don't want this post to be about Disney. I'm just making the point that it is extremely dangerous to limit yourself to a small body of work in one small field of art. It's Ok that some people like Disney and the original Disney artists at least had some pre Disney influences. Now the inheritors of the Disney style only have Disney as an influence but without the solid art training that held together Walt's cheesy vision. Well, lately The Disney followers today actually do have some small other influences, but usually worse ones, like Anime or Hanna Barbera 70s cartoons-like every Disney Feature that has come out since Eisner and Katzenberg took over. They preserved the worst part of Disney-the sappiness, the insincerity, the pandering to mothers and they threw out the good parts-the amazing draftsmanship and attention to intricate detail. The 2d movies that came out in the 1980s and 90s look like big-budget Ruby Spears cartoons, they are drawn as badly as Saturday morning cartoons but pretend to have Disney sensibilty by breaking into awful songs every 5 seconds and having fake pathos and wacky irritating sidekicks. About the only visual similarity the modern Cal-Arts Disney style has to real Disney are the eyes and eyebrows and a couple mouth expressions, lifted out of Frank Thomas' little strip of expressions that nobody in real life ever makes.

I get lots of portfolios from kids that copied my cartoons when they were young, and didn't copy what I copied, which is a much wider range of styles. They inevitable copy the mistakes from my TV budget cartoons-and there are tons. Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon has made whole styles out of the mistakes from my cartoons.

Unfortunately for young artists today, they are are not subjected to a wide range of great cartoon and illustrative art. They are surrounded by comic strips drawn by people with broken fingers and cartoons that are copied from recent cartoons that are copied from recent cartoons etc.

Each generation gets more sloppy and farther away from the original skills and principles that inspired the first generation of animators.

Ren and Stimpy when it came out seemed like a completely new style to most people. There isn't one single influence anyone can point to and say, well it came from that.

A real irony, is that I sometimes hear that because I have opinions that I must be "close-minded". How did Ren and Stimpy come about if that was the case?

I couldn't have made a cartoon so different if I didn't draw on a ton of influences and styles and then mix them up in my own way. The fact that I allow artists to draw in their own styles in my cartoons is the strongest evidence of how liberal I am creatively. I'll try anything-as long as it attempts to be skillful. I don't always succeed, but I also don't have a bible somewhere dictating what expressions work in animation, what kind of story structures work, what kind of color schemes do cartoons use, etc.

I explore. In fact I feel completely guilty whenever I repeat myself. I do repeat myself sometimes, it's impossible not to, but I'm ashamed when I do. I'm always on the lookout for new discoveries, new styles, new ideas and old worn-out rules to break. It is my mission.. And to discover new talent and encourage them to find their own styles and actually put them into the cartoons-I've done that countless times and launched many careers by opening people's eyes to possibilities they would not even have thought of otherwise.

I guide them by showing them tons of different art styles-Shane Glines would be the first to admit that he discovered so much about different art styles and approaches just by working with me for a few months. His great site is a testament to that and every young artist should go to Cartoon Retro and voraciously eat up all the great art there and open your minds to a few more decades than the half of one that most artists draw from today. When Shane first showed up at Spumco a decade ago, he drew in Don Bluth's style. He did it very well and because of it, at first had a hell of a time breaking out of it. Luckily he was also a fan of comic books and was at least aware of other styles that were appealing and worth being influenced by. Like most young Cal Artsy style cartoonists, they don't even know they have an inbred style and they argue fiercely about it! "Oh I'm influenced by Frank Thomas, and my friend is influenced by Freddy Moore and so and so is influenced by Ward Kimball! We're all so different!" They will actually argue this and can't see the obvious irony in it that cartoonists who are influenced by a lot more than Disney cartoons (and their copiers) do. Shane, by inking my art and Jim Smith's, Vincent Waller's and Mike Fontanelli's was quickly absorbing some new drawing styles. Shane, jump into the comments and tell your fans to open their minds like you did.

Now to the point! Whew!

Here are just a few of my influences:

Animated cartoons:
Grim Natwick
Willard Bowsky
Carlo Vinci
Manny Gould
Izzy Ellis
Ed Love
Milt Kahl
Jim Tyer
Rod Scribner
Tex Avery
Chuck Jones
Bobe Cannon
Ben Washam
Mike Lah
Dick Lundy
Verne Harding
Katie Rice
Bob Camp
Bob Jaques
Kelly Armstrong
Eddie Fitzgerald
Lynne Naylor
Jim Smith
Vincent Waller
Aaron Springer
Ed Benedict
Dave Feiss
Nick Cross
Helder Mendonca
Gene Hazelton
Rod Scribner
Bob McKimson
Irv Spence

Those aren't even them all. But every one of those animators is unique and has a strong individual style and I have used some of what I like about their work and incorporated it tangibly in my own cartoons. It's not enough to say "I'm influenced by so-and-so". For an influence to have a tangible meaning you have to put it into practice.

I'm not influenced by the bland or by the artists that copy the originators and there are plenty of those, especially today since the whole system encourages imitation rather than individuality.

I think its great that there are so many blogs now that feature all kinds of previously obscure animators and I encourage every young cartoonist to go and not only look at the stuff you like, but copy it, analyze it and put it into practice! Be merciless in your self criticism. When you first start to copy this stuff it should be obvious how inferior your copies are. If you don't see that, give up instantly. But if you see that you have a long way to go, then keep going! The more you copy and criticize, the faster you will learn and improve. And don't get stuck on any one artist! (unless its Bob McKimson-you can learn a lot of technical drawing from him without absorbing too many inbred expressions and poses) Avoid Disney at all costs! Unless you want to be another Cal Arts zombie clone and draw the same 5 expressions and poses over and over for the rest of your life!

Now, don't stop there. Each of those animators was in turn influenced by artists from other fields.

Here are some of my influences from comic strips and comic books:
Milt Gross-the greatest most inventive cartoonist ever!
Harvey Kurtzman (Hey Look period)
Hank Ketcham
Virgil Partch
Don Martin
Basil Wolverton
Harvey Eisenberg
Dan Gordon
Jim Tyer!
Walt Kelly
Milt Stein
Billy DeBeck
Elzie Segar
Johnny Hart and Brant Parker
Chester Gould
Segio Aragones
Harry Lucey (sp?)
Owen Fitzgerald
Mort Drucker

There are lots more...there is a goldmine of variation in cartoony styles in comics that could be applied to animation easily if only people would look and then try it, rather than recycle the last 5 years' worth of decadent styles.

I even like some superhero artists like:
Jack Kirby
Gene Colan
Steve Ditko
and others...

For color and paint technique I like:
Art Lozzi
Johnny Johnston
Monteleagre (his early HB stuff-not Scooby Doo)
Mary Blair
Mel Crawford
Frank Frazetta
J.P. Miller
Delwyn Cunningham
Bill Wray
Kristy Gordon
Tons of Golden Book painters
Renaissance paintings in general
Almost all the illustrators at Cartoon Retro
Many more...

Most cartoons today are painted in simple primaries and secondaries like the colors you see on cartoon video boxes-super ignorant and garish-or the serious ones are painted in poo and pee colors (The Rescuers, Triplets Of Belleville)

For acting I don't limit myself to cartoons, because most cartoons-even good ones have very limited acting skills:

Acting Influences:
Rod Scribner
Bob McKimson
Jackie Gleason
Kirk Douglas
The Three Stooges
Carrol O'Connor
Everyone on The Beverly Hillbillies
Jack Benny
Peter Lorre
Jerry Lewis
Robert Ryan
Cliff Robertson
Joan Crawford
Bette Davis
James Cagney
Humphrey Bogart
Sydney Greenstreet
Barbara Stanwyck
William Shatner
Clarke Gable
Vivien Leigh

Some of those are sophisticated actors, some are corny, but ALL are completely unique and original. And it's a huge range to draw from.

I also study everyone interesting I have ever known and incorporate as much as I have time to. This is cartoons' biggest shortcoming-the acting. It is so inbred and inhuman, esp. today with the Cal Arts style permeating everything. You just see the same few artificial "animation expressions" over and over again. What's the cure?

Open your eyes and your minds! Look at the world around you! Compare it to the simplicity and repetitiveness of modern cartoons. Draw real expressions from live action and from your friends. Learn to caricature so you can break away from the few permitted facial shapes and structures that animation allows today.

You have to be interested sincerely in a lot of things outside of animation and get your eye and skills up to the task of being able to interpret what you witness outside of this little inbred world.

Learn drawing skill-skill that allows you to see what things really look like, unfiltered through your animation cliches and unconscious rules. Look at lots of different kinds of SKILLED animation. Learn to see the difference between originality and imitators. You can only do this by looking at and copying tons of stuff. And you have to look far behind our current era of amateurness and decadence.

I can look at styles today and tell you exactly where they came from, what is being copied and how many generations of copy loss they have suffered.

Yes there are a tiny few exceptions today-Jamie Hewlett is a big one, but don't copy him only as I see so many fans do-find out what influenced him and open your mind!

If everyone takes advantage of all the information that exists on the web today and puts the best of it to use, maybe in a couple generations we will have human cartoons again, made by actual people with personalities and the skills and confidence to put them into their films, rather than to blindly copy my style, The Cal Arts Style, Anime or the worst of all that flat fake UPA crap that is crawling all over the animation networks and abusing children everywhere. We need to make cartoons about characters again, not poorly drawn fake stylized wallpaper. Be nice to the kids!

Sorry there is no art here. There will be. I will take this apart bit by bit and provide lots of examples of these artists and even the decadent stuff.

Marc, heeellp!

That's what this blog is all about, to open everyone's minds to new possibilities for (skilled) cartoony cartoons.

It will take awhile and I can't post everything in a week.

Why do I like Clampett so much? Because he, like me is open to a wide variety of influences and incorporates so many different ideas and skills into his cartoons. He is the least imitative of other animators and was the most imitated outside of Disney during his reign.


Brian O said...

Holly Jesus, John! My mind is blown away. Tons here to think about and implement! HUGELY INSPIRATIONAL!

We owe you a huge debt for posting this. This is what people PAY to learn anywhere else!


Matt Greenwood said...

Wow, this is a brilliant post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the great post John. It's good to know that you like Walt Kelly, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby, there some of my favorites too. You've given us lots to think about and i for one plan to learn all i can from you. i've been working on copying screen grabs from old cartoons and i can see some improvement in my drawing skills. i think that you never really stop learning and being influenced by other Artists. there is always someone out there that sees things differently than you and that's the awesome part. i've absorbed and learned so much that i never knew existed from your blog posts and at the ASIFA archive, that i am truly excited about Animation again. hopefully one day we can take back Animation and make it FUNNY and entertaining like it should be. i know everyone that reads this blog appreciates all the knowledge that you're giving us. thanks again John!

Clarke (Csnyde) said...

As lengthy and wordy as post this is... I don't think you could have stated your point any more clearly or concisely John.

I can't wait to check back and see what great images you add to make this post even better somehow.

The whole concept of "don't copy me... copy my influences... and their influences" concept is far too often overlooked for the quick gimmicky style.

I have been doing my best to put this approach into practice as part of my never-ending re-eductaion routine for several years now, and sites like your blog, cartoon retro, asifa archive blog, etc... are such a blessing in this regard. You young kids have no idea how great you have it!

I even spent a good part of my time at the archive yesterday copying and analyzing the amazing old Sunday Milt Gross comic strips I was formatting on the computer... I think I learned some good stuff too, and can't wait to go back and learn even more.

Thunderrobot(aka Chet) said...

I feel the same way John.

I love to just take aspects of other designs, and then combine them with my (precious few) original ideas.

For instance i like ed benedict's head design, so i try to incorporate similar designs into my work.

Jack Ruttan said...

Maybe people copy, because they want to sell. And the market demands such conformity in art, where before, it was a lot of people drawing by themselves, and a lot of odd influences.

I'm influenced by 18th cent cartoonists such as Thomas Rowlandson, and John Hogarth. Also, R. Crumb, of course. but I don't think anyone exactly draws like me, and I try not to draw exactly like anyone else.

Not that there's loads of room for improvement in my art. But that's what makes it interesting to draw: changing and getting better.

Marlo Meekins said...

Original styles are certainly born from a variety of sources! Some of my influences are the colors and rust in the old furniture at my mom's house, Al Hirschfeld, the faces of my friends, and normal rules of appeal. Not some specific artist or style but a variety of visuals and experiences. I just draw and make what I love and in turn I developed a unique style.

Most character designers draw in a similar style.
It's an honest fact that people look and feel more different from each other and more exaggerated than most character designs!

Compare shows drawn in the same style, comic books drawn "realistically", you'll see the same human designs over and over again. You could probably give them names.

That bland anime girl face! torture!

Drawing identical features and expressions is almost a form of hate towards diversity. Humans look new and exciting and different, why not look around? Humans look COMPLETELY different from each other and have very specific facial expressions.

When I started doing paintings for the Tenacious D project with john, we pretty much took my existing painting style that I've already developed and added specific techniques from a variety of completely different artists to create a dynamic environment suitable for the scenes. The variety of influences made the painting style new and exciting!

k9_kaos said...

John, this would have to be one of the best posts I've seen. Thank you!

Creativity must be a tedious and monotonous existence if one is never trying to soak up all of the wonderful styles that have developed over the ages. I vaguely remember these animated snippets I used to see in ad-breaks on Cartoon Network quite a few years ago to encourage creativity, called "Animate Your World". One referred to how artists should absorb everything they can in order to be creative. If only they could follow their own advice! I think we should not restrict ourselves to being influenced by things that leap out in front of our faces, but also those that everyone else ignores. We should look even into the darkest corners for our influences - the world of art and entertainment will be a much richer place if we do.

Please don't apologise for the lack of art. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but since your post has 2,626 words, that's worth 2.626 Rembrandt paintings!

Kali Fontecchio said...

This was way better than the class I just had.

You have said many of these things before, but thanks for writing it down. The list of names you provided, I haven't heard of some, I have to go investigate now!

I read this twice to take it all in, though you may think you sound like a curmudgeon, what I get from your writing is that you really care about what you do, and care about young artists too. Thank you!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Wooooow!!!!! This is the mother of all animation posts! I wouldn't be surprised if copies of this continued to circulate for decades.

There are a few names on the list I don't recognize: Verne Harding, Halder Mendonca, Milt Stein, Harry Lucey and Delwyn Cunningham. Can anybody supply some info on these people?

JohnK said...

Verne Harding, Lantz animator

Halder Mendonca, manly spumco artist on APC

Milt Stein, Supermouse comics

Harry Lucey, Archie's best girl artist

and Delwyn Cunningham-top top tales artist

Brett W. Thompson said...

Holy smoke!

This is gold, thank you so much, John!! :)

I really, really like where you say the more we see that we have a long way to go, then keep going! I'm going to keep that in mind, 'cause I do have a long way to go, hah :)

Oh wow, and all those names to check out!

I want to copy a ton of stuff now.

And I love the comments people like Marlo (hi Marlo!) are leaving here. I'm curious to hear Shane chime in.

Peggy said...

or they are Dic influenced (Shrek and most Dreamworks stuff)

Oooh, that's COLD. *snicker*

i've often said that one of the main things I learnt from hanging around Spümcø was how to gleefully combine my diverse influences. I don't share a lot of your favorites, so my stuff doesn't look much like yours as a rule - but it's because of you that I can end up combining Edward Gorey, Fleischer shorts, and Kandinsky in one single drawing.

i was lucky; I got things like the Smithsonian book of comic strips at an impressionable age. I knew there were a lot more ways to cartoon than just the different sets of cheats that I saw on Saturday morning, and I stole things from those before I really decided to go into art at all, much less animation.

Lately I've been grooving on some of Doré's stuff. Check out his art for Baron Munchausen sometime, if you haven't already - I look at some of the drawings in there and say "This man was a cartoonist!".

Mad Taylor said...

This sounds like a manifesto to what could be a real major revolution in cartoons! Thank you for this John.

LêA said...

good stuff, john...I think I´m not wrong if I say that YOU are a major influence for all of us!

Thanks for this blog...It´s always been inspirational to me

One question: What about Freleng??

jamaicad said...

See, this is why your blog is at the top of my list. I'm here at school animating in the lab and decide to take a break and get some inspiration, and here it is. Fantastic lists, I'll definitely look up some of the names I don't recognize. One of the first projects I got as a college student was to research an artist, find every artist they mention in interviews and biographies (both influences, collaborators, and friends) and every day research a person on that list, and by the end of the semester you have a HUGE list of artists, many you never heard about and you get to start digging up unknown artists that influenced more recent popular ones.

So, Ottawa was great. The Constantine Bronzit retrospective and your Clampett workshop being the main highlights. There were some cool shorts as well, were you able to catch those? I slept through some good ones, apparently. Black Box, drawn by those 4 high school Korean girls? Absolutely amazing. Definitely getting my film ready for next year.

It was great to get to meet you! I'll show you some of my new stuff once it gets put online.


Brian Goss said...

This is your best post by far, John.

I really enjoy reading the comments about this as well. It's like taking a really cool cartoon philosophy class. :)

bgudna said...

thank you john, for this great and inspirational post! this will be printed and framed at my drawing desk :D
have a good day

Duck Dodgers said...

I'll be off-topic here, but I'm pretty curios which is the role of Marlo Meekins at Spumco.
I supposed she was an animator but I do not remember having seen her in the interviews in your DVD set.

However, if she is an animator, what scenes she animated in the R&S ADPC series?

I know much about the work of Katie Rice in that series ( about both animation and voice characterization), but nothing about Marlo's.

Thanks beforehand.

Patrick said...

Man, What a fantastic post!!! even without pictures this is extremely entertaining and informative. I enjoyed your list of influences ( many are the same as myself) All those "MAD" artists, Frazetta, stooges,Chuck Jones..a Brilliant melting pot of masters!

Craig D said...

I've already quoted a section of this post on my blog this morning.

You've articulated something I've been musing about for a while now. That is, animation techniques, animation art techniques and the animation industry, itself, evolved over decades. The idea that it is a freeze-dried skill-set that has been "perfected" and can now be packaged may be prevalent, but might just not be correct.

Another of my musings was, what if a person set out to make a series of cartoons with each being based on the prevalent generic style of each decade? You'd make a silent cartoon that runs a few minutes and looks like a 1915 comic strip. Then you'd make a longer 1920s silent cartoon absorbing the Terry, Fleischer and Felix influences. Then you'd make an early 'thirties sound cartoon, etc. etc. etc.

My expectation is, it would take a person forty years to go through the same forty years of cartoon evolution. I wonder..?

Thanks for a great post. And don't worry about adding graphics - IT'S FINE JUST THE WAY IT IS!

Graham said...

WHy wasn't Kirk Douglas on the influential actors list?

Franky said...

When he(Disney) came to the west coast, he somehow managed to convince all the other cartoonists to make cartoons like his, bland and boring and very generic in design. All of a sudden, cartoonists who previously were making cartoony and fun pictures like the guys at Looney Tunes, started making their cartoons more and more generic.

I was just watching Ren Seeks Help and I could help but notice the scene where Ren is in a Mouse outfit and he just wouldn't kill the crippled Frog. Just thought I'd mention that I noticed that.

I'm a comic editor and I find it so difficult to find truly original artists. So many want to draw in manga style or that style and don't know how to find their own style. I'll be sure to steer them to this blog entry, John.

JohnK said...

>>My expectation is, it would take a person forty years to go through the same forty years of cartoon evolution. I wonder..?<<

You'd have to tack on 5 years just to unlearn all of today's bad habits.

JohnK said...

>>One question: What about Freleng??<<

Is that bait?

El Feto Imperfeto said...

(Please excuse my twisted English, I am from Argentina, that ridiculously big triangle in the further south of South America :P . In the maps should read: A cradle of ignorance, Banana Republic, that kind of stuff.
But this blog thing rules, I realise how impossible would this interaction be 4 or 5 years ago)

Hi, John, I'm a big fan since I saw Ren & Stimpy when I was 10 or so when they were bringing them down here on the first cable-TV signals. And I am growing bigger (in my "fan-ness" - fanatism) since and each time I enter this blog.
But this post. Oh Lord. It is worthy of being published on a book every body interested in drawing should read, [I would dare to say "on THE book..."].

I blushed my face all over the post while reading because I only recognised the names of just a few of those great artists you mentioned... but it was nice to start "googling" and realize that most of them were some of the cartoonists whose cartoons I grew watching at and loving.

I was always wandering why is this kind of stuff you love and let us all remember in Ren & Stimpy being sunk in the past and replaced by those awful serial produced, boring, "un-imaginative", so called "cartoons" from nowadays. And found this post. It is as eddie said: this post should be distributed everywhere from now.

I particularily dislike those cartoons which look like animated in Flash or something like that, which makes them move so "unnaturaly", so "mathematically".
And I am aware that here there are people producing some finishing to several Cartoon Network shows such as "The Foster Mansion for imaginary friends". One would think: With 1 dollar you get 3 pesos here. And a good salary here is about 1200 pesos or 400 dollars... (I don´t know how much this drawers get, but it can´t be much more than that. Even if it was 2400 pesos, that´s 800 dollars...) It's cheap and it sells to make those things in this kind of countries, so, why would the producers spend much if they won a lot with what they are doing now.
But there is something weird. There is always a feeling "in the air" balancing between: how good the work is and how will they sell it. Seems like they tend to think "if it is too good, it will not sell or will be too expensive". Why? I don´t know, but I am sure it happens the same not only in the drawing media, seems like it is all over the "culture producing" all over the world, not only here. Internet would make things regain some values. It is hard to find what is really good since any one can upload anything but it is perfect to share knowledge anywhere instantly.

Hope things start getting better after this post of you, it blew my mind, sincerely!

Shawn Luke said...

Thank you, Johnny K, you have really given us something to think about. I know I for one have spent most of my drawing time copying Spumco, or trying to draw in a Spumco style that I have been missing so many other artists. It's just that I really LIKE the spumco style, probably because the good stuff is so different from everything else that's out there. I was over at Jim Smiths site the other day looking at his Ripping Friends stuff, and OMG that guy's a genius! But enough pratteling!
Thanks again

Stephen Worth said...


Milt Stein Supermouse Comics No. 4


A lot of the artists John mentions are featued at the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive. Do some searching through the past posts there and see what you can find.


Raff said...

I've been gearing up to give a bunch of people the same lecture for a LONNNNG time.

I'm working on a little production that's in its beginning phases right now (secret, secret!). I scout around to put a crew of artists together, and lo and behold, I find a lot of wannabes. Spumco wannabes, Tartakovsky wannabes, Anime wannabes, you name it.

I call them wannabes because they copy the superficial details and are insensitive to the roots. They watch old Ren and Stimpys and pick up the eye shapes, the saggy pecs, the thick linework, the background textures, the particular way to draw hands and shoes and so on. But hands and shoes don't make Ren and Stimpy, there's audacity, surprise tactics and a particular balance of smooth and jarring elements. Had the wannabes built on those qualities but with their own eye shapes and shoes, they wouldn't be wannabes.

Max Ward said...

Thank you for this.

Chloe Cumming said...

I love this post, very eloquent. I don’t think you come across offputtingly enraged or anything like that.

It’s nice to know you’re a fan of aspects of William Shatner.

There are reasons to be excited about drawing EVERYWHERE…

But your lists make me want to go and learn about new stuff. Cartoons offer a lot even to those of us who didn’t think we wanted to be cartoonists.

Sometimes it can be quite profoundly inspiring to realise how ignorant I am, because it gives me such a sense of purpose in learning, and not just book learning but visual, 2D spatial IQ learning too, which of course doesn’t get talked about enough.

The learning part is fun… being rigorous with yourself is fun… knowing you’re getting better is the best part!

And it’s never primarily about getting anyone else’s approval… you have to develop an internal sense of when you’re stretching your skills as opposed to comfortably coasting… or getting too pleased with yourself.

Being a cartoonist or an artist is not about sitting back and feeling smug when you’ve produced some gimmicky thing that you think looks the part… it is about always striving for new heights… and the reward is in the challenge. You have to enjoy the process even if no one is ever going to see what you’ve drawn.

That kind of smug self-satisfaction is not something that comes from real artists. It makes me think of the animation executives in that article you linked to a couple of weeks back.

Perhaps something deceptive happens with cartoons, that because the good ones are so immediate and fun and easy to empathise with, that superficially it’s hard for an uninitiated person to look beyond the cute surface to all the craft-learning and multiple influence-absorption that went into making it that cute. Anything beautiful has a hypnotic quality that might lull the young into thinking they don’t need to slap themselves about the face and neck until they learn how to draw.

It takes something of a struggle to make anything worthwhile. It is a process… if it’s obvious what the thing will look like at the start, why do it?

In posts like this you help me to value that sense of urgent rigour (I think I’m doing fancy British spellings again) that is basically the whole point.

I think that if people read this, they will get that. It will put fireworks up their bottoms.

It's Not Art said...

VERY inspirational.
I work in other art fields, like illustration, design, photog.. and I never understood the "I work in the style of _____." I've done plenty of pieces influnced by other artists, parodying styles & specific pieces, but why bother if you don't have your own style.

I will forward this entry to many of my creative friends. It definitely well written enough to be translated across mediums.


Dapper Dan said...

Dear John,

I'd like to hear about more artists that are currently working today (that you haven't mentioned beforehand), that inspire you and whom you think are at the top of their craft or up and coming.


Dapper to the D

JohnK said...

Hi Dan

I mentioned most of them in my list and have mentioned more in previous posts.

There are some stand-out talents today, but they are not in situations where they can creatively flourish. The situation doesn't exist anywhere.

Ted said...

Did Disney convince others to follow him so much as the market made others follow him? That feeds into Jack's post, but I think there's a lot to it. Innovation tends to be put aside if people think there's money to be made in something not innovative. It's a rational conservative position from the point of view of earning; innovation tends to be speculative, proven paths not so much. It costs a certain amount to produce innovation and market acceptance is not assured. Even if in the long view speculating on innovation was equivalent or slightly more lucrative in profits to proven paths (due to some huge hits in innovation compared to the many failures), money would tend to want the proven path because in spite of the assumption that a business is a growing concern, proven paths aare a better contributor to continued existence than a feast or famine business model based on innovation. When Mickey Mouse went over big, the money in the business naturally gravitated towards cloning that success. My impression is Disney shorts got safer and safer for years after Steamboat Willy (in terms of narrative content; altho more man hours and therefore costs were put into them over time, which is somewhat unsafe as an innovation in theory, altho it paid off well for Disney), tho, so I'm not sure exactly why that would happen, except that it was the natural progression of Walt's vision (creatively or from a calculated business standpoint).

As a consumer, I want different visuals. But to get them into cartoons, artists (or the industry) need to overcome these forces. Quality art is, unfortunately, not enough by itself.

Franky said...

One more thing, John. I'm so glad you mentioned George Herriman. Krazy Kat and Ignatz rule! I would love to see that properly animated.

stiff said...

Hey John, thanks for this post (and those lists), it's a big inspiration. I've been trying to study some of your influences, not just your art, but whenever I draw a cartoon, someone inevitably sees it and says, "Wow, that looks a lot like John K.'s stuff." (Except I know that mine sucks by comparison). I don't wanna be one of those knock-off hacks, so now I can see I need to get some more influences. And draw a lot more.

NARTHAX said...

Willard Mullin? Miguel Covarrubias? Those two were not chopped liver.

JohnK said...

The "market" didn't follow Walt much. He had a couple of successes. Mostly he struggled for cash.

Popeye dethroned Mickey in 1933, and the Looney tunes killed everyone in the 1940s.After Mickey, Walt never regained any strong character appeal with audiences again.

Walt finally made a lot of money with Disneyland, as Ray Crock did with McDonald's.

Vanoni! said...

A truly momentous post, John.

kali said: you may think you sound like a curmudgeon, what I get from your writing is that you really care about what you do, and care about young artists too.

I agree.

- Corbett

PsychoWiLL said...

When I was Younger I didn't have cable or anything, so I could only rent videos from the store. I have wuite a bit of inspiration on the internet, but for the most part I'm trying to be creative.

Mad Max Winston said...

Well thanks for the inspirational post John... but I have to say, once again, like I have many times on this board... stop calling it the "CalArts" style, please!!! I understand the crappiness of the Disney, Don Bluth, etc. style, but you can't tack that on to a school's style!

I go to CalArts, and I swear upon my life my drawings don't look like either of those styles. I despise most of Disney's stuff! But ah... I guess there are a lot of people here who mimic Disney. Just whenever I read the "CalArts style" label, it aggrivates me.

Hey John, you should come to CalArts and give a presentation or teach a class, that would be awesome... if you can handle it, ha. Thanks for the post.

Jennifer said...

Wow!! What a poignant post!

This is the ultimate read for someone already in the animation field or for a budding animator.

Is there a way that Marc can get this post converted to a PDF document and linked somewhere so people can download a copy?

Jorge Garrido said...

Wow! Best post ever!

Everyone head to the Animation Archive site and post your influences!

>Samm Schwartz - Best Archie artist

Bob Bollings- Little Archie artist

Dan DeCarlo- Archie

Ed McGuinness- the best modern day Superman artist. Ever. Round shapes, anime styled but no angular shapes, with a touch of golden age stylings

Bill Waterson- Calvin & Hobbes!

LêA said...

I want to know (only with educational-cartoony interest) if I`d make a mistake naming Freleng, or maybe (cause spanish is my first language) I didn´t understand exactly the use of the word "bait". Excuse for the molestia. Thank´s for the teaching sessions.

LêA said...


Eric C. said...

Cool John,

I'm already building a list for myself.

Jim Henson
You (of course, the one who got me interested in animation)
Matt Groening
Danny Autonucci
Mel Blanc
Mel Brooks
Anthony Asbury
Fluck & Law
Monty Python
Peter Sellers
David Zucker, the list goes on.

Thanks for sharing your knolege with us John.


_Eric ;)

JohnK said...

Hey Eric

I don't just show up in towns and hope there is a place to do a show. Someone has to arrange it...

Shawn said...

That was some good reading! Kind of makes me feel like a worthless piece of crap as an artist though. (joking...sort of). However, very inspiring to constantly expand one's horizons creatively and try not to get stuck in a rut.

John, you forgot Peter Bagge.

Jeremiah said...

I recently started drawing again after ten years of neglect, and at first I was frustrated about how far I still had to go, and how much there was to unlearn. But in that time I'd absorbed much, experienced much, and had acquired a massive army of influences to support me. These are exciting times.

Thank you for this blog!

LêA said...

I think that the influences came not only from the artists or the things that we like more...matter of fact, sometimes the things that we avoid-dislike have a lot to teach us...(how NOT to do something, how NOT to be, how NOT to draw).And sometimes, we dislike something that, deeply, is showing us something that we don´t like about we better pay attention to everything... For me that´s the meaning of studying a subject: to see, approach, understand and to profit from the wild, the stoopeed, the corny, the beautiful and the ugly stuff.Ok, F.F is not Clampett or Avery...but, as you wrote some time ago: "Watch them, because they are all fun, but study from the best!" Amen.

I don't really care said...

There are some stand-out talents today, but they are not in situations where they can creatively flourish. The situation doesn't exist anywhere.

This has been pretty true at least since the 60's and you could argue it was almost true even in the golden age. What would we have for cartoon history if Clampett had not had the seredipity to go to Warner's?

I read someplace that Scribner went crazy-drunk by the 60's just for the lack of something to do.

This, if true, is shockingly poetic. It symbolizes the reasons behind my personal choice not to become an animator, something I thought I would be for probably 10 years.

If a guy like Scribner who is way better than me can't make it, what chance do I have?

Well what I didn't racognize is that since the 60's I had a BETTER chance of making it as a CRAPPY animator, but I have high standards, and nobody was being allowed to make good cartoons.

Not to bring doom and gloom or politics into this, but I think the current patterns of ownership and distribution have got to to be changed. Artist's dismal conditions and their dismal products are symptomatic of a bad system. I'm speaking as an outsider who does not go to work everyday at Cartoon Network, but I still see an ugly pattern.

I don't work at an HMO but I know that when insurance companies regulate the daily affairs of doctors it does not lead to better health care, it leads to increased profitability for the HMO, at the expense of the clients.

Just like an insurance company, based on its desire to profit, believes it can tell trained doctors how to best limit your health care, cartoon executives believe they can tell trained artists how to best limit your laughter.

I've always loved John for his independent streak and without it there would probably be no ren and stimpy. Without it, by the time it got to air it would've been about 2 little girls and their magic pony.

To get back to the topic, what are you gonna do with all those influences if you are stifled by your own industry? How will you un-stifle your industry? What's gonna have to happen before we can all see how brilliant you are?

Some imply that it's a matter of time before things "turn around", but there is no precedent for self-correction. What will be the mechanism that saves cartoons? How will you create a situation in which you can fluorish?

Cartoonretro said...

When i first started "Cartoon Retro" I sent John a password along with a note telling him that I wouldn't be doing the site if it wasn't for him. I wasn't at Spumco long, but it was a defining moment in my life. It was exciting to find someone else who not only loved old comics, cartoons and movies, but who had an intellectual curiosity about them. John wasn't content to just experience art- he wanted to know how it was done. What were the tools? The thought process? The influences? He analyzed, studied, and interviewed- not just as a fan, but in an attempt to discover the secrets so that they could be applied to his own work, and that of his artists.

THEORY was a big word at Spumco. Don't just copy. Analyze, study, write it down. Explain in words what you are seeing. It's not easy- It uses two conflicting sides of your brain.

When I first discovered the Spumco library I was in heaven. John noticed how much time I was spending in there, and the big stacks of books and binders and videos I was checking out. He called me into to his office- "I'm glad you are taking advantage of the library- but in return I want you to write down what you are learning." He wanted me to make "theory binders"- so that he and other artists could benefit.

John has given you an impressive list here- but it's Important that you realize that this is John's list, one that developed over decades of study and research. Use it as a starting point to find what excites YOU. One of the drawbacks to working at Spumco is that John's personality and taste is so strong that it's hard to not be overwhelmed and only like what John likes. John respects individuality, and I don't think he would want you to unquestioningly parrot his likes and dislikes any more that you should accept every word written by Frank and Ollie.

Be curious, smart and critical. Don't believe everything you read. Develop your eye and your taste. Find what excites you- not because you were told it was good, but because you have a mental (and even better, a physical) reaction to it- and then dig deeper. When I was young I worshipped Frank Frazetta. I would read interviews that discussed Frank's influences and when he mentioned people like Howard Pyle or N.C. Wyeth, I would head to the library and find out who these people were. Artist interviews are my favorite thing in the world, because you have someone you admire telling you who THEY admire. What better education could there possibly be?


P.S.- Join Cartoonretro! ( Just today I posted complete comic stories by two of John's favorites- Milt Gross and Owen Fitzgerald.

Ted said...

Disney himself may not have met with much profitability, but it was my impression that his product made theater owners (and distributors? When was the film/distribution/theater monopoly broken up, and when did Disney start distributing themselves?) money, so demand was for Disney shorts and shorts similar to Disney, beating the other studios of the late '20s to change somewhat towards whatever that perception of Disney was (which meant at a minimum sound). A competitive market will tend to dry up profits as margins decrease to approximately zero in a bid to capture the market (again pushing producers to make tried and true products instead of risky innovative ones). But weren't the early Disney shorts largely profitable? The features tended to run into the red in the short term, but Snow White itself was quite profitable in its initial run (online sources say it cost $1.5 million but made $8 million in its initial run; tho I have no idea how much of that Disney got or what movie profit structures were in that timeframe). Fantasia was a financial debacle; it didn't technically make back its money until the '90s, right? (One thing Disney should be credited for is taking a longer term view of profitability; that made them a successful long term company with an imprint in the public consciousness, even if it meant that there was a whole lot of pandering going on.) Disney did seem to push for more and more expensive cartoons (whether as a true believer in the type of product that could be produced for more money or in an effort to make it too expensive for anyone else to compete with him, I'm not sure I have an opinion), which meant he kept not having money because it was being reinvested into the company (altho that paid off in the use of sound in Steamboat Willy). Was Disney dependent on merchandising in the '30s to keep the company afloat? If not, where was the money coming from to keep making more and more expensive cartoons? Disney didn't go public until 1939; that was after Snow White's massive (for the time) budget, and its profits; I assume it was due to the continuing large scale feature plans at Disney. Had they been financing debt up to that point? I'd be surprised if venture capital was willing to support them to that point if the cartoons weren't profitable; and I'd be surprised if the SEC of the depression would have been willing to certify the company if they had a business model that was based on producing material that constantly lost money.

lastangelman said...

Jeez, I've been studying Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd reels for the past few weeks, not only because I think they're funny, but because this is what all the early cartoonist and animators watched. I can't believe how many gags from these films I've seen echoed in Fleischer and Chuck Jones (the more physical ones), and Clampett and Tex Avery. Animators loved physical comedy, they must have been frustrated vaudevillians, at least the more cartoony animators.

David Germain said...

I personally don't think about influences as I'm drawing. I'm quite certain those will come through no matter how hard I try to hide them. Of course, every once in a while something I draw will be an homage to an artist I like, but for the most part I just let things flow. For example, I tried getting a comic strip published (Oh my God) alomost 10 years ago. His name was Smudgebottom. I posted a sample of him on my blog here back in May. Anyway, I showed this character to a teacher of whom I'd soon be taking a course with and his first reaction was "Why does he look like Ren?" I certainly didn't try to make him look like Ren. At the time I created him, I was moreso thinking about the many crazy looking charcaters Bob Clampett would come up with in Porky in Wackyland or something like that. That just shows that you don't always know who's influencing you until it comes out through your work.

On the subject of copying the work of others in order to study them better: I personally hate simply copying what's in front of me. I hate doing that with a naked person on a stool and I certainly don't care for copying a picture exactly either. I'm certainly not adverse to drawing establishe dcharacters like Daffy Duck or Screwy Squirrel, but I have to put them in a pose of my choosing straight from my head. Doing it any other way is tedious and annoying to me. (That's also the reason I've been putting off doing the exercises in that Preston Blair book).

Is this quirk of mine hampering me or making me stronger as an artist? Or both?

mike f. said...

A highly analytical, extremely informative post.

The scope of this list makes it clear why artists of my generation become disgusted whenever we ask upcoming cartoonists for their list of influences - and the answer we hear most often in return is “South Park and Family Guy, [dude]." And... that's it.

It’s even more frustrating when you consider that young people have it much easier today to research great artists than any generation before them. They have the whole Internet at their disposal, the greatest instant reference database machine ever invented.

I can briefly echo Shane Glines here by stating that I learned more in any given month working on Ren & Stimpy than all 4 years of art college combined.
I hope this arouses young cartoonists to seek out new sources of inspiration; ones that are not necessarily within their own generation.

Mr. Semaj said...

Whoa, wait a minute! There are DiC imitators out there?! Jeez, I'm not a DreamWorks fan, but this gives me something to think about.

Okay, after reading this post, I'm going to admit that my own range of influences is quite limited. If not, then I have yet to actually study most of the names on my list. I do thankfully have interests outside animation, but not enough of it.

- Robert McKimson
- Marc Davis
- Ollie Johnston
- Charles Schulz
- Chuck Jones
- Ward Kimball
- Tex Avery
- Bob Clampett
- Frank Thomas
- Brooke McEldowney
- Fred Moore
- Don Shank
- Craig McCraken
- Aaron McGruder
- Vince Waller
- Paul Rudish
- Chris Reccardi
- Glen Keane
- Mark Henn
- Genndy Tartakovsky
- Steven Hillenburg
- Mark O'Hare
- Patrick McDonnell
- Matt Groening
- Everett Peck
- Rob Renzetti

...and more.

I've been trying to get into different forms of fine art for months, but there's always stuff slowing me down.

Contemporary animation is more of a mixed bag to me. Aside from artistic merits, I see a lot of stuff in cartoons that I DON'T like, even in the projects I admire. It took me a while to get into King of the Hill, but they just have a habit of making the characters both funny AND annoying, where, in past couple years, they've resigned themselves to mediocrity, therein sliding more towards the boring and annoying traits and ultimately killing what was once a decent show. The only real miracle is how the show lasted as long as it did.

Among your influences, could you at least elaborate on Milt Kahl? He seemed to share a trait with Robert McKimson.

Raff said...

Speaking of influences, I'm really starting to dig some old artsy, minimal stuff because it reveals raw skill and clever responses to challenges.


La Linea by Osvaldo Cavandoli:

and a whole host of animated bits from early Sesame Street and The Electric Company by Jeff Hale, Bud Lukey, Jim Simon, Darby Slick, the Hubleys, Cliff Roberts...there were so many.

keenan said...

thanx john .... can't thank you enough for this post, it has really opened my eyes and i feel really inspired to go out and study all these great influences and copy their amazing stuff .... i admit my influences are quite limited, but thats due to all the rubbish that we get exposed to nowadays instead of the good stuff! =/ (my list of influences is however growing)... i have started watching loads of old betty boop, popeye and looney tunes cartoons (espescially clampett, but unfortunately i find his cartoons are exceptionally difficult to get hold of) and they have such appeal and are so amazing!!! .. they really excite me and i watch them frame by frame and over and over again!!!! i also try to expose my classmates (1st year animation) to all of these great cartoons, but most of them aren't interested because its "old" or something ... well i guess it's their loss!!! i can't understand the appeal of anime, why is it so popular .... the construction is all wrong, there's no acting, i won't even mention the lip-syncing, and there isn't much animation at all ... just a bunch of camera moves!!! ... huh, and this is entertaining? *snore* .... anyway, i've got a long way to go, so i better get started! ... i'm going to print these posts and put them up all over the walls of my classroom so that anyone willing to learn will read them .... thanx again!!! =)

J. Garibaldi said...

John, I can't express how happy your post has made me. I'm an animation student in Chicago, and it seems that everyone around has one prime influence. It gets kinda lonely when I get excited by the not so mainstream techniques and styles, and no one is even interested in taking a look. It seems alot of students are mislead into thinking they have to go with a certain style that's successful in order to catch an audience that's already there. It's stagnant! It's boring! Sure, there's something to learn from it, but where's the excitement of having something that's distinctly yours?

The Lar said...

Hi John
Off topic Sorry
I tried to post a comment yesterday on topic but It never showed up .
Anyway I have a new sketch blog up now
And if you get a sec-I'd love some input-
My two latest posts dont seem to be apearing so here's some direct links


Any input would be greatly apriciated (As well as anyone else seeing this)
For you are on MY list of influences
-Matt aka the Lar

Jorge Garrido said...

>The scope of this list makes it clear why artists of my generation become disgusted whenever we ask upcoming cartoonists for their list of influences - and the answer we hear most often in return is “South Park and Family Guy, [dude]." And... that's it.

If anyone ever told me Family Guy influenced their cartooning I'd knock them out.

Allison said...

amazing post! one observation though, i noticed you didn't list any filmmakers (ie live-action directors) among your influences, why is that?

Allison said...

Amazing post, one observation though, i notice you didn't list any filmmakers (ie live-action directors) among your influences, i was just wondering why as animation is really a filmmaking technique?

Matt Greenwood said...

"Is this quirk of mine hampering me or making me stronger as an artist? Or both?"

Well of course it's hampering you. It's nothing to do with style, it's your skill as a drawer, and obviously doing the Preston Blaire examples will help you with the basic principals.

How could that even be a question, of course you should do the lessons. Everyone should.

Dungeon Warden said...

This topic really echos the talk given to my class on Friday about the state of the animation industry today. The head of Collideascope (Halifax, NS)came in and gave a 4 hour talk about how animators are pushed to create as fast as they can until they just burn out. You almost have to cheat and use the same faces over and over again because there is just no time to draw anything new. Add on the pressure of keeping "On Model" and you have a formula for boring drab cartoons.

I am going to draw from everyone's art work from now on. I've seen a great many different styles, including British comics (ever seen "Giles?" (, and I need to learn to mix things up a bit more in my own artwork.

My E-comic ( is as much a history of my growth as an artist as it is a fantasy story. Stuff I though was pretty good now looks ugly to me. I now see I have a long way to go.

Thank you for this wonderful post, it will go a long way to helping me improve. I look forward to reading all your great posts. Keep it up.

akira said...

speaking of styles and imitations i just wanted to say what totally impresses me is when an artist take a great style/property and put their own spin on it to make it look even better than the original. i'm thinking about guys like the early mad artists like bill elder("Starchies") and Wally Wood("Flesh Garden" and "Superduperman") and you(Boo Boo Gone Wild). i agree that you can't make a direct copy better than the original. but wouldn't it be great if more artists put more of themselves into their work with the potential result of improving on the original? maybe wally wood, bill elder and you are great proof of how skills can improve styles?

J. J. Hunsecker said...

The "market" didn't follow Walt much. He had a couple of successes. Mostly he struggled for cash.

Popeye dethroned Mickey in 1933, and the Looney tunes killed everyone in the 1940s.After Mickey, Walt never regained any strong character appeal with audiences again.

Walt finally made a lot of money with Disneyland, as Ray Crock did with McDonald's.

I don't agree.

From about 1928 until sometime in the late thirties, Disney was successful and received critical accolades to boot. In the twenties, everyone -- including Disney -- copied Otto Messmer's Felix the Cat. In the thirties, every studio imitated Disney. Disney didn't force them to, they did it to try and glom onto some of his success. Many major studios hired a former Disney employer to run their shops -- Burt Gillette at Van Beuren, Ub Iwerks' own studio for MGM, Hugh Harman & Rudy Ising at Warner Bros. None of them could duplicate Disney's success.

Harman-Ising copied Walt with their Bosko character, who spoke in a falsetto. Foxy (from Lady Play Your Mandolin) was an even more blatant Mickey Mouse clone. Even the titles Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies were rip-offs of Disney's Silly Symphonies title, just as Harman-Ising's Happy Harmonies were at MGM. Columbia redesigned Krazy Kat to look more like Mickey, and Terry/Van Beuren had Milton Mouse, who first starred in Hot Tamale (1930). Popeye may have been more popular than Mickey after '33, but the Fleischers also imitated Disney's Silly Symphonies cartoons with a color series of thier own (I forget the name of the series, but they're available on the DVD Somewhere in Dreamland).

Disney had success with Mickey Mouse -- a merchandising bonanza -- until his popularity was eclipsed by Donald Duck (his second strong character appeal with audiences). Disney also had a lock on 3-strip Technicolor in 1933, giving his cartoons an advantage over other studios' black and white, and two-strip color cartoons.

The Three Little Pigs was a huge success, and "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf" was a hit song.

This all culminated in the success of Snow White in 1937.

The Disney cartoons also expanded the vocabulary of the animated cartoon. It was at Disney that characters were no longer drawn with rigid circles for body shapes, but rather with pliable pear shapes. In Walt's cartoons the principles of stretch and squash, overlapping action, anticipation, overshoot, etc. were first discovered. All the major animation studios copied these breakthroughs.

Disney's troubles started in 1939, with WWII curtailing the European market for films, the financial failures of Pinocchio and Fantasia, the costs of building a new studio in Burbank, and the bitter studio strike in 1941. After the strike he lost a lot of talent and his studio entered into a long decline.

By the forties, the Warner style had taken over and MGM's Tom & Jerry beat Disney at the Academy Awards.

Sorry for the long post...other than your comments on Disney I agree with what you have to say.

akira said...

wait a second jj hunsecker... you seemed to be saying that before walt disney all characters were being composed of rigid circles? and walt introduced the "pear shape" to animation?? are you nuts or what? just becuase there were mickey mouse cartoons early on in animation that doesn't mean all animation afterwards owes its existence to disney. i'm no animation historian but just off the top of my head i can think of "gertie the dinosaur" which wasn't drawn with a compas or by tracing a nickel...

come on disney says they were the first to use color, sound and multiplane(false) but saying they invented the pear shape is just pushing it a little too far

J. J. Hunsecker said...


I'm talking about the rigid cartoon formulas used by the animation studios in the 20's, not the work of artists like Winsor McKay. McKay was in a class by himself during the teens. He produced his cartoons independantly, and took his time doing it. The commercial studios didn't have such luxury and churned out cartoons at one a week during that era. Most animators also didn't have McKay's skill or draftmanship. McKay, though he influenced many future animators, didn't have much influence on the major studios of the silent era.

It made more sense for the studios to imitate the simple designs and animation of Otto Messmer. Besides, Messmer had created the first truly successful cartoon character, Felix the Cat, and the studio heads thought they could achieve a similar success with pale imitations. Messmer's cat was made up of rigid circles for a body and rubber hose limbs.

Look at the model sheet for animated characters from the early thirties. You'll see that the body is drawn using two circles, which never changed shape in the animation. (I've heard that the animators would trace quarters and dimes for the body.)

And yes, I realise that many claims by Disney for the first use of sound and color were specious, but he was the first to break away from the rigid formulas created in the 20's to more supply shapes, thanks to Freddy Moores' draftsmanship and sense of design.

JohnK said...

>>It made more sense for the studios to imitate the simple designs and animation of Otto Messmer.<<

Like Disney did.

>>Besides, Messmer had created the first truly successful cartoon character, Felix the Cat, and the studio heads thought they could achieve a similar success with pale imitations.<<

Disney included.

>> Messmer's cat was made up of rigid circles for a body and rubber hose limbs. <<

Mickey (and all of his barnyard friends) were even more rigid and all made of the same shapes, same eyes, same mouths etc.

>>Look at the model sheet for animated characters from the early thirties. You'll see that the body is drawn using two circles, which never changed shape in the animation. (I've heard that the animators would trace quarters and dimes for the body.)<<

Yeah, that's what the Disney animators say THEY did in their books.

>> but he was the first to break away from the rigid formulas created in the 20's to more supply shapes,<<

Well no he wasn't. Betty Boop, Koko and Bimbo are not made of perfect circles and all look different. Fleischer and Terry had a much wider range of shapes in their designs and I've already done posts about that. Disney RETURNED to the simplistic shapes of an earlier era and formulized everything. Then the west coast animators followed suit, thinking there must be something to being totally generic, since Disney was getting himself some notice.

Watch the Mickey Mouse cartoons from the early thirties and compare them to Fleischers's and Terry's cartoons from the same period. The New York cartoons are far more interesting and varied in design, animation and content.

Go to the animation archive and watch them. I'd love to have someone tell me these crazy Disney myths to my face with the obvious contrary evidence right in front of them.

Anonymous said...

How do you feel about Military influence in cartoons, especially Looney Tunes? IF you have any references let me know please? I am doing a project on it for school.

radio2019 said...

Hi John,

Been meaning to write to you for quite some time regarding this post.

I'm not a cartoonist. I'm not an illustrator. Heck, I can't draw a straight line with a ruler.

However, the art that I DO has just benefited 10 fold from your words. Thank you so much for writing everything my brain tofus wanted to say without having the ability to really put it to words.

You have been a source of inspiration since the very first time I saw the Ren and Stimpy show and I don't know of any other way to thank you than to link this post to my blog with the hopes that other people will feel just as excited about what they just read as I do.


harold said...

your page is great
wonderful history
what about Hayao Miyazaki
disney has 200 animators
working on a project
Miyazaki has at the most 20
how amazing are his toons
princess mononoke spirited away
howls moving castle tales of earth sea these are masterpieces i have seen nothing
2d in america even close
maybe don bluth or disney during
the walt years
i have lost faith in the new
animators in america
flat flat flat

Andrew said...

Thank You John for putting this stuff up. I'm glad I found out about your blog before I dived into learning animation. I wanted to draw comics since I was young, but I recently wanted to try animation too, so I'm definately going to learn a lot from this!

Mattieshoe said...


What exactly are you talking about when you say "Tiny toons imitators"?

rodineisilveira said...

Johnny K.,

Here's the cover of the Hanna-Barbera Songbook, wonderfully illustrated by Bill Wray.
The cover is on the following link:

Niki said...

I had to post up here about this! A lot of folks are pissed off at me because I'm actually copying old artists! I had to say this is amazing!

Anonymous said...

Bridging the gap between my life drawing and my cartoons is one of my biggest struggles right now, and reading this has been such a huge springboard. Thanks so much for the wonderful info.

Kevin said...

I'm sorry, but Winsor McCay's a genius. This probably wasn't up back in '06, but check this out:
Gertie the dinosaur, 1914.

Smoother then silk. Wiki says the first American animation was in 1906, and just 7 years after we're seeing sophistication far beyond it's time.
Since this was shown on vaudeville tours, McCay would actually interact with the cartoon (e.g. he'd pet Gertie). This, way back in 1914.
Guy's got a sense of humor, too.

Landon said...

Wow, that's a lot! And I haven't even read the whole thing yet!

I do agree with that point, and as such, I try to have a lot of influences as well. Recently, I've been trying to be more diverse with some of my works. Maybe I should read through the whole thing sometime...

Isaak said...

Did you get ideas from Night of the Hunter if you watched it early on? It seems to do a good job caricaturing and maintains a cartoony style theat also accomadates a religious setting.

Also, are there any live action movies you think uphold cartooniness, such as Sky High, or would it be impossible?

Alice said...

It is amazing how many influences you have! It is wonderful that you made a post like this especially now, since everyone I know seems to only draw anime (a singular influence). Out of curiosity, for anyone, who influenced Milt Gross? His style is super unique and cartoony, I am very fond of it, who inspired him?

SparkyMK3 said...

Eddie Fitzgerald, when you say this article will be circled for decades, i personally will see too it that comes true. I am copying down tons of John's posts, and i'll be sure to use them, along with other bloggers, to educate fellow animators. This article will be one of the first i will show them, guaranteed!

Thank you so much for this stuff, John! This info is worth a King's ransom, but you've given it to me for free! God bless you!

MickeyCat said...

You're probably the only one on earth who hates those Disney songs in modern Disney animated features.

raymondloseke said...

Disney is no longer good as before. Disney is influenced by Japanese video games. Their new film is called Wreck-It-Ralph.Today Disney influenced pixar.exemple:the new movie Brave.

raymondloseke said...

Disney is no longer good as before. Disney is influenced by Japanese animation. their new film is called Wreck-It Ralph.Disney influenced Pixar exemple Brave the new Movie.

paul said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.