Monday, October 16, 2006

The Death Of Form

1960


1980-now

What's the difference between the world before 1970 and the world after?

Simon the Chipmunk will demonstrate:
Before hippies destroyed the western world in the late 60s there was a concept called "form". Form is structure. It is a skeleton which has an central idea and existence and it holds together various details which add up to a specific instance of the form.
Here is a toy of Simon the chipmunk from the 1960s cartoon series. It is a well made toy. It has a solid recognizable form and the details are fairly cute and tasteful. It is a nice happy thing to give a kid (or a grown up nerd like me). Whoever made the toy liked kids and was kind to them by making something cute and fun. The sculptor did what was once obvious to people-make things well and make them with a purpose in mind-in this case-make a cute toy because kids like cute toys. Logic and common sense-foreign concepts today.
Here's a version of supposedly the same character from the 1980s. What's the difference? No form. No taste. Ugly, sloppy and wrinkly. Whoever makes modern toys for kids doesn't understand the concept of toys and cartoon characters. They are supposed to be made to make kids happy. That means cute and appealing and with a distinct shape and form. In order to be appealing, you have to have form and design. It doesn't seem to exist anymore.
The bastards that make shit like this must hate kids. Either that or they are just plain retarded.
I really feel sorry for kids today, kids and girls actually. There is nothing cute or visually appealing anymore. Have you seen how ugly and bland Teddy Bears are now? Unbelieveable. There is a commercial on TV today that is actually kind of clever, it's about sending Teddy Bears to girls you wanna hook up with. The girls get the bear in the mail and then want to mate with you. It's a good and logical concept, but it doesn't work because the actual teddy bears are hideous. There's nothing remotely cute about them. They look exactly like the cheapo ones you see at the check stands. Girls and kids (and cartoon nerds) need cute stuff! There's a huge market just waiting for somebody to exploit and no one is doing it. Not since Powerpuff Girls.

Compare Dreampets from the 1960s to Beanie Babies of the 90s. Two very similar types of toys, except the Dreampets are well designed and have solid forms and Beanie Babies are limp lumpy blobs.

http://inspiration-grab-bag.blogspot.com/2006/03/dream-pets-updated-wsketches.html





Look at these amazing wrinkles and lumpy seams. How in Hell does stuff like this get approved by the cartoon companies, the toy companies and the toy stores?

Alvin in 1960. Cute with form.
Alvin in 1990. A vague limp shapeless wiggly blob.
Hey, most people like babies, right? We think they are cute and cuddly. It's a good thing corporations aren't in charge of baby design. Imagine if babies didn't have skeletons or even cartilage? If the people in charge of modern culture had their way, babies would be pink bags of skin filled with eyeballs, gums and poo.

Look at these interesting and fun specific designs of similar forms from the 1960s. So when did everything fall apart?In the 1970s form began to be considered uncool. It represented the rigid establishment. So everything started to become vague and mushy. These toys are just one example of the horrible thing that has happened in all walks of modern (post 1970) life. Nothing has form anymore. Music is rambling non melodic nonsense. Jorge's pants aren't the same shape as his legs. Movies and TV are vague, dark and shot with wobbly cameras. Form has since been replaced by meanness, ugliness and "attitude".

This Fred is an early example of slipping standards in toy manufacturing. Compared to the toys of just 5 years earlier, this seems to have less form, structure and appeal, yet compared to today, it looks brilliant.


I think it's time to return to form and planning instead of this random ugliness that pervades modern western life now.

The sad part is, no one even knows what form is anymore. They sure as hell don't teach it in schools. Makes me wonder what school is for if everyone is just allowed to be random and vague.

All this of course applies to drawing cartoons. If you wanna be good at it, you need to learn construction, which is the form of characters. If you draw that flat stuff you will never have any control over what you do and everything you do will be accidental. Modern flat is nothing but avoiding the problem of learning to draw. Understanding and practicing form will open whole new worlds to you and give you much wider choices in your art.

Believe it or not, the 1950s UPA style cartoons do have form, unlike today's flat stuff. I will explain and show you the difference in a later post.

105 comments:

Jennifer said...

This is a really good post, and very true. This reminds me of my Paddington bears. I have an original Paddington bear from England that my dad gave me (my dad was raised in England), and I have a Paddington bear that was marketed by Sears that a guy I dated gave me. The difference is night and day. The Paddington bear from England is very well-made and it has character. While the bear from Sears is well-made, there isn't really any character in it.

Actually, I thought the chipmunk with glasses was Simon...

Anonymous said...

please give us more information! i want more john! more i tells ya!

Max Ward said...

Good post for a long term of absence. Is that last picture a bag of milk? I can't wait for a follow up post.

Art F. said...

hooray for construction, form and cute toys! John, could it be that toys are no longer cute or even good looking because much like modern cartoons, the artistic skill level is just not there anymore? not to mention making cheap toys is CHEAPER for the companies making them. shoot, maybe these people do hate kids and just see them as future consumers of their badly made crap. start 'em out young not knowing what quality is, and they won't question it later. sounds plausible to me.

The Butcher said...

I think that first one is Simon, not Theadore.

When I try to explain the kinda stuff you talk about, everyone gives me the same stupid retort about art being whatever you want it to be, blah blah blah. They can't seem to understand that unless you are willing to learn, it can't be whatever you want it to be. I'm not saying I'm very familiar with the fundamentals, but I've always tried to plan my drawings out and I don't pretend I meant to make the mistakes I've made.

mike f. said...

What year did the "Stupid Bomb" go off, anyway? 1966? 1970?

I hate the modern fucking world.

I work with morons who think the world began in 1977 with Star Wars. Please kill them, God...

Trevour said...

I actually got a lot of those Dream Pets dolls (well, the 2004 reissues) a few years ago for my birthday. They're some of the best toys I own! Design, form, colors - I never get bored looking at them! Did they ever make a cartoon based on these dolls?? If not, John, you should. Actually when I look at a lot of your random characters, they have that same feel of the Dream Pets. Like the ol' Walkems trading card characters!!

Spizzerinktum said...

When I try to explain the kinda stuff you talk about, everyone gives me the same stupid retort about art being whatever you want it to be, blah blah blah.

And standing right next to Art is our old pal Truth, who has recently lost some key absolutes from his roster. Truth is now what's true for you. If you believe it, it's true! If that guy over there doesn't believe your truth, he can believe his own truth! That way, everything is true, and everything is art. Because, you see, in art there are no absolutes. Art is just like Truth!

I found a mysterious Flintstones hammer in my parents' basement when I was around 10 or so, and I wondered why we had just the hammer and not any other Flintstones miscellany. Who buys just the hammer? What were the other choices available? And what were we doing with it, a family with only "quality" toys (toys that weren't seen on TV or inspired by TV or connected in any way to cartoons, fun, or happiness)?

This hammer, made of space-age 60's plastic--the good plastic--was composed of (a) a stick, (b) a rock, and (c) some kind of prehistoric twine. Three simple shapes, each with its unique texture designed right into the plastic, and each one spraypainted a different color. Yes. Even the prehistoric twine had its own color.

I still have my Flintstones hammer, and it continues to bring happiness. In fact, this post makes me want to go find my Flintstones hammer and caress it. Maybe I'll make a tiger skin man-dress out of a paper bag with two holes cut out of it and be Fred for Halloween. It wouldn't be the first time. But what if someone steals the hammer? It's such a cool toy. I'd steal it, no regrets. I think I'll leave it home.

I thought that unlabeled slurry in the last picture was spit-up, which is sort of the same as milk, but with hand towels.

Randy Siplon said...

Great post. I love how you can take a subject, and really break it down. You always seem to make so much sense, but I'm probably just one of the brainwashed like many of your detractors seem to think. Oh well, my brain needed a good clensing after all the crap I grew up on in the eighties. Thanks!

Peggy said...

One thing that springs to mind about the Old Toys vs. the New Toys is this: What happens when you whack your sibling upside the head with each? Both to the toy, and your sibling. And to you, when Mom or Dad get told.

Of course, we could bring this back into your thesis that the post-hippie world is a much mushier, softer place: the newer ones are from a world where we must never allow anything to hurt our children, ever, at any cost, and everything must be kid-safe.

Anonymous said...

I like
this post.

Sean Worsham said...

What do you think of Kid Robot toys, John? I heard you mention them when you visited San Francisco for your showcase. I think a lot of their toys are cool w/ some being cute and appealing. Thanks for showing the post I didn't even know those toys existed! I'll stop by my local antique store there are some vintage Hanna Barbara plastic dolls there.

Ted said...

I think you forgot action figures.
And solid PVC toys (like Smurfs; you love smurfs, right?).
And model kits (you love gundam, right?).
And Barbie dolls (you love blondes, right?).
And gashapon (you love... nah, too easy).

Form didn't die in toys, you're just shopping at the UFO catcher for some reason.

Shawn said...

Man, you couldn't be more right!

I was an unfortunate soul who had to be a kid in the 80's. It sucked! Even when I was six years old, I was nostalgic for things that were made pre-66 (I have a theory that the world went to shit in 1966). Any toy I got from the 80's bored me to tears. Luckily my parents still had their toys from when they were kids, during the late 1950's-early 60's, and they passed them on to me. Those cartoon toys seemed to me that the characters were actually alive! I loved them and became obsessed with old toys.

I still collect old toys today because they remind me of when people actually had imaginations. And I still hate modern toys, except for Spumco toys which I also collect, of course.

I like how you tied this post in with structured drawing too!

Jenny said...

Nice post: those old toys sure do have charm,but I disagree with ya on the hippie of course..that's just me though, man

Todd Oman said...

It really all boils down to milk in a bag. This is a really interesting post John, very informative and fun to read. Thanks

Operation GutterBall said...

Nutty Mads!

Meesimo said...

That bag of milk has more form than many modern toys.
Sad to me? Seeing older kids who are actually nostalgic for crappy 80's toys, cause the new ones are even worse! sort of a downward spiral, eh?
Thanks for the post.
-Meesimo

Marlo Meekins said...

If M&M asked me out, i'd be like, okay sure

but what the heck am I banging?

i cant tell how you are built, buddy.

there's a weird deflated mu-mu tent deflated parachute dress on something with a tiny head sticking out the top? and where's your crotch? it could be anywhere in this area

Corey said...

Please don't explain the white stuff.

Anonymous said...

You're probably right about form not being understood today.

I'd thought it was just synonymous with shape, i.e. everything has a shape, even a bag of milk, and some things just had a more tightly defined shape than others, i.e. a stiff bag of milk with many clearly defined wrinkles, etc, had a lot of form.

Very interested in your next post about this.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Great post! I think one of the reasons Star Wars made such an impact was that it reintroduced swords and ray guns back in to the toy stores. For at least ten years before that toy stores contained nothing but soft, plush things and educational toys.

It's hard to believe but toy stores once had so many appealing items for sale that you could hardly walk into one without hearing tantrums and kids pleading with their parents to buy things.

Anonymous said...

that is a f-ing hilarious rant. i love blaming hippies for everything. you know what the lamest ugliest toy ever is? cabbage patch kids. i was not happy when my mom got me one.

Tony Papesh said...

On the subject of toys, have you seen the Hanna Barbera Toys tha McFarlane made recently?

http://www.mcfarlane.com/toys/series.aspx?series=315
http://www.mcfarlane.com/toys/series.aspx?series=326

Personally, I think some are a bit tacky (Fred Flinstone on a chopper and Tom & Jerry with Electric Guitars - I'll pass).

It is a bit off topic, but I have glanced at the figures at stores and they managed to put the two dimensional characters into 3d and they still have their 2D charm to them.

But, I will say, unlike classic toys these are not - well --- not Toys. They are cute and cartoony but they are basically plastic statues. No matter how a child imagines the toy, Fred will always be on his back with Dino on him or Tom will always be stuck with his hand in Jerry's mouse hole.

Besides them being miniture statues, kids can't "love" them as much as they could a dolly or something bigger and cuddlier.

I think most of these kinds of mini statue, figurines are meant for geekier animators to decorate their desks but children's cartoony toys seem to be another dying art.

But, looking at it from a toy companies point of view - they are not being payed to love children.

Alex Whitington said...

Those old toys are really freaking me out...
They're like...little bloated chipmunk corpses...

Colter said...

For a second there I thought that was a bag of cocaine. Haahaha .. and here is the ultimate reason why people suck at drawing cartoons..

fabiopower said...

Excellent Post, John

David Germain said...

Believe it or not, the 1950s UPA style cartoons do have form, unlike today's flat stuff. I will explain and show you the difference in a later post.

I was one of the people who bought the Hellboy dvd just for the UPA toons.

There's this one short scene in Gerald McBoing Boing where the background is only three rectangles. But, the way they were placed in the scene they completely conveyed the illusion of 3 dimensional space. Those rectangles definitely weren't just slapped up there, it's easy to see that the layout and background people at UPA measured the perspective like they would for any other film they had worked on. Those elements are very subtle but also crucial to making good abstract backgrounds.

That's just something I noticed. I'm sure John will go into more detail later.

cemenTIMental said...

Interesting + valid points/rant!

Once again you forgot/ignored Japan tho! ^_^

Gabriel said...

Check the last picture on this post! When I look at that doll I feel cancer growing on my optic nerves.

Danelectro said...

When I was a kid, I used to think that milk bags were the most disgusting thing in the world. They leaked, smelled bad, exploded, and always made a huge mess. The milk only lasted one day on it, and I really really hate sour milk.

The time passed, the world got better, and long-life Tetrapack boxes became the standard in milk packaging. Any trip to a supermarket will show that, today, almost all milk is sold in solid Tetrapack boxes.

One day I was walking along the milk fridge, wondering about how great it is to live in the 21st century, and suddenly a young girl passed me by, dragging her brother by the arm. She was about 6 years old and he was probably 4. She wanted to show him something.

So this cute little girl jumps into a case of old milk plastic bags, grabs one of those disgusting things, and starts to hug it like there was no tomorrow, spreading her face all over it. And then she says to her brother:

"I love this milk! It's soft!!!"

It made me wonder.

Anonymous said...

....They're just toys John. Calm down.

Bearuh said...

I think the reason they "have no form" today is because the stuffed animals today are easier to cuddle with and kids can wack each other with them without getting hurt!! Just a theory...

Freckled Derelict said...

Amen.
The only place to find good toys anymore is garage sales or ebay.

Vanoni! said...

I think the reason they "have no form" today is because the stuffed animals today are easier to cuddle with and kids can wack each other with them without getting hurt!! Just a theory...

Who decided that the old toys were too dangerous?
And who decided that toys were only for cuddling??
I don't think I know anyone with an eyepatch as a result of a Huckleberry Hound incident. Or a missing appendage as a direct consequence of a Magilla Gorilla melee.
Shielding our kids from a bonk on the head? What happened to teachin 'em to take a punch? :)

I don't remember any of the numerous toy related injuries I sustained as a kid - but I still have a scar on the back of my head from rolling out of bed when I was 6 years old. Why haven't floors gotten any softer?? :)

- Corbett

PCUnfunny said...

You are correct John,absolutely correct. Structure is something that is dead in art.As for the mordern world in general,I don't like it either. Everything that appeals to people my age,older teens and yound adults,gives me a headache or insults my intelligence.

PCUnfunny said...

You are correct John,absolutely correct. Structure is something that is dead in art.As for the mordern world in general,I don't like it either. Everything that appeals to people my age,older teens and yound adults,gives me a headache or insults my intelligence.

S.G.A said...

when I was a kid I noticed alot of the same things that were commented on this post, I couldn't articulate it then , but I knew it!
I used to go to flea markets every weekend with my parent and look for Rushton toys, and anything that had those qualities.

Also My cousins had these Flinstones dolls, but Barney had Green hair!!! and betty had orange hair!!!! It really baffeled me. I used to sit like a mongoloid, just stymied trying to figure it out, "why do they look like 'THAT?'
anyway great to see those pics, Makes me want to put up a blog of all the stuff I see like this.
It's good to reference and draw from to see things in 3d.

thanks

S.G.A said...

My kid calls that long T- shirt look night gowns, He said it in public and these thuggie wanna -be kids shot there sleepy/angry looks at me.

Kali Fontecchio said...

I'll think of something better to say later- but jeese! That last picture is of milk, right? Oh my god, Canada!! Weird!!!

Jorge Garrido said...

>Jorge's pants aren't the same shape as his legs.

Hyuck hyuck hyuck!

I love the Canadian milk bag! I blame MTV for teh lack of form.

>What year did the "Stupid Bomb" go off, anyway? 1966? 1970?

I hate the modern fucking world.

I work with morons who think the
world began in 1977 with Star Wars. Please kill them, God...

For cartoons, it was 1964. Magilla Gorilla premiered, Disney died, Warner's closed down, Elvis was making shit movies instead of rockabilly, The Beatles were inexplicably huge, Vietnam was about to start, Kennedy was dead, etc. etc. etc.

>Great post! I think one of the reasons Star Wars made such an impact was that it reintroduced swords and ray guns back in to the toy stores. For at least ten years before that toy stores contained nothing but soft, plush things and educational toys.

Well, teh good thing about Staw Wras was it brought back the adventure and western aspect of old sci-fi, as opposed to the blandness and the more cerebral Star Trek series, but in spending so muhc time in expanding the ymthology and the politics of the Space Empire, it contributed to when "sci-fi...lost its stones" as one comic artist said.

I like toys from when I was a kid. I love Beast Wars Trasnformers and Gundam model kits!

Shawn Luke said...

I went to Canada's BIGGEST toy store the other day, Toys R Us, and, you're not going to believe this, they DON'T SELL YO-YOs! I had to go to a dollar store to get one, and it was a cheap plastic one, not a nice solid wooden one like I wanted.

Sliced Oranges said...

This was a very smart post. It really made me think and realize exactly how right you are. I couldn't agree more.

Tree Hugger said...

Yeah, you can't deny there is a lot of crap out there. But I'm not sure you can pin it on the hippies.

I think its got a lot to do with the huges drive to seek out the cheapest workers available and fire a whole heap of other workers which makes your share price go up. Sure you end up with a really crap product, but its not about quality, its about profit for profits sake.

I had an interesting experience today. I wanted to buy a toy aeroplane, so I went to Toys R Us. They had about 30 different aeroplanes to choose from. Ahhh, the freedoms and choices of the modern world...right?

I wanted something that carried passangers around, like a 747, but even a little Cessna would do. The problem was, the only aeroplanes they had in stock, were military planes. You know, they ones that are used to kill people. The staff looked everywhere, because they too were surpised to learn they only sold killing machines to kids and not passanger planes. Here's to freedom of choice.

deeoh said...

Sturm und drang... much ado about nothing. Was Ren and Stimpy about story structure? Talk about rambling formlessness!

Jorge Garrido said...

>Please kill them, God...

I thought God didn't exist, Mike.

I also forgot to mention that the 1960's was when everyone decided that the Judeo-Christian God was dead (as if this was such a revolutionary new idea, like they weren't athiests before Vietnam started. Dumbasses... Fucking Beatles with their Hari Krishna...)

Kail said...

I had the Alvin and the Chipmunks dolls, and still do. I liked the newer ones because when you're a kid you don't really care about form, these things were soft and huggable and I wouldn't go ANYWHERE without Theodore by my side. While you do make a point about toys from the 60's and 70's having better standards then the toys of today, this does not include action figures. Look at the Marvel Legends figures of today and compare them to the Marvel Secret Wars figures of the 1980's. The secret wars figures had no articulation at all! You couldn't move them around! The new figures, you can put them in as many poses as you can think of. So while you are indeed right about dolls, you're not right about toys in general.

Blanco said...

They should make more toys like this :P

http://destroyyourtoys.com/wolverine.htm

Parka AKA said...

This is SO IMPORTANT. It was taught so well. I have exactly the same design philosophy I'm sharing this with my colleagues here at Paul Frank.
Thanks John.

yer Mom said...

Oh for God's sake...they're all hideous if you ask me.

I don't really care said...

Before you dismiss hippies for killing form, I'd like to say that hippies gave us many good things like: free love, no brassieres, naked stuff in general, questioning the status quo, disdain of suburbia, questioning your government, environmental protection, the list of milestones both intended and inadvertant is long.

There was a band called, "Pop Will Eat Itself." I thought this was the most insightful name I'd ever heard.

The more things become stripped down to their essentials, the more people want to give it a try. Artists who are impressed by Picasso's abstracts are not necessarily interested in the fact that he was first a master of form.

Once things are stripped to the essentials, more people jump on board saying, why stop there? I can strip it down even more, to less than the essentials!

They don't really say that, because they never concieve it that way. I do believe the collective subconscious begins to think, "art is easy, I can do that..."

Mr. Sean said...

Yeah, i dunno. Those plastic-faced toys are great & everything, but there is crap in every decade. Form & formlessness in every decade. When did Free Jazz begin? The fifties. When did modern abstract, formless, sloppy-ass art begin? The fifties. When did formless poetry begin? The fifties. I've seen alot of cartoons where the characters & background will have both form & incredible vagueness, all created in the fifties. All that stuff that i just listed was really created in the forties, but didn't get popular until the fifties. The seventies introduced the return of the Universal Monsters. The return of Ed Roth. Punk Rock (return to real Rock & Roll). All that. The eighties had Garbage Pail Kids, those are cooler than most things. The very formed Billy Idol & all that new wave stuff. Anyhow, good points made about design, but i don't think it pertains to decades. Maybe it pertains to toys you win at carnivals... Maybe this is a Canadian thing?

Anonymous said...

They have plastic faces!

Not good.

Pico said...

John, I have always admired your art, and now I enjoy reading your keen insight. I don't know where you find the time to come up with these observations, but I'm glad you do. I hope to someday work with you in some form and will keep that dream alive until we meet again.

Anonymous said...

That really brings things into perspective. Good post. Now I fully understand -in 3D- why it is so important to take advantage of the lessons on construction.

I'm such a procratinator. But, putting the effort foward to master the art of constructing characters will be worth it if it adds to my ability to create quality characters of my own.

william wray said...

It seem simple to me, badly designed / poorly made toys are cheap to make. end of story. Beautifully made toys cost a fortune, that why artists started toy store boutiques and charge $125 buck for a toy. Because only 500 rich people will buy them, but 50 million people will buy beeeny babies because they are cheap. Sure you could design BB well , but the price would have to go up. Top designers, good material and good production quality cost more.

william wray said...

Oh and EMINEM is funny. Have you listen to his lyrics? I would have thought you would be perfect to animate songs about firing gerbils up closet queers asses. With respect, just your meat.

Anonymous said...

As a person who worked for a major toy company, I can give you some insight behind the thought processes of those involved in the Toy Industry. You said that they either 1) Hate kids. or 2) are retarded. Actually, the correct answer is 3) Both. Never in my career have I run into such, soulless, life-sucking, withered, laughterless old coots as I did when I worked for that toy company. Kids don't even enter into the equation: kids don't have to like the toys...Walmart has to like them. That's it. It's that simple. If the Walmart buyer likes it, it's a success. Thank God I'm out of it...

Zaron3d said...

I have to disagree. But seeing the flood of comments, I doubt I could say anything new... except that I personally disagree. For what that's worth.

Sulka Haro said...

I know this is not a toy but is a clear formed design meant for kids. Check the Puppy chair from Eero Aarnio. It's the same guy who designed the classic Ball chair. If I had kids, I'd get a couple of these to play with in their room.

ChatRabbit said...

Divine rant! I am in the toy biz, and one of the biggest problems with today's toy is SAFETY. Yup, fun, nice-looking things are not safe. Hard, steel lunchboxes with amazing art were too dangerous- Johnny hit Jimmy too many times with one, and ushered in the era of soft, safe lunchBAGS. Every toy made now has been Rounded Off and Simplified For Your Protection. No more biting the latex ear off your rubber Mickey, or pulling out his choke-worthy squeaker. It's a sad, sad world.

Nathan Williams said...

William Wray is onto it. What did that 1960s chipmunk cost, and who could afford it? What did the 1980s one cost?

Anonymous said...

are the 1980s chipmunk toys honest-to-goodness licensed available-for-sale-at-a-toy-store goodies? 'cause they kinda look like the crappy, flammable stuffed junk you can win at county fairs & nj boardwalks...

Black Star said...

You only seem to be considering a small portion what exists to represent postmodern culture.

You remind me of those people that say "there will never be anyone as good as Mozart," or "bands today don't rock like they did in th 70s."

Sure there is shit nowadays. There is also good shit as well as people who are imitating and reinventing past arts. Now more than ever.

Form is something to be respected, but form has to be broken sometimes. If art is a means of expression, I'll be damned if we have to base it off of such strict pecidents.

I agree that the quality of culture has decreased by its corporatization, but don't act like everybody is in it for the money.

chronophonie said...

what killed form? Hell, boy, think for a minute. The almighty dollar. Noticed where most kiddie crap is made nowadays? I'm not some kind of USA #1 crusader, but like you I wish quality and pride of workmanship could be part of the equation nowadays. But it's not. the mentality is, let's ship a bazillion units of movie tie in crap, have chinese kids make them for less than a penny, and sell them for ten bucks a pop in the US, then buy a new boat. simple as that.

One of these days, because of the enormous deficit we've racked up, the dollar will be absolutely worthless and we wo't even be able to buy the cheap imported crap anymore. It'll be ok, though- when I was a kid we lived off of our enormous vegetable garden and played with real sticks and rocks and so forth. I had a wonderful time using my imagination to fill in the blanks. Maybe that is where we need to get to before things will be crafted with care and pride again.

Anonymous said...

GET THOSE DAMN FORMLESS KIDS OFF MY LAWN!!!!!!!!!
(waves well-shaped stick)

mellowknees said...

Very interesting points...but I'd have to counter with this: it's not fun to sleep on a giant plastic cartoon head. It's much more fun to sleep on a smooshy, soft form head of the same character. While I agree that older toys have more solid FORM, they a) are not as fun to play with because if you hit someone with them, you get tattled on, and b) they're no good for naptime, unless you want to wake up with your face formed to the hard vinyl contours of Simon's glasses. If we were talking about works of art, I'd agree...but as someone who likes things that are soft and smooshy to play with, I think you're missing some of the reasons that designs have changed.

shishkeblob said...

this incenses me to reply. your examples create an illusion that supports your well grounded arguements but is not at all indicitive of toy sculpting in the modern era.

have you seen the bubble bath bottles available in the past 10 years? I've been buying bugs bunny and scoobie doo ones as they are incredible 3d realized cartoon versions of flat characters.

albeit most sculpting advances have come via cgi tampering with scanning of real life objects and scaling, such as with pirates and lotr toys, but a lot of the toon based toys are of a great quality.

Disney is no slouch in this category. since it's airing I have collected Poomba toys and stuffies from Lion King, primarily as I was smitten by his triumphant celebration of form. the stuffed versions of him are the crown jewels in my collection, it's as if someone carved him out of an ore of fabric and plush.

there has always been mediocrity, and the 60's, 70's and 80's had many toy criminals who shluffed off barely passable objects as playthings on us. I also celebrate the minimal with the Lego minifig in it's austere perfection, and that whole branch of toydom has made leaps and bounds with new sculpts and form boundaries.

thank you for making me wrestle with these thoughts however.

Brent D said...

This is a retarded post. I was intrigued by the blog initially, because I, like alot of you, would love to see quality, design, form, function all blend into one. Additionally, we see that companies who are willing to incur the cost of discovering how to use all of those principles correctly, end up deilvering amazing products. That being said, John's got it all wrong. ANY product, including kids' toys, are well made when they are centered around the EXPERIENCE that one gets when using it. John's sense of nostalgia for the toys he had when he was growing up have biased him to look for reasons why those toys were better than those made in the 80's, 90's, or even today. He uses "form" as his principle reason. Rarely does a child judge the value of the toy on whether or not it has good "form". His argument judges the value of toys on 2 things: 1) His personal experience with toys, and 2) His system of values as an ADULT.

I'm the first to admit that 90% of the products that consumers buy is absolute junk (including toys). BUT, the argument that the older toys, or more specifically that toys with "form" are better is complete nonsense.

Relish said...

I'd love to hear how the 1950s UPA style and the new mimic style of modern day is different. Please explain. In fact just any information about UPA is interesting to me, since there's not much out there.

5000! said...

I think you're raising a very interesting and somewhat valid point John, but somebody needs to be playing devil's advocate as you seem to over-simplifying what's probably a considerbly more complex evolution. What about changes in the economics of toy manufacturing over the last 40 years? What about toy safety regulation? Both of those have to play as important a role as whether designers "hate kids."

You also seem to have conveniently selected some great toys from the 60's and some crappy toys from now. Ignoring things like modern action figures and PVC's seems like a cheap out.

I don't disagree with the point you're making, but I'd like to see you make a more sustainable case. I'd also like to see a little more critical debate and a little less intellectual onanism from the peanut gallery. I don't know that I've ever seen so much "OMG, back in my day things were so much better" bull.

mr. x said...

The older toys are nicer looking than the newer ones, but from a child's perspective, that's beside the point. I remember getting those hard-plastic-or-rubber-headed dolls as a kid, pre-1970, and I hated them, because we didn't play with them by gazing upon them adoringly before putting them in display cases fronted by UV-blocking glass so that we could sell them on eBay for top dollar to people who would pontificate on them in their blogs. The likes of Alvin and Fred got drafted into the eternal war with the Klingons, along with G.I. Joe, Barbie, and a Godzilla that we made out of Legos, and inside of two days the doll's head would be scratched, the shine and the paint partially worn off, and they'd get stirred to the bottom of the toy box and retrieved only when the cousins that we didn't like came to visit.

It's always fun and convenient to blame the decline of Western civilization on the dirty hippies--my parents certainly did--but my parents were the ones that bought us things like Legos and Tinker Toys and Erector sets and other things that only had whatever form that we decided to give them. If we got tired of those, we went out and rounded up scraps of lumber and nails left over from our dad's general contracting business, along with whatever tools that he dared to let us handle, and we built forts. If we had one of your dolls at hand, it was probably employed as a sort of warhammer that could be whirled around over our heads and then whipped straight at one of the neighbor kids. Maybe the reason such dolls went out of fashion was that the neighborhood crybaby got hit in the eye by a hard plastic doll head, and his mom sued the toy company. Sorry about that.

Kirk said...

I disagree on many points...

It might be a generational thing, (I was born in the mid-70s) but soft toys with hard heads and/or hands always seemed "off" to me. When the extremeties are a different material than the core body, the toy lacks unity. And a body made up of the "head" material would be more like an action figure than a "stuffed" animal.

Google for a Gund bear called "Snuffles". Now that is a cute damn bear.

Anonymous said...

I agree that there was more form way back when, but look through the eyes of a kid and you'll see that the soft plush doll is more enjoyable than the hard plastic doll.

ash said...

I think that somewhere between 1950 and 1970 corporate America realized that the middle class was pretty easy to sell to. Better yet, they were easy to sell trash to. I remember hearing ppl say: "anything for a buck" while growing up and now that seems ever more true (dollar stores on every corner).

No one wants longevity they just want it NOW (at least the majority). Why would someone buy a nikon SLR when they can have a point and shoot and have it now?

Mediocrity has clearly replaced craftsmanship. And immediate satisfaction has replaced pride. Your post points to just a small fraction of a great whole. I see no more tailors or guilds, I see Walmart and American Idol.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with mellowknees. All the favourite bears and dolls and whatnot in my family were soft and easily slept on. Kids can become attached to a blanket. Cuteness is only a part of what they want. A hard plastic head, if cute may still be thrown aside by a child in favour of a soft and less cute version.

Anonymous said...

If you say so I'll take your word for it, but my impression was with computer aided design and manufacturing techniques that detail has never been better

Anonymous said...

For the most part, I agree...but as others have pointed out, there is kid-oriented garbage in every decade.

Not a "toy" per se...but remember Rocket Robin Hood? Worst...animation...ever. Plus, a large percent of every show was repetitive filler. There was probably a grand total of 3 minutes of "new" animation out of every 20.

Even when I was 8 I knew this was crap.

JohnK said...

>>Cuteness is only a part of what they want. A hard plastic head, if cute may still be thrown aside by a child in favour of a soft and less cute version.<<

I don't understand why people keep saying this.

The Knickerbocker dolls are plush with soft rubber faces. They are cute and cuddly.

Maybe the kids you are talking about would like Moms without skeletons to cling to too.

Just a bag of skin and guts.

JohnK said...

>>When the extremeties are a different material than the core body, the toy lacks unity.<<

Maybe your fur is made of flesh to match your face?

Anonymous said...

I must have come of age at right about the time when the molded plastic doll heads were just about to go out of vogue forever. I had some of the old ones when I was a wee tyke, anyway, and this post brought the memories flooding back. I remember being very young and tracing the contours of the molded plastic, like that great cartoon nose on the Fred Flintstone doll. I remember chewing on noses like that.

More than anything, I remember that the plastic molded head was the most stimulating part of the toy. But those things cost a lot more to make than a couple of pieces of plush sewn together in a sweatshop, with a couple of googly eyes snapped on, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Good post and I agree with a lot of it.

But aren't those modern Chipmonks figures you are showing actually the type that are puppets that you put your hand in and manipulate.

The formlessness is okay if they are puppets (they need a hand for form).

Anonymous said...

Hi John, I'm anonymous at 2.13. Maybe I have misunderstood your post or more likely my understanding of the materials used in the toys you have mentioned is incorrect. Judging by the photos the toy has a hard face.

But just to state my point more accurately, I agree that kid's toys ought to be cute and well formed. They need character, they need eyes that convey something (if they have eyes), they need distinct and well positioned features. They do not need poor features and form that can easily "flow" to one side of the body or the other.

However, in my childhood experience they need to be sleepable-on. "Cute and cuddly" as you say. My mother has a skeleton, but she was far larger than me, I could sleep on the whole of her without feeling lumps and, more importantly, the lumps she had were soft and cuddly.

Gilbert wham. said...

There are few things more satisfying than biting the ear from a vintage plastic Mickey. Possibly drawing in biro on a banana, but that's about it. Mmmmmm, chewy plastic...

Deidzoeb said...

Except for the detour into Dream Pets, it seems like the main complaint about "form" is the gradual switch from solid plastic dolls to fabric dolls. I guess you're admitting that it's possible to have good form in fabric Dream Pets, but the next logical step might be to say that Dream Pets would have been even better if they were solid plastic instead of felt or fabric. Maybe some more examples of fabric dolls with good form and fabric dolls with bad form would help flesh out what you mean. The Fred Flintstone example seems to have "less form" because it has more fabric.

David Pruiksma said...

Hi John.

I am an animation colleague of yours, though we have never had the pleasure of meeting. However, I am so glad to have read your commentary on "The Death of Form". I have thought about this topic and discussed it with colleagues so many times over the years, though MY idea of the the world of form and taste falling apart coincides with the end of the 1965-65 Worlds Fair or roughly 5 years before your timeline. Still, I have similar thoughts on the subject. To me, it's not even just design that has fallen away, it's characterization itself. Characters aren't even allowed to be characters. The structure of the Plush Toys you use as examples in your piece perfectly define the blob-like personalities they represent. The Chipmunks of the 1980s are a far cry from the chipmunks of the 1960s as are Fred and Barney who seem to do nothing but hawk cereal these days and have no personality whatsoever. So these horribly crafted and designed toys so perfectly reflect the modern incarnations of the characters. Personally, I think that the whole BRATZ toy line says it all. Barbie may not have been a great role model in her day either, but I think I would rather raise a superficial golddigger than a full fledged "sluttette".

And, in regards to animation, you can forget acting anymore. Geeze. With very few exceptions, the art of character animation has degenerated into just getting something to read, graphically, on the screen for the few frames allotted by the authorities planning the shows or films. And so, rather than focusing on the main point of a scene or phrase, most of the modern, untrained (unstructured) animators just try to put as many poses into as few frames as possible and the end result is that NOTHING reads. No structure there, either. Just a bunch of wise crackin' stock posers.

At any rate, thanks for putting this phenomenon into words so accurately and succinctly. It was a pleasure to read.

Sincerely,

Dave Pruiksma

Anonymous said...

Hi John,
overall I have to agree with you- it does sometimes seem like form has gone out the window. However, I think you may be ignoring functionality... what could kids DO with those molded plastic toys? Today's toys are bendable, flexible... they can actually be PLAYED with, which, some would argue, is kinda the point.
I also have to disagree with your comments about today's music- I think that (while Pop will always be pop- bubbly and insubstantial) there are tons of artists out there pushing limits and doing things lyrically and instrumentally that lots of pre-"hippie" musicians wouldn't dare to do.

Anonymous said...

I think Hello Kitty is a really good example of this. While the new stuff is still, technically, cute it retains none of the charm of the toys I have from childhood. My friends say this is just the collector geek in me talking but it really seems to ring true. Paul Frank merch is also suffering from the same rot but in a very, very short time frame...

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. So thoughtful. Don't forget how much $ plays into this. Alvin circa 1960 was likely an expensive purchase. Back in the day kids didn't have a million plastic formless toys in the playroom. They had a few well made ones in a toy BOX.

Sus said...

Good article, but I must admit to being slightly disturbed by the phrase "kids and girls". Are girls not kids too?

Anonymous said...

One huge factor left out of this was the relative manufacturing cost of the toys in question, and where they were made. Any company that made toys with the manufacturing methods and quality controls of the 50s/60s no doubt would go out of business rapidly after being swamped by a range of cheap chinese imports designed by people slaving away for 12 hours a day for a few cents who probably have never even seen the original characters they are making, and no doubt walmart/kmart/whoever wouldn't tolerate that level of quality would cut into their bottom line..
Don't go blaming this on the hippies until you have put a price on how much those old toys would cost to put on the shelf of a modern walmart/kmart.

Mike B. said...

I have my own theory about the death of form. As crazy as it sounds, the problem might be a lack of "technology." I don't mean technology in the sense of gadgets that people can buy but technology in the sense of knowledge and techniques that craftspeople have access to.

I think a better example of the death of form can be found in craft books for children. In bygone decades such books had instructions for building crystal radio radio sets, using morse code, and possibly carving things. It would be harder to see such things in a how-to craft book for kids nowadays.

Anonymous said...

Who bloody cares?
It's all mortal and ephemeral detritus anyway.
We're all just landfill in the making.
Have a great day!

Anonymous said...

It's all in the perception. I think those dolls with hard, plastic faces like the Simon one you showed are ugly and look creepy, while the soft versions look better.

Luca Tieri said...

John!
Everytime I'm here in front of your posts I'm fellin not alone. You're right, nowdays the bigger brands make a lot of unform and horrible stuff.
It's real too that now there are a lot of artists and little indipendents labels do nice stuff.
Only, sorry about go out of main thread, almost all of these indipendent characters look the same!
But it's another story...
...Solve the damned trouble about forms for the mainstream cartoons it would be great.

EmpiresFall said...

Your logic is flawed here. You're ascribing a deterioration in toy quality to some hippie ideal of "hey whatever" formlessness when in fact the problem lies in Chinese manufacture, Walmartization, commercialized design houses and cut corners on supply chains resulting in shitty materials.

So, it's not the hippie ethic at all. It's capitalism, pure and simple. Now, well-made toys are so expensive that they're out of reach of most people. They're too expensive to manufacture.

Who's really to blame: the hippies or profit motive in the boardroom?

I'm with you about how shitty the toys are these days. But don't blame it on the hippies-- you're barking up exactly the wrong tree there.

cutesypoo said...

Hey i totally agree with you on the lack of creativity and plain form and such that gave the toys from the 60's real character! I'm trying my best to make toys my self to fight back !

The GagaMan(n) said...

Those newer Chipmunk toys are indeed horrible, but the old ones aren't much better; they look like sausages with limbs stuck on the sides, and the hard plastic faces are freaky. Those toys at the bottom of the post, however, are fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Thoughtful and well-stated! I teach design at the college level, and was referred to your comments by a particularly insightful student.

The Bauhaus School (Germany circa 1920) pioneered the philosophy of form follows function. In the past, the beautiful forms you allude to were dictated by the function of producing something of quality that would last through the rigors of childhood.

Unfortunately, the present "function" of the toys you speak of must be: 1. To make as much money as possible with the littlest effort; and 2. To avoid lawsuits from over-protective parents, hence everything is kept soft, nebulous and non-committal.

What a sad commentary on childhood and our design values as a society.

Pato said...

I get the feeling that this is a thinly veiled rail against modern cartoons by someone who is sick of railing against cartoons

Anonymous said...

I work in an independent toy store as the assistant manager and I really like my boss's eye for toys. We try and stay away from the crap generally and go for interesting and fun to play with. I agree that toys have changed drastically since the 1960's, but I don't think it's all bad. Some of the toys I love currently are Playmobil with all it's different play ideas and the stuffed animals from Wild Republic are great.

navigator70 said...

You dont travel alot, do you ;-) ... form might be a problem in the US since the 70's but in the rest of the world theres no significant problem. i dont know if your black and white outlook on form vs country in modern toys today is right - but if you look at toys in generel it does not conform within a country. the us does not shape how the rest of the world shape their toys - yet even though there is some influence.

Captain Napalm said...

How ironic, then, that Eminem is essentially Ren Hoek as a rapper. Come on now, admit it....it's true!

bloatedsackofprotoplasm said...

Oh my God!!! I have been reading this blog for a while now, and the whole thing is pretty funny; but this section cracked me the fuck up. I love the comparison of the Alvin and the Chipmunks plush dolls to the elephant man and his lumpy-ass crew. The resemblance is almost uncanny.

Ken said...

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