Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Composition 4 - Staging Groups Of Characters

Every animator's nightmare is the crowd scene. Every cartoon "writer"'s favorite word is "crowd". It takes half a second and no creativity to type the word and at least an hour or two to draw one frame of one crowd - let alone having the horror of animating 12 0r 24 frames of crowds for every second of film.


If you HAVE to draw a crowd, here are some tips on how to make one read clearly and look interesting.

Milt Gross is an amazing designer. Most comic artists, even great ones like Jack Kirby draw just one basic face and body type over and over again-especially in crowd scenes. Who can blame them? In this Gross crowd, every lady, while all following a unified line of action, is a completely different design. Invention just flowed out of this guy's pen.

http://johnkstuff.blogspot.com/2007/10/milt-gross-crowds.html

33 comments:

ncross said...

Drawing like this is against the law in this wonderful modern age. Most people think I'm retarded for thinking Milt Gross is a genius. Every show that is done now is full of crowd scenes and a sure way to get fired is to draw like this.
It's a mad mad mad world

Ted said...

Classico had great crowd shots; there's no crowd scene like a painted background crowd scene...

Max Ward said...

I've never thought about treating the group as on form, although I am still learning and don't usually draw crowd scenes. The composition chapter from the Famous Artists correspondance course illustrates composition so clearly.

Anonymous said...

I always used to look at the crowds drawn in Masamune Shirow or Katsuhiro Otomo (manga) comics if I was stuck. Often I'd draw in some of the people I knew from school, and bizzare things like boxing kangaroos- sorta like where's waldo, but I'd but something really daft in. I recall the end of 'stimpy's fan club' alot where it ends with a lumber jack, a horse, a girl, and something else staring through the window like Ren was somekinda freak

Best thing to realise is that a crowd is not made up of the same group of people like an endless city of clones, but of lots of different kinds/classes of people. You have things going off too, like people walking into one another, someone hastling someone else, giggling girls, an adgitated (sp?!) police officer, worried looking folk, yada yada. If you're really an animator/comic artist, you should be able to absorb the idea really fast and distribute your take on the world onto a city boulevard or whatever

JohnK said...

>>Most people think I'm retarded for thinking Milt Gross is a genius.<<

Even good ones??

Isn't Gruesomesteins a related style?

Anonymous said...

More posts on composition please. I was wondering what you thought of Wally Wood's famous tutorial 22 panels that always work?

Kali Fontecchio said...

It's so amazing how they could both clearly show the action with all that chaos going on!

This reminds me of Uncle Eddie's post from way back when.

Jorge Garrido said...

Great post! Eddie did two great posts about this. Link it up!
I Love Crowds!
Storyboarding the Gang Cartoon!

I like those 40's girls joined at the hip!

Look at the great line of action on Mr. Fantastic! So dynamic!

That Milt Gross fat ladies picture looks like it inspired Don Martin!

> Every show that is done now is full of crowd scenes and a sure way to get fired is to draw like this.

Let me get this straight. Not only do the suits MISUNDERSTAND cartoons, they actually find offense in skill? I thought they were just too incomptetent to demand it, but they actually try to PREVENT it and try to turn AWAY from it, INTENTIONALLY? What the hell?

queefy said...

If you tried to get a job with the Simpsons or Family guy with skills like these, they'd turn you down for being over qualified.

One the other hand if you had these skills you wouldn't want to work on either of the shows. XD

Awesome post.

Alan James said...

John what do you think of Krazy Kat?
Ive never seen you mention him on this blog and I think hes right up there with Milt Gross

murrayb said...

Nelvana shelved grusomestein's because people had fun making and watching those cartoons.

Art F. said...

that Kirby panel is great! even though it is true that Kirby drew his crowds with pretty much the same face, the composition and staging are awesome and dynamic.

Anonymous said...

Hi John

Toonerville Trolley is a great example of composition with groups of characters. There was never a real "star" in the strip, but a continuing cast of regulars. It seems like Fontaine Fox would stage the main characteror event near the middle of the panel and then group the other characters, scenery and props around them, leaving plenty of negative space. I'd love to hear some of your theories about Fontaine Fox. I know Bob Clampett was a big fan of the strip.

Kent B

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Hammerson said...

I'm so glad that you're continuing with these wonderful and illuminating posts. I agree that the crowd scenes are mostly misused and poorly done in today's animation and even in comics. Kirby and Gross were the real masters of crowd shots. Milt Gross' drawings, as wonderful as they are, wouldn't be nearly as effective without his impeccable sense for staging and composition. Harvey Kurtzman and Roy Nelson are also great at this. Nelson's way of handling crowd is truly impressive, and he often used a particular way of staging the characters in three different spatial planes. His illustrations were sometimes filled with large quantity of characters, all with distinctive design and poses, yet he was capable of making everything look perfectly clear.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, what about George Herriman? I think you've mentioned E.C. Segar, and Herriman was a massive influence on him... and pretty much everyone in the late 20s-early 30s.

More cool examples. Yeah, Kirby did use a lot of stock types. He used them really well but I think that was the style at the time... stereotypes you could churn out fast. After all, he was a working artist with a family to feed. He made a lot of other guys rich, though!

Anonymous said...

super-interesante all this tips

Are you preparing a book with all this? It would be great

Anonymous said...

I don't know spanish, but check out this crowd scene.

No more anonymous commenting? I think the discussion here will only get better.

cemenTIMental said...

I think 'crowd' is the animation equivelent of 'rain' in live action scriptwriting! :)

The crowd scenes in Akira are legendary, both in the manga and the anime.... It hurts my brain to imagine where you'd begin animating that stuff :)

Dave_the_Turnip said...

Ok, this post was invaluable.

Anymore than 2 or 3 people in a drawing has been a bane of mine. I can't deal with it usually. Creating groups or phasing out importance makes the task seem a lot easier (and it will make the scene read better).

I will be approaching my next crowd scene with a lot more confidence.

christopher said...

Another amazing post John! Mark Kennedy also discussed this topic on his blog www.sevencamels.blogspot.com

Thanks again for taking the time to do this!

Mike Smith said...

If you haven't yet seen what Milt Gross did as a director, HOLY EFFING JEEZUS. "Jitterbug Follies" is as revved-up and hilarious as just about any Clampett cartoon. See for yourself:
http://youtube.com/watch?v=Z7n7aNAb9ZA

JohnK said...

The animation is pretty good in the cartoon, but I don't think the animators really captured the spirit of Milt's drawings.

Maybe they would have with time, but Milt got kicked out fast.

Too bad!

I wish Clampett had done some Milt Gross cartoons. He loved him.

Max Ward said...

Did you and Eddie discover Milt Gross through Clampett?

Alexei Martins said...

Wow!!!Awesome blog!!!Love your works!!!You have a awesome art...I remember when I was little young I watch Ren & Stimpy in Nickelodion...and now I watch in Vh1, well I live in Brasil...Lol...

Ps:I love your work with Björk in the videoclip "I miss you"...awesome!!!

murrayb said...

Gustaf dore is a crowd genius. All the things that apply to an individual character can apply to a crowd; silhouette, line of action, but dore brings light into the equation very dramatically.Too bad most animation storyboards don't have lighting indication.

Freckled Derelict said...

Man everything Milt Gross does is so damn appealing.
Thanks for the lessons, great examples.

mikecarloooyeah said...

90 percent of every show I've ever worked on had "crowd happy" writers. Apparently the success of a cartoon these days relies on shot after shot of quickly drawn, poorly layed out stock characters, all of which are crammed onto the screen like people on a subway at rush hour. Anyway I just wanted to give a nod to how true of a statement that was... even though you didn't need me to tell you that. Keep on Keepin on. Milt Gross rocks!

Andreas said...

Between you and Mark Kennedy, I think I might just be able to make something of myself artistically. Still working on the Preston Blair lessons, looking forward to the next one.

The link to Mark Kennedy's post on treatments for a crowd Things They Didn't Teach You in Art School #3

Jorge Garrido said...

>The animation is pretty good in the cartoon, but I don't think the animators really captured the spirit of Milt's drawings.

I think their attempts at it looked weirder and more wonderful than anything else made at GM in the 30's. They were like really, smooth and full of motion as if they didn't know what to make of the drawings Milt must have given them.

Allan L. said...

I just picked up Gross' He Done Her Wrong from the library, and I'm liking it a lot.

Captain Napalm said...

The best way to make a large crowd work in animation, I think, is to take advantage of the real logic of a crowd - it's so hard to move, you barely even try. So keeping the people mostly still with minmal fidgeting looks a lot better than some "impressive" display of people randomly flailing about, even if they have a reason to be excited. If there's a riot or a big altercation, it can look terrible, but based on the handful of times it was done really well on The Simpsons, the trick seems to be medium shots - throw in some smaller acts of radom violence, energize it, and THEN cut to a wide shot, but don't hold on it too long or you'll end up with the worst, wonkiest-looking animation cycle of all time.

Timefishblue said...

These composition posts are so amazing
I've been trying hard to understand good composition lately and wow
thanks