Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Composition 7 - compose your poses together - also very important!

a broad example of action pose causing reaction pose
This is a super clear example of characters in a broad pose causing another character to react to the pose. It's a broad gag and the broad pose helps to drive it home and make it as funny and ridiculous as it can be.
A bland pose would weaken the effect of the gag.

Use this tool to make your characters come alive, to seem as if they are real and that they affect one another.

Opposing poses and lines of action will take your cartoon characters away from being mechanical puppets whose only function is to recite verbal nonsense that cartoon "writers" could tell you themselves in person without ever spending a nickel on a cartoon.

The poses of your characters can work together to create pleasing compositions and tell the story and define the characters emotions.. Usually one of the characters in a scene is the focus.
The character who is doing the "acting". Usually the one talking but not always.
The other characters are "reacting". Their poses are being affected by what the focused character is doing and saying.

A subtle example of action causing reaction
Ren is not directly talking or causing a reaction from Stimpy. He is not even aware of Stimpy in this moment - but Stimpy is aware of him.
Ren is thinking about the evil fun he could have if they have a baby. Stimpy has done his best to try to convince him and he is waiting with baited breath to see if Ren decides yes.
His body pose shows him slightly leaning towards Ren, but not so much as to risk making him mad and deciding against the baby. The pose shows his eager hesitation.
On top of the clear body poses are very specific expressions also helping to tell the story.
Your poses and careful drawings can tell the audience way more information that a pile of script pages can.

Owen Fitzgerald below is a master of not only "girl art" but he's great at posing and composition. Look how natural and alive his poses are, and how the acting character causes reactions in the other characters' body language. Owen was an animation layout artist who worked at Disney's and for Chuck Jones, and he brought a lot of classic animation principles to his comic art and added his own wonderful style. He also influenced Bob Oksner and Mort Drucker who worked with him in the early 50s.These kinds of poses are much more interesting than characters standing straight up and down,
or characters that have random poses that don't relate to each other....that look like they were each drawn separately, then just pasted into the scene.

Harvey Kurtzman creates fantastic compositions and designs using his characters' poses and emotions. Look at the great positive shapes of the characters and the negative shapes between them. Harvey also uses many of the other principles I have been talking about. Can you see them?

Harvey is most famous for creating Mad Comics and Mad Magazine and the talented artists he developed- Wally Wood, Jack Davis and many others did their best work for him. Harvey did rough layouts or compositions for many of their comics and it made their work read better and have a lot more life than much of the work they did for others or even themselves.
Harvey didn't like his own drawings and it's too bad because I think he was the best of the bunch and wish he had drawn a lot more comics himself.

Here is an example of what happens so often in the crazy inefficient, wasteful animation production system we have today. There are so many steps in the animation production process, where about 5 different artists all work on the same scene and each one in succession has to draw the same pose that the previous artist drew, and each time the scene gets watered down, until the final scene is completely stiff and lifeless and has lots its original purpose and meaning.

Here's the basic process:
A storyboard artist (if he is a good one) draws rough scenes but with some life and poses that are recognizable as poses-with lines of action and specific expressions and sillos and maybe some suggestion of composition.

A BG artist takes the storyboard and draws the BGs with no regard to what actions and poses the characters have to perform in the scene. He never leaves room for the pose artist to actually move his characters around. If there is a composition in the scene or interesting BG ideas, he disregards them and pastes in drawings from the background model pack that are filled with distracting non-descriptive details.

This storyboard and BG then goes to a layout artist who has been brainwashed to draw everything "on-model". He swears under his breath at the storyboard artist for drawing off-model, swears harder at the BG artists who gave him no room to pose the characters in the scene.

Then he tones down all the poses and takes out the expressions that aren't on the model sheet.

A Prop artist (usually someone who was a security guard a couple weeks earlier) designs a separate "prop-model-pack" that's 6 feet high full of every imaginable hammer, fly, rubber chicken, blade of grass and ridiculous details-but draws them poorly and too big and wonky to actually fit into the poses and compositions that the storyboard artist and layout artist drew.

The storyboard and layouts and BGs and prop packages are then given to foreign animators who then trace all the poses from the layouts (without looking at the storyboard to see if they have been toned down) and proceed to lose another generation of life.

Then the animation drawings go to the assistant animator who traces the animators watered down drawings of the watered down layouts and waters them down again.

As if this isn't enough, after all the animation and assistant animation is done, all the scenes then go to the "on-model" department for one last check to make sure that no drawings in the cartoon stand out from each other, that nothing at all looks interesting or amusing or tells the story effectively.

The final cartoon eventually comes back to "civilization" and everyone who worked on it hates it and blames everyone in every other department.

It's no wonder artists get jaded so fast in this business. It's hard to care about your work, once you see that it never reaches the screen the way you meant it. You have to really dumb-down your expectations in order to survive.

Here is an example of the first stage of watering down, from storyboard to layout. Now imagine this happening 4 more times in 4 more departments farther and farther away from you.
I've spent 20 years designing and honing a system that tries to fight this natural watering down tendency and encourages creativity and punching-up in each successive department in the studio. Other studios like Nick and CN adopt my system and then year by year throw more monkey wrenches into it, and undo it until the time comes when they still use all the terminology and superficial play acting of pretending to make "creator-driven" cartoons, when in reality they've almost reverted to the Filmation/ Hanna Barbera factory system of the 1980s, but now all the execs and front-runners act all retro and have big wacky pitch meetings, then send the storyboards overseas -DON'T EVEN DO LAYOUTS- and use "voice-directors" and "story-editors" to make sure no director or creator has any control over the characters he created and make everyone draw "on-model" and keep all the creative people in each important creative department from communicating with each other.

This costs a heck of a lot more than having a small crew that works together under a director who is in charge of all creative aspects of his cartoons, by the way, although they will tell you otherwise because they don't count their own salaries and the salaries of all the department heads and story editors and the years of wasted "development" and market testing that went on before anyone drew a single frame of film.

These below are not as crystal clear as the good examples of the work of my heroes above, but I try to show the best examples of a concept as I can to drive the point home. I don't expect everyone to be Harvey Kurtzman or Chuck Jones. I just hope to get artists to try things they might not have been aware of before.

To get poses this specific on the screen, through the production sytem is very hard. It is set up to undermine whatever your creative intentions are.

If you want to see this principle in action from a real sitcom check this out. Even without the sound you can see how great the acting and reacting is:

Buy the best sitcom of all time and laugh your guts out!


toonamir said...

I admire Harvey Kurtzman. There’s a beautiful, half-hour long audio interview with him on Wired for Books-

Max Ward said...

It seems like your composition posts are the most informative and most clear. Do you think you have expertise in composition, or do you think your expertise lies somewhere else?

Mustapha_Mond said...

Wowee! SOMEBODY has had about all he can stand of animatronic bureaucracy!

Are purposeless tinkering and circular conceptualizing something they teach in biz schools now as a stand-in for the creative process? This behavior is everywhere...

Paul the Spud said...

"Milkman! Keep those bottles quiet!"

Wow, that *very* moment in "Kitty Kornered" is the one I always think of not only as an example of extreme posing, but perfect "quick" timing. This is by far my favorite Clampett cartoon; thanks for the great composition advice!

"I like cheese!"


akira said...

man, why don't they reprint more Kurtzman and Gross stuff?...

here's what i've been able to find currently in print by these geniuses in case anyone's making out their christmas lists:

"He Done Her Wrong" by Milt Gross
and there's a little bit of "Pete the Pooch" and "Nize Baby" in the "Art out of Time" book..

as far as Kurtzman goes they just put out a "Comics Journal Library" book with various interviews and samples of his work. Then there's "Little Annie Fanny" and some MAD reprint stuff in "Mad Archives" and the "Mad Reader". Those are mostly where Kurtzman had writing/layout duties, but the Annie Fanny books show some great work in progress stuff at the back of the book. I think next year they're planning to reprint a lot of his EC war comics too...

Thanks for posting the samples of their great work, it's tough stuff to find otherwise.

EIBass said...

I know you’ve used his work as a example of bitter old men not having fun at animation any more.
Don Bluth’s animation academy shows the whole watering down process. Theres a lot of info on there if you weed through the bs.

It's not exactly your system, but it’s informative.

Thanks for the lesson.

Anonymous said...

boy, could they suck ANY more life out of that Chunk pose? jeezus!

JohnK said...

>>Do you think you have expertise in composition, or do you think your expertise lies somewhere else?<<

I'm not as good as my heroes and can't draw backgrounds.

My expertise is in storytelling, directing and guiding people who can do each job better than me.

Gabriel said...

jesus, it sounds like homeopathy!

My expertise is in storytelling

I hope to see some posts on that!

JohnK said...

I will, but I'm doing lots of drawing skill posts first, because there's no way to understand writing for cartoons if you can't draw.

Anonymous said...

These posts that about composition are great. Thanks for putting them up.

You're quite right about the watering down of sketches, I often do clean ups of other artists' sketches and many times I throw away a finished clean up and start all over again because trying to put it on model I lost the drawing and neglected to keep its original intention.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post John. It's good to hear this stuff over and again from different people. Each having his/her own unique perspective.

Some great examples there


el-ed said...

this post is super-useful

PS: I agree, Kurtzman it's bigger

Rodrigo said...

John, this post literally increased my pulse rate. For a second, I thought you were going to give a step by step walk through on how good cartoons were made. I was jumping in my seat.

Alas, 'twas not the case, although there's a lot of indirect information, so I appreciate that. Also, the opposing lines of action is brilliant. That concept never crossed my mind before. . . GAH I wanna draw now.

But pu-lease John, if you could at least give us a nutshell of the old-school process I go bananas (in a good way).

The reason I ask, is because I go to a "computer animation" school that is totally void of any real animation. I crank out these short snippets of animation for my intro class based off of all the tips you've shared with us, and the whole class, no lie, gets a big kick out of them--room full of laughter. The fucking prof always tells me to fall in line and do the boring bland assignment like everyone else.

Next semester, I'm hoping to land a directing spot for a spring show, and I really want to slap everyone in the face with a nice short piece of animation done in *GASP* 2D. I want to show the institution that the illusion of life isn't about how pretty your static 3-D model of a photorealistic teapot is.

So John, throw me and all of us some more bones!!!

Max Ward said...

That video of Jackie Gleason is a real opener.

Allison said...

Those Owen Fitzgerald panels are great, could you recommend a book that features more of his work (esp that "girl art")?

Anonymous said...

Another great composition post. I can think of some Marvel artists who were more "realistic" than Kirby who still used his basic ideas. I mean, Stan drummed that stuff into his artists, making many of them work off Kirby's layouts until they internalized the dynamism of it.

Didn't work for everybody. But guys like Neal Adams and Gene Colan could match classical figure drawing with interesting and exciting dynamic poses. Even if they were drawing a blah scene, they'd at least choose an interesting perspective.

Then again, Kirby rarely drew a blah scene. Even if a guy was just sitting in a chair, he looked like he weighed 600 lbs and was about to jump up and stick his foot up some bad guy's ass.

The animation process part is disheartening and actually makes me glad I fell off that career path. Regimentation makes me physically ill.

:: smo :: said...

"there's no way to understand writing for cartoons if you can't draw."

for four years my friends and i fought our college on this point. we'd deviate from our curriculum to take figure drawing and do as much as we could on our own to get better, because all they cared about was "story."

i hear ya on the watering down. there were so many days when i was working at a studio where i almost flew off the handle when we got horrid revisions from "story editors" who had no idea what they were doing. and it killed us when we got an episode with actual good boards that we had to draw "on model" which was total S*IT and not even defined with model sheets in the first place. needless to say we all quit. everyone else is at other studios, i'm freelancing. i can't take that bull anymore. that's not why i'm an animator, i don't just want to make a cheap buck, i want to make freakin cartoons. i'd rather work at a sandwich shop than work on crap the rest of my life...*ahem...*

in short...i agree...

there's tons more to say but i'll save it for my own blogs. thanks for continuing to post, hopefully you'll get more people worked up!

queefy said...

Wonderful post!

Anonymous said...

Wow, spectacular post. You have explained exactly why I didn't like to work in animation when I had the chance. I have always been a big fan of animation but when I started to work for a studio I suddenly realized that I wasn't having fun. I thought, am I crazy or something? Am I so lazy I dislike something just because I have to work on it? I may be a little lazy, but I certainly enjoy a job when I can do it in a creative way. That's why I'm not especially mad about working in animation nowadays and I decided to try comics or illustration. I didn't have a reference of the story, other than reading the portion of the story-board I was working on and I had to do layouts on model (and some of the models were really ugly sometimes). I don't know if I'll ever try it again. There should be more people sharing your philosophy in animation studios all over the world.

Freckled Derelict said...

Thanks for all the great lessons... and the Honeymooners clip, I love that show!

Anonymous said...

Thank you John K for another great post on not just composition but stronger acting in cartoons. This is something I've been working on a lot since we started animating this term - finding the extremes while keeping the characters balanced and not just floating. Thanks again for these posts.

Anonymous said...

Hello, would you please know of any cartoon courses (preferably full time) in LA? I'm hoping to spend a year or so improving my drawing skills and learning basic animation.

stiff said...

This is by far my worst habit -- thanks for all of the great examples of how to pose dynamically.

The framing/complementary poses in the Kurtzman comics are great; it makes everything read really clearly for such a small space.

Anonymous said...

For years I've often wondered to myself why those CN cartoons look like garbage; now thanks to your blog I know exactly what it is about those toons that make me want to vomit.

Also, I was watching Adult Swim for the first time yesterday and noticed how all of those shows have the same wanky, college-dude-who-thinks-he's-funny style of comedy. I just dont get it.

mike f. said...

If you read the dialogue balloons, you'll realize what poor Owen Fitzgerald was up against when he illustrated that generic Teen comic.

It's amazing what he did with it, considering the crummy dialogue he was stuck with.
Vibrant, appealing poses can actually make a dead cartoon story with bland characters come alive on the page - something Fitzgerald was a master at. (Who else could make Bob Hope funny?)

Owen really deserves a series of posts all to himself - as do Gross, Kurtzman and Scribner.
(The Kirby comics are a lot less interesting to me personally, but I'm willing to concede that that's because of some blindspot I have when it comes to superhero comics.)

It's too bad Kurtzman didn't seem to care for his own finished drawings. Although I love his collaborations with Wood and Davis, it would have been nice to see more of his finished artwork.

If anyone's interested, there's a new publication coming out that features Kurtzman's vintage comic book work, including examples of his rare funny animal stuff from the '40's.

Here's the Amazon link:

The Mighty Robolizard said...

Hey. I have a question for you, for a paper I am currently working on for a Visual Society class in college. What do you have to say about postmodernism as a key reason behind the lack of technique in 'toons [such as South Park or the Aqua Teens or The Simpsons?] You seem to be one of the biggest speakers on the subject, so your opinion would be interesting. If you do this, thanks a plenty.
-Alex the Lizard

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you touched on the idea of "on-model" animation. When did the first "turn-arounds" start being used in animation? I don't remember seeing such a thing in any of the old WB or Disney model sheets I've come across, and it seems like a good animator wouldn't need 'em.

Thanks for not quitting, by the way.

Kris said...

Great lesson, and wonderful examples of awesome poses.

The watering down process is pretty depressing, though. I've always wanted to work in animation, but to be honest the state of corporate animation is kind of what discouraged me out of going into it.

Mad Taylor said...

You use the Samurai Jack frame as an example of bad action-reaction composition. I do see some action-reaction though...Jack is leaning back and the orange and green guy have poses that cause Jack's lean. The only thing off that I see is the character in the middle, he is straight up and down. Is there something else wrong other than that? Great post, I like how you explain the animation process and what steps cause the water downedness of things. And get well Steve, I need to visit the archive soon!

Anonymous said...

Hi, John

I've got some drawings and layouts by Owen from the mid-nineties - some drawings from "Batman" "Tiny Toons" & "Sonic the Hedgehog" etc. I'll scan them in the next week or so . It's great to see Owen's "Roughs" because they are really rough - He'd start with a scribble - line of action, then start finding the pose as he drew - very organic - but filled with so much energy and just plain good solid drawing. When I was animating at Hanna Barbera in the early '80s it was always great to get Owen's layouts, because his poses were so perfect and full of life - it inspired the animator to get such great loose drawings, not "carved out" like some artists - (And following the principals you're talking about characters relating to one another as a composition, etc.)

S.G.A said...

Oh boy, I am guilty of this,.... I have work to do. Thanks Mr. K

Marc Deckter said...

Allison said...
Those Owen Fitzgerald panels are great, could you recommend a book that features more of his work (esp that "girl art")?

Hi Allison,

If you join Shane's CARTOONRETRO site you'll find lots of Owen Fitzgerald work, as well as Milt Gross and many others.

JohnK said...

>>I do see some action-reaction though...Jack is leaning back and the orange and green guy have poses that cause Jack's lean. <<

They are not leaning forward at all. You can draw vertical lines straight through their heads down to their feet. They have arched backs but arched straight up and down. Their heads would have to be in front of their feet for them to be leaning forward.

S.G.A said...

I read this post and later it really started sinking in.
Then I started looking at my own work. I have been reading your blogs for quite some time but this one really drove it home for me, how important it is to consider all these factors.
When I looked at my art it was now so obvious all the stuff I was lacking, and now I bet I'll start noticing it everywhere.
I can't not know all this and not begin working to change it.... I can see it now,... it's tainted my vision!
Thanks, now I really have to bust my ass !

Kali Fontecchio said...

That system is scary! Holy crap!!!!!!

Your composition posts are great- learned more here than I did in art school. And for free! We're lucky little heathens!

Hopefully it'll sink into my brain, I have so many bad habits. Doing the Preston Blair, along with these posts is quite an experience!

The Honeymooners, from the few episodes I've seen so far are great. I laugh my fannie off. The Simpsons.... NOT SO MUCH.

Anonymous said...

Also, thanks for posting the nice clean scans of Ren and Stimpy. They're fun to color.

Anonymous said...

This storyboard and BG then goes to a layout artist who has been brainwashed to draw everything "on-model".

John, if you give me the job, I'll smack this guy on the head every time he tries to go "on model". ;)

Maybe you should plant a few of us every step of the way within the process. Call us the Don't Screw With the Original Vision Squad or something. TV and feature animation might improve %500 at least by doing this.

Nathan Robert said...

Here are some pictures you can use, if you like, for your capitalistic endeavors.

And my good vibrations go out to Stephen Worth.

Andrew Singh said...

Hey I just signed up on blogger. Just wanted to really thank you John for all the advice. I'm sponging like i was left out in the rain! Thanks

Anonymous said...

Hey John, this is my first post on Blogger and I just want to thank you for the great job you're doing on your blog. I stop by as often as I can and do my best to spread the word.

deadman said...

Hi, just found your wonderful site and a great time too. I just joined an animation class and started on my basics. I have a few doubts that I hope you could clear me upon. They asked me to scribble vigorously (circles, ovals, etc) so my hand could get used to drawing the shapes easily but what really bothers me is I am asked to scribble even while constructing heads, they ask me to draw a circle and quickly scribble over the same circle repeatedly so the stroke becomes easier. But I am finding it easier to draw once rather than scribble and make a mess of my drawing. Is scribbling really necessary? Also please tell me if all animators should draw without resting their fingers or palm on the paper. I find it easier to draw without placing the palm or wrist on the paper but I see even my teacher rest her little finger on the sheet while drawing and many senior students resting the entire hand while doing clean up. Please tell me I could draw very well without resting even fingers on the sheet. I will practise hard to achieve that. Your blog is too good to be true. Will checkout everyday till I could send you some good sketches when I learnt to draw better.


PCUnfunny said...

I see what you mean by today cartoons having no compostion John,the characters are constantly just standing as stiff as a board, no body language.

Nathan Robert said...

Is there a composition page 19?

Nathan Robert said...

Nevermind, I found it. I think I see why you haven't talked about it yet.

Shawn said...

>>If anyone's interested, there's a new publication coming out that features Kurtzman's vintage comic book work, including examples of his rare funny animal stuff from the '40's. <<

Hooooly crap! Thanks for that link, Mike! That book looks like a dream come true! I can't wait!

queefy said...

Is The Honeymooners on a regular time slot on any of the stations?

Every time I turn on Nick at Night or Tv Land, The Cosby Show is on for 12 hours.

Anonymous said...

Reading the process is just another blip in my day, realising that people have no appreciation for art of any kind unless it's sterile crap. Sad.

Anonymous said...

By The way, I'd like to have Cigarettes on one of those raglan shirts from Cafe Press.

Julián höek said...

hi john, as you talked about the crapy production sistem the studios nows a day have, could you talk about the spumco sistem?? i found some notes on layout in animation meat and where really insightful. i would love to know more about the way you and your crew work. i can imagine some stuff for all the things you say here but it would be great to know how did you manege to turn every step of the production to make great cartoons? did you have problems with the cominication? did some deparments still blame each other? how do you do to control the work you send overseas so it turns out better and not worst? does your team try to tune up the scene in every step or as high as it gets in the story board goes?
well, i hope you make a post about some of this!

PCUnfunny said...

Oh and my favorite episode of The Honeymooners is "The $99,000 Answer".

sddonlon said...

Wow, I just happend by your blog from a link on the "Every Day Matters" blog.. and I love it! I've never done illustration or cartooning, but am slowly feeling the need to pursue it. Any links/sites/info for a total newbie?
Many thanks!!

Andreas said...

I love the Honeymooners. I remember watching them as a kid. One of the great things about the old time actors is many of them came from a stage background. You had to be able to get across the emotion, and action of what you were doing to those people way in the back, not just those in the front, so subtle action and emotion does not work. You have to go big. You had to REALLY act. I find most of today's actors boring, film, TV, and animated.

JohnK said...

There is a ton of subtle acting in the Honeymooners as well. Look at Alice. Look at Ralph when he is listening to someone else and see all the changes in expression that you could never see in a live auditorium.

The acting in the Honeymooners is the best acting I've ever seen on television-especially Jackie Gleason's.

Anonymous said...

I ran across your blog googling my grandfather Owen Fitzgerald......and was blowing away by all the stuff you have scanned in on not only his work but so many others..... amazing. Did you work with him? are these old drawing lurking about someplace? did somebody pull all this out of the trash..... if I could describe the mounds of layout sheets and storyboards that we colored and tossed out as kids.... who knew...he certainly would have been amazed that anybody would be studying his work all these years later.... thank you

Steve Carras said...

"YOU'RE...a SHORTY, Alice!" "Rawlph..Whoooo is SHORTY!"
"HowdI know! I never met 'im!!":)

-"The Little Man who Wasn't there", a formerly "lost episode

The honeymooners rock...!