Wednesday, November 22, 2006

EZ-POP, little old lady in shoe, John Hubley

I was a design freak when I was a kid. I loved all cartoons, but really thought a lot about style and design-which I don't recommend that you do until you learn basic drawing principles!

These striking images are from a John Hubley commercial for EZ Pop Popcorn from the early 50s.
I'm not a big fan of UPA cartoons, mainly because they are not very entertaining and the animation is stiff and limited.

For some strange reason though the "UPA Style" worked best in 50s commercials.

This commercial is not only designed beautifully (much better than UPA's "entertainment" shorts) but it has great bouncy animation, a really lively track, cartoony characters and movement, brilliant cutting, fun timing and crazy background graphics.



By contrast, UPA's theatrical shorts are sluggish, bland and depressing and they have horribly influenced the whole cartoon art form-even today, 60 years later.



The artists that drew and animated this cartoon all learned classic basic cartoon principles.
You can tell by the drawings that they understand construction, line of action, squash and stretch, silhouettes, clear staging, negative space and all the principles I have been going on and on about in my blog posts.

FORMS WITHIN FORMS
This frame above starts with a clear and simple COMPOSITION. There is a ring of popcorn heads framing the product.
All the heads within the ring are SPECIFIC DESIGNS-each a variation of a general shape-the shape of a kernel of popcorn.
The overall composition uses NEGATIVE SPACE to make the POSITIVE Shape (the ring of heads) read clearly.
Each individual head uses negative spaces to make the positive features (eyes, mouths, noses) read clearly.
The negative spaces between each head are interesting shapes.
The CONSTRUCTION of the heads is slightly played with and distorted-and that's what makes the images look to today's primitive eyes- "stylized".

LOOK UP ALL THE CAPITALIZED CONCEPTS IN THE BLOGGER SEARCH AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE TO READ BLOG POSTS EXPLAINING THE CONCEPTS.


Every scene in the cartoon has an overall design. The individual pieces-characters and props are carefully fit into a larger design.

Today's UPA copycat cartoons look like each piece is individually designed, then the pieces are thrown onto the stage in a haphazard cluttered pile.





















Obvious LINE OF ACTION.
CLEAR POSE.
NEGATIVE SHAPES
ORGANIC SHAPES
ASYMMETRICAL DESIGN AND POSE.
CARTOONY
Just like this:









THESE IMAGES ARE DESIGNS WITHIN DESIGNS.
The group of kids is a shape- squint your eyes and look at them as one form.
Then that form is broken up into individual kids and then each kid is broken into his separate forms-but no matter how deep you go into analyzing the details and forms in the frame, they all fit into larger design statements.

Now, beyond how great the design is, the way it MOVES is perfect for the style. The animator had to find an appropriate style of movement that didn't distract from all the compositions and designs in the still pictures.

In the UPA shorts, the designers seemed to worry that the animators would distract from the design, so they developed a style of non-animation. Gerald McBoing Boing is basically inbetweened from pose to pose and is pretty boring to watch.

This stuff moves in an extremely cartoony, bouncy and fun way and it totally enhances the design.





The commercial is so fun and cartoony and to the point that it totally sells the product. It makes you want to eat the popcorn.

It also makes me want to see an entertainment cartoon that's designy-but with solid PRINCIPLES, not superficial wonky flatness- a cartoon that does all the things a cartoon can do that no other medium can.

This EZ Pop cartoon couldn't be done in live action or even CG and that is the main reason to doo it in animation. To use the magic that only real animators can make.


Thanks to Amid Amidi for the crisp images at the top of the page and for uncovering so much lost animation art and films and making the best animation magazine ever-Animation Blast. It's the only animation magazine that is actually about animators.

He also is the outspoken uncensored half of Cartoon Brew.
Amid has a book out all about 50s designy cartoons. It's full of great art (and some pretty awful art too-look at the damn cover!).






Of course, as in all art books, much of the art is way too small and there is a ton of wasted white space, but you have to buy the book anyway. Take the opinions with a grain of salt-it praises the movement that ultimately destroyed cartoons.

I'm gonna do more posts about designy cartoons. The main point I will make is that just drawing flat and primitive like so many Cartoon Network shows and others today does not make a good design.DISCONNECTED SHAPES, NO SILLOS, NO NEGATIVE SPACES WITHIN DESIGNS
GENNDY IS THE BEST
I think Genndy is hugely talented, and that's why I recommended "Dexter's Lab" as a series to Fred Seibert and wrote about it in Animation Magazine. He makes the best of today's flat school of cartoons.

Genndy is great at timing, cinematic storytelling and really great at color design-the best today.

TO MAKE MY POINT CLEAR THOUGH ABOUT STYLIZED DESIGN, I HAVE TO SAY THAT THE DESIGN IN EVEN GENNDY'S WORK IS MISSING WHAT THE FANCY DESIGNERS HAD IN THE 50S-GOOD DRAWING PRINCIPLES.

Genndy himself told me in a published interview that he wished he had stronger drawing skills.

I think the character designs in his cartoons (the drawing "style") are very awkward and many times(as in the examples) not well composed and don't utilize the larger principles of drawing and design.

I can say the same thing about many many scenes in my owncartoons (and I have and will)-but I'm not relying so heavily on "design" for my entertainment value.

If you are going to shout "Hey look at how designy my cartoons are!", then you could benefit from stronger design and drawing principles. - Not just drawing eyes in a square and calling it a face.

CHARACTERS PASTED IN THE FRAME, NOT RELATING AS A COMPOSITION, NOT AFFECTING EACH OTHER
NO COMPOSITION, CHARACTERS NOT RELATING TO EACH OTHER, BROKEN UP POSES


CHARACTERS MADE OF DISCONNECTED PIECES OF BROKEN GLASS, GENERIC SHAPES AND EXPRESSION
YIKES!! UNBELIEVABLE

Good strong traditional drawing principles are the foundation of good design, so I consider all this flat craze to be horribly dangerous and an impediment to making quality cartoons. Drawing flat today is just an excuse to not do anything hard or have to learn all the tools that are available for animated entertainment.

Style CAN be good, but only in the hands of really great traditionally trained artists and it should never replace entertainment value. It should merely add an element to it.

47 comments:

Max Ward said...

I have been waiting for this post. You mentioned earlier you would do a post on 50s design and how some of it had form. I'm not a fan of UPA or most 50s design, but with this commercial you are absolutley right. You would never find that kind of motion and music in a UPA cartoon.

Do you think Flash animation makes the use of fake UPA style worse?

Kali Fontecchio said...

Out of the other ones I saw, this one is the best. It's so bouncy and fun! Did you find out who animated it?

Anonymous said...

Wow! Makes me want to try harder on my projects. What caused the change in the industry? CGI or bad box office profits? If this flat phase stays, what whould happen the industry in the future? I'm not a professional, but, I can draw well. But, will it be worth it in the future? My composition stinks right now, but I am still trying. Even if I don't succed, I will still be drawing and trying something new to grow as a cartoonist.

drabauer said...

Thanks for the great analysis John. But as a musicologist, I have to say the incredible soundtrack alones makes the Jiffy Pop ad. I got into studying "cartoony" cartoons via the great cartoon composers, and I miss the days when the music and wonderful animation you write about were happily married rather than stuck together like a drunken one-night stand.

Peggy said...

Stuff like this is what I never ever found a chance to work on before I drifted out of the animation industry. Moving drawings that don't give a damn about convincing you they're anything else.

Shame the video isn't giving me sound for some reason.

Oh yeah, and Max, I'd say that Flash makes it damn easy to do all the bad things about limited animation, and tough to do the good things. It's a great tool if you want a library of stiff crap moving around doing the same motions over and over for a whole season, not so great when you try to make it a vehicle for anything specific to the scene...

Anonymous said...

I agree with drabauer, the beatnik jazz music really helps alot. They obviously timed the animation to the beat.

Although limited, Gerald McBoing Boing is pretty well written (how can you go wrong with Dr. Suess?). And The Tell-Tale Heart is still a spooky masterpiece to this day. But yeah, most of UPA's output is quite dry and boring. I think it might have been partly due to Bobe Cannon's "non-conflict" policy of directing his work.

JohnK said...

>>Although limited, Gerald McBoing Boing is pretty well written (how can you go wrong with Dr. Suess?).<<

It'd be hard to screw up Suess, yet so many have.

>>And The Tell-Tale Heart is still a spooky masterpiece to this day.<<

"Masterpiece"?? It's a total boring slow eyesore.

JohnK said...

>>Do you think Flash animation makes the use of fake UPA style worse?

<<

It doesn't have to but it probably does.

Anonymous said...

Cool, now I know where Billy the Beef Tallow Boy came from.

Craig D said...

FWIW, UPA did some Suess Auto Service Center commercials back in the early 50s as well. They're on the CULTOONS dvd. Have you seen them?

To my untrained eyes, these spots have the best animation of Seuss-looking characters. That is to say, the characters look like Seuss characters.

Alexei Martins said...

This is so cool!!!!Thanks for posting that.It is a lesson.

Ps:Please visit my blog, I made one Björk drawing...

-Alexei

Ale said...

You're totaly right...I've considered mainstream good animation to be dead for some time...And all this flashy flat kind of shows really suck

That's why I'm in love with stop motion! No way to fake it! (CGI...DAMN! ¬¬)

The Ad Mad!

T' said...

I really enjoy the design and art in "Cartoon Modern." The biggest problem with the book as I see it is that most of the cartoons showcased in it are unavailable for viewing. So we have a lot of pretty pictures and really can't see where the actual animation succeeds and fails. If only there could have been a DVD available with the book.

It's obvious that the 50s style has a huge impact on Cartoon Network stuff today. Sadly, having read a lot of the animators' blogs, that style has become a sort of 'house style,' and lacks even the experimentation the animators of the 50s had. Everyone seems to draw the same and is happy to do so. There are some cartoons being done now that I do quite enjoy but their punch is somewhat watered down when all cartoons share so much in style and execution, at least on CN.

Though I don't always agree with you, I really appreciate your writing about your views, showing examples and letting us see those examples in motion. While I'm not an animator, I do a web comic and have consciously tried to work a lot of animation's elements into my work. Like any art movement, there's a great deal to study in animation, much more so than most of the viewing public realize.

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S.G.A said...

you know Mr. K , sometimes I read this blog and I think you're a jerk, Because I disagree with your opinion,....then later it will sink in, and make sense, animation has become so degenerated. There are so many ways things could be done, but it really is kickin'in how understanding a few underlying principles affects the way you look at cartoons.
I feel like I am watching animation become a dying art form, the more I read your blogs.

Even being a lazy student I STILL have improved FAST by applying a few things you've given away here for free. Thank you.

Also , I hope you can start teaching kids somewhere, that will help turn the tide some .

I mean if not you who else is there?

xtracrsP said...


Peggy said...

"Shame the video isn't giving me sound for some reason."


There's a little volume slider in the shape of a triangle. It seems to be on low by default, so just crank it up! WOOB WOOB WOOB WOOB WOOB WOOB, NYUCK NYUCK NYUCK!

Josh said...

John-
I love cartoons, and I'm a big fan of what you're trying to do with this blog, but I'm afraid you're losing me lately. I see a lot of whining and complaining, but very little actual teaching.

As a graphic designer, I find your opinions about color, composition and style to be pretty naive and narrow-minded. The comment about white space in the Cartoon Modern book is laughable and telling.

I also studied animation in college, but as an art medium, not strictly a "cartoon" medium and your repeated sentiment that animation is only effective or engaging when it's cartoony is really pretty outrageous. Is the work of Stan Brakhage "boring" or "ugly" because he didn't animate cartoon characters?

Granted, you're entitled to your opinion, and I totally respect where you're coming from (as do many others, obviously). And I understand this blog has a specific context. It's just that your rants, especially your latest ones, come across more as bitter and cynical, than actually informative. To show images from other people's cartoons that you hate and say matter-of-factly that it lacks composition isn't really helpful.

If you really want to demonstrate how something is bad, you should change it to make it better. To the untrained eye, are the floating heads around the package in the EZ Pop commercial any different than the 3 floating Power Puff Girls above the recliner? Probably not. So take the image of the girls floating above the guy in the chair, rearrange the composition, and show a before and after.

It's simply not enough to say one is better than the other. If you really want to teach, you have to demonstrate (not show) how one is better than the other. Otherwise you're just preaching to the choir.

Again, I have heaps of respect for you and your immeasurable talent. I'm not saying any of this as an attack... but as a fan who sees you getting stuck in the rant rut.

JohnK said...

>>The comment about white space in the Cartoon Modern book is laughable and telling.
<<

??

You'd rather look at white space in a book than be able to see the pictures that the book is about?

This a common complaint about books about art. Too much text, too much white paper, not enough or too small art.

It's not my rant. I hear it from collectors all the time.

Today we have a thing called "Book designers" who think their design is more important than the artists' designs that the books are about.

Kevin W. Martinez said...

Frankly, I'm impressed, John.
You've given specific examples of modern cartoons (Nick and CN ones specifically) that lack specfic nuances of art and why instead of resorting to blanket statements.

Even more surpising are that the specific examples are the Powerpuff Girls and Samurai Jack, shows you've praised in the past (Fairly OddParents, less so, since there's so few redeeming qualities in that show). But, i understand your point and agree with it.

NARTHAX said...

Yes, Amid's excellent Cartoon Blast! magazine is the only periodical left showcasing creative animation artists. It remains mercifully free of the seeping aggrandizing of third-rate, global executive felch that so ruined what little Animation Magazine once had to offer.

vakerorokero said...

I don't agree with you. Cartoons allow for a whole range of styles and a freedom film doesn't give you. Genndy Tarkosky has a ton of style not available anywhere else right now. That's why he has been so sucessful in every show he's got into. Apart from the simple forms he uses, he uses cinematic to give it that extra "something" and good short stories. I just don't see how you consider everything that isn't "Ren & Stimpy" a piece of crap. I really like Stimpy & Ren and their crazyness, I consider myself your fan, but I wanna see something different from that, maybe more dramatic and less thrown together.

Eric C. said...

So the basic cartoon principles is basicly constructions and making sure that the facial & body parts are logicaly connected, almost like making a third dementional, right? I'm just making sure that
I'm doing it right because I'm a slow learner at times.

_Eric ;)

Peter said...

those animated backgrounds remind me of the battle backgrounds of the super nintendo game Earthbound (or Mother 2 for nerds).
earthbound screenshot 1

earthbound screenshot 2
All of the battle backgrounds in Earthbound were steadily pulsing or waving, like animated wallpaper patterns. Each region would have a different set to hint at the surrounding environment. The effect is sort of lost in still images but the color still helps let you know what's going on. Maybe the game designers were influenced by similar cartoons. Regardless it's cool to see what pattern can do to convey a mood.

more earthbound stuff. enjoy!

JohnK said...

>>Cartoons allow for a whole range of styles and a freedom film doesn't give you. Genndy Tarkosky has a ton of style not available anywhere else right now.<<

I think Genndy is hugely talented, and that's why I recommended "Dexter's Lab" as a series to Fred Seibert and wrote about it in Animation Magazine.

Genndy is great at timing, cinematic storytelling, as you say and really great at color design-the best today.

I think the character designs (the drawing "style") are very awkward and many times(as in the examples) not well composed and don't utilize the larger principles of drawing and design.

I can say the same thing about many many scenes in my cartoons (and I will)-but I'm not relying so heavily on "design" for my entertainment value.

If you are going to shout "Hey look at how designy my cartoons are!", then you could benefit from stronger design and drawing principles. - Not just drawing eyes in a square and calling it a face.

I will soon also use scenes from my cartoons to show things that don't work.

david gemmill said...

i thought the marky maypo commercials that (i think) hubley did as well were pretty good examples of animating designy characters, as well as nicely executed subtle acting.

most new fancy cool cartoon shows are design for the sake of design with no context.

dieselcreek said...

Don't forget about zee triangles........th-th.....there EVERYWHERE! Liiiiittle ones stARing at me, big ones, they shove my eyeball!!




.

Anonymous said...

(sorry my english)
I believe that everything can be summarized in this phrase: "Style CAN be good, but only in the hands of really great traditionally trained artists and it should never replace entertainment value. It should merely add an element to it."

I'm totally according to that you say. With which I don't agree absolutely is with trying to take the speech of “the shape” of the drawing to “the only good shape is this”.

I believe that there are good things aesthetically in the flat forms like in the others, and the important thing after all is TO COMMUNICATE. To 'connect' with the spectator.
The animation flows and it becomes it fluctuates and one moves between synthetic and super-complex. The aesthetic one would not have to be the (true) point in this debate, but 'the professionals' who leave everything in the hands of 'inexperts' so that nothing works. If it works, if it communicates and it connects with the spectator, then the product found his place.

At the same way I can enjoy watching your hyperactive-cartoons as well like with cartoons 'samurai jack', but never--NEVER I will enjoy seeing He-man!

Thunderrobot(aka Chet) said...

Hey John do some Anatomy posts please!!!!

JohnK said...

>>

i thought the marky maypo commercials that (i think) hubley did as well were pretty good examples of animating designy characters, as well as nicely executed subtle acting.<<

Yeah they are great.

>>most new fancy cool cartoon shows are design for the sake of design with no context. <<

I don't think they even have design. They are anti-design. Or pretend design.

JohnK said...

Hi Chet,

I would do anatomy posts (maybe) if I was good at anatomy. Jim Smith is. Go to his site.

I actually think anatomy doesn't do much for animators.

I would start with drawing simple forms in space like 40s cartoons and then work your way up to anatomy if you ever plan to animate realistic humans-which always looks stiff and bad anyway.

tedrex said...

Oh my gawd! If I get one more art book with tiny little thumbnails and a long winded essay crowdin it our, I'm gonna freak! But Im an addict and have to buy them anyways.

I would agree with pretty much everything you said. Genndy's shows are always beatiful to watch because of the pacing and the amazing colours, but a lot of times the animation is fairly flat. The designs, as beatiful as they are, don't seem to lend themselves to animation.

I am a recent grad of an animation program, and one of the big gripes I have right now is the total lack of anything cartoony available right now. Everyone and their dog has jumped on the fake UPA style. Granted there is some great stuff being done, but there is a lot of crap out there too.

Hopefully, when I am in a position to get some shows made, I can inject a little structure. Centrelines, ayone?

John, do you have anything else on the go right now? Any more little teasers you can tantalize out eyebulbs with?

Freckled Derelict said...

What do you think of the dot and the line?

JohnK said...

>>

What do you think of the dot and the line? <<

do you need to ask, Barbie?

Hryma said...

At the start of the post you mention that you were a design freak as a kid, I would love to see your work as kid or some of your earlier work before you worked in cartoons.
That would be pure gold and a down right treat for all us viewers I'm guessing.

Freckled Derelict said...

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of Genndy (well, mostly of Dexter, the rest is too serious for me) , but I totally get your points. Very interesting. I want more about this subject.

The Jerk said...

i just bought the new weird al album, and your video was unquestionably the standout of the 6 on the album- the others looked primitive and dull by comparison, and i watched it like 5 times in a row already, and i noticed something that i gotta ask about- the cat's nose is pink in all but 2 shots, where it is blue or purple. was that an intentional color choice, and what would have been the reasoning for it?

Jorge Garrido said...

Hey, John, these are great pics! I can't wait for the cartoon to finish loading so I can see the momvement!

*Jorge watches the cartoon in this sentence*

WHOAH! I LOVE THE WAY THOSE KIDS POPPED OUT! That was some great S&S! From the pics John showed, I thought this cartoon was alot longer than it was. It was very fast but everything read well and they got all the info togtehr nicely! The animation was surprising, I was expecting it to be limited but it definately wasn't! I've never seen a UPA cartoon but if they're not all like this maybe I'll skip them!

Hey, John, this EZ-POP song is a precursor to Rap. Listen to the delviery! So is Coal Black, now that I think of it!

FLAMINGPINECONE said...

neat cartoon.I like how there bodys are like tubes and you can really see the lines of action in that cartoon. sure its simple designs but it's creative and neat.

im still a Samauri Jack fanboy and love Genndys' work. he has a unique style and does great things with it, something you can't say for oh "My Gym Partners a Monkey" which looks like one of your imitators in control of Seth "Writer Roulette" MacFalenes designs.

genndy and mccracken may not be the best artist but they're some of the few professionals still in biz and i luff them.

also on seuss: the Cat in the Hat movie totally missed the point, many times i wanted to smack the makers around and say "it's about seuss,stupid!" because its totally like they didn't read the book. or they didn't care.

people in the creative biz not caring? how familar.

Drew J. said...

Wait, isn't Samarai Jack amde by Gennedy?

Raff said...

So it IS the Hubley guys who did that commercial! Ha! They did the coolest things before they went all artsy-fartsy in the 70s - although some of that's great in its own way too.

Oh, here's more, and in really good rez:

http://www.archive.org/details/ClassicT1948_6

And more (amid a bunch of live action commercials):

http://www.archive.org/details/ClassicT1948_4

And whether or not you like Shamus Culhane, his best known commercials are in here:

http://www.archive.org/details/ClassicT1948_3

I love the way some of these things are so simple yet so full of life.

Raff said...

Oh, and I think we should all stop calling the new cartoons "Fake UPA". The new characters either look like logos for an auto parts company or scary doctor's office paintings.

Mr. Semaj said...

I see some of what John is saying. The flatness that he brings up in many current cartoons is one thing I try very very very hard to avoid in my own creations, as I instead strive for more rounded characters expressing a sense of visual perception.

However, I must agree with Josh's critique. A lot of today's cartoonists are not so much stuck in the "ameturish" phase as you often suggest, but just care more about story and character development, which sometimes involve the input from NON-animators who still have some shred of respect for the medium.

And while I understand about negative organic shapes, there's still many things that I can't understand about correct composition, staging, and context. So yeah, maybe a few demonstrations, re-creations rather, would be helpful.

JohnK said...

>>A lot of today's cartoonists are not so much stuck in the "ameturish" phase as you often suggest, but just care more about story and character development<<

Sorry.

No one even knows what "story" means anymore.

JohnK said...

..let alone character development.

Jorge Garrido said...

No one even knows what "story" means anymore...let alone character development.

The latter is more important, right?

timbox129 said...

John,

Regarding Genndy Tartakovsky and his work, I am a fan and an admirer of such, especially his work on Dexter's Lab, The Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, Star Wars: Clone Wars and most recently, Sym-Bionic Titan and the animated prologue for Priest.

And in fact, my passion, enthusiasm and optimism for film and even animation may already be borne on the back of Genndy Tartakovsky’s works, among other works.

I love Genndy Tartakovsky's works so much, John, and someday or so, I might work on a twelve-part or so big screen, big budget, live action/animated epic fantasy action adventure Dexter’s Laboratory movie project entitled “Dexter’s Odyssey”, which will have the Dexter’s Laboratory and Powerpuff Girls characters brought to life and realize as 2D traditional hand drawn animated characters rather than rely on CGI or human actors.

But since it would tell a serious, powerful and dramatic epic tale of good and evil (with Lee Lee, the Asian friend of Dee Dee, Dexter's Sister being the leading female character and a mighty warrior princess heroine leading the fight against the evil forces of the Dark Lord, Mandark), Dexter’s Odyssey may usually be far removed from the usual humor, jokes and parodies of both Cartoon Network shows, but even so, even the works of Genndy Tartakovsky and Craig McCracken may still gel in and mesh perfectly with the 12-part live action/animated epic which is currently slowly taking shape in my head so far.

Sorry it is a long comment, John K., but I love and admire Genndy Tartakovsky's works.

-Tim