Friday, January 05, 2007

BGs and Style - part 2 - Contrasts in Shapes

Visual arts (and cartoons have their own version) have something akin to a grammar and a vocabulary: not a grammar and vocabulary of words, but a visual vocabulary of concepts or tools, fundamental tools that help you speak in pictures. You couldn't say anything much with language if your language consisted of only 6 words and no grammar, consistent spelling or punctuation.

I see a lot of modern cartoonists who think they have personal styles that are so brilliant and original, that they transcend the need of having basic visual communication tools, and in fact modern animation executives believe this and encourage it as well. It is encouraged to be a visual (and verbal) illiterate, as if executives at Nasa believed that you could find a gifted caveman who never went to school, never rode in any kind of vehicle, has glimpsed a wheel once and is therefore qualified to build the next rocket to Mars. Cartoon shorts program thinking.

This is all very sad, ugly and very real today.

Because of this, every time I produce a new cartoon I have to train many artists from scratch. I make all these manuals just to present some standard and logical tools to help people make their ideas clear and understandable and worth looking at.

This particular manual is about cartoon background design.

I'll start with an important tool that all artists and communicators should use:

Contrast is a tool of visual punctuation. Imagine if you spoke in a long run-on-sentence with no pauses, no changes in pitch or volume. (Think Wolf Blitzer or Mike Barrier) How hard it would be to understand what you are trying to say. No one would know what the important points of your discussion are. People would fall asleep as you drone along, or they would themselves pick out certain words at random and interpret what you are saying however they felt like. Everyone would hear your speech a different way. You wouldn't even be able to have any clear thoughts worth sharing if you had no shared communication tools with the rest of humanity. You can't make up your own from scratch and expect to be understood.

Luckily most languages have punctuation to help you draw attention to certain important parts of your speech, although you'd never know it from the way cartoon dialogue is read today.
If you want people to think what you are saying is important and want them to not misinterpret your meaning, you need not only a good vocabulary and grammar, you need punctuation. Spelling would be good too, though I realize that is out of style today.

Anyway, Contrast is an important punctuation tool for you. Use it in all aspects of art, writing, and communication if you want to be an effective and clear communicator.

This is just the beginning. There are many more types of contrasts and I will post some in the next few BG design articles.


Anonymous said...

Thanks again so much for this John! I always print these out, constantly referencing them everytime I sit down to draw.
I know too many "artists" nowadays don't take contrast into consideration in their designs yet somehow get their crap work onto billboards and tv anyway. There's way too much of it going on and the industry needs a shift of change! Too bad there's too many execs out there that don't know what works and doesn't. Hope I can be part of an influence to make a change in the industry!

PS-Please hire me!

Anonymous said...

I wish I'd had your worksheets when I was eight.

At the same time as being in favour of clear communication, they also form an argument for beauty over ugliness. Clarity and beauty must be connected.

This stuff is helping me in a tangibly direct way to tie up loose ends in my brain and make sense out of complicated compositions. It's stuff I suppose people know (or think they know) vaguely, but it helps enormously to have it explained concisely and systematically like this, whatever level you're at.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post! Thanks!

Peggy said...

John, sometime this year you NEED to polish this stuff down into a book. The rights for all the examples will be a hassle (I wonder if you could get someone to help on that) but it would be so worth it - all this cold, analytical displaying of the whys and wherefores, and how to think about this and build on top of it is WONDERFUL. It'd be one of those texts that everybody references, like Blair, or Loomis.

I, at least, would buy a copy and tell all my friends and followers to buy it.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic stuff. This same idea works with line width, doesn't it? Skillful artists can make intentionally contrasting line thickness, and that's something I've been wrestling with recently.

I think it's great that you pointed out the stark difference in style in the same composition. Versatile artists like that are the ones who can get away with wacky design choices. I can respect Picasso's zaniness knowing he was also a master of the traditional approach.

Also, if you would be gracious enough to at least eyeball some of my crap, I'd be appreciative. I'll be uploading some flash animation tests later on.

Sean Worsham said...

Even though you blogged it all, I'd still buy this as a book if you just published it! IT'S A NO-BRAINER, DO IT! YOU WERE BORN FOR THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

This is great stuff John! I don't know if you realize this, but I think you're training an animation army with your posts! Very insightful, Thanks!

Jorge Garrido said...

I'm eating this stuff up! Keep 'em coming!

Now to buy that complete Dennis The Menace collection!

I think the best term to describe today's lack of principles is "mushy"

Anonymous said...

That tree in the Dennis the Menace Panel is amazing.

Anywho. I love contrast so much. I really can't stand any creative work that isn't dynamic in some way. I can't stand all those "musicians" that make monotonous songs that sound like they are repeating the same 2 seconds over and over for 3 minutes (that's 720 times!). Yes, even loud "exciting" things can be monotonous! And that applies to all genres. I've heard the good and bad in each.

That's why I also think that all the clip-art animation is so cheap. I don't need to see the same exact drawing of Bloo or Master Shake every week.

OMG! Am I even staying on topic anymore?

Ummm. In conclusion, well orchestrated dynamic works are far superior to repetitive, monotonous, and completely random ones. We must use out uniquely human talents of wit, willpower, and skill or else we are no better then poo-slingin monkeys and mother nature will forsake us. She will judge as yet another evolutionary dead-end that can't even make interesting cartoons. It is our duty in this universe not to suck. We've already fucked up everything with bombs and carbon emissions. Let's make it up to the universe by producing SOMETHING worthwhile.

(Don't worry, John. I think you already did your part and beyond. A bona fide masterpiece wouldn't hurt though)

Anonymous said...

To Peggy:

I John really wanted to publish and avoid obtaining permission for all the examples he could always go the Preston Blair route and make up his own examples.

Anonymous said...

Another great lesson. Thanks for posting all this stuff.

I just posted a study I've been wokring on of Jone's "What's Opera Doc" I thought you might like to see it.

Josh Lieberman

Ryan G. said...

Thanks John. Like always, these lessons are great.

Desiree said...

+ Exactly what Chloe said!

Dude, the dots from the Speedway commercial animate when I scroll up and down!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the tips John, you're a real inspiration. I might be a bit late with this advice for you, I hope I'm the first to suggest it, but why not self-publish with I don't mean to sound like a plant or anything, but at least snoop around the site, and it might be what you're looking for to publish a book! Here's to hoping, keep up the good work John.

Cayen said...

Thank you sir. *prints out manual piece* Now I need to get back to getting me some learnings and drawings.

Anonymous said...

I need to do more organic lines, oh and everything else too! Those Dennis the Menace comics look good. I don't think I've ever looked at those. Holy crap!

Anonymous said...

>>"My goal is to bring back some joy to cartoons and a reason to be proud to be human. Yes there are ugly things in the world and we shouldn't ignore them, but why do we glorify them in all walks of culture now?

All the real world ugliness of wars and hate and disease and misery could really use some balance of art that shows us of the beauty and joy that humanity is capable of when it is not trying to murder everyone.

These backgrounds are so full of thought and fun and the pleasure of being alive and smarter than the beasts.

Your rant sounds suspiciously similar to my rant from the other day. Well, you know what they say...

They say a lot of things. Fuck 'em.