Saturday, February 03, 2007

The rise and fall of Construction in cartoons Pt 1 - principles discovered


Each part of Donald is disconnected from each other part. The construction is just piled on top of each other, rather than flowing along an overall statement or direction.

Where limbs and bodies bend, the bend is usually in the middle of what's bending-not organic.
Early 30s - 2 dimensional construction
The animators add a bit of dimension.
The details start to wrap around the circles.
The forms get a little more organic.

Disney lets animators experiment a bit with less generic and more cartoony designs.
Ward Kimball and others animated some really fun cartoony stuff in Toby Tortoise Returns.
Grim Natwick brings the East Coast stronger design sense to some shorts.

Characters get more detailed, but the details follow the forms.

Characters get more organic, yet still flow around structured forms.
The animators experiment with more interesting designs.

Doing caricatures forces you out of drawing formula shapes. Animation is such easy prey to formula. Animators should constantly caricature in the hunt for new shapes and ideas to keep us from falling into habit. APPLY THE NEW FACIAL FEATURES TO YOUR ANIMATION DRAWINGS!

Construction becomes a science of hierarchy. This cactus is an overall shape that is then broken into 2 main pieces plus limbs.

This is good. No one does this anymore.
Each of those forms in turn are broken into sub forms. All these sub forms within larger forms obey the same direction and perspective of the larger forms.

Remember the concept of HIERARCHY. It applies to good stylized drawings too.

The Animation Principles Style
The 7 dwarfs epitomize all the major animation principles working together.
Hierarchies of forms.

Line of action
Clear staging

Squash and stretch and overlapping action (freeze frame their cheek movements and see if you don't get ashamed of what you're thinking!)
Organic everything.

This is the approach and high standard that evolved in the 1930s and influenced everything in animation all the way to today.

Bill Tytla more than anyone else combined all the principles and kept his characters looking very weighty and solid, yet organic at the same time.
It takes a ton of control to be able to make so many concepts work at once.

Everyone in the late 1930s aimed for this high standard of multiple principles and hierarchy of forms. It was too much for many animators but they nobly aimed high anyway.
Here is a weaker animator imitating the Disney style superficially, but he doesn't have the drawing skill needed to control all the skills at once, so his animation and drawing appear sloppy and the features float loosely around the bigger forms.

Each successive animation style through history is just a matter of subtracting one or more of the 30s principles away-with each decade more principles have been stripped away until today when we are just imitating poorly cliched expressions and poses that began 60 years ago.
Even Anime can be traced back to 30s Disney.

Ugly trends begin....
Characters get more human (taller) proportions. In the process Walt urges the animators back to generic design, while making the animation much harder to look convincing.

An audience is much more nitpicky when watching art that approaches an imitation of reality.

That's why humans always look so bad in cartoons. 2D or CG.

Walt and the animators learn this ugly truth from experience but Walt can't be swayed. He wants to impress the unwashed masses with animation that looks hard to do. He relies on rotoscoping to try to make the animation more "realistic" and what he gets is humans that are much less exaggerated or interesting in cartoons than the unique real life humans who live next door to you.

Art and animation needs to caricature life to make its point. This kind of drawing-the stiff animation "realistic" style is an "underture". It is less specific and cartoony than reality.

He forces Grim Natwick-a great cartoony animator to waste a few years of what could have been a creative explosion for him, if only Walt had encouraged his natural talents.

This insanity-animating generic designs with tall proportions and bland expressions - one of Walt's greatest follies has horribly influenced animation down to this day.

Here's what's left after you subtract all of the great animation principles of the 1930s and leave only Walt's poor taste:

I removed the Batman image, because I don't want the comments to degenerate into a discussion about superhero "cartoons".

The age of mannequins with rectangular holes in their faces that annoying voices come out of.

NEXT-1940S, COASTING ON PRINCIPLE at Disney's, developing specific variations derived from principles at Warner's.


Kali Fontecchio said...

Wow! It all happened so fast when you condense it all like you have here. They sure were talented!

Eric Dyck said...

These last two blog posts are some of the most important and relevant you have made yet. Those character studies, in context, are so remarkable...there is so much to learn. Thank you.

Paul B said...


rotoscoping is so ugly!!

tex avery did great animation with a funny design and is much more realistic and intresting than many of the things that are done today.

just see the red head dancer!!


check my cartOOns!!!!!


JohnK said...

>>but your continued implication (in this and previous posts) that only one style of animation has any merit is just disappointing -<<

I never once implied that.

>>you seem utterly closed off to anything that doesn't look like Tex Avery did it.
Please tell me I'm wrong.<<

You are.

If you read my posts carefully, it'll become obvious.

I like many "styles", but they all consist of good drawing and some imagination.

Those 3 stiff pictures I posted have none of that.

Good drawing is not a style.

All the artists you mentioned are all offshoots of the 30s "style" as you call it.

Primitive degradations of it.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

This is your best post so far. I like the use of the Disney drawings as examples. I especially love Kimball's drawings from Toby Tortoise Returns. The mid to late thirties were teh best period for the Disney cartoons.

I agree with your assessment of Disney going astray with "realistic" characters like Snow White. The cartoonier characters like the Dwarfs hold the interest in that film.

Not only has modern character design stripped away the principles that were discovered in the 30's, but the animation has been heading back to the stiffness of the teens and 20's.

Freckled Derelict said...

Ugh good to know but so depressing.

Per said...

What we gotta do is
1) Reintroduce 2D Theatrical Shorts in theatres.
2) Bring the animators back to America.
3) Animation for Adults too.

There should be a badass Sin City 2d animated short to open for Sin City 2.

Hey John have you ever considered making a 2d theatrical feature?

Anonymous said...

>Not only has modern character design stripped away the principles that were discovered in the 30's, but the animation has been heading back to the stiffness of the teens and 20's.

Exactly, just look at that clip of Stewie with Gene Kelly.

There is no construciton, he is imitating the poses of Jerry Mouse but since he is so two dimensional it looks really stiff and unnatural, he looks like he's floating the entire time. They copied Jerry's poses but the character's design doesn't support the principles required to make them look good. There is no squash and stretch, and his flat sausage arms are bending right in the middle.

"Seth MacFarlane: Wow! That animation is so fluid! But it still looks kind of stiff, guys. If only SOMEONE had invented a way to make a character appear to move in 3 dimensions using only drawings!

Depressed Animator: Didn't Disney do that 70 years ago?

Seth: HAHAH, you like Disney? You fag! Hey everyone, this fag likes Disney and Mickey Mouse and Princess movies and faggy fairy tales!!!"

>Do you eat the same type of food every day?

That's a piss-poor agrument. Every food is lumped into a pyramid of the main food groups. How CLOSE-MINDED!!!

Picasso and Dali both learned who to paint using the same principles of blending paints, brushwork, etc, before they deveopled their styles.

Ryan G. said...

Wow! Its amazing to see the progress of the construction of those classic characters.

Kali Fontecchio said...

"...your continued implication (in this and previous posts) that only one style of animation has any merit is just disappointing - particularly since so many young artists unquestioningly hang on your every word (although I fault them for that, not you)."

I'm afraid to break it to you, but you are the closeminded one. How can you argue against good construction? That is what this is about, no?

He thinks only one "style" has any merit? Where did you get that from? For one thing, he is talking about construction, not style. My assumption is that you are taking some random thing he stated at some given point, and putting it out of context, good job.

As a young artist who reads this blog, I have to take some offense from your comment. I am one of a few who has learned and improved from his completely free advice and knowledge. It is pretty ignorant to say many young artists hang on his every word. Personally, I am not mindlessly feeding his every opinion and taking it to heart like some sacred text. I am enriching myself by listening to someone who sure has more experience, and talent then the average Joe Schmoo.

Jordan said...

Grrr...I love Bruce Timm, and ESPECIALLY The New Adventures of Batman, where that promo still is from. It improved on the animation from the original Batman Adventures 100%.

That pose looks very stiff and boring (i can't possibly disagree with that), but in context of the show, it's fluid and fun to watch. Have you seen fight/action scenes from that show? Everyone is bouncing around, it's full of life and exuberant. It's NOTHING LIKE SCOOBY DOO. My god. Not at ALL.
(look how fun it is to watch him bounce around!)
(check out the fight with Bane halfway through)

Scooby Doo is lifeless and mind numbing. Batman is action packed and fun. And they could do that because of the redesigns of all the characters. Superhero cartoons are not really supposed to be as cartoony, because if it looked too humorous it would be distracting for the darker and more tragic stories. It's hard to balance good fun animation with somewhat realistic looking cartoons. That's why I think Timm is the master of it, because it's a perfect balance. They don't look like real people, they are stylized and do things real people couldn't...But it still has an element of control to it, and form (i.e. if you watch the show, it doesn't feel flat at all.)

I agree that cartoons have fallen a long way since the 40s...But I'm still totally devoted to those Batman cartoons, and think they were some of the BETTER animation on TV at the time, and I don't think it belongs in the same category as Scooby Doo. And when comparing them to OTHER superhero cartoons...I mean have you seen X-Men? Spiderman? Jesus!


Raff said...

I have to agree with some of what anibator, and others at his defense, are trying to say.

When it comes to animation, not the artwork but the animation itself, you do only show cartoony examples, implying that if it's not "fun", it's not worth animating at all.

What if I preferred the romance of aforementioned Miyazaki or the edgy fantasy of Heavy Metal to the silly exploits of anthropomorphic ducks and mice - but still wanted the bold, solid colors and free choice of design that animation has over live action?

I will agree with you in saying that there should be more legitimately cartoony animation today, though.

>> How can you argue against good construction?

He never did.

>> An audience is much more nitpicky when watching art that approaches an imitation of reality.

That's why humans always look so bad in cartoons. <<

That point has more to do with what one DOES with their construction skills than with good construction itself.

Gabriel said...

Not only has modern character design stripped away the principles that were discovered in the 30's, but the animation has been heading back to the stiffness of the teens and 20's.

No way, those early cartoons were mostly crude, but they at least were funny.

The Lincoln Johnson Files said...

"Then you'd be someone who doesn't like good animation."

Miyazaki IS good animation. If his stories aren't your taste, fine, and his human characters do suffer from recycling designs from previous films along with generally annoying lankiness, but you have to admit he has a strong sense of form, amazing colors and backgrounds, a few good bursts of acting, stunning special effects, and an understanding of subtleties of movement that other animators ignore. Its not Looney Tunes, but it isn't supposed to be. A good comparison to Disney's features show that Miyazaki has stunning depth and invention.

tedrex said...

hey John,

In regards to human animation never looking good, what do you think of some of the stuff Richard Williams has done? Anyting in there that turns your crank?

Franky said...

Modern cartoons definitely lack the principles the John points out.

If you want to see superheroes animated well, dig out your Max Fleischer

fluid animation, cartoony expressions, over-the-top situations.

I would love to see new cartoons, funny animals, superheroes...whatever. As long as they're inventive and entertaining. I'm sick of lame-ass squirrel boys, monkey gym partners and talking fast food.

talking fast food - that's f'n allegory. I wonder if they even get the big joke of their crappy cartoons.

Rodrigo said...

Wawawiwa. Totally engrossing.

I don't think that you should be so quick to downplay Disney's attempt at realistic character animation. It's a feat in itself to pull this off, because like you said, the audience is less forgiving. But if successful, the emotional effect on the audience can be extremely powerful. I have to give props to Miyazaki for doing the same thing. His human animation in features such as Spirited Away , is so convincing that you get emotionally captivated and then astounded when this human interacts with the fanciful.

But yes, cartoony animation is near dead today. It's all an imitation of an imitation of an imitation. That's the showbiz world of today.

Case in point: Two movies are debutting today. One's a romatic comedy about a bitchy mother-in-law and the other about kids who see ghosts.


Ape Lad said...

John have you ever read Al Hirschfeld's critique of Snow White, written at the time the film came out? He essentially makes the same points as you do here. He was just as bothered by Disney's attempt to imitate "human" proportion and thought the dwarves were the direction the studio should be heading in.
I'm sorry I can't find a link to it...

APT said...

This is a little off topic, but since you mentioned it, I had a question about rotoscoping.

You seem to look down on it. Do you think there's any way to use it effectively or creatively in good cartoons? Ralph Bakshi experimented a lot with it, so I guess I want to know whether you thought any of those films worked well, or were just gimmicky.

I've never seen any of them unfortunately. They're pretty hard to find.

Max Ward said...

This blog is about cartoons, if you don't want to learn about cartoons, find a blog not about cartoon animation.

Just curious, why did you only use Disney for this post?

Brian said...

These posts are really interesting to read. Reallly now more then ever we need you and a few others to help bring back real animation. As it stands popular animations like Aqua Teen Hunger Force (which is now in the news due to a bomb scare) are pretty much just primitive flash animations that rely on the program to actually make them animated.

These big companies just want the bottom dollar as cheaply as they can get it. In thier eyes realism makes more money (hence the 3D boom) and they can crap out an animated feature for what they percieve as chump change.

It's funny give I've asked all my friends in animation what american cartoons they like watching and most of them answer Clampette Cartoons or Tex Avery, occassionally I got Aqua Teen Hunger Force, or Drawn Together. Almost no one thought of Ren and Stimpy until I brought them up.

My question really is when did the writing become more important then the animation itself? isn't that a little backwards retarded?

PCUnfunny said...

Your "de-evolution" posts always make me sad John, but that is a good thing since you make me face reality.

Aaron said...

I love cartoony, but think how pointless Lion King would have been if it was cartoony. Think how much more gripping it is because of its naturalism. Recall how the only lame scene is the cartoony one when he's singing "I just can't wait to be king" and there's a bunch of animals spinning around on top of each other. I think you're a good spokesman and advocate for the art of cartooning, but not necessarily what's always best for animation.

Moro Rogers said...

Why can't more people be kicked in the head by a mule, then....?
(Also, Lilo's sister's boyfriend looks pretty good.)

JohnK said...

>>I love cartoony, but think how pointless Lion King would have been if it was cartoony. Think how much more gripping it is because of its naturalism.<<

It's not remotely natural.

It's the same design and construction as Lambert, Shere Khan and Goofy's Tiger only toned down to the point where the characters look like Saturday morning cartoons.

It's completely right out of the 40s, only done sloppily.

The story is pure corporate hogwash and has not a shred of sincerity.

ChristopherC said...

Hey John! this is great, love to see those pencil drawings, those guys had some skills! When you see famous drawings like these in pencil on plain paper, it brings it down to us.

JohnK said...

I used Disney, Max, because their cartoons are so purely based on principles, less on personal style - which could distract from the point I'm trying to make about general strong drawing skills.

Paul B said...

Yess John!! that's it, put together all the principles, a great dosis of appealing and funny animation and you got that thing that makes you want to buy the toys of thouse cartoons!



Paul B said...

And those poses of Mickey are really great!!
they have so much force, expression, appealing and funny

Anonymous said...

Great post John. if there's anything i've learned from you is that principles are THE most important thing. from there, many doors open.

Lattaland said...

I 'm not too sure if I understand what you mean by hierarchy of Construction.

LH said...

OK, John.

I'm not going to bash you or these long-lost cartoon principals in the slightest, but I'd like to ask: If you believe that the animation from "The Lion King" is like a "Saturday Morning Cartoon" and that the plot is "corporate hogwash", what, in your vision anyway, would make a good plot?

Staunts said...

I can definetly see what you're talking about when you say that people try to use style before good drawing principles. Even I am guilty of doing it, but I at least am aware and try to fix it.

And forget using Miyazaki as an example of good Japanese animation, let's talk about the guys at companies like Studio 4C, Production IG, and Gainax. These guys are truely the creative edge of anime, and you can see it by watching stuff like Cat Soup, FLCL, and Mindgame. They use a good mixture of construction, exagguration and cartoonyness and realistic, yet interesting movement as well as insanely surreal movement, perspective and storytelling. Miyazaki is simply the overrated 'indie anime' guy that people who haven't done their homework cite as an example of avant guarde anime. John, I know you think innovation is for the most part dead, but these guys are doing some phenominal things with animation and if you take the time to look past the geographical distance and language barrier you'll see it.

Shawn Luke said...

'Or someone who got kicked in the head by a mule when you were a kid.'

OMG I can't believe you said that, but it sure made me laugh.

reane nadina said...

i dont know who is right or wrong.. but for myself as long as the animation have a good story telling i dont mind watching it..

by the way about the construction i knew that is more stiff these days compared to old days
seems that company need big big budget to make a really stunning animation.
even in here in australia disney closed down the company because the computer does all the work 3d stuff,, what should i do ? somehow i just flow with this era to do animation .. learn 3d stuff.. otherwise there is no job.. sad but true

thank you for the lesson john :)

Anonymous said...

I can't believe people think The Lion King is good at all. To top it off it's basically swiped from Tezuka's Kimba The White Lion.

Gabriel said...

I've never heard of Miyazaki being cited as an example of avant garde anime. He is more often cited as an example of good anime, which is true. The other studios you cited are too inconstant, they do some great stuff and some awful crap. Cat Soup and Mind Game are cool, and there's some good stuff in FLCL but it's too close to normal anime, i.e. big eyed people screaming all the time. Boring. Oh, Noiseman Sound Insect is cool too, even with all the screaming. And then there's that haunted house episode of Animatrix, which has great story, is really well done, but there's no reason for it to be animated. Why not make it live action?

Funny, in the end i got back to the main topic (cartoony stuff X realistic stuff).

Oh, I'm not an anime fan, by the way. I'm just interested in animation from everywhere.

Mad Taylor said...

I really like how you lay this out for us. Looking at the struggling Disney animator drawing really opens my eyes. Looking at it with no principals in mind one may think that is a good drawing. Thanks to your teachings I'm aware of what is wrong with it. Also line flow has been a big step in improving my work. Caricaturing certainly helps and I should work on hierarchy. This blog is so helpful a lot of the time, you're putting a lot of minds in the right place. Thanks.

stiff said...

Or someone who got kicked in the head by a mule when you were a kid.

I love it. I hesitate to call it childish, but it really is. It's just defensible because you've made your point repeatedly and clearly. And how much fun is life if you can't be childish occasionally?

More than anything else here, I was interested by your discussion of hierarchies of form--you may have mentioned this before, but I don't remember you placing much emphasis on it. A very revelatory and useful concept. Thanks for emphasizing it this time.

Piero Tonin said...

"The Lion King" is just a Saturday morning cartoon with more inbetweens.

tark said...

>> And forget using Miyazaki as an example of good Japanese animation

i think he is a good example of japanese animation.

john k is a good example of american animation.


PCUnfunny said...

Gabirel have you heard of LUPIN III ? The anime and manga is very cartoony and so are the character designs.

PsychoWiLL said...

Oh man, Intense conversation!
I must say, unless the realistic characters are being put into animation to add humorous contrast, I don't like it. My opin.Ion. My Opinion.
Okay -
To make this more clear, animation - I think - is supposed to be unrealistic. The story, drawing well, not so much it's abstract, or random shapes moving...
Leave realistic stuff to real-life. Uh oh!

Anonymous said...

Why do you people keep bringing up anime?

Anonymous said...

The rendering process of hand drawn animation in steps, looks like the same process used in todays 3-D animations. Line of movement, weight and physics, rough animation, then adding detail, clothing and so on.

If 3-D animation had been developed in the 1930's, how would Walt tell his animators to handle the process?

Gabriel said...

well remembered! I really like that Lupin movie Miyazaki directed, Castle of Cagliostro, have you seen that one? It's funny as hell and full of impossible action. Now that i think about it, it's kinda interesting that some japanese stuff (well, not your stereotipical anime, sure) manage to be cartoony while also being plot oriented. Have americans tried their hand on a similar concept?

kenny: Why do you people keep bringing up anime?

I guess it's so big it's impossible to ignore. I don't mind it, really, if it can add to the discussion...

Mad Max Winston said...

Hey, this is a really great post. The examples you gave state your points really clearly. Those are some great drawings to see, too. Seriously, get this stuff in a book! seems simple enough. Although I don't always agree with everything you say John, but if you organized all this stuff into book form, it would be a great cartoon animation book. I know people have said this before... do it, or get someone to do it for/with you(?).

Coyne said...

Some really good points made here. The human mind is specifically designed for the purpose of recognizing human features, specifically the face and natural motion. 3D animation is now experiencing what 2D animation had to deal with last century. Even the most technically impressive 3D animated humans (which probably push the technology further than most cartoon-styled animations) sticks out like a sore thumb to the human eye.

Anibator had a good point that many people do hang on the opinion of John K. I think it's not just a matter of respect for the creation of Ren and Stimpy, etc. Most generations of animation fans can relate to the feeling of degredation when it comes to cartoons, regardless of their personal preferences. And I'd agree with the point that no artistic style is objectively right or wrong.

But I think the point being made wasn't that human-like characters are wrong by nature. But, more simply that history has proven them not to work with the methods used. They lack a natural feel, or what we recognize as human life.

When one sees a human-like duck, he or she recognizes all the qualities that are human-like. When one see's a human character that is merely "human-like", he or she recognizes all human qualities that are lacking.

Oh, and as this is my first post here, I'd like to say thanks for everything to John K., and best of luck in the future.

PCUnfunny said...

"I really like that Lupin movie Miyazaki directed, Castle of Cagliostro, have you seen that one? It's funny as hell and full of impossible action"

Yes it's a wonderful film and I really want to get my hands on the special edition DVD. I suggest you also check out the Lupin III film, "The Secert of Mamo".It's closer to the style of the cartoony manga.

"Now that i think about it, it's kinda interesting that some japanese stuff (well, not your stereotipical anime, sure) manage to be cartoony while also being plot oriented. Have americans tried their hand on a similar concept?"

Fully animated ? No.But "Who Framed Roger Rabbit ?" is.

sajdera said...

To the "anime-thumpers" on this thread: John has said it already, a few times:

YOU ARE BLIND. You will learn nothing here, so go elsewhere.

You don't have to like it, but you have to come to terms with the rejection. I know I did. When John blasted Don Bluth, I had to go through the 5 stages of grief. I lived through it, and even though John would probably think I'm an idiot, he still called me his friend inside the APC packaging.

From one blind to another, just go away.

Nick said...

Hey John, out of curiousity what would be a non-cartoony/humurous example of oarganic design and animation?

All your examples have been comical based desings.

Do you think it's possible to have a well constructed realistic-like oriented design?

Andrew said...

we are watching ren and stimpy right now (Nurse Stimpy). Please do more cartoons soon. We love you.

Charmaine said...

Mmm, reading all of this has given me a lot of insights that would have never considered!

what i'm wondering is what you thought about Sylvain Chomet's "Les Triplettes de Belleville" (aside from the terrible/recycled 3D Tour de France character models arrghhh)?

Rodrigo said...

" "The Lion King" is just a Saturday morning cartoon with more inbetweens. "

Waaaay to brash. Inbetweens aren't the magic behind feature quality animation. Without strong keys and timing, inbetweens will only make solid stiff shit look like diarrhea. Most Saturday morning cartoons don't have even have those elements.

Speaking of which, is there any chance that we'll get some lessons on timing and texture for animation? or even some homework assignments that we can do with Flash??? *pant pant pant*

The Gaber's Sketchblog said...

Is it just me or does it seem like those meddling Scooby-Doo kids are just floating in that image?
Why is that John? Is it because of the background or the colors? The lack of a contact shadow, or the way their feet are drawn. I just don't want to make the same mistake.

Billy Bob said...

Playing Moderator,
Gotta remember that John K. has pointed out that this blog is opinionated, and yet a lot of his observation about animation i think are completely correct and well justified/explained. Im interested in doing dramatic type of animation (better then anime) and I find that a good amount of stuff that John teaches has great fundamentals that can be applied to a WIDE range of cartoon art.
Also, John K. is pushing home tactics for cartoony animation, that's what he does (very well) and no one does it anymore this is a shame. He likes what he likes and we don't have to see eye to eye on EVERYTHING he says but just remember the main focus is CARTOONY animation principles.

JohnK said...

Actually, I used Disney examples precisely because they AREN'T very cartoony.

I wanted to separate good drawing principles from style or cartooniness.

Good drawing applies to any style.

This post is not talking about cartooniness, it's talking about skill.

I'm not gonna post anymore comments about anime, so save those for an anime blog.

If you want to draw better, try to understand these concepts. They apply to all drawing, realistic or cartoony.

The Snow White drawing is bland but well constructed, the modern "realistic" drawings below are not constructed and are bad, especially the Disney one.

Gabriel said...

haha, i just watched this Mighty Mouse episode that spoofs Scooby-do, among other stuff. link
I wish John talked more about that show.

Joseph said...


Just wanted to call your attention to to , in case you wanted to either do something about it, or share it with your fans.

Hryma said...

I'm gonna cry eveyone's so angry!!!

>>What if I preferred the romance of aforementioned Miyazaki or the edgy fantasy of Heavy Metal to the silly exploits of anthropomorphic ducks and mice -<<

>>Then you'd be someone who doesn't like good animation.

Or someone who got kicked in the head by a mule when you were a kid.-<<

Raff said "prefered", didn't say 'hated', so technically there's know dislikening of "good animation"!

Aside from that I think Stimpy's Cartoon, am I allowed to say "Cartoon" now?
Is one of my favourite pieces of animation because of its 20's style quirkiness.

Max Ward said...

Hey John,

Ralph Bakshi spoke of you in a recent interview.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

wow! An interesting post! Construction definitely has made animation much better but the improvement has come at a price. When cartoons were flatter and more rubbery they seemed to contain more imaginative storylines. It's easy to see why.

3D drawings are more satisfying to look at but they take longer to draw. This not only makes the film more expensive but it alters the kind of story you're likely to tell. If I draw flat and rubbery I think nothing of having a bunch of cowboys get on their hores and ride out of town. If the guys and the animals are anitomical I'll have one guy get on one horse and I'll be tempted to have even that action take place off screen. Construction tempted studios to write stories that were less flamboyant and more writerly because these kind of stories lent themselves to the limitations of constructed drawing.

In spite of what I said I don't disagree with anything you said because in your own work you manage to be both flamboyant and constructed. Take the construction out of your cartoons and they wouldn't be as funny. Add to that the fact that without construction they wouldn't stand up as well to repeated viewings as well as they do.

JohnK said...

Hey Eddie

I thought you hated flat cartoons!

Warner Bros. cartoons are constructed and rubbery. So are Donald, Goofy and Mickey and the 7 Dwarfs.

You can have construction without having realistic anatomy.

Construction just gives you more planes to move your characters in, rather than just left and right.

Gabriel said...

Construction just gives you more planes to move your characters in, rather than just left and right.

Sometimes flat cartoons try to behave 3d, and usually it makes them look like paper cutouts. It's kind of sad.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

LOL! In spite of everything I said I love construction and the revolution in animation that it brought about. Flat characters usually aren't appealing and don't stand up to repeated viewings. Constructed characters may take twice the effort to draw but they deliver five times the satisfaction.

dwestburg said...


I'm a good "straight ahead drawer" (to steal your terminology) and I got hooked on your blog trying to improve my drawing skills.

I'm not interested in doing animation per-se but I'm hoping to illustrate children's books.

So here comes my stupid question:
Are consturction priciples more important in animation or are they equally important regardless of the medium being used?

(i.e. I've seen some Caldecott award winning illustration that seems to be pure style with no construction whatsoever)


PCUnfunny said...

I noticed that "weaker animator" was Shamus Culhane. He animated the dwarf's dance home as sang "Hiegh-Ho". Do you also think that was sloppy John ?

Ormondroyd's Encyclopedia Esoterica said...

This is your best technical essay yet, and incredibly useful. I'll be passing on the tip about caricature as a training regimen to my students tomorrow. I hope you're saving the best of these for print someday.

Ormondroyd's Encyclopedia Esoterica said...

"a non-cartoony/humorous example of organic design and animation?"
Walt Kelly's drawings of humans in his non-Okefenokee stories... to be found in the early Pogo books.

Timothy Merks said...

There's a really very good character animator whos name I can't remember (check the extras on millenium actress) but he works on all of Satoshi Kon's films. He does this really beautiful facial animation that's cartoony realistic. They usually get him to do the sitting down talking scenes because he can make them fun and interesting (Sorry for bringing up anime again :P)

I recently watched your Lost Episodes dvd and the ep that floored me was that "Ren seeks help". My god the facial expressions in that are amazing. (as well as everything else, staging, bg design, colouring, story) From the subtle Mr horse stuff to Stimpy flippin out and then the range you got Ren doing, Fantastic stuff!!!

I'm now going to work on improving facial drawing.

Pedro Vargas said...

Incredible look at construction from Disney. From simplified to more complex yet fun and natural then slowly goes down to shit. That Mickey model sheet looks so cool. Super interesting stuff. Hey, John, check out my blog. I made two model sheets of my characters showing construction. They're very generic, but it helped me solidify my characters more rather than relying on the contours on a character. It helped me structure them better so that they'd make more sense in construction. I'd like to hear what you think if it's no problem.


Per said...

What can animation do that no other medium can?
1. Charicature (squash and stretch, funny design and motion. ORIGINAL DESIGN with construction)
2. MOOD (color, texture...flawless timing with perhaps)
3. Badass Action (screw physics)

Animation has parallels with Science Fiction. "A good science fiction story can only be told within the science fiction genre, it can't be transposed over to a western or anything like that." That's paraphrasing Harlan Ellison I think. Well Animation is the same way. It has to take advantage of the fact that it is animation or it is just crap.

I think MOOD is the most important.

Hey John you ought to do a feature length movie. I bet you could wriggle your way into it Bakshi Style. Tell the corporate bastards what the want to hear and then... BLAMO!

Gabriel said...

why did construction took all those years to show up in cartoons? Wouldn't it be a logical thing to do? Anyone who studied art would know about construction, even back then. Maybe it was because early animators came from comics and not from the fine arts world?

John Pannozzi said...

Hey, John. Could give us some hint as to when the Ultimate Ren and Stimpy set comes out, please?

baconbits said...

To what anibator said...I'm a big fan of alot of other guys' work as well. When John talks, he comes from a background of old cartoons and such and while, if you compare Timm's work to Avery's. Yes, there is a lack of something there. Me? I'm a huge fan of Stephen Silver's work, not just for character designs, but overall. John, I'd like to know your opinion on Silver's work.

baconbits said...

I don't think that John is arguing about 'style' in any sense... I think he's talking about the elements of the art that make cartoons, cartoons. John's talking about the principles that started and made the medium what it is today... He's argueing that people have forgot the very basic principles of animation. As for style: yes, people blindly follow an artists style. Fine. When people learn a specific style without the knowledge behind it, you get a really crappy throw-up of a guy's work...that's that, I s'pose.

Raff said...

>> I find it odd that any artist, regardless of their background, would actually encourage people to be closed off to a variety of styles and techniques and claim that there is only one legitimate style to work in. <<

Do you mean STYLE or GENRE? Style is a manner of doing things, Genre is a particular aim of tone, mood and aesthetics, right?

John's communicated stance here is that, just as state-of-the-art vocal comes in the form of opera, state-of-the-art animation is most clearly and frequently demonstrated in the classic 2-legged comic animals and such. That's an admissible arguement. (Certainly better than the infamous comment he had the decency to delete ;) ).

But what about the use of the 7 principles for something dramatic and emotive, without being schmaltzy (Disney) or self-deprecating (What's Opera Doc) or absurd (Ren Seeks Help et al, IMO)? I think that merits some discussion sooner or later. Particularly if you think it hasn't been done properly yet.

Jason Miskimins said...

Holy crap! This is a mind-blowing and possibly life-altering post.

I have never read such an honest breakdown of animation history.

So many artists today (including myself) have become lazy and forgotten principles because we have become bombarded with flat, stripped-down art for all of our lives. We have grown up to accept bland art, and it infects our own work like a virus.

I am not an animator. I am an illustrator...but these statements apply to me as well. We are in an age of severe amateurism. People have come to confuse blandness and lack of skill with style. I am a victim of this myself, but I am inspired to put an end to that in my own work.

People look at a flat, poorly drawn image and say "it's supposed to look that way...that's the style." I have done this myself and have fooled myself for many years...and I will admit it has affected my own work.

I think another factor in the overall decrease in quality is that companies want things produced faster and faster. In a world of insane deadlines, it is becoming harder and harder to find time to produce quality work. The world has become so fast-paced that we have lost sight of quality in favor of speed.

John said...

Ok this has filled me with inspiration, I'm gonna go work on my JohnKcurriculum drawings and kick some ass!

I was born in the 80's and so missed a lot of these classic cartoons growing up.. am catching up now though! Most people my age who like animation seem totally unaware of how awesome it used to be (and so was I), instead being complacent with stiff anime and flat rigged cut-out stuff.

When I think about what's possible with solid drawing animation it blows my mind.

Thanks for the post.