Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The rise and fall of Construction in cartoons Pt 3 - 1950s - Undertures and corners

This is part 1 of the Disney 50s: Undertures
Part 2 will be: stock "cartoony" construction
part 3 will be: UPA influence/ Tom Oreb/Ward Kimball-The Cal Arts New Testament
Part 4 will be: combining UPA with rubber hose-the most successful use (to me) of UPA influence at Disney.


Undertures:

Disney continued making their main characters "undertures", that is - designs that are less cartoony, interesting or individual than live humans. This Prince from Cinderella is the worst of the type, because there is no visible construction in it. The facial features just float inside the inspecific silhouette of his face. This inspecificity of construction makes it very hard to animate. It means the features will have a tendency to float around, because they are not clearly set into specific forms.
Alice is an underture, but her construction is still mildly visible. She is still based on Elmer Fudd/ Preston Blair baby construction.

You can see her cheeks bulge out and her eyes fit into them.

There is no specific individual design to the character. She is pure generic. She is construction alone, with no individual variations on the basic Disney forms.
Wendy is the exact same design (or lack of design) as Alice. She still has a bit of visible construction. She has a definite chin, jaw and cheek. (Today's Disney designs don't. The mouths and eyes just float around independent of the silhouette of the head and jawline)
Aurora is sthe same design as Alice and Wendy, with taller proportions and a slightly more anglular finish. The angles make 3-dimensional sense unlike today's wobbly pointy copies of this style.

She is animated beautifully, with the help of rotoscoping and Marc Davis' fantastic skill, but the most you can say about it is that it is smooth and solid. It's a hell of a lot of trouble to go to for the mere result of not looking clumsy.

No one today could animate humans without the features floating all over the place and the construction shifting and melting as the character tries to turn in 3 dimensions. I don't know why anyone even tries, since the best you can get with "realistic" design is merely: "It didn't look awkward." Unfortunately, today there are no Marc Davis' at studios that spend a lot of money and 20 years training you to do extreme solid animation that isn't clumsy.

Here is an extreme underture animated by the great Milt Kahl. Even Milt himself hated animating this and complained all through the production. He wanted to go back to the old sensible days of animating cartoony characters like Br'er Rabbit.

This is the only male realistic character I have ever seen that is animated smoothly, without melting all over the screen or looking completely awkward. Yet much less capable animators than Kahl in eras that are much less disciplined than mid century America keep attempting it.This looks like Dic took over Disney.

Can someone explain why?? No one likes to animate stuff like this and it only worked the one time-and didn't work at all in the context of the film itself:
Next installment: 50s construction of "cartoony" characters at Disney's. Using the same stock construction for countless characters.

30 comments:

Freckled Derelict said...

Ugh I agree the prince in Cinderella is horrible. As a kid I hated the scenes with him.. so bland and lame.
What is the point in animating a character that boring?
Hey John,
What do you think of character design and animation in "The Cantinflas Show"?

Mr. Semaj said...

Man, even for generic designs, I still strive to draw Alice or even Aurora as well as they did.

Emmyc said...

I figured you'd appreciate these.
Specially picked Peter Pan movie stills
http://binsybaby.livejournal.com/444370.html

Kali Fontecchio said...

I like how one of the labels is "inbred" -hwahahwahahhwaha!

Russell_Reyes said...

in 1997 Disney sorta 'broke away' from it's generic style with Hercules... Now I know you think the colouring is shit in that movie, but I wanna know your opinions on the character designs of the movie.

Marc K said...

Hercules = "Aurora is sthe same design as Alice and Wendy, with taller proportions and a slightly more anglular finish. The angles make 3-dimensional sense unlike today's wobbly pointy copies of this style." ???

Kali Fontecchio said...

"Wendy is the exact same design (or lack of design) as Alice. She still has a bit of visible construction. She has a definite chin, jaw and cheek."

On that new Peter Pan dvd there is this big how it came to be story. This project seemed to take the longest being developed, character designs, everything. Kind of weird that such a bland design would come out of so many years of trying to get it right. Crazy.

Chloe Cumming said...

Damn Kali stole my comment! That was EXACTLY what I was going to say.

Labels are fun.

I suppose I'll have to think of something else now.

There is something inherently wrongheaded about pursuing 'realism' at all costs, particularly in an entertainment medium. Yet there's something perverse that gives certain individuals an obsessive attraction to it.

Someone should write a philosophical treatise about it. I'm sure all the prince charming squares could be somehow proved wrong beyond reasonable doubt.

applepwnz said...

Yet another great post John, you're absolutely right about the undertures, I personally find one of the greatest challenges of drawing to be making sure that characters aren't like that. I have always loved the look of Aurora though!

Emmyc said...

Woah, wait, woah. I just reread your entry again.
You DON'T like the Peter Pan character designs? I wouldn't have expected that from you.
Granted, the children looked a little retarded, but still cute.
Hook and Smee are just hilarious, though. I don't know how they could have been funnier expressionwise.
You're awfully hard to please, huh?

Raff said...

>> This Prince from Cinderella is the worst of the type, because there is no visible construction in it. The facial features just float inside the inspecific silhouette of his face. <<

Really? On this drawing the features look to me like they follow construction lines (although I question his right eye). Maybe my eyes aren't sharp enough to notice the problems yet.

That said, his body sure looks flat and it seems to be about to topple over. Not to mention the fact the he's a Ken doll from hell.

TS said...

THere are animators out there who can do realistic animation (Dave Brewster, GLen Keane, Mark Henn, yadda, yadda, yadda...) but I think a lot of it has to do with having competent assistants and inbetweeners.

There are a lot of guys out there who can key a scene but who could never inbetween it for shit.

If you look at a lot of the Disney films you can see where the keys look real nice but someone handed it over to an inbetweener or an assistant who didn't understand the drawings. This is why you should always breakdown all of your own scenes or give really well spelled out direction.

Crappy inbetweeners will have a tendency to completely blow construction out of the water hence things like floating facial features, wonky hands, wierd mouth shapes, and such.

I really think this has as much to do with assisting as it does with animating.

Josh "Just What the Doctor Ordered" Heisie said...

Well I really agree, but what Alice herself lacked in personality, it was definitely a cartoony and inventive movie.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Much truth here, much truth. I noticed you put Shmee (spelled right?)in your rogues gallery at the end. I could imagine a better design for that character but really, those are not bad drawings.

JohnK said...

Hi Eddie

I didn't say it was a bad drawing. It's a generic design that they used over and over again. Well constructed but stock Disney construction.

The same design as the kings, fairies and a million other Disney characters. That's what my next post is about.

jhbmw007 said...

Wow- characters like this are so boring!!! Your blog is an inspiration John- I've just started visiting (every day!) a few weeks ago, but following along with you (and the Preston Blair book) has really helped my drawing abilities.

I'm still no great cartoonist by any means- but just for fun I decided to draw Family Guy characters as CARTOONS:
http://i34.photobucket.com/albums/d140/jhbmw007/mssgebrdcrap/familyguy.jpg

Philip Willey said...

But that's sort of what Disney is. I'm guessing more time and money go into how the character looks printed on a sweatshirt than in motion.

Art F. said...

i have to agree. i HATE cartoons with no cartooniness. if i want to see "realistic" drawings, i'll go to a museum.

Easy Zee said...

There are 2 types of characters in Disney flicks;the realistic kind and the caricature characters. The main character is usually the realistic kind, and he or she is surrounded by caricatures. There is reason for it. The more bland, the more nondescript the main character is, the more the person watching can believe that they could be that person. But the caricatured characters, the fun ones, the ones with personalities, the ones that are fun to draw, those are not the characters the audience imagines as themselves. That is the logic anyway.
I know that doesn't have much to do with construction. But it seems the more realistic characters have a bland construction or little construction, because they are not caricatures.

Nick said...

jhbmw007, your link isn't working.

I was looking at some Cinderella model sheets the other day... it almost made me sick to the stomach.

abwinegar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

I always kind of assumed disney=great and didn't really question it, but you've really blown my mind with all of this stuff. Everything you say makes total sense and has reasons. I discounted this blog a long time ago on a quick glance assuming 'that crazy ren and stimpy guy' was just bitter and complaining or something, but I am glad I looked again. This is really great, awesome stuff. It really going in depth about solid drawing which until now has only been a sentence to me I've had to try and figure out. There's so much info on animation out there, not enough on drawing for animation. Thanks so much for this blog, John.

Andreas said...

>>I like how one of the labels is "inbred" -hwahahwahahhwaha!<<

Yeah, what she said... I noticed that and laughed.

I always wondered about the floating features. I always just thought it was for comedic effect. I've always had a hard time with the prince from Cinderella. You put into words the feelings I didn't understand.

Lex said...

My brother just told me about this:

http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=80725

http://scoobydooweloveyou.com/getaclue.jpg

I'm not even going to comment.

UM said...

I don't see that much variation in your designs Mr. JK. The old stuff is fabulous, the re-hash in later years makes me puke. You make spot-on points but give a little credit, please.

waveybrain said...

John, I just discovered your blog. Very insightful and helpful info. Thanks! I just want to be clear that you said that the Hunchback male lead was the one you thought was sucessful? If so, you gotta give John Pommeroy the credit for that. I had the pleasure of working on his Milo character before I knew much about him. He truley amazed me with that ability to make the character smooth and animated. The roughs were really fun to look at. For the record: Milo had about 25 people working on him, hence the inconsistancies.

Tony Mines said...

Sorry John. (Hello, by the way)
I love you, but I gotta call it. Your waaaaaaaaaaay off on this one.

Its not that the points you make are wrong in relation to cartooning. They're not.

It's that (with specific reference to Sleeping Beauty) you dismiss this type of approach only because it isn't appropriate to the type of animation you prefer.

This is where you lost me:

No one today could animate humans without the features floating all over the place and the construction shifting and melting as the character tries to turn in 3 dimensions. I don't know why anyone even tries, since the best you can get with "realistic" design is merely: "It didn't look awkward." Unfortunately, today there are no Marc Davis' at studios that spend a lot of money and 20 years training you to do extreme solid animation that isn't clumsy.

I can think of a whole bunch of people who can animate humans without their features floating around. They are collectively reffered to as the Asian animation industry, and live in the bottom right quarter of the map.

I know anime isn't your thing, but i'm sure you must recognise that cartooning isn't the only valid use of animation. That telling stories the like of which are portrayed in the Akira's and Princess Mononoke's of this world is at least a valid practice?

Some films, some projects, some stories - simply suit a type of design that is more literal to the human form.

The human designs in Sleeping Beauty are not generic, they are revolutionary. If Disney had kept it up, then animation as a medium for dramatic storytelling, could have leapt to where (Japan) is now by the late sixties. America might now be able to boast something equivalent to the work of Satoshi Kon. We could have skipped Don Bluth or Filmation. Bypassed motion capture, avoided The Polar Express.

But they didn't. And we didn't.

ckh said...

I think Easy Zee hit it on the head. While Wendy and Alice are not particularly interesting caricatures, you have to take them in the context of the films. Both of them represent characters from the "real world" who travel to fantasy worlds. When they get there, the characters they encounter are caricatures with some hilarious designs. Captain Hook, Smee, the Indians... The Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter...

The other characters in these movies prove that Disney was capable of great character design and that the decision to make the main characters generic was a deliberate one. It was a design choice made not due to laziness or inability, but because it made the fantasy world characters more fantastic by comparison.

Jason Miskimins said...

Another great post. I don't know why anyone who even try animating realistic humans. It is pointless. If you want to do realistic humans, get a camera and film some real humans. Anything else will just look bland in comparison (undertures).

When will people realize that animation should stick to its strengths...cartooniness and fun - not seriousness and realism.

Liimlsan said...

What I don't understand is why people insist on DRAWN undertures.

One of the greatest strengths of animation is that it can communicate ideas a million times better than live action; not through drawing by by atmosphere.
Say, the wolf in Red Hot Riding Hood. You wold make him a SPECIFIC wolf; but the way he's drawn and timed shows that the wolf is actually the IDEA of lust itself, moving around and acting horny...live action could never do something like that in a million years.

Some of the most successful characters of all time animation are complete undertures: can you tell me how much personality Droopy has? The Road-Runner? Bob Clampett's Porky Pig? Mickey Mouse's only personality trait is 'young, midwestern.' Not even joking.

When you combine underture with realistic drawing, the focus moves from the IDEA of the piece into the DRAWING...and the drawing won't match up.


Most of these undertured humans are from directors who only understand live action; and feel that distortion, idea, atmosphere, good varied timing, and specificity aren't worth all that much; and feel that there's no reason not to include realistic humans, monologues, crowd scenes... >.<

Not playing to the strengths of their own medium. It makes one retch.