Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Cal Arts 1 - apology to the students

I'm making a direct apology to all you Cal Arts students. I have used the term "The Cal Arts Style" to point to many familiar modern drawing and animation cliches in order to contrast them against more universal animation drawing principles, and I can understand why students might think I am directly blaming them or attacking them which I am absolutely not!

I'll elaborate on this in the next article, but first I want to post some life drawings I saw at a show at Cal Arts a couple weeks ago.

I have to say, when I was invited to Cal Arts to see this artwork, I wasn't expecting much. But when I arrived with Eddie, I was shocked to see these wonderful drawings!
This seated woman shows that the artist is very observant, can:

see in 3 dimensions,

understands hierarchies of forms (the details follow the perspective of the larger forms) and on top of that

has some individual style. There are some angles imposed upon the figure, but the angles seem to fit in sensible places-unlike many cartoon designs today that just have arbitrary angles for the sake of having angles.

This tortoise shows both form and style. In some areas the form is more evident-in the legs and the bottom of the shell. The top of the shell seems more arbitrary-less sensible, because the plates aren't following the perspective and form of the shell. But I can see that the artist when he is thinking about it, can make it make sense and that takes a good eye and a good brain.This seated girl on a tortoise shows that the artist is capable of applying what he learned from life drawing to an image he created out of his head. This to me is the goal of art school-to learn how things really look, and then to remember the principles that make things look the way they you can then make up images that are convincing and show off your knowledge.

This drawing of a girl's face shows a lot of style and some form. Some of the form-the shoulder, the bottom of the nose, is cheated, but the drawing shows off obvious talent and personality.
Here is a slight caricature that looks like the artist really looked at the model. It doesn't look like a caricature that is trying to be in a certain caricature style. It isn't filtered through another artist's style. The artist didn't ask himself "How would Hirschfeld interpret this person?" Or "How would I draw this in an animation style?"

The drawing is based on pure observation, and when you draw from a model that's what you should do-get all your opinions from the way the model actually looks, instead of interpreting the model through a predetermined style. Every model is its own style.

This drawing shows foreshortening and perspective in the positions of the arms.
I'd love to see that in a cartoon drawing or animated scene.

These drawings are by an extremely observant and talented artist.

There were good "realistic" drawings like this plastered all over the walls at Cal Arts.

So if all this talent exists at the school, it makes me wonder why I never see this kind of talent translated into cartoon drawings or animation and acting, particularly in cartoons that are considered the "Cal Arts Style"-Don Bluth, Disney, Pixar, Cats Don't Dance etc. Or now- the flat style- The Cartoon Network/Nickelodeon TV fake UPA style.

None of these cartoons reflect the observational ability that I see in these life drawings.

Disconnect between life drawings and cartoon drawings
There were a few cartoon style drawings that hung on the walls and if I'd only seen those I would have assumed there was not much talent at Cal Arts. They mostly fit into current trendy non-principled styles, the ones I listed above.

It makes me ask the question; "What's the point of having strong talent and observational skills and then to turn around and not use any of these abilities in the cartoon drawings?"

Many of the cartoon drawings were at the level of typical Cartoon Network kiddie shows so it makes me wonder why the huge disconnect between the draftsmanship in the life drawings and the flat simplistic uninspiring cartoon drawings.
There's a big difference between these 2 drawings. The top drawing anyone can do. The bottom drawings are done by a highly principled draftsman who learned his fundamentals first before deciding to draw in a stylized way.


I know from 20 years of hiring and training students from Cal Arts and other schools-and kids with no schooling at all - that having good life drawings is absolutely no indication whatsoever of whether you can be a functional cartoonist or animator.

I know every animation school tells the students how important life drawing is, but then they don't teach you how to apply what you could be learning from your life drawings to your cartoon drawings.

I've been fooled before. I've hired artists who had great life drawings in their portfolio, and then found out they couldn't draw a cartoon to save their life. They couldn't make up a drawing out of their head and turn it around and pose it and make up expressions- all functional needs if you are to be an animation artist.

I have spent a ton of my own money retraining artists who already spent a hundred thousand dollars or so for 4 years at school and didn't learn to be functional.

This makes me mad, not at you students, but at the schools for not doing their job. I figure they owe me a lot of money because I have to redo their jobs for them. It's pretty established that I have trained a ton of artists and that after I do, these same artists are then in demand by all the other studios in town, so I hope you will take advantage of some tips I will give you for free now, while you have time at school to learn important principles of animation and drawing.


While I agree in theory that life drawing can be helpful to animators, it doesn't automatically follow that spending a lot of time drawing models makes you a good animator.

School should be methodical. It should teach you skills and then how to apply the skills to typical practical problems that you will encounter in the real world.

How many of you have seen artists who are really great at drawing something that is put in front of them, but when they have to make something up out of their heads, they can't do it? They draw primitively when they have to rely on their imagination or memory. It happens all the time.

Then you might know someone who isn't very good at copying things, but can animate and create things that look great, just out of her head.

The point of doing life drawings is to learn things that you can REMEMBER and then apply to your creative drawings-the ones you make up.

There should be a class that is a link between your life drawing class that makes you remember certain things about your life drawing class and then methodically apply what you learned to a cartoon drawing or a scene of animation.

Not anatomy. Anatomical cartoons tend to look awkward and clunky.
Solidity of structure but with organic surfaces
Individual specific features
Human expressions-as opposed to "animation expressions"

If your cartoon drawings are in some specific modern trendy style-like the flat style, then you don't need life drawing. In fact, you don't need to waste a hundred thousand dollars and 4 years of your life drawing in a style that so many amateurs with half your talent learn just by watching the Cartoon Network and copying the shows for free at home. There are a million people who can draw in that style.

You have talent. Don't you wanna show the amateurs and posers up? You can certainly do it, but you'd have to be methodical about getting there and you need to learn the difference between good drawing principles and stylistic cliches. You want to know how to take your observations from life and interpret what you have observed from life into cartoon form.

If I was your teacher, I wouldn't even let you design your own characters in animation class. I would make you animate characters that already work-simple, well constructed characters like Elmer Fudd, Donald Duck or Tom and Jerry. Students shouldn't even be trying to design their own characters. You need to learn to animate in 3 dimensions first. If you are struggling to animate an amateurish awkward design, your progress will be hugely handicapped. I would put your tuition to the most efficient use and give you the tools you need to be functional when you get out of school.

You should run and beg your teachers to show you fundamentals and to criticize your work if it's awkward, flat or clumsy. Otherwise you are throwing away a lot of money.

If you just want to be "creative" and an "individual", you don't need to go to school for that. Save your money and be a hippie at home! Schools should teach you decades of experience and fundamental knowledge.

Drawing good cartoon principles is not a style
Some of you probably think I am going to try to convince you to draw in the "Spumco Style" which I promise I'm not. I hate the Spumco Style and I tell young artists who have portfolios with fake Spumco drawings in them to go learn to draw cartoons for real before coming back to me.

Here is a clever page of cartoon drawings that is not typical of Cal Arts, These drawings are cartoons, but they don't fit into a trendy modern cliche style, but more important than that:

These cartoon drawings show a good understanding and observation of fundamental principles:
They show some knowledge of construction (they aren't flat). They show observation of real anatomy-which is not required in animation, but if you are going to do it, you should use your own observations like this artist did, not Don Bluth's imitations of Milt Kahl's observations.

I think this style would be hard to animate because anatomy is complicated and will slow down your learning of how to make things move in 3 dimensions. That's why I recommend using simple rounded characters while you are learning to animate-so you can spend your time learning to move things, rather than spending a ton of time trying to figure out how to draw very complicated forms from difficult angles, and then trying to animate them.

Then you see your animation test and it doesn't work, so you've wasted a lot of time drawing individual drawings that take too long to figure out.

These drawings have a lot of visual appeal too. Quite beautiful. The artist obviously has a good design sense and wants to follow in the footsteps of Mary Blair and Lynne Naylor. But both those artists have well rounded skills and drew in more principled styles before they developed their own signature looks.

If you intend to animate and choose a designy style while you are learning motion, you are going to run into a lot of problems trying to figure out how to get one pose to move convincingly into another pose. You will have to rely on tricks. You sure would have a tough time moving one head position slowly into another head position without having the features float all over the face.

I love design too, but think design is a more advanced goal and your design ability will be greatly enhanced by learning to draw and animate in 3 dimensions. I'll talk more about that in another post.

Use school to become a powerhouse animator
I really want to see talented people succeed and so I'm gonna devote some posts to you and try to give you the benefit of my own experience not only drawing myself, but training so many other talented people and encouraging their own unique talents. There is no studio in the business that is more open to artists using their individual styles and ideas in the cartoons than mine, but you need to earn that right by having solid functional skills and having a REAL style, not a trendy one. Every other studio will force you to draw "on-model" and I promise you, you won't enjoy that. You will also be in competition with much less talented artists than yourselves who can draw simple styles "on-model" and they will work for less than you and will suck up to the executives who hate you.

Draw better than the hacks and make good drawing be in demand. Your talent can lift the whole business up and make the hacks scramble to keep up with you! Don't aim low or you and all creative people will pay dearly for it later.

I know you are young and therefore rebellious and suspicious of all experience and authority and I don't blame you. I'm old and STILL suspicious of authority! But I distrust arbitrary authority-like dumbass executives who can't draw a straight line to save their life.

But I'll tell you one thing, I sure as hell begged Clampett, Jones, Avery, Hanna and a lot of the classic animators I knew to teach me every possible little thing they were willing to share with me and I applied many of their hard won techniques to my own cartoons and created my own style and quite a revolution doing it.

You can be much more of an individual if you learn the difference between solid principles and stylistic tricks so I can only hope a few of you take my advice and make yourselves the most powerful and creative artists your gifts will allow you to be.

I wouldn't go to this much trouble if I hadn't seen the strong talent and observational skills in your life drawings. Now I'd love to see you put that same kind of thinking into your cartoons!








S.G.A said...

My trouble is that I can work really well creating stuff from my head but have difficultly drawing whats in front of me... such as capturing likeness... what advice if any can you offer.. I would really appreciate a push in the right direction.

Joel Bryan said...

I'd love to be taking classes again. I miss being forced to draw.

Those are some excellent critiques. I especially like the one about the faked nose and shoulder. People should watch out for that. It's easy to start faking stuff. I suppose for some people it doesn't matter but it's a distraction. I once had a teacher just nail me in front of the whole class for faking tile on a drawing of a bathroom I was doing.

He knew I'd half-assed it and he let me know he knew. After that I had a lot more respect for his methodology as a teacher... never faked again, at least not for his class.

Tim said...

I'd build you a school, but I'm a little short on cash and bricks. That's why this blog rocks, of course.
I don't have much comment on style or Cal Arts, but this brings up your 'Rise and Fall of Animation,' I know it must be a depressing thing to write, but you only got so far as the '40s I believe. Maybe learning what wrong turns the industry took would help more people turn right.

Zoe said...


This is the strangest, most fantastic coincidence that ever happened. Yesterday morning, I was writing an e-mail to Stephen Worth, asking about some of these very problems as I've struggled with them, and today you write about every last one of them! The aggravating chasm between my life-drawing & animating has been literally driving me crazy for years now. I just kept asking myself, "Why?! Why?! Why can't I take what I do HERE and make it come out good HERE?!" Everything you say about the overly complex anatomical drawings ending up awkward and time-consuming, that's exactly it!

But now I'm actually starting to get it! I just can't believe it, it's finally sinking in! Yippee!!


P.S. In 1991, my brother and I quit Sunday school for Ren & Stimpy. We did not regret it.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how the art school classes where taught in the 1920's, 1930's, and 1940's to have such classic cartoons come from that era?

And, what methodologies did the teachers of that time period use to bridge the gaps with the life drawings and animation?

Vincent Waller said...

Great post. I didn't hae time to read it all, but I will tomorrow

Anonymous said...

great post John. like i've told you before,i've learned more from you than i learned in any "Animation" school that i've ever attended. it's funny that you said the teachers shouldn't let us design our own characters, but that is exactly what they told us to do, the first day we were there. i thank you for all the education you have given me so far.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWW!!!!!!!!Well said, John! Well said!

Sean Worsham said...

Ok, I guess I'm glad I didn't go to Cal Arts after all. I also remember imitating stuff from Comic-Books (particulary John Romita Jr. and Senior as well as John Buscema) and old cartoons as well (Jones, Clampett, HB and Avery).

I feel life-drawings should be done to get a feel for form and the human figure at least though. Nothing wrong with knowing it at least (although it shouldn't be a requirement). Thanks for the tips John.

In the end though I feel skill comes from within. Lessons can be taught to improve you, but skill is something that you are born with and making a good drawing comes from a desire to do so.

Sean Worsham said...

I think it's also funny you showed the Bluth style, a lot of people including a women I went out with one time imitates it. Didn't Tim Burton come from Cal Arts? His style is definitely not Bluth or 9 old-men either. My good old mentor Rob Gibbs (daughter voiced Boo in Monster's Inc.) definitely doesn't imitate Bluth or any of Disney's style. One of his first gigs coming out of Cal Arts was working for Bakshi on Cool World as a matter of fact.

But I agree, I hope the Bluth style definitely doesn't get over-imitated especially when there are better artists and cartoonists out there to get inspirado from.

stiff said...

Hi John,

This discussion of the application of principles really helped me to understand why you harp on the principles themselves so much. Having that goal in mind (the expected application of the principles) gives me a lot more inspiration than "do this because you need to." Not that I didn't believe that I needed to, it's just easier to suck it up when I know why. Maybe that's just me. But thanks.

I have some very sketchy drawings on my blog--and I think because I made an effort to construct them, they were immediately identified as being in the "Spumco style". I say they're devoid of style, and not even well constructed, much less skillfully drawn, but they're less rigid than I've drawn in the past. Beer helps. Y'all check 'em out if you like.

NateBear said...

Juicey stuff. I don't know how much I pay attention to learning lessons from my own life drawings. But i'm sure do it. In my mind as i draw cartoons i actively say, "I know this is how it always look sin cartoons, but in real life it looks this way..." Somehow I think this all has to do with obsessing over Ren & Stimpy as a youngster. If i was never exposed to that show I'd have been a million times blander. I've always used it as litmus test for entertainment or any other experience. Back to my thoughts, "It's nice, but i just don't feel it the same way as R&S." So I probably owe my entire personality to you, JONK!, for I constantly seek to make each moment as intense as those in your films. But don't worry, I can still totally tell that Clampett blows you out of the water.

Lion_0 said...

This is to cool. I was never able to afford Cal Arts and due to life's turns. It's just not doable for me anymore. Now here you come to show and teach and here i will sit read and do. I learned to animated by finding alot of the teachers who taught at cal-arts at local comunity colleges to try to learn from the best. Now i have a chance to learn from someone i cosider to make some real kick Arse cartoons hell yeah i'm sitting in class for this. Teach on Prof. J your student's r here.

BrianB said...

Thanks John. I truly appreciate the effort and knowledge shared throughout this entire blog. It's obviously a real labor of love given the shape the industry is in, and we're all very lucky there's a few people still striving for something out there in the art - not just for themself but for everyone in it.

Mad Taylor said...

All art school did was leave me with a lot of questions, a sense of worthlessness, and crushed enthusiasm. You've been answering a lot of questions for me, giving me hope, and guiding my talents further.

You should pay off my student loans and I'll either pay you what I'm paying those goons every month...or just work for you for free for the next couple of years.

Whaddya' say? Deal?

Kristen McCabe said...

Jeeez! Those are incredible, such wonderful styles. Thanks for posting those photo's from the show. ...droooool!

Corey said...

I gotta say that at the school I went to, all you have to do is show your good interest in cartoons and animation & you're set. The instructors pick up on that really quick because 80% of the students there are lackadaisical, spoiled kids who just socialise their entire year.

I learned a whole hell of a lot, even though I spent a lot of borrowed money.

You said:
"I know every animation school tells the students how important life drawing is, but then they don't teach you how to apply what you could be learning from your life drawings to your cartoon drawings."

This isn't true of VFS. The guy teaching life drawing up there is a real artist and a damn good one, & continuously applies everything learned in his life drawing to animation.

It is only the idiot spoiled students who walk away from animation school without learning anything.

Thanks for the informative post John

Clinton said...

I went to the Art Institute. Students there said that they rather be in CalArts. We had an ex-Disney guy who ran the department, but we were never told to draw disney characters, or Looney Tunes. The most frustrating part many students @ AI had was the creating characters for something as simple as walk-cycles. Everybody wanted to draw their own unique character, and none of them were good, not even mine. My regret coming out of AI was that I focused too much energy on creating new characters instead of improving on animation principles. I reckon I will focus more on that now.

David Germain said...

There should be a class that is a link between your life drawing class that makes you remember certain things about your life drawing class and then methodically apply what you learned to a cartoon drawing or a scene of animation.

One life drawing exercise I remember back at animation school was to see what position the model was taking but then draw our own character from our student films in that position. As I recall, that was one of the few life drawing classes I actually enjoyed. Would that be a good exercise to help bridge the gap you're describing?

Suco de CĂ©rebro said...

great post
gonna study some of the previous posts on construction and perspective
i'm an animation student
would really aprecciate if you could comment on some of my drawings
if not ,thx anyway for the useful information on this blog

LeoBro said...

Great post.

>The point of doing life drawings is to learn things that you can REMEMBER and then apply to your creative drawings-the ones you make up. There should be a class that is a link between your life drawing class that makes you remember certain things about your life drawing class and then methodically apply what you learned to a cartoon drawing or a scene of animation... Not anatomy.

I think Walt Stanchfield tried to bridge that gap in his drawing classes for the animators at Disney Studios. For him, it wasn't about memorizing anatomy, but learning how to see the pure gesture or essence of the pose, internalize it, and be able to express it in a strong drawing when the time came to draw an animated character.

He wrote:
In a classroom situation where you are studying a live model have to concentrate on the ability to capture those gestures the model performs for you. This, in effect, hones your sensitivity for seeing bodily actions, so that you are better able to apply your skills to future needs. It is nearly impossible also to find models who are "look-alikes" to match the characters in the various stories. This may be a blessing, in that if you could find them you would surely be tempted to copy the superficial appearance of the model, rather than using the time and opportunity to further your skills in gesture drawing. When working from a model you must keep in mind the fact that you are not copying what is before you, but that you are searching for a gesture —- one that will be applicable to any character that you might be called upon draw (animate).

The above quote is from Chapter 4 of the free "book" that I edited based on Stanchfield's notes. The chapter explores that theme in various ways.

P.S. I'm still copying the drawings from Preston Blair in JOhn's earlier posts, and it's absolutely the most useful thing I've done yet in trying to learn animation.

applepwnz said...

Great post John! I personally find it much easier to draw life drawings than drawing from memory or straight out of my head. The only formal training that I've had were a couple of life drawing classes in high school and college, and a couple of graphic design courses in college, but I'm a CS student not an arts student so animation is really just a hobby for me. Lately I've been starting to make a short 50s style PSA, but it definitely is really hard to make everything really full of quality like an actual cartoon from the 50s and not just make it look like some crap on cartoon network. Some pics are on my blog if you'd care to see.

brandon said...

Great info John. Every post makes the principles you are trying to get across that much clearer.

I'd like to hear more of why you think gesture drawing is useless.

I'm one who has heard all his life that its necessary, and it seems like part of the careful observation of a pose would be to understand it as a whole. I think there's something to do with my understanding of what a gesture should be and what you've talked about with your posts on flair and line-of-action.

I get how it could distract from construction, but does it have to?

What am I missing here?

Graham said...

Thanks again John for a wonderful post. I'm going to have to re-read this one later.

NateBear said...

Not anatomy. Anatomical cartoons tend to look awkward and clunky.

Ha! In art school I porposely avoided anatomy classes because all my friends who had taken them made horribly awkward paintings of humans. I took "figure drawing" instead so I could interpret the body my own way.

Raff said...

"Analyze the model. Don't just copy [lines]."
- Glen Vilppu

Stone said...

I went to the Art Institute. Students there said that they rather be in CalArts. We had an ex-Disney guy who ran the department, but we were never told to draw disney characters, or Looney Tunes. The most frustrating part many students @ AI had was the creating characters for something as simple as walk-cycles. Everybody wanted to draw their own unique character, and none of them were good, not even mine. My regret coming out of AI was that I focused too much energy on creating new characters instead of improving on animation principles. I reckon I will focus more on that now.

ugh yeah, I'm going to an Ai right now. All I've learned came out of frustration from NOT learning what I intended to learn at that school and just going out a getting it myself (like sneaking onto the cal arts campus and sitting in on classes ;P - actually I remember those drawings from when I was there) And from seeking out professional artists and hanging out with them, reading books and organizing social artists groups. Unfortunately I'm stuck here, can't transfer my credits and so close to getting my degree that I should just go ahead and finish or else it feels that these thousands of dollars were literally for nothing. I feel I might as well get a piece of paper out of it.

at least I know how to use a million different computer programs... which is... kinda... ok I guess? :(

but Seriously, Ai needs to go on a hit list for the terrible damage it's causing to young artists. You don't even need a portfolio to get accepted here... at least, they never seem to care what's in your portfolio. There are kids at this school that don't and never have even owned a sketchbook! WTF?

It ain't right.

allen mez said...

You're a brilliant man John, but that could be because I agree with everything you write about. I'm a professional jazz musician. The priorities you explain, in terms of development, are EXACTLY the same to playing jazz. Jazz is to music what Cartooning is to drawing.

1)Study the masters
2)Do not focus on style

So what about jazz taught in schools? You're observations on academia are spot on brother. Why is most of the jazz being made today one dimensional, where style is not the product of a highly skilled personality but rather a marketable gloss? Same conversation.


Marcelo Vignali said...

There's a lot of wisdom in your words, wisdom that is overlooked for passes for knowledge at art schools.

I know exactly what you mean, I was very disappointed with my own education and had to retrain myself when I finished four years of art school.

SlashHalen said...

Hey John.

This is great stuff your talking about here. I have to admit, after spending the past month reading your posts, draw Blaire's drawings, and taking in all you have to say, I'm not only exited and happy, but also a little nervous.
I'm not sure how to explain it. I mean, here's all this great information on animation, I guess I'm just nervous about weather I'm good enough to reach such levels. I know I used to hate drawing and never gave animation as a job much thought.
Practice makes perfect, and I know I can be good enough if I practice and aim high. But I still have that feeling in me. I guess it will just take time to pass.

Anyways, I know you have been talking about how these schools will teach you nothing you truly
need to know about animation, and it seems like you are saying "Don't bother with school, stay at home and let me teach you through the net." I can understand why most people might take this to heart (because it's true), like you said we are young and rebelious (Right here). But some of us also have common sence (Right here again), and know that even though these schools suck, they do unfortenetly look good on a resume. Go figure.

There must be SOME good classes out there that you would recumend your students to take... right?

Thanks again,
Slash Halen

smackmonkey said...

Hey John - I use life drawing as an indication of an artist's ability to depict what they see.
How else can I know whether or not they are accurately conveying what's in their head?

TS said...

I suppose I was lucky! I learned most of what I know from a handful of Canadian animators (Andy Bartlett, Moose Pagan, and a few others).

I think to key to learning structure is to realize that every character has an inherent structure. Once you understand the structure you should be able to pose the drawing gives you the opportunity to figure out how things are pieced together so you can apply that to animation.

I know the correlation seems kind of stupid to a lot of people but it eventually makes sense. I think to some degree you either get it or you don't.

The first time you animate a character with a bad design you figure out real quick why structure is so important.

Mr. Semaj said...

I've put this off for a while, but I'll be setting up a blog page that'll display some of my sketches, old and new.

JohnK said...


I didn't post your comment because I thought it was counter productive.You want to start a war. I sure don't.

My post does not "pick on" students. I complimented them all. You should read it more closely. I purposely didn't post any of the cartoon drawings because I didn't want to ghurt anyone's feelings. All the art I posted convinces me there are many talented artists at Cal Arts.

Then I offered some practical advice that will help you in the future.

I hope you will try to be less sensitive and not twist my good intentions into something I absolutely didn't say.

I am planning to post more advice, but if I think your attitude is typical of the rest of the students maybe I won't.

This is all free. You can take it or leave it.

I wish I had someone to give me sensible advice when I was starting out.

tedrex said...

I know you were talking to the CalARts kids, but a lot of that stuff I feel applies to my situation. I've just graduated and been in the industry for a whopping 5 months and I've had my eyes opened quite a bit. Its now my goal to work in the studio system to learn (and earn) as much as i can, but save all my best ideas for myself.
With all the technology available to regular joes with a few hundred bucks, a little talent and a whole lotta enthusiasm, we could all create our own films, without meddling executivces to fuck it all up!
We can do it ourselves guys! Lets use this knowledge we've aquired (through schooling, this blog or wherever) and do it on our own. Screw the studio system! Lets do what we want! We're the people with the ideas. Lets not forget that executives need us a whole lot more than we need them.
Thanks John, for giving a voice to the alternative, and not settling for the status quo. We CAN create great cartoons again! We just need to pull our heads out of the meat grinder every once in awhile, get a breath of fresh air, and get DRAWING! I know I am.

Mad Max Winston said...

This is the kind of critique I've been waiting to hear! Much more effective... I have also wondered why more students can't transfer their own awesome interpretations of life into their cartoons. It does happen sometimes, though. Too many people are making cartoons based on cartoons.

They do make people animate other characters here in the animation classes, like Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Mickey and some others. I'm glad you got to actually see the art done at this school. You should check out the animation shows at the end of the school year.

Lee said...

How many of you have seen artists who are really great at drawing something that is put in front of them, but when they have to make something up out of their heads, they can't do it? They draw primitively when they have to rely on their imagination or memory. It happens all the time.

Ooo, ooo!! Pick me!! That's me right there! (Except for the part about being "really great" at drawing something.) I find it frustrating because although I'm OK at life drawings, I absolutely am not able to draw something out of my head without it looking like something my toddler did.

I think that Allen Mez was on to something with his Jazz parallel. In my (limited) experience, many of the creative pursuits (dance, music, art) have an invisible barrier which the truly gifted can overcome with ease, while the rest of us struggle to get to break through.

It's common see people who can technically play instruments, but can't jam or improvise. They belt out the melody, but you don't feel their soul. People who can reproduce a choreography, but don't engage you with their performance or make it their own.

People with innate talent break through the barrier, seemingly with little effort. Everyone else needs to plug away at the fundamentals over and over and over and over and over and over again.

And even with all that work, some people never make it to the other side.

Thanks for another terrifically educational post!

Anonymous said...

Now these are the posts I've been waiting for. I don't care about advertising. I just want to learn how to draw.

Much Appreciation!


Marcelo Souza said...

Everyone of you who has an interest in art and cartooning should take a look at this illustrator's site(, absolutely amazing! I think it's a great example of someone who learned anatomy but uses it in his own way. His compositions, distortions and use of color are out of this world but totally based on the fundaments that John has been talking about.
What a master!

mike f. said...

I went to the School of Visual Arts in NYC, which had the worst animation course ever. Probably still does.

At least Cal Arts has something that can be construed as a "style" - lame and derivative as it is. There's NEVER been any SVA style, beyond 80's goth, retro punk, and a RAW-inspired, anti-establishment artlessness - which naive students mistakenly interpret as "rebellion".

I couldn't care less what anyone says about SVA. I learned more at Spumco in 6 months than in all 4 years of art school combined.

You shouldn't let yourself be suckered into apologizing to privileged crybabies, John. You don't owe them anything - quite the reverse, actually.

Hector Cortez said...

Don't listen to any of the a-holes John... I, along with the majority of people who read your blog appreciate all the hard work you put into it.

I have gone back and read a lot of your previous posts and have learned more in a few weeks than I have learned in school (I'm still in college).

For that I thank you. Really, truly THANK you.

Please do not stop posting such great and informative posts.

I wish you would start your own animation school and make it affordable... that would be amazing. There are tons of people who are of low income, like myself, who would love the opportunity to learn animation from the pros.

I could see it now, The John K Animation Institute/Academy/School. Priced at community college prices!

Hey... I can dream can't I? :)

Thanks for reading my post.

P.S. - You're blog inspired me to start my own animation blog. - animation news, videos, and artist spotlights.

Gavin Freitas said...

Good post John. Like I told you before my school doesnt have alot of cartoonist. However I feel like the teachers I've had have been fantastic at teaching animation. Some teachers demanded that you read and study the hell out of "The Animators Survival Kit" which is a great book if your already a master of animation, but if your a beginner its really hard to follow. Some have recommended "Cartoon Animation" by Preston Blair which I think is the best book on animation for a beginner. You can make some great animation doing simple drawings. And I know from reading these blogs John you always have talked about Preston Blair, so thank you! Keep it simple but people should follow their own styles and always experiment with other mediums. Find out what you are really good at doing weither it's inbetweens, or being a director. Yes John your right about kids not being able to draw their own characters or an orignal idea. Most can do good by looking at something but when it comes to making up something out of their head, they just cant do it well. I have ranted enough, Good Post!!

Phillip Skeen said...

thanks for the advice

Robert Hume said...

AMAZING post John! I've learned so much from your blog! Thank you for that!

J. J. Hunsecker said...

Nice post. Good to see you posting a more nuanced Cal Arts critique. I look forward to your future posts on the subject.

Clinton said...

"at least I know how to use a million different computer programs... which is... kinda... ok I guess? :(" -Stone

I hear ya, man! Anyone that goes into AI, you come out a jack of all trades. Whether it's a good thing or not makes for a great debate. John, have you ever visited any of the Art Institutes before?

Jack Ruttan said...

I do have trouble in that my drawings from life are lively and interesting, but when I have to do an illustration, things can get stiff, or cliched. (lots of symbols and shortcuts to unlearn!)

Still working on it. Doing complicated anatomical studies, and even failing at them mightily, informs the more cartoony things I draw, that seem to be my style that sells.

Your posts help, but I'm not so hot at following lessons. They provide inspiration, however, and I keep drawing.

Freckled Derelict said...

Thank You so much for these posts!
They are so damn helpful!
Please keep them coming!

:: smo :: said...

i really appreciate you doing this sort of extended self education promo.

i'm down on school for a lot of reasons, but i support it for the fact that it forces discipline and gets you out of your parents' house! a lot of animators i've met seem to need "direction" so to speak.

I'm really into teaching myself now, and working with others around me to help learn. creating a sort of knowledge pool of sorts.

And as you were able to go to Clampett, Jones, Barbera and the greats, and I obviously am not, I'm really appreciative that you've been passing on so much of what you learned through this blog! Thanks again!

:: smo :: said...

oh and a quick aside! as i was leaving RIT [rochester institute of technology], Nancy Beiman came in as a professor. She started teaching a gesture drawing for animators class that helped bridge the gap between figure and motion, and in previous years we had enough animators in our figure class that the teacher let us do a lot of gesture and try and break the model down into construction shapes as well as do the straight drawings.

i feel like looking at/changing the very way you're drawing the model can help translate things into animation

Robert Hume said...

Hey John, a great artist and friend of mine showed me that all of your postings and lessons have been neatly organized on your Wikipedia Page...

I'm sure they have been organized for people to observe in other places on the net as well, like the animatioin archives and so on... but I just thought I'd point this out to you in case you haven't already seen it. It's made it very easy for me to scroll back to past lessons you've given to read up on things that I may have over looked or missed all together.

Brett W. Thompson said...

Inspiring. Thanks John! :)

eurobikermcdog said...

You are so rad, John K.

Arty said...

I'm going to read this more carefully and apply it to myself. I'm an artist and an illustrator or rather I illustrate in two different styles. It is great to read someone who is not afraid to critique honestly.

Jason Miskimins said...

This is schools don't quite have a system that makes sense. There are too many unnecessary courses that distract the students from what they really need to focus on.

Jason Miskimins said...

Another comment...I think that the majority of art school (90 percent) should be classes that focus on structure and drawing only. You can never have too much of this.

I think they try to cram too many types of classes into the program and this just causes the students to become tired and unfocused.

Technique and style should be learned in the last year, after they have figured out the hard part and developed a keen eye.

stephen Silver said...

You have made alot of good points. I feel it is important, to simply use the model as a quick reference and caricature the pose infront of you. and once the model breaks the pose. redraw it from memory. That is when you can truly start inventing.

Zoe said...

I randomly stumbled upon your blog while trying to get all the information I could about CalArts. I really want to apply to their character animation program but wonder if it is worth the $34.000/year. Your critiques are awesome-they remind me of my teachers' critiques at my arts high school.

Have you written a book about animation yet? I'd buy it. And I liked what Hector said: "I could see it now, The John K Animation Institute/Academy/School. Priced at community college prices!"