Thursday, July 19, 2007

Individuality VS Standardization

There used to be more than 3 cartoon styles.


Here's where ours started...


When we say "design" in cartoons, nowadays we automatically think of the 50s - or maybe some people think Disney.

I'd like to challenge both those notions . I think the Golden Age of Cartoon design didn't happen in animation. Certainly not in the fifties.

It happened in comic strips somewhere around the 20s and 30s.

Why do I think that?

Because:

1) There was a huge variety of styles.

An age of design would mean lots of designs, not a single school of design.

2) There was more individuality in the styles- certain artists were masters of their own styles.

They didn't belong to a school of style like "The UPA style" or "The Cal Arts Style".

It was expected of popular cartoonists to each have their own unique takes on the world.

Of course, the most successful cartoonists had their imitators, but who remembers them?

Originality was expected in comic strips.

3) Comics reflected humanity.

Comics were about things humans think about and do or dream of. All sorts of humans. Animation characters and stories act and play like, not human feelings, but artificial animation feelings. We animators get our view of life from previous animated cartoons instead of from the world.


Polly and Her Pals, for instance is absolutely great design, but it's still about humans that act and feel like humans we ourselves consort with.

ANIMATION IS A HOUSE STYLE
- all derived from one original style

Otto Messmer is probably the founder of "animation style". Everything being done even today can be traced back to him.
His design sense was partially aesthetic and partially motivated by practicality. He was a cartoonist who became an animator and then later became a strip cartoonist.

His designs are simple on purpose. Animation takes longer to produce than comics - for the simple reason that you have to do many more drawings in order to make things move.

But simple doesn't have to mean even or bland. It just means fewer details and easy-to-move proportions.

Messmer's drawing method is simple but the result is stylish and full of quirks. A variety of curves against straights, lots of uneven twists and turns. No simple math.

In the 20s and 30s, cartoonists were learning to animate by trial and error, so it made perfect sense to use characters that you could draw fast. This logic produced the fastest evolution in animation history.

From Steamboat Willie to Snow White in 9 years. Amazing, right?

But it came with a price....

THE LOSS OF INDIVIDUALITY and HUMANITY

Conformity and model sheets

Someone in the 30s decided that it would be a good idea to have every artist draw the characters the exact same way in the cartoon. This produced an averaging of the artists' styles and the "Rubber Hose style" came into being - a generalized version of Otto Messmer. (And Bill Nolan probably)

Otto's crowds have more varied characters than Disney.
The rubber hose style evolved slightly into the pear and sphere style in the late 30s and this was a bit more sophisticated but still based on the principles of "animation drawing" and still generic. The motion got smoother and more layered but this nagging idea of conformity held back individual creativity.

It didn't have to be that way and it didn't start out that way. At the New York studios in the early 30s, the animators pretty much drew each scene the way they felt it. The overall style was "rubber hose"- Messmer inspired but you could really tell the difference between different animators scene by scene.

Grim Natwick had a unique style that looked a lot more like comic illustration than animated cartoons and when it moves it really stands out as something special.

It's also very human. It's not a mere imitation of someone else's abstract principles. He's drawing life as he sees it and then creating impossibilities using the magic part of animation.

This Bimbo model sheets shows a bit of conformity to Disney starting to take effect.

Here is Disney's take on Otto Messmer's style. All the edges have been smoothed out. Every shape is mathematical and even now. Every character is the same design. Circles and ovals. Only one kind of bend and curve. Expressions are dead and mechanical.

Compare to the source.All the other animation studios stopped being human and started to imitate Disney. Part of what they imitated was this conformity and evenness and averaging of each individual's style into one all encompassing "animation style".

This style as a whole has gone through some changes-from rubber hose to Preston Blair to UPA but the changes were slow and changes that happened as a group to the whole animation community-even against the wills of many studios and artists.


This small animation group later lost the idea of quality and good principles and degenerated into some sub groups -

Saturday Morning Cartoons,

Disney Imitators (Cal-Arts) and

Anime.


BAD THINKING HABITS OF THE ANIMATION WORLD

From the 30s on we have been stuck with the corrupt and creatively crippling ideas of


"On-Model"

"Animation Style"

'Only Disney Style Is Quality"

"Animation should be believable" (meaning bland, without magic)

10 years of combining good animation with individuality

There was a second flowering of creativity in animation when Bob Clampett and Tex Avery reintroduced the notion of individuality in not only their stories and direction, but in the animation itself. They took the good things that evolved in 30s animation and put back the humanity that was being lost.

Clampett encouraged his artists each to draw in their own way and bring their own creative ideas to the design, personality and movement of the cartoons. Avery started doing that in the mid 40s and for a decade or so we had some very individualistic cartoons that didn't follow the "rules" and "style" of animated cartoons.

Collaborative or Herd?

Unlike the constant variety of individual styles in old time comic strips, in general throughout animation history, animation has made its small changes step by step as a group.

A mass of animators no longer influenced by other artists or by the outside world, but only by slightly varied versions of itself.

Pixar imitates Bluth and Burton, who imitate 60s Disney, who imitated 50s Disney who imitated 40s Disney and all the way back to Otto Messmer.

Dreamworks imitates Dic who imitated Filmation who imitated Hanna Barbera who imitated Disney and Warner Bros who imitated Otto Messmer, who probably himself had a wide variety of influences when he he started out.

Anime is extremely inbred.

Modern anime imitates Osamu Tezuka who imitated Disney who imitated Otto Messmer.



ANIMATORS THINK DIFFERENTLY THAN CARTOONISTS

Animation has always had a huge philosophical difference than comic strips. At least comic strips before 1960 or so. Comics didn't have a preconceived house-style. Every artist developed his own style out of being influenced by an assortment of other artists and by life.

We need this in animation. It's always been our blind spot. We are so used to animation-thought that we get angry when our dogma is challenged.

Animation brings a whole new level of creative possibilities with it, but we have to shed our terribly stifling habit of imitating decadent versions of ourselves.

We should collaborate rather than move like herds.

Put all our styles together (those of us that have them) and add them up for a greater total experience instead of shaving off all our unique human quirks to become an average multitude of sameness.

A SUM OF GOOD IDEAS IS BETTER THAN AN AVERAGE OF THEM.

We need an end to model sheet slavery, to animation schools that encourage decadence and to by-rote habits of thought.

Let's share good drawing principles but hang on to our own individual details and takes on life. And look around us.


Here's a time period when cartoonists did just that. What skill and variety it produced!

61 comments:

amir avni said...

Amen!

Stone said...

Hmm, I think you might want to consider that there are some spots in the Asian animation industry that are showing some interesting experimental leaps in terms of design and stylistic movement and even story. With the Korean made, Aachi & Ssipak. Mindgame is another.

At the very least is seems that the Asian animation industry seems less restricted and more open to trying new things out than the US, if even just by a little bit.

In some ways it feels like many artists in the US are trying to "rediscover" what was already developed while the Asian industry is moving forward steadily. They have access to 3d just like America but they didn't decide to throw all the 2d knowledge and skill out the window because of it.

maybe that's another topic for discussion?

JohnK said...

I forgot to mention that you need to be able to draw before you can experiment with your own style.

I didn't see anything "experimental" in any of that asian design, just more amateur time.

I see portfolios full of that kind of stuff all the time.

Kali Fontecchio said...

"In the 20s and 30s, cartoonists were learning to animate by trial and error, so it made perfect sense to use characters that you could draw fast. This logic produced the fastest evolution in animation history."

It sure did! It's mindblowing to even sit and watch for hours cartoons ranging from 1929 to 1930- everything changed almost overnight in some occasions! That's inspirational.

"From Steamboat Willie to Snow White in 9 years. Amazing, right?"

Yes!

"Someone in the 30s decided that it would be a good idea to have every artist draw the characters the exact same way in the cartoon."

No!!!

"Otto's crowds have more varied characters than Disney."

I love his animal scenes! There's nothing more natural for cartoons than various piles of funny animals!

"Grim Natwick had a unique style that looked a lot more like comic illustration than animated cartoons and when it moves it really stands out as something special."

His style and ability is mesmerizing. His animation are pure eye-gasms!

"Every artist developed his own style out of being influenced by an assortment of other artists and by life."

A great way to learn fast! I know I'm trying to reap the benefits of that great piece of advice!

Art F. said...

yes. learning to draw well is the key. after that, everything opens up.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

If you look at Mind Game director Yuasa's previous work, you'll know that he sure can draw, and that he tries working towards less and less detail and a more kinetic quality over time. When he leaves things out, such as clear construction at times, he does it for a reason. And to me, and many others, it works. Even if you don't like it, at least it's an honest way of drawing. Don't be too quick to judge
japanese animation on style either. True, pretty much all designs are from the same type, but when you look at some TV shows, you'll notice that style can change from episode to episode, re-interpreting the original designs, depending on the animation director. So basically, main design style stays the same, but drawing style varies greatly sometimes. Much and much more than anything from the west.
In features, I was wondering if you'd seen Tokyo Godfathers. The director wanted quite a realistic look and animation, but when the animation director came in, he started pushing things, keeping the main semi-realistic designs, but adding an extra quality. There are quite a few specific and unique expressions and the like in that film (though granted, only in the minority of the scenes).

John_Fountain said...

This is somewhat off-topic, but this post reminds me of a conversation I once had with someone wherein I was going on and on about how amazing Herriman's 'Krazy Kat' comic strips were, and the person I was speaking with (another cartoonist) remarked that they couldn't "get into" the strip because it was too weird with its constantly shifting backgrounds and Krazy's lack of gender specificity. It boggled my mind that a fellow cartoonist couldn't see the brilliance in it.

It just seems as though cartoonists have been conditioned over the decades to think in an oppressively linear fashion that leaves no room for abstraction or silliness.

Roberto said...

John, what are your thoughts on the drawings at http://www.deviantart.com/ (I don't know how to post blue links), specifically the "anime" ones on the front page.

Gabriel said...

wow, lots of cool pics in the same post!

I had never heard of that Swinnerton guy, but i'm intrigued. Maybe you should talk more about him sometime.

Stone said...

Well, I'd have to say that, when actually watching both of these movies in motion, they seem to follow a lot of the qualities you talk about here. Granted, they treat their characters like sort of sculptural way, where they round them out to a point, but leave other parts completely flat, where they then "paint" on the expressions, turning their facial features more into icons than molded rubber and stylized anatomy. It's not done arbitrarily or without consideration. They know the rules and choose to break them to suit their own needs.

perhaps the few screen shots there don't do any justice to the films, But I personally wouldn't call anyone from studio 4c an "amateur."

In any case, I'm not trying to defend their work so much as presenting them for your consideration which, I guess, just isn't your taste. Oh well.

pinkboi said...

Some other phenomenon to keep in mind about the mental side of things:

Animators learn to animate at schools. Schools, as a rule, don't teach creativity (in all fairness, it's exceedingly difficult to teach) but technique and style, i.e., how to copy what already is!

As any industry becomes mature, "best practices" develop, along with a wealth of first tries. Animators today aren't burdened with the task of figuring it out today, but have available the much easier path of copying. This is good in that it makes it easier to make innovations on top of previous innovations, but bad in that no one wants to throw away old innovations to make better new ones (in much the same way in biological evolution, nature tends to break things before making new things).

I won't be popular for saying this, but sometimes it's better to be ignorant. SOMETIMES, okay? Note how the movie industry suffers from movie directors being movie lovers. Ideas are recycled so much that you no longer see movies inspired by reality, you see movies inspired by movies (just what you're saying about cartoons). These industries need to be refreshed by people who aren't educated (in much the same way people with no music education reinvigorated the music industry in the late 70s with punk and industrial music). This will at least present more ideas for other animators to recycle.

Lastly, in the early days of animation, only a truly creative person could have done the job since it takes creativity to imagine what could be. Once great animation exists, there is no need for this kind of imagination (just picture teenagers in a garage band saying "let's sound like Metallica"). It's easy for anyone to envision a good cartoon if they've seen one, but a truly creative individual can picture that without having seen it. Furthermore, the market for animation growing would have led more people without a natural inclination to draw outside the proverbial lines to choose animation as a career path, further diluting the creative force that would have been present before.

zoe said...

Who did those wonderful crows?

trophiogrande said...

I guess the main thing I look for when watching carttons is if I am entertained or not. For the most part the cartoons you listed in the "Individuality" set are more entertaining than the "Standardization" set. It just seems like where character design isn't important, character development isn't valued either.

I can't think of a single moment in "Family Guy" that I remembered the next day, and I doubt that people will be blogging about it 40 years from now, yet I think Felix the cat will still be championed.

I have hope that things will work out. I remeber you posted about an artist who did a cartoon of two panda bears choking to death on lollipops and was blown away by it (Jennifer, or Jessica?...)So I think there are people out there who have the skills to make the absolute best of aniamtion in the future...I'm rambling.

Zaide said...

I must agree with John, stone. All of the styles presented in your citations are nothing new, they're just not mainstream. They have their faults, they have their tragic faults, and they sometimes have visual appeal. I will agree with your comment on 3D animation production and that our local animation community seems to be rolling downhill while other places (namely Japan and France) have made improvement. Take a look at Les Triplettes de Belleville for a few instances of originality on the French side, and some of the independent films of Hayao Miyazaki and son Goro. It doesn't extend to the wits end of Bill Plympton, but there are signs of life featured in those works.

Zaide said...

I follow your methodology up to the point where you say "Anime is extremely inbred.

Modern anime imitates Osamu Tezuka who imitated Disney who imitated Otto Mesmer."

You left out the part about Disney marrying its Japanese cousin sometime in the early nineties. With plotlines, plot-devices, character "designs", and cost-saving techniques lifted from Osamu Tezuka and some of the worst animated productions since his influence in 1951 with "Captain ATOM", the prequel to "Tetsuwan ATOM (a.k.a. Astro Boy)". Don't get me wrong, not all that is animated in Japan is terrible, it just seems that everything regurgitated upon us IS.

Yes, anime is inbred, you just neglected the most recent generation of genetic defects on the American side.

JohnK said...

I agree, Zaide

thanks for pointing that out.

Roberto González said...

Pixar imitates Bluth and Burton? Well, maybe in some flicks, but I think they imitate Disney in the visuals and general tone and they take some plot/gag ideas from people like Jones, Avery or Freleng (especially in Monsters Inc.). Maybe Monsters Inc. has a little bit of Burton too, but I don't see his influence in the rest of the Pixar movies. Burton imitates 60 Disney? Well, he imitates Disney and Gorey (I think Nightmare Before Christmas is pretty different from Disney, though Corpse Bride is a lot more similar to Cal Arts style and 60s Disney, but NBC doesn't look anything like 60s Disney to me)

Anyway, I know this is not the point of the post. The post is interesting. Still I think in comic books generally people tend to use their own style more. That style is generally quite influenced by others but you tend to and your own things.

I am curious though, cause the way you put it, it seems that it should took a while to be a designer. First you have to learn to draw by copying others, then you can develop your own stuff. It seems that you can't be a good designer until you're old.

Incidentally that Canyon kiddies page is amazing.

JohnK said...

>>Pixar imitates Bluth and Burton? Well, maybe in some flicks, but I think they imitate Disney in the visuals and general tone<<

My point exactly

It's all the same stuff

Stephen Worth said...

What a lot of people commenting here don't seem to realize is that the few pictures in this post represent a vast amount of diverse and amazing artwork that poured out all over the newspaper every single day and in color on Sundays. Print cartooning is a hundred times more stylistically diverse than the entire history of animation and comic books put together.

Pointing at anime when John is talking about newspaper comics is like pointing at a puddle when John is pointing at the ocean. It's all well and good to be a fan of anime, but it's a product of its own culture. It can entertain us, but it has nothing really important to teach us regarding how we should create.

American artists need to do what the print cartoonists of the twenties and thirties did... look at the world around them and comment on it using the full power of the art of cartooning. That means developing the skills and thinking for yourself, not imitating superficial aspects of someone else's style. We need to create our own visual language, not ape the language of Korea or Japan.

Comic and animation fans often know way too much about way too little.

See ya
Steve

Roberto said...

''I had never heard of that Swinnerton guy, but i'm intrigued. Maybe you should talk more about him sometime.''
Chuck Jones made a cartoon based on "Canyon Kiddies." You can see it here. http://bloglarry.blogspot.com/2007/06/mighty-hunters.html

78op said...

The overwhelming reason why a lot of animation is bland
is because its expensive to produce. The more hard cash
thats at risk the less risky all aspects of animation will
be. The only way this current trend of blandness will end
is when animation becomes cheaper to produce.
Oh and anime has its faults but is head & shoulders above
the current north American output today!!!

eamon said...

What is to be said about stories and content in today's animation, both in this country and others? Drawing ability and character design may not have taken too many steps forward these days,and the computer is used far too much and without any restraint or art, but i have to argue that the themes and stories in SOME modern animation are a lot better than before.In japan for instance we have animated films covering themes on creation, romance, reality versus virtual reality,the problems of urbanization and loss of culture or appreciation for nature. Granted for every ONE film with a message there are hundreds of god awful catch all these monsters or ride in these robots shows, but what substance or range in stories do we have here? Talking cars? A dozen different talking animal 3-D flicks one worse than the other? Miyazaki's film Spirited Away was directly influenced due to an experience he had when his friends daughter turned out to be spoiled and have have no work ethic or aspirations. The film was a direct response to an event that happened in his daily life.Granted the end result had some wizard of Oz and Through the looking glass influence, but who doesn't look at other works of art and incorporate? Tezuka wrote and drew comics on a range of topics from medicine to Buddhism, despite hi style, influenced by westerners who were influenced by other westerners, he brought his own world views and ideas and stories to the table, more of a range than just funny animals alone. American cartoons today have no range in subject matter to speak or really. Everything is a clone and each one is more poorly done than the next. But at least Pixar is trying to add some more story elements and a bit of wit to the table. At least they aren't making The Little Mermaid 12, right?

JohnK said...

From the cheapest flash cartoon to the most expensive CG blockbuster, it's all bland, inbred and poorly designed and acted.

Expense has nothing to do with taste or skill.

JohnK said...

>>But at least Pixar is trying to add some more story elements and a bit of wit to the table. <<

??

78op said...

I agree with the points Mr. K. makes. So what your advocating is that the animation industry isn’t deliberately putting out a bland safe product.But sincerely doesn't know how to create anything of quality. I find it hard to believe there is such a vacuum of knowledge & skill in todays
animation studios.

Emmett said...

Mr. K, your post has come just in the nick of time. I am struggling with my character design, and trying to follow everything I have been taught thus far. Apparentally, that includes model sheets and much of what you are going against.

When I draw, I try to draw as naturally as I can, yet still keep it fluid. Other than animation, I look at some comics and a lot of illustration (particularly Gerald Scarfe), not to mention surreal artists as well.

In my character designs, how would suggest I start from scratch?

Roberto González said...

>>But at least Pixar is trying to add some more story elements and a bit of wit to the table. <<

I have to agree with that. The general tone of the stories and the visuals are conservative, yes. They are pretty much like Disney in every aspect. But they make a different story each time. Yeah, all of them had some things in common and they might share some contrived pathos and stuff. But seriously, all the Disney flicks in the 90s were exactly the same thing. At least Ratatouille seems to be a pretty different story to Finding Nemo. And next Pixar movie Wall-E sounds quite different to everything they have done before. It's like Disney, but when Disney showed more variety in the plots. It doesn't happen the same with the visuals, sadly. But I think it's somewhat better than what we had in the 80s and 90s.

Also Pixar seems to have more influences than the Disney wannabes in the 90s. Like I said before there are some Chuck Jones situations (a scene clearly inspired, or ripped off if you want, by Feed the Kitty in Monsters Inc.), Tex Avery (Boo fighting the bad guy at the end of same movie was pretty much like when Droopy got mad at the end of some cartoons)or Friz Freleng (the whole idea of the sharks giving up the fishes in Finding Nemo seemed very inspired by Bird Anonymous to me).

Even though you might consider it direct rip-off instead of influence (I kinda consider it as well) those are things that show Pixar have more influences than Disney and those are things that Disney or Disney wannabes would normally not include in earlier years.

Andrew Kauervane said...

John your blog is deeply deeply inspiring to me. Also I felt I should mention that your latest ad for Comcast gave me just the inspiration I've been lacking. So much so that I decided to draw a picture with some of your guidelines! Could you tell me what you think? http://www.deviantart.com/deviation/60139253/

Jorge Garrido said...

Most anime is inspired by 60s angular Disney and Osamu Tezuka, who was inspired by Disney and the Fleischers.

Actually, alot of modern anime like Mindgame and The Animatrix is actually devolving into something even worse. The animation is smoother and fuller but it remains ugly. Let's face it, Americans are best at cartooning and the japs are best at video games.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

"Pointing at anime when John is talking about newspaper comics is like pointing at a puddle when John is pointing at the ocean." Oh please Stephen. John mentioned anime himself. If John's pointing to the ocean of the past, and all that we see of it left today is a puddle John claims doesn't exist, that's what we'll point to.

"It can entertain us, but it has nothing really important to teach us regarding how we should create." Oh come on. Have you actually watched Mind Game? It teaches us so much! Of course it's completely silly to want to copy its style. Part of what's great about it is that it is entirely unique, and pushing boundaries of what people thought was possible/able to work. It shows us - even more so than John's animation - that there are more possibilities out there than what we currently see, that we can do things OUR way, as long as it's done well. Aside from that, Mind Game has more to say about the human psyche and life in general and (to me) tells it more entertainingly than any animated film from the west I've seen.

Stone said...

Actually I was really pointing the two examples out in reference to John kinda setting "anime" into it's own, generic, style. When really that's like saying Western animation is all one style... to a point and many jaded people would say, it is. But as John points out there are or were various styles in Western animation and I merely wanted to show, what I thought, were varied styles that can be found in the Asian market. It's not just "Anime." There are, in fact, many artists in Asia that reject the Tezuka school and all of it's derivatives; Tezuka being derivative of rubber hose and Disney itself. Their movement is called "superflat" which is really an ironic name due to the fact that they respect and strive towards achieving fully realized art (anatomy, perspective, volume, composition and stylization - taking those elements and bending them as far as they can before breaking them altogether.) while rejecting the big-eyes, tiny noses and other anime stereotypes that makes up most of what is called anime.

With as many books that John could fill with his knowledge of Western animation, there could be just as much information and history compiled for the styles and movements found around the world. So when he listed that styles nowadays have devolved into "Otto Mesmer," "Disney Imitators (Cal-Arts/Pixar), and "Anime." I couldn't help but feel that he just kinda slapped the rest of the world under a "not-western" label, that includes foreign comics and illustration. And when confronted with a few examples merely being presented as an example of things being tried and experimented with outside of the US's stale industry only to have it written off as simple, amateur attempts?

You have to ask who's really looking at the puddle and who's pointing towards the ocean. The thing is, I agree with the main points in this post, but I also think that there are some really great, or at least INTERESTING, things going on outside of the Western bubble. Maybe there are things to consider when taking the next steps in where animation can go. While looking back to learn WHY things are great, we also have to look forward and in places we might not have previously considered. Not to mention learning from life itself... and not all life is Midwestern suburbia which seems to be what American animation focuses on.

Ambassador MAGMA said...

One of the reasons for unoriginal styles is that animation (like film) is an industry, where you are learning a craft. To do so, you must practice, and this usually involves imitation and study. Too many animators fall into the trap of not going beyond and searching themselves to find their own voice. They get all googly-eyed at being able to make something move and begin their aping. Print, on the other hand, is unique to the artist, where there is no industry and imitation is usually rooted out as false almost immediately. While comic books are enjoying a silent renaissance right now, overshadowed by Hollywoodbusting movies, animation is more of a market than ever, especially with digital animation being added to almost every big film.

Every anime movie I've seen feels like a Disney film injected with steroids and porn. It is, if I may be so bold, the most boring of all styles. The plots and writing are more mature and interesting than the majority of American animation. But don't confuse good writing for good animation.

Learn your craft, know it inside and out, but when it comes to creation, be creative. I need to take these words to heart myself.

Toppled Idols

----Sabin

John said...

I have to say I really do like rubber hose style it is my favorite but I really do wish I saw more creativity in cartoons of that style like if all of a sudden every cartoon today became rubber hose but they all looked exactly the same it would still stink just as much as it already does! And I have to say I do really like tons of anime.While many people say all anime looks the same it really dosent.Try comparing One Piece to FLCL and you’ll know exactly what I mean!

peldma3 said...

Today I saw an exhibition of the art of Warner Bros. at the allentown museum of art in Pennjsylvania..
For what it's worth I will share my experience.
I was a bit let down... They had some stuff that I had watched many times and admired and studied over in books .. Here were the originals, pencil drawings , cells , so much stuff from the earliest years onward.. At first I felt let down, like I wish I hadn't seen this stuff.
As I walked through the show however, I began to feel betterabout myself as a artist like , I wasn' t so bad... I think what made The WB cartoons great in part was the men that made it , their sensibilities and the way all the drawings came together to make movement.. When I read this blog , I begin to think the artists of today couldn't draw as well as the old WB cartoonists, and thats just not the case... There are a lot of incredible young artists alive right now... and alot of them are working for Disney , on formula art that is just not allowed to be very creative, like it was in the old dauysa before all these "rules" for animation were put into practice.
So the way I see it is the talent is here now today.. but it's not being utilized. .... I still love the old WB stuff .. and now I feel better knowing that those guys were human. And I still love those old cartoons.

Sant Arellano said...

John! Watch "Dead Leaves", a japanese animation.

Trailer is in youtube. [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCuieF9Uzgc]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCuieF9Uzgc[/url]

This guys can draw and design.

Sant

JohnK said...

Art has to get past amateurism before it can be interesting. That stuff just looks like typical bad overseas animation of American stuff. That's what it looked 20 years ago when I was there working.

Nothing new at all.

I'd like to see good honest drawing, period, come back before we start imagining we have style or new ideas.

Stephen Worth said...

At 20 years old, you haven't even begun to see the things that you need to see. You've got a tremendous resource here and you're wasting it arguing about amateurish stuff designed to amuse kids and teenagers. The subject isn't anime. It's the entire history of style in cartooning, and how limited the palette of styles is in animation.

If you want to be worthwhile artists someday, you should be picking up on the names and references John is throwing out and doing the legwork to figure out what these artists are all about for yourself. Instead of blabbing in the comments about things you don't know yet, you should be printing this stuff out and researching it at the library. Once you've got the frame of reference, you'll understand what John is talking about better. Acquiring that will take some work and diligence.

This isn't just another blog. It's a resource that you are going to look back on someday and wish you took better advantage of.

See ya
Steve

Peggy said...

I suspect most of the people saying 'but look at THIS great Asian cartoon!" are seeing its individuality and specificacity of story, character, and narrative - while this post is entirely about the way the DRAWINGS look.

I mean, I've enjoyed some of Miyazaki's stuff, but there's nothing stylistically unique about most of the visuals. Put a random character still from 'Spirited Away' next to a character still from 'Voltron' and ask someone who's seen neither if they're from the same hand, or not. They won't really be sure.

My favorite experience ever of watching Japanese animation was probably seeing an early 'Astro Boy' short. Tezuka really felt like he owed a lot more to Fleischer than Disney to me, what with all the wonderfully and uniquely ugly old men in some of his stuff, and the sheer joy in cycles of rubbery robots.

Tim said...

This was a very interesting post... really got me thinking!
Speaking of styles by the way, I'm still waiting on your post about "Ren & Stimpy done WRONG"
I remember you mentioning you'd go over how some of your emulators seemed to copy all the wrong aspects of your (or rather Spumco's) style. It seems a topic like that goes hand in hand with this post, artists copying art by other artists, but only so far as to get the skin right, not the skeleton!

Mr. Semaj said...

>>But at least Pixar is trying to add some more story elements and a bit of wit to the table. <<

??


All eyes on Wall-E

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

"Model sheet slavery!" This is music to my ears!

I also liked what you said about learning from all worthwhile styles in the past. I'm always afraid that if the industry ever decides to be creative and original that people will throw off every good thing from the past and revert to nihilistic primitivism as underground comics did. As you said, there's no getting around the need for skill!

This was one of your greatest posts! Thanks much!

Serge said...

Ive decided to start a blog and i did it with a real life story ¡wow! id like to read everyones comments

http://www.myblogwichisnotyoursbutmine.blogspot.com/

In it i will explain some theories and facts i know about anime and since anime is such a hot topic right now you might find it interesting.

Elliot said...

Easily the most sensible and intelligent thing you've ever posted on your blog mate.

LH said...

It's obvious that most anime is great in plot (or is it?), but shit and somewhat stilted in animation. I could be wrong in some small cases, though.

The point that John is trying to make here is that most bad animation is derived from Walt Disney in the 40's and earlier (which in turn is derived from Otto Mesmer) except that all the good stuff is slowly filtered out generation after generation, leaving us with garish colors which fuck up the natural movement of the eye, robotic animation that, rather than taken from or inspired by real life and carefully exaggerated, is stolen from other, equally or better features ad nauseum up to features and shorts that are actually worth an animators and viewers time. As well as that, we have cookie-cutter characters who are completely interchangeable, barring catchphrases, 8 or something plots which rely completely on "pathos" (as John calls it), and an over-reliance on tired pop-culture references (again, usually from better works) to hide that fact that these writers simply are not qualified to write good stories, due to executive manipulation or not.

I'm guessing that's why John's encouraging people to study Preston's works, Tom and Jerry, etc. That way, good stuff will emerge independently from the all-encompassing pus of shitty animation.

Kepalapod said...

John, do you know much about Russian and/or Czech animation. It has to me, one of the most varied styles throughout the years , but has no turned into (Princa Vladimir) another Don-Bluthish-Anastasia-wannabe-rip-off.

I think it really highlights your point personally.

*hides again*

Kali Fontecchio said...

" do you know much about Russian and/or Czech animation"

I met the daughter of a Ukranian animator! He worked on like a million animated pieces- but because I don't speak the language this was the only piece of work of his I could find:

Ukranian animation from the 70s.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Wow, Stephen, you certainly do seem to know a lot about me. You're just being absolutely laughable here. Who are you to judge me if you've got no idea what I'm doing, or what I have or haven't seen? Let alone what I do or do not know! Who are you to assume that I'm not taking advantage from this blog only because I disagree with John on some points? I don't need anyone to tell me what I do or don't like. Doesn't mean I can't learn or am not learning from the things on this blog I find valuable. Also, have you seen me argue with the value of this post? Of course not. I agree with it. I just personally feel (and I'm not alone on it) that there are some people that seem to do exactly what he's talking about. That he doesn't like it is fine. Difference in taste or opinion.

Funny how you're telling me about doing research, while you haven't done your own research on a film you ignorantly call "designed to amuse kids and teenagers". I'm still wondering if you've seen it, by the way (not judging here, just actually wondering. You haven't pointed towards having seen it yet.)

For the record, I AM doing my research. You might not like the idea, but I'm not really interested in becoming a cartoonist. I'm interested in animation for dramatic storytelling and personal expression, so I'm doing my research in both animated cartoons and features, past and present, live-action films, past and present, comic books (mostly European), past and present, painting, drawing, acting, live-action lighting and cinematography, editing and of course the craft of animating.

For an animation historian, you're quick to judge people without knowing the facts.

pumml said...

To the fanboy(s) who are rushing to defense of your precious anime because your brain registered, "something negative was said" you are missing the point of this post. Steve hit the nail on the head, twice, in his responses. Carefully reread John's post, then Steve's. Then throw in Peggy's for good measure and you'll be up to speed (hopefully).

Please don't come back with more, "Nuh uh! It is good!" posts. You're still getting hung up on that puddle. I like various anime, but I'm not offended by John's post in the least... because he's making a point. A good one. Try not to miss it.

PCUnfunny said...

I didn't see anything offensive about anime John's post. Anyway, I can see how Otto Messemer's style influenced animation and sadly devolved over time.

PCUnfunny said...

No offense Ben but you want to make sounds really boring to me. I had the same mentality when I was younger "Cartoony =/= realistic". Then I realized that cartoony factor ads life, not subtracts it. Funny drawings are the strongest way to expose the emotions of a character.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

The "problem" with funny drawings is that they're funny. What I'd like to do is using the possibilities of drawing and animation for films that resonate to me in ways films such as Magnolia, Amores Perros, Cidade De Deus, The Godfather, The Third Man, Double Indemnity, Requiem for a Dream, etc do. I'm naturally just a person that tends more towards dramatic films than comedies. I am no funny person in real life either, I'm usually quiet unless (such as here) I've got a strong opinion about the subject. If I'd even attempt comedy, I'd suck, but I feel I do have something to say in drama. Billy Wilder can do both Double Indemnity and Some Like It Hot, and both are fantastic, but for some reason I gravitate towards the former. Of course I'm not claiming I'd be able to make a Double Indemnity, but I think you get the point. Plenty of people feel the films I mentioned here are boring or just plain bad, though, and I think I understand those opinions, so I get what you're saying. But I'd rather be true to myself and have a limited audience than the other way around. If I ever get that opportunity, that is.

PCUnfunny said...

I'll leave you with this thought Ben,there is no line between comedy and tragedy.

Zaide said...

I animate... I vary my styles... I don't make any money for it. If animation production is so expensive, why are there so many hobbyist cartoonists out there? Could it be that maybe animators and cartoonists got greedy, started demanding several thousands of dollars per second of film, created unions to enforce unreasonable demands, thus driving the work out of the country and into the hands of slave laborers whom, under the logic of "production is so expensive" should be rolling in excess? Maybe it was the major corporations and not the overzealous few who ruined our domestic job market, maybe I'm missing your point. Maybe you live in the stone age where every frame of an animated film had to be drawn on acetate and colored by hand using a variety of expensive paints? Come on, since the advent of digital animation programs, most notably Toon Boom Harmony, one can cut nearly all production costs leaving only labor. Using a variety of time saving methods, you can even cut that. With all these logical production cuts, it makes sense that you could hire a decent designer instead. Considering this and animators who work on salary instead of making unreasonable demands, one could assume that a noble production company would stop outsourcing their work or, worse yet, simply importing the work of others and claiming it as their own (4shame, 4kids) without any production whatsoever. Theoretically, such a company favoring talent and ingenuity over cost effectiveness would produce higher quality material, theoretically incurring higher ratings and gross... theoretically. Maybe throw minimum wage or unpaid intern inbetweeners into the mix, cutting costs more, hire another designer, build more projects, release faster by not having to wait on major scenes to return from PyongTeak, Seoul, Bali, and wherever-the-****-else, returning profits for the calendar year, returning 2D animation styles to the market, giving the customer what they desire, making massive profits on home video purchases, and feeling proud of themselves.

Of course, this will never happen for the simple, practical reason being that there is nothing more cost-effective than slave labor and 3D "software limitation" excuses.

Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I slept through civics class, maybe I'm the only person in the world who's encountered talentless ***clowns expecting $100-150/frame when they can't draw for beans and they don't know better because whatever Art Institute they went to doesn't require a portfolio for admission (Don't believe me? Send in a bogus application and see for yourself.). Maybe this chunk of text will be omitted for ranting (I wouldn't mind). Maybe you've all forgotten that art is beautiful, meaningful, inspiring. Maybe that should be more important than what Disney will pay out for a job that should never have been done in the first place.

Again, sorry for the rant... I just don't see any excuse for laziness.

C. A. M. Thompson said...

Great post. I hadn't read a lot of the Felix comics but now I feel like I have to. They're beautiful.

Osamu Tezuka's style is interesting because it's an amalgamation of a whole bunch of styles from 30's animation. You can see not only Fleischer and Disney but Van Beuren influence. Maybe Japanese animation would be completely different if the most innovative part of Warner Bros. hadn't coincided with the war.

At the Asian Art museum in San Francisco I saw a bit of this film Tezuka made about a couple of squirrels where the design changes through the course of the film. They showed clips that were done in styles reminiscent of Gertie, Felix, Disney feature films, and UPA. Unfortunately he died before he could finish it.

cartoon lad said...

>>Warner Bros who imitated Otto Mesmer, who probably himself had a wide variety of influences when he started out.<<

I thought Warner Bros would have been influenced by a lot of things.Are you saying Otto Mesmer was the main influence on Warner Bros overall? Did Bob Clampett tell you this?

JohnK said...

Warner Bros. Directors were freer to add their own influences to their animation and they branched off from the mainstream.


Then everyone copied them.

Gonçalo said...

Animation in animes are extremely poor, this is an indisputable fact. From what I see in most anime shows, animators try to keep movement to a minimum so that higher detail can be more easily achieved. However, this constrains characters to rigid, fast, 3-frames movements. The animators don't even make an effort to add effects to make movements look smooth like the ones used in that old salt ad you showed us. There are some exceptions to this: FLCL is one of them; Samurai 7 had its moments too.
It didn't use to be like this. Heidi, for example: this anime managed to give away great moments of animation while keeping a certain degree of humanity. The swing animation in the intro (apparently, this particular scene was animated by Hayao Miyazaki) is a great example of this.
When thinking about anime, we also have to take a certain factor in consideration: anime, in general, isn't supposed to be individual, nor it is supposed to transmit any kind of magical feelings through its animation. It's supposed to be a realistic-looking style, constrained by specific rules. What most bothers me about this industry is its capability to disregard the artists' personal feelings. I mean look at Evangelion: the story is a mirror of the writer's personal feelings, as well as its own personal experiences. However, the industry decided to not follow Eva's example. Apparently, this is one of the many reasons why Gainax decided to bring back Eva: to attack the constrains of this industry (though I don't think it will bring these constrains down).
Hopefully, anime industry will recover this feeling of humanity. But I think that this will only happen once its world-wide popularity decreases, something that I don't think it'll happen for at least 10 more years.

Long story short: not always it is possible to transmit the artist's feelings through animation, however, this task grows harder by the day thanks to this unstoppable standartization.

cemenTIMental said...

Apparently, this is one of the many reasons why Gainax decided to bring back Eva: to attack the constrains of this industry
I really hope this is true but I have a horrible that all the other reasons all have yen signs before them and lots of zeros after them. :)

A lot of the arguments here especially where anime is concerned is just people experiencing massive cognitive dissonance because another person has a different opinion.

Also a big problem on animation blog comments seems to be that some people like animation, some people like cartoons, some like both and quite a few for some reason seem to neither like nor understand either.

MasterK said...

I know this is wayyyyy late, but you filter your comments so you might read it. You should see sheep in the big city for style. They have it on youtube. You won't like how 2D the style is, but it is unique. I would also check out the "Ranting Swede" segments. The Swede constantly changes proportion. However, the show seems to get caught up in the fact that it actually has its own style after a while. The first episode and a few more are worth a look.

The Mush said...

Roberto...
<>
Although I agree with your statement and that I can see the influence, the result has an odd feeling and kind of ruins the joke/tribute/ripoff. Like your "Birds Anonymous" and "Feed the Kitty" examples. Friz did a better job of charcter acting and of course had the benefit of using Mel Blanc as Sylvester and Chuck's drawings and layouts, at it's peak in my opinion, were much more appealing and human than the "Monster's Inc." scene, which brings up another point. Chuck's animation at this point, late 40s to early 50s, was stylized(where parts would be fully animated and parts would not) worked better than Pixar's full CG animation. But I still like Pixar alot, although they have a ton of flaws.

The Mush said...

I also think Bill Nolan was more of an influence on the beginning animation style than Messmer, although I love both so much!