Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Stock 90s animation acting vs 40s Custom acting

One of the commenters sent this link to me after I posted the ape cg cartoon short last week. I'm not sure why this was sent. Did you want me to admire it? Or analyze it?

I don't know where it came from or who did it. It is completely typical of the animation acting I see in modern feature length cartoons, whether 2d or CG. It's a good cartoon to study this type of acting, because the furry style design is so primitive and the rendering is non-existent. You won't be distracted by pores, hairs and lots of surface details as you would be say - in a Disney, Pixar or Dreamworks film which use the same style of acting coated in elaborate details.

See if you can watch this, paying only attention to the acting-the expressions the characters make, their gestures, their head moves, body poses etc.

I was going to write a big old long-winded analysis of this type of animation acting, but instead I thought I'd see if others can analyze it.

Remember, I'm just looking for comments about the acting, not about the design, the story, gags or anything else.

Then compare it to the acting in this old cartoon and see if you can spot major differences in the approaches.I'll read your comments and then present my own analysis if you are interested.


Ian M said...

I noticed that the computer animated piece had a tendency to do the big arms flailing turn away from who you're talking to acting, while A Tale of Two Kitties had more contrast to the characters. Catstello had a tendency to keep his arms inward to himself, close to his body, except when agitated. Babitt has more of a wide, slow armed approach, to go along with the fact that he's more laid back and calling the shots. They both tend to keep eye contact with who they are talking to, which I noticed doesn't happen as often in the 3D piece.

Also, as a side note, naked Tweety is really creepy.

PCUnfunny said...

Well it is pretty obvious what is superior and what is garbage. The CGI Cartoon had no specific acting at all. All of it was very broad movement. The expressions were all stock "happy,angry,sad". You can tell it was all from the Cal-Arts book. On the other hand the Tweety cartoon had very specific acting. You can see the characters clearly giving very specific movements and emotions,like normal people in life.They don't have one generic expression after another. They also don't rush into one expression after another,they flow smoothly and naturally. Simply put, the CGI one is mechanical and dull and the Tweety cartoon lively and fun.

Clinton said...

It's best to watch the shorts with no sound. Okay, here's my take on the shorts: The two squirrels' personalities are important to their gestures. The brown squirrel is the one in charge, he makes all the plans and tells the sidekick what to do. The grey squirrel is the sidekick, but he isn't cowardly or stupid, just two-faced. In the first scene with the binoculars, "brown" is shown, shoulders raised and rubbing his hands together to show that he's hatching a plot to take the pizza for himself. "grey" squirrel is shown afterwards with a distracted look, smacking his lips. With no sound, you wouldn't know that 'grey' was thinking about the pizza. Maybe if his tongue was sticking out, hanging from the back of his mouth, that pose would be better. Once 'brown' squirrel hits 'grey' with the binoculars, 'grey' strikes some nice poses as if he had been snapped out of his dream. "Grey" squirrel's series of poses when he said, "this is perfect" was real good. It shows that he's excited that no one else knows about the pizza. When the squirrel's notice that little bird, I like how they first looked at the camera, then slowly turned around. I remember seeing that surprised look a lot in the old cartoons. In the take of two kitties, I liked how in the beginning that you can see costello protesting abbott's plan by shaking his head, arms stiff, his back facing abbott, and putting his foot down. Those actions are common when someone doesn't want to anything another person wants them to do. Abbott's actions in the first scene resembles that of a car salesman. I say a car salesman because I dealt with one today and his actions were similar to that of Abbott who is trying to sell his bird idea to Costello. I also liked how Abbot sold his idea to Costello using his fingers to describe the bird's small size. Costello mimicked the same pose to Abbott and was sold on the idea. Afterwards, Costello goes through a series of "Muhammad Ali" poses including a jumping gorilla pose which was very funny. That's all I'm going to say about this, just that first scene with the two squirrels and two cats together.

Ben Forbes said...

The classic cartoon has better character movement and the characters gestures are clear and interesting and funny. I don't find the 3D feature to be as good with the characters gestures and movement.

pinkboi said...

You choose a good modern cartoon to compare to, since it's characters are like copies of Clampett's (but more "stock").

With the modern cartoon, you see many of the same gestures that we see so many times, they almost work as symbols for the emotions or situations they convey. You see the tired scene of the smart character being annoyed by the goof-off character, and the "whoops" question sort of hand gestures, etc. Lots of 'tude, I might add. The most striking thing is several of the characters have the same acting which is confusing and makes them all seem like they don't have individual personalities.

With the Tweety cartoon, you see the shorter cat act out things! Like, moving around like a silverback when he's macho - just seconds after acting pretty when showing faux sympathy for Tweety no less. It's not only funny, but it's more interesting to look at.

The problem with modern cartoons is there are too many existing cartoon cliches that have accumulated over the years, making the animator feel no need to work hard to express the situation to the audience, since showing gesture #75 expresses sarcasm, when being presented with a mob of disagreeable individuals, #23 'tude when goof-of character (see template 3B) is doing something stupid, etc. People should make cartoons for people who have never seen cartoons before!

Anonymous said...

Here is my opinion on those two shorts (when it comes to acting). The gestures in A Tale of Two Kitties are more noticable and grab your attention more than in Surly Squirrel. There are more unique and funny expressions in the Bob Clampett short (I didn't see any 'tude at all).

In the above cartoon, you can find some 'tude. In fact, I think I have seen those expressions before. Sometimes, the guestures (especially those) and the expressions kind of jerk.

peldma3 said...

Interchangeble...... The movents and expressions are the same for every character. I watched this with-out sound... That made it clear quick.
I would describe the movement of expressions in terms of that "toon-tude" thing that you write about. With-out sound there really wasn't any distinct personality traits that you could find from any one character.

Brian B said...

I'm not going to do an entirely thorough analysis. You could endlessly compare and contrast the two in every facet, and I'm not organized enough nor have the time to. I do want to try to mention a few things things.

- Within the first 30 seconds of A Tale of Two Kitties you feel like you're dealing with two specific characters. You don't get that in 10 minutes of the first cartoon. They're stereotypes and imitations of things we've seen. As the story's progress one is filled with non-specific stock expressions piloted around recycled gags, and action. The other takes on it's own life.

- There's an individuality to the ways the characters animate in A Tale of Two Kitties. There's a contrast. Even in the design, a contrast. Contrast creates interest. With the former cartoon, they're designed to serve some previsualized function put into their head by watching a load of other animated films.

- The motion is robotic in Surly Squirrel. Basically pose-to-pose with stiff stops and starts. It's one of preconceived action that fits best with the dialogue.

"Let's just cut to the chase." put to this:

"What is wrong with you!?" put to this:

There's no working chemistry between the voice actor and acting. The voice dictates nothing in the cartoon specific. It's instead put together as an excercise instead of an artform.

- The expressions are non-existent in Surly. It's the 'one eybrow up, one down' used about 30-40 times in this no joke. Probably more. The angry eyes, shocked eyes, big stetch, deadpan, attitude, etc. It's really gross. I wish I didn't start really researching this for this post. Seeing it once was enough.

- Ok, now I've ran out of time before being able to screengrab Tale, and wash this bad taste out. That said, look for line-of-action in the picture above. These were grabbed for the stock expressions, without bias. Everyone is a straight line. Take a look at 30 seconds Tale of Two Kitties and you'll see more use it. Check out the specific voices parallel with specific characters. Or the endless ammount of specific expressions like these: (random one I paused unknowingly)

Anyway, It's easy to understand how you could dislike such animation. Who wants to go see something done as a labor? A painful labor put on screen without any type of joy or originality. It's depressing.(It's even depressing to analyze.) They might have thought they had this much right in their story, that's worth going through a shitload of trouble to put on screen. But it's not. It should be a shitload of fun and originality in every inch of the cartoon, and however ammount of trouble you have to go through to put it up on screen. Essentially that's the biggest difference between these two films.

Rodrigo said...

Both Pixar and whoever made Surly have the same approach. It's all about hitting those "story telling" poses. Pixar just spends more time polishing and hiding those key poses. Surly looks snappy and zippy because there's little overlap and hardly any moving holds.

Ratatouille has, bar none, the BEST cg animation to date. It's beautiful and entertaining to watch, but the triteness leaves you a bit empty. None of the characters moved with their own personality. It's as if they all were over acting and showing off how many emotions they can convey in 5 seconds.

The Warner cartoon is difficult for me to analyze. They do hit strong poses, but they feel more dynamic. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but it's very hard to analyze because I get sucked into the cartoon as an entertained viewer. I think you'll have to fill us in.

Chris said...

I wanted to say this first ...
I am currently attending a school (online) for character animation. I'm 33 years old and I've noticed that the whole world (Okay, most of my fellow students) seem to be ANIME crazy. I hate Anime, and sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who's there specifically to learn how to create real "cartoony" cartoons. And if I hear one more person tell me that photo-realistic CG is "where the future is" I will commit violent acts.

This blog is fantastic and educational as hell. The idea that everyday I can sit down on the computer and get an education from the creator of one of the funniest cartoons ever (Space Madness) is just too cool. I'm new to this blog, but I've learned a TON already.

My comment to this post:
I'm going to take a shot at this one.
Since the cat duo was inspired by real (talented and entertaining) people, they had an instant advantage over the rat/squirrel pair. They already had interesting quirks and character traits and the animators had something to draw upon for inspiration and reference - which I assume means that the animators of the WB flick, sometime in their lives, actually observed human reactions and identify with them. The CG pair miss the accentuated poses and exaggerated reactions that maybe they couldn't achieve with CG (even if they wanted to?). Granted the expressions of the WB characters are over-the-top ... but at least they're believable.

I'm definitely learning, and may be off the mark. In reading past posts, I almost feel brainwashed by all the "sameness" out there. You're bringing me back to the goods. I'm looking forward to your analysis so I can better learn to analyze.

My next post will be shorter.

Anonymous said...

well, to me it seems like the CG characters(and i use the term loosely, because these guys have NO character-surly squirrel isn't even surly, dammit!)have only 3 or 4 expressions that are used over and over and, depending on the dialogue, are different emotions. laughing = pain, mad = disgust, surprise = constipation. also, a lot of arm waving and pointing do not constitute acting.

tale of two kitties has some awesome acting, tailored to the characters in the film. the facial expressions are endless, not one is the same. i believe this IS what Abbott & Costello would look like and ACT like if they were cats. the arm movements and mannerisms are there for a reason, to accentuate the body language and facial expressions.

and cartoons are supposed to be funny and entertaining right? well, not even the main character getting crapped on made that squirrel cartoon funny.

Tony said...

In the CG short the acting is limited to the situation whereas in the WB short the fat cat can be blown into the sky and not even notice or yell at the top of his lungs while just having a conversation. This makes it more abstract and can lead to more expressions in the body as well as voice acting. The CG short can only react to it's surroundings and story which limits it.
The WB short revolves around their acting and not so much on the story which is relatively simple (2 cats after a bird) and in my opinion only acts as a backdrop.

I'd be interested to read your critique.

Chris said...

Hey John,

I thought I’d try giving my own long-winded analysis a thought. Hope it’s not too long, or winded.

The real comparison between the two cartoons can be seen in comparing the two main characters in each short. There's the smart wise-guy mastermind and the stupid buffoon sidekick. However, in the Tweety cartoon, the difference between the two characters is not simply in their designs, but also is reflected in their expressions and acting. The buffoon's lines, when self-depreciating and sad, are enhanced by his submissive acting. His lines are delivered more slowly, but with a nuance of little kid slowness, as opposed to the more confident wise guy, whose slow lines are delivered more matter-of-factly and self-assured. The buffoon, in his subjugation, also shows signs of weakness through his body language (hands fidgeting, close/low/behind his body, eyes are partially closed). Especially in the opening scene, his body is low and his poses react submissively to the wise-guys poses. When the buffoon gets excited, his delivery is WAY over the top, and his facial expressions match this by becoming hugely exaggerated (just look at the size of the fat cat's face when he's frantic). His posture also changes and becomes larger and more imposing. But it's not the same as when the wise-guy is imposing. When the buffoon becomes imposing, his posture is more like a dumb lummox or gorilla, but the wise-guy imposes more like a Cary Grant or James Bond; he does this by seeming tall, cool, and in-control as opposed to a mass of muscle and uncontrolled energy.

The gestures in the CG short are all exactly the same. This is most apparent during the scene when all the animals confront the pizza thieves in front of the trash can. The squirrel is gesturing to the raccoon using only his right hand in a public speaker sort of way. Then the scene cuts to the raccoon, who is using the exact same hand and fingers, and gesturing them in the exact same was as the squirrel. Like you said, the acting in the CG is based on stock acting; the squirrel, the rat, the raccoon, and the birds all use the same exact expressions for scared, happy, being sly negotiators (with the half closed eyes), etc. In the CG short, there is much less acting going on in the face. The eyelids and eyebrows move in tandem, allowing for a much smaller range in facial expression. The mouth also never gets larger than half the size of any character's face. This restriction on the mouth makes many moments of shock and amazement fall flat since the face is not able to properly exaggerate and punctuate the line/scene. In fact, the CG short really has only one way to have a character punctuate a line or action, that is by having the character dilate their pupils and open their eyelids to max. At the same time they can also drop the sides of the mouth a little more than the middle part of the mouth to add a sense of disbelief. Just to take one example from the Tweety short, in the still you posted, the buffoon is punctuating the scene with his face, but his eyes and eyelids are still droopy and his eyes have enlarged. So he's able to still show surprise while staying in character.

So this is what I’d say is the NUMBER ONE difference between the two cartoons. With custom acting, characters are able to stay in character, but with stock acting, every time a character acts they’re taken out of character. Just by looking at the designs and listening to the voices you can tell how a character is supposed to behave in a situation. The squirrel is SUPPOSED to be devious and plotting, the rat is SUPPOSED to be silly and nervous, the raccoon is SUPPOSED to be haughty, the pigeons are SUPPOSED to be mindless. But aside from the designs and voices and their situations, this never comes across with the characters themselves. Many people will fill this in, like in those optical illusions where you’re only given parts of a triangle, but your brain fills in the rest to tell you the triangle is really there when it isn’t. The character really isn’t there, but our brains are just filling them in and the animators get away with it.

To elaborate a little more, the two cats in Tweety are so distinct, that if you slapped the same design and same voice acting on both of them, you’d be able to tell the two characters apart because their gestures, poses, expressions, and timings are completely distinct for the individual and all of these little bits add up to the sum of their character. Their character is not defined by the script as in the CG cartoon, but is defined by the sum of the parts of each animated character. In the CG, if you took away the different designs and voices, you would be left with one overly generic character who is simply in different situations and different locations in the cartoon.

Although really, what hits me the most is I like to see mouths drop to the floor in excitement. For me, I’m taken out of a cartoon the moment a mouth isn’t opened the way it needs to be. This lockjaw epidemic is just terrible. Before each modern cartoon I just want to put heat on the characters jaws and give them a massage in hopes of curing this lockjaw. When I’ve done this to the tv, all I get is weird stares and a tv repairman gave me his number.

Tyson said...

I've gotta say the first thing that jumped out at me was the characters interactions. Watch as "Abbot" cat swings and sways with reaction to "Costello" cats movements. He watches with his body and not just his eyes. They make movements without the sole purpose of drawing attention to themselves.

Ardy said...

Both cartoons star an asshole character and an idiot character who have an unseemly friendship. It's not the most creative pairing ever, but it's definitely one of the funniest combinations in the history of film. Honeymooners, Tale of Two Kitties, and of course Ren and Stimpy effectively use the idiot/asshole combo. The problem with this film, is that the acting is so general and typical that they just come off as an idiot and asshole. And when the characters don't come across as characters, but rather archetypes, then the entire picture doesn't sell.

Stock acting aside, it doesn't help that the supporting cast is made up of stock character designs.

Brad said...

A note on the voices:

The CG actors just sounded bored as HELL; mix that with those blase eyebrows that also furrow ocassionally. Very homogenized.

With the kitties, its fun to watch and partly because it sounds crazy. The short fatty is yelling like he is really about to fall off a really high wooden beam.

James said...

What you guys are missing out on is that very often this kind of "CalArts" acting is exactly what the directors asked for.

Sometimes the animators have no choice.

angello ///// said...

No hay comparacion alguna

Jason Barnes said...

i've never laughed so hard in my life, than during that spring-shoes part in tale of two kitties. he comes up with a birdcage on his head?! HAHAH

Paul B said...







NateBear said...

Now this reminds me a lot of going to art school, Forcing us students to think for ourselves. Studying the 1st picture also reminds me of having to read boring essays for class discussion. Yugh!

Ok, so to the meat n potatoes. I can definitely see the difference in motion between the snappy pose2pose and teh fluid straight ahead. The CG characters felt very twitchy, which irritated me. It seems like the animators move everything fast in attempt to create the same energy present in the Clampett toon. However, the motions lack the aesthetic satisfaction I get from watching classic cartoons. When those characters move there is fluidity and followthrough. I usually don't immediately identify Clampet with fluid visible animation (save for subtle McKimson acting) because the pace is usually so fast, but against the Surly Squirrel It's like comparing smooth calligraphy to a jagged connect-the-dots drawing.

As for acting i scan see how CG quickly became so predominant. Since most Disney/CalArts animators toned down the drawing they were already essentially moving the poses of 3D puppets anyway. (Therefore, this is a fair study between styles of animation rather than just 2D vs 3D, as i could see this discussion easily veer towards) The acting in Surly Squirrel seemed very rote, canned, and predictable. Every move was exactly what you'd expect for the situation, probably the main reason it was such a tedious watch. Not only that, but just about every character had the same way of moving. The same melodramatic arm wave and follow-thru and emphasizing head bob for everyone. The 2-oot raccoon moves just like the 6-inch squirrel, who moves like the 6-foot men(when they weren't being completely generic). There was no finesse or artistry t it either. every move was purely mechanical: look that way, walk over there in a straight line...etc. In TO2K, however, I noticed just about every action was unique to the characters and the situations. The 2-inch Tweety moves more nimbly than the bigger cumbersome Catstello, who moves more awkwardly and bouncily than the cooler and more graceful Babbit (also note that I can actually remember all their names). Tweety also has a specific baby bird just-learned flying motion where as the pigeons and the sparrow just seemed to flap and soar straight like airplanes.

The modern toon sort of remind of watching actors in mascot costumes where their only for of expression is pantomime, but the costume is so restrictive that they have to make all the gestures very obvious. This shouldn't happen in a medium with so much potential for subtlety and clear communication.

I tried imitating the different gestures in both cartoons. As expected, the Surly Squirrel gestures felt melodramatic, but what surprised me was that the To2K gestures and head moves actually felt naturalist despite the exaggeration I can't really figure out what makes the difference. I suspect it has to do with capturing specific movements actually observed in life vs recreating movements from other cartoons.

Facially, SS again placed a broad blanket over all the characters. None of the faces ever broke out of the normal reset range of movements. Again this has less to do with the CG and more to do with dullness by design. They're basically trying to squeeze human emotions out of dummies that can only open and close their mouths and raise and lower their eyebrows. The human face has way more subtlety than can be expressed that way. Tim Hawkinson's "Emoter" is a machine ( that does better than these animators. Again in the Clampett, everything is specific and different. The faces stretch and wrinkle and twist to illustrate the essence of certain feelings.

gabriel valles said...

The big problem with the CG piece is that they fail to tell the story. First with the voices then with the animation. The voices are so similar and generic that they say nothing about the characters. The animation is weak because The poses and expressions never really tell you anything. When the Characters are supposed to be greedy they are never really greedy. They are never really scheming, abusive, defiant, scared, bumbling or any of the other emotions or characteristics that they were trying to convey. They go through the stock motions but never really succeed in telling the story of the characters. It seems the Director thought running though the plot and gags was enough to tell the story when in fact the story should have been about the characters and how they react to the situations and each other.

Taber said...

I'll try to be brief. Based on my observations I see two big main differences in the POSING and in the TIMING of the action.

The poses of the CG short were very limited and tended to be downplayed significantly compared to the fun specific poses of the 2D animation. The poses in the CG short also tended to have vague, hard to read emotions, whereas the emotions in the 2D short were reflected easily in both the face and the body.

The timing of the CG piece favored the poses which is odd because they were so weak and unspecific. The actions were almost always simply a way to get between poses and not in themselves meant to entertain. The 2D piece by contrast used the animation as a comedic device as much as they did with their poses, choosing to display the funny actions performed in funny ways.

Hope that's on track.

Ivan said...

The surly cartoon has eyes open, eyes closed, straight arm, bent arm. Add different combinations as needed. you fill in the rest of the cliche (e)motion yourself as every scene and set up has been done a million times. Its like he looked at a million terrible shorts and said to himself, i can do that.... then he did. And a lot of people do this, the problem with that process is you are learning and studying people you already feel you are better than, what a recipe for failure. Thats why i like this blog. Everyone is so much better.

But you cant blame the person.. When you draw an expression or an emotion by hand, you ""cheat"" the perspective, or trick the eye into thinking its perspective because of course its only a 2d piece of paper. There are certain lines and motions that the animator can use that will trick the eye. And indeed this is the basis of construction I think. But I dont think you can sculpt these visual tricks as easily in 3d... im sure its possible but you need to control too many variables and things that exist in a real environment. An environment that ahs limits.... The limits of 3d that is. 2d has less limits than 2d...? I think so. This must be very very limiting in fact. I always think about people who say well you can save this move and that move and code in this expression and attach it to a scroll bar and open and close the mouth automatically but it seems to be the reverse direction in terms of liberating the animator, more like you are setting boundaries.. no? Maybe im wrong here, i am just an unschooled nobody who is trying to understand this as a whole, but if you know how to draw open and close mouth why do you need a scroll bar or code to do it automatically? gah. anyway that was and is my general feeling about 3d vs 2d, and why the acting sux. 3d is limited in movement and perspective. which in animation, is everything. Sure you can get really good at 3d and tear down boundaries but its all to try and get back to the freedom of the wide open space the simple piece of paper provides.

Besides does the audience care if the animation is 3d, 2d, 1d or anything else? No. They care about what is funny, what is entertaining and what is going to make them feel emotion. Only animators care what is used when animating... You might as well use what gives you the least amount of boundries.... Ok. Bye now.

ataricat said...

I don't know how much this points out the difference between classic and modern cartoons, but it definitely illustrates the handicap 3D has when it comes to acting.

It doesn't really take any more effort to draw Catsello hopping around like a gorilla to make a point than it would to make him hop "on model" Since 3D characters are just fancy puppets, it would take a huge amount of work to do customized poses for one little moment of animation.

With all the technical headaches it takes to get a CG model to deviate from the stock setup, only a place like Pixar has the resources to make specific acting even possible.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

The CG film used sudden, fast action, lots of eye rolls, and lots of off-the-shelf expository gestures to substitute for real acting.

Rich said...

In the CG short the characters tend to flurry out to extreme poses, and immediately return close to their default pose, especially in their faces.

The tweety characters share space with eachother--they push and pull the air between themselves, and react to eachother's emotions physically, with their whole bodies.

Part of that has to do with their designs. The tweety characters have a lot more meat on their bones, so there's more mass to play with. It's really difficult to emote with a character made out of matchsticks.

Pete Emslie said...

For the record, I get rather uncomfortable with situations like this on your blog, John. With all due respect, I think you should just give your own criticism of this short right off the bat, instead of first throwing it to the "wolves". By doing it this way you're basically instructing your regular contributors to find fault with it, and so many of them seem happy to comply in the hopes that it will bring them your blessings. Well, I'm not having any of it. The fact is, I've decided to weigh in here and come to the film's defence.

First of all, I don't think it is possible to entirely isolate the acting from the designs, which are themselves dependent to a large degree on the CG process. I make no claims to know a lot about CG animation, but I do know that the range of movement is directly related to how sophisticated the rigging of the character is. It's that rigging that allows for how much or how little the character's body and particularly facial movements can emulate actual lifelike movement as opposed to remaining somewhat mechanical and "robotic".

In the case of this film, my perception is that the character rigs are more advanced than those in a film such as "Hoodwinked", but not nearly as sophisticated and complex as what you are likely to find in a recent Pixar film like "Ratatouille". When a character's movement is limited by the technology, there will be inherent limitations in performance too. In contrast, an animator using nothing more than pencil on paper can create a performance that is far more nuanced due to the infinite possibilities that can be achieved through arbitrary decisions entirely intuitive to the artist and unrestrained by technology. So the Warners classic has an advantage right there over this CG short.

As Chris mentioned, the fact that the characters in this short are based on the then highly popular duo of Abbott and Costello presents another distinct advantage. The audience is getting pre-sold personalities that don't require any additional explanation, therefore the animators can get down to the business of the gags right away. If this Surly Squirrel film had used the same handicap, perhaps basing the two leads on say, Jim Carrey and Bob Goldthwaite, I suspect you'd give them hell for that too, therefore creating a double standard in your critique. If I'm wrong on that point, I apologize.

Much has been written by your readers on the "attitude" of the two characters, someone even suggesting that the reading sounded "bored". Well, the film is a spoof on the type of gangster films that used to star the likes of Cagney or Bogart, where the lead character is a jaded, hard-boiled type. Are these characters really so different to the way Warners spoofed Jack Webb's "Dragnet" in that Daffy and Porky cartoon so many years ago? Didn't they also sport 'tude expressions with poker faces and half-lidded eyes? Perhaps that would be a fairer example to compare this film to, as it is also of that "Film Noir" satire genre of cartoons.

It bothers me that one of your readers would dismiss this CG short as "garbage" when it clearly is not. I'm assuming this is either a student film or a project done independently by a bunch of working animators on their own time with a modest budget. As such, I think one has to keep ones criticism in perspective. While there are definitely limitations inherent in the technology available to them as per the budget constraints, I think the acting is pretty good, all things considered. Perhaps it is driven too much by dialogue and the fast action of the car chase, but I think one could turn the sound down and still have a good sense of what is going on as indicated through the visual performance. I'll grant you that the Warners cartoon had less dialogue and a simple plot that allowed ample "playtime" for the animators to come up with more nuanced acting and gags that are purely visual, all of which is certainly more to my taste as I suspect it is to yours also. But I really think this "Surly Squirrel" is a very good film overall, with a very clever parallel storyline and acting that seems pretty good for the 40's gangster film "types" they are clearly trying to parody.

Marty said...

There is very little acting in the animation at all, be it stock or custom. You could watch this with your eyes closed and the soundtrack would fill you in on most of the action pretty easily. And it would only be slightly more boring than with the images.

If you watch the Tweety with your eyes closed and try to imagine what is happening, well it becomes a pretty surreal experience, but you couldn't follow a damn thing.

And a little off the topic, have we seriously reached the point where even cartoons all have to have shootouts and car chases?

cemenTIMental said...

I'm 33 years old and I've noticed that the whole world (Okay, most of my fellow students) seem to be ANIME crazy. I hate Anime,
Two wrongs don't make a right.

Drifta39 said...

I'm glad you only wanted us to compare the acting because that CGI is very good in it's own right, I enjoyed it ALOT. Ofcourse the Tweety bird cartoon has superior acting... But at first I couldn't understand, but I followed Clinton's advice and watched it with no sound and realised how great the acting was in the Tweety Bird cartoon.

One thing I noticed was that the facial expressions and body movements (for Tweety Bird's cartoon) were unique for each character while with the Surly Squirell, the all basically had the same expressions... you could copy and paste each one onto a different character with no trouble. And you'd think all of them had the same personality, it's the voices that distinguish them...

With the Tweety, you could tell the fat one was the more timid, workhorse that was easily bullied one while the taller one 'Babbit' was the sly, relaxed, lazy manipulator.

Comparing things like this makes you appreciate how talented the guys back then were. But the CGI cartoon is still good in it's own right.

Brad said...


I think the lead in Surly Squirrel is too "cute" to be a believable Cagney/Bogart type. I agree with what you said about the limits of the character depend on the rigging of the face; so when you combine very limited rigging with a pretty average squirrel face, it makes me not buy the "jaded, hard-boiled type".

The only character that could have remotely come close to a Cagney spoof is the raccoon, but when he opened his mouth a tired English accent came out.

I think its just an example of bad casting. If he had pockmarks and nixon-jowels, he would have been slightly more believable.

andy said...

"Stock 90s animation acting vs 40s Custom acting"

Its actually not as accurate as can be.

While the squirrels are original characters, the cats are based off of Vaudeville tested personalities. I'm sure if the animators who worked on the squirrels, had, say, 15 or 20 years to develop personalities for the characters, they'd be every bit as individual and entertaining, as ones off the Vaudeville circuit.

I enjoyed both animations, and appreciate them for what they are, not what they could be. Lessons learned from both.


Octo said...

I can only see one of them.
But as far as I can see, I think it looks like all of the other stuff you see these days. It's like the poses snap. one sec there one pose, then they move their mouth a bit, and then it's the next pose.
I also think it's more like they move their arms and fingers, more than their body.
but then again. It's hard to compare when you only got half. But for sure, this doesn't capture my attention.

Juan Pablo said...

The CG piece lacks contrast. It fails to separate planes and most of the time the detailed background draws your attention more than the characters.

Color is quite poor too. Random.

Pigeons' scene -> bad taste yuck

The racoon looks much better as a thief!! Yeah cliched, but then don't put it in. It distracted me.

Anyway it's technically a great effort if they're young students, without any veteran direction.

akira said...

i'm interested in your analysis, definitely! i thought the timing and sometimes even the poses of the animals reminded me of the coyote (from coyote/roadrunner cartoons)... there were more unnecessary gestures that seemed to accent each phrase but it didn't bother me that much.. i guess the problem is just that it was boring, with all the animals acting the same way and gestures being repeated, over and over lessening any of their impact. and of course they didn't build any modifications into their computer model that gave extreme/unique expressions from time to time, again making it boring...

p.s. the human bg characters were all computery and floaty... i guess they kind of provide a contrast, making the animal characters look like they have more personality at least compared to the humans...

Marius de Moraes said...

To me the acting on both shorts depends on the rhythm and structure of the narration, scenes and gags. The theatricall and kind of sit-comedy style of the acting in clampett's short has no place in the squirrel one. The first short is well moved, but... it's kind of soul-less and ugly. I'm sure that every single character in Dreamworks has the same acting style. The only CG character with a different acting style that i've seen lately is Pocoyo.

pumml said...

For me, the main problem in the acting (aside from stock, mechanical posing) is motivation and intent. The characters in Surly seem to have no intent whatsoever. It's as if they don't exist in the same scene together. There's no connection or reaction to one another, whereas the Tweety piece has constant interaction and character awareness.

Kevin Williams said...

I don't remember when it happened, but at some point "personality" was replaced by "foreign accent". The CG characters are all very similar, while the 2D characters have 3 distinct personalities - Abbot & Costello & wise guy (almost a Bugs Bunny).

On top of that, the gags in the CG clip revolve around the two robberies, some lousy dialogue, and a few jokes involving humorous text. (Ziggy is humorous, Calvin and Hobbes is funny)

The 2D clip has the humor coming from the speech and the physical humor actually relating, social commentary (use of Victory Garden and the GI Helmet), and again, the relationship of the personalities.

The CG one is cute, but bland, and could have been better.

CartoonSteve said...

I recall a comedian who did a great impersonation of Willis O'Brien's King Kong. His expressions and jerky moves were eerie and hilarious.

It makes me wonder if a human could similarly parody the unnatural mannerisms of these stock 3d characters. Or would that just be too weird and unfunny - mimicking something which is already doing such a bad job, trying to imitate real life. Perhaps they train their motion capture models to "act " like that.

John Young said...

The difference is i could barely watch the first one from start to finish and i watched the Clampett one three times even though i'd seen it before. Some stuff is funny and other stuff is not. I guess it has to do with the timing and acting but i think mostly it has to do with pure imaginativeness. If you're coming at a project from a purely creative place the results are going to be bigger and better than even the creators can foresee. There's nothing wrong with a more limited animation style and i even don't mind the modern pose to pose stuff that John seems to hate so much(i love emperor's new groove and ratatouille) i just think there have to be poses in animation that make you go, "holy shit that's awesome." It's dificult to to get this kind of reaction when you're using the same poses and sentiments over and over. The old style of animation that's constantly moving gracefully and imaginatively is definitely awe inspiring.

DavidMcG said...

I like how that furry fan art at the beginning of the post has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at all!

Brian B said...

Thanks for the reply Pete. That was great read. Honestly, sticking strictly to what John suggested is a little stifling. Good point about the rigs, which really should be noted.

I do think it was animated more as an excercise than an artform. I think the rigs even suggested they use more "one eyebrow up, one down" moves than they would have had they done it in by hand. I imagine it just comes to mind when trying to create a performance to match the dialogue when having trouble with the rig. Just for it's ease and practicality with the system. Originality is the most frustrating missing element from this short, animation-wise. I don't believe it's as good of a performance as you suggest. I do think there's a ton of pre-used expressions that are used in this short either because the limitations of the rigs, the limitation of the artist, the focus of the director, or a mix of all of them.

I understand what John's saying also about this short, but it really isn't near Pixar level. Nowhere close just as it's not close to Warner Bros. I'd like to see a clip of Ratatouille analyzed. I don't think it would be as easy. And it's not from the rendering and fur blurring people's eyes. That's stuff's not even visible in a youtube clip anyway. It would probably be the more fair comparison.

Again, thanks for the post Pete.

TiKiMOOSE said...

Much like live action movies today,
the characters in the CG are all very much the same, no distinct personalities, no broad range in acting. The classic cartoon takes its cues from very distinctive acting talents, many of whom got their start in vaudville, where the actors where forced to develope a very different character from the other guy on stage. Thus developing strong personalities that where masters at comedy. The classic animators took advantage of that polished vaudvillein acting talent and applied it to their cartoon characters which resulted in deep strong distinct personalities. Where are the Kate Hepburns, Cary Grants, Abbot and Costellos of today, that today's animators can draw from? Most of it looks like its from the Jack Black school of acting.

pappy d said...

A lot of the acting choices in the CG film are influenced by what the rigs can & can't do.

If you push a pose in the least, it will crumple like tinfoil. Posing in CG is a process of nudge, nudge. The action between the poses tends to look f'd up, so you need to time it fast so no one can see it through the blur (like the Gobelins ape) & then linger on the poses. Physical contact between characters is very involved & expensive, so that's avoided. Just crossing a character's arms can take the best part of a morning. I'd guess it would be impossible for any of these characters to shrug their shoulders.

I saw a lot of places where the animators, to their credit, pushed the rigs beyond what they can do, esp. mouths. Generally, though, if it's not in the rig, it won't be on the screen.

Anything can still happen in an animated cartoon, but in CG, you'd need to know specifically what it is & rig it beforehand. With all the stuff to do a performance like "A Tale of 2 Kitties", the rig would be too heavy to work with.

pappy d said...

re: that D/s furry pony-play porn at the top of the post

Are they supposed to be portraying horniness?

Roo said...

The squirrel does alot of changing expressions in equal timing and flailing around to convey either mad scared or frustraited (when its not sporin the 'tude). All the while turning away from the other squirrel and showing a reaction to something. It is in context but thats about it. the actings not entertaining and doesnt show any personality because the actors dont actually interact, its just action and general reaction.

groo said...

Firstly I would like to join Pete Emslie in defending the 3D short. I quite liked the story concept, thought the background modeling was good, liked some of the camera angles and thought some of the lighting was well done.

I am always concerned that forum discussions like this can whip up the mob frenzy and get people being overly enthusiastic to slam other peoples work. I think describing this short as rubbish is entirely unjustified. If this was a student project I was involved in, I would be very happy and I'd be ramming down the throats of friends and family.

That being said, there were a number of things I noticed when trying to watch it critically.

As everyone has mentioned, the acting seems quite generic and obviously limited by the sophistication of the 3d rigs. But there were other aspects of the animation that I think also detract from the impact of what acting there is. Watching through with the sound down I noticed a few things (most of them mentioned already):

- poses seemed to snap very rapidly
- facial expressions were limited and formulaic
- characters don't seem to share the space or react much to each others movements
- thinking about silhouettes: a lot of the action is face on (hands clasped in front of character etc.) which reduces the impact of what gestures and body acting there is, particularly with the global illumination outdoor lighting. I particularly noticed in one of the "demonic" shots that the shadow silhouettes were starkly different to, and more effective than anything I noticed by the 3d characters
- backgrounds and camera angles rarely conspire to frame the characters, also reducing the impact of the gestures

Still I thought it was quite good work, though it didn't stand a chance against the 2d animation in this discussion.

Paul said...

Someone earlier posted how the character's boredom could be interpreted as a spoof on Cagney or Dragnet style Noir acting. The CG characters don't sound distinctive enough to be spoofs or sendups. It doesn't sound like the characters are bored, it sounds like the actors are bored, and that's a huge difference. It's like the difference between a painting that is a beautiful portrayal of something ugly, like Goya painting a battle scene, vs. something that just is ugly to begin with, like Duchamp's Foutnain.

Even with Babbot's straight man demeanor, there's a character there. He sounds annoyed, frustrated, conniving, and pushy. Then there's Catstello's manicness and his loudmouthed exclamations. Tweety sounds faux innocent, the "Who, me?" type of delivery that emulates a child who just stole a cookie, and very skillfully, too. Very distinct, which is necessary in a cartoon. In the CG short, the different characters all have the same acting style. Surly's annoyed voice is the same as the rat's annoyed voice. The rat sounding happy is the same as Surly sounding happy. It muddies the characters and it's hard to remember who said what even ten minutes after watching the cartoon. If Surly and the rat are going to fall into the jerk/pushover archetypes, why don't they sound that way? Babbot and Catstello have their respective roles, and the characters are clear cut, memorable, and believable. Surly and the rat were portrayed as much the same character. If the actors had exaggerated the differences, the characters would at least have been somewhat interesting. The script still needed work.

Plus, the foil in Tale of Two Kitties, Tweety, has a seperate personality from either cat, and one that fits perfectly in the toon. Catstello is clearly outmatched by Tweety in terms of wits and resources. It almost seems like Babbot knows this, and doesn't want to soil himself by getting hurt, or doesn't want to sully his reputation as a thinker by getting outwitted by a bird. So, he sends Catstello in to do his dirty work. Tweety is a delightful combination of innocent and extremely dastardly, easily fooling these two overconfident cats into thinking they can best him.

The raccoon, however, is exactly the same as Surly and the rat, save his English accent. The CG short doesn't present him as smarter or more resourceful, merely lucky. The pigeons sided with him. The criminals didn't drive fast enough. Rather arbitrary. If the raccoon had been the one after the pizza, and Surly had gotten the pigeons on his side, the cartoon would have felt the same. The characters are largely interchangeable.

Perhaps the voice actor for the raccoon could have played him a bit more sympathetic and upstanding, giving him a reason to dislike Surly and the rat perhaps for moral reasons. It would at least hint at some backstory and offer some clashing personalities. Instead, he is indicative of the all too common implied question in modern cinema, "Is there such thing as a bad guy? Aren't we all really the same?" The whole implication is that cops are the same as bad guys. Well, sorry, they aren't. And they'd better not be if you want to have a compelling story. No clash of worldviews, no identifiable characters, no heros, what's the point? Might as well watch the news or look out a window.

In Clampett's short, it's easy to take sides. We have pity for Catstello, being made a bouncing ball between the wills of Babbot and Tweety. We can root for Tweety because he's just defending himself and trying to outwit a couple of hunters. We can dislike the cowardly and scheming Babbot for treating Catstello like a pawn in his game to catch some lunch. There's so much richness and variety in the 2d short, and it only has three characters in the whole thing.

Now, all that said, I think the CG short is ok. It's not terrible, it's just that it's cliched and comes from a worldview of sameness that makes for uninteresting stories (as well as other problems). It could be redone as a much more compelling toon, so if it's a first effort, then it's very good. If it's from veteran animators, then tisk tisk.

Mellanumi said...


Off the subject -- but I make a habit of watching cartoons everyday to learn and study from a variety of sources, and today was "Firehouse Dogs" -- brilliant, my friend! Loved the design, the gags, the colors, the textures, the timings, artful and funny at the same time.

Drifta39 said...

Great post, Paul, you were right about how interchangable the characters were.

el_lang said...

what a coincidence ,I saw "tale of two kitties" ,two days ago on tv , in the spanish dubbed version , the basic difference I can find it is that in the first one there is not much of something like "real acting" ,just "tude" most of the time, or something like overacted,I was able to withstand a pair of minutes ,....
about "tale of..." I would say that it has a great acting,mostly because it is a portrait of real personalities, but I always preffered the version of abbot and costello made with mice, I can't remember how it was the title,(it´s been almost 20 years...)

Paul said...

Thank you drifta39. I agree with you, the motions of the characters in the Clampett short are amazing, so nuanced and independent. Maybe the CGI short suffered from having only one animator who could not animate different styles of motion, or a team that came from the same class and had the same mindset? Whereas the Clampett animators (or animator? Who did this one?) drew from imagination based on observation of nature.

Maybe the problem stems from all this "method acting" where the actor's (or animator's, I guess) own experiences are the basis for all characterizations. It's probably why so many actors can only play themselves. Maybe that's why Brad Pitt sounded just like Brad Pitt delivering lines in a small room for his "character" in the awful Sinbad of the Seven Seas. I think it's much more fun to watch Lon Chaney transform into anybody and do it convincingly, like in The Unholy Three or Phantom of the Opera. I'd much rather watch Lon Chaney than Brad Pitt any day.

Maybe the problem is that, ironically, the CGI short believable because it wasn't very cartoony. When I saw Catstello get pounded flat as a pancake, I could feel it, I've felt flat as a pancake before, though I wasn't literally. I could identify with him. Surly and the gang were always polygonal dolls that felt too solid. When they hit the ground, they retained their shape, when they fell, there weren't any direction lines, flapping skin, or ruffling fur.

As an aside, I noticed soemthing else that was distracting and out of place in the CGI short: profanity. It always seemed casual and out of place. The characters said vulgar things only because the writer says those things in real life. He wrote like he talks. The writer for the Clampett short wrote much more "outside of himself." Catstello hinted he'd like to give the bird if it weren't for the censors, and that made me crack up. The hint of profanity was much funnier than the real thing, and made the whole toon feel more tongue in cheek. When the CGI characters said "damn," I groaned like I do whenever I see Family Guy is coming on.

Again, I don't mean to trash the CGI short, there were points that did make me laugh. I just felt like it was made "stream of consciousness." The script felt like the kind of writing that comes from sitting down and just typing the first jokes that the writer thinks of, and says, "Good enough." That sounds meaner than I meant it, but I've written lots of those types of scripts and I'd like to never write in that manner again.

ZSL said...

The CG short is attempting to copy or ape whatever they believe to be "Loony Toons" style animation.

Where as Loony Toons animation was simply creatively making drawings seem like living things.

Thus the CG short becomes a shallow copy of a funny exaggeration of life.

Tibby said...

Uhm - the fox pick means ... they are really into Furry-dom? And Fox & The Hound is their fav. movie and they want to hump the Fox character with a femme-fox OC?

Bleh - even I have at least 1 lvl over that. Furryism is so not my thing. I see it all over DA and it's kinda gross (sorry all you Fur lovers - but comeon ... it IS!)

The CG stuff - eh ... typical fair these days. While the CG tries to immitate old cartoons. It just ends up being the same old crap. You see so much of it now that it isn't inspiring now. It's gotten so washed down from the first Toy Story or Jurassic Park. Trust me - the CG stuff does NOT amaze the audience anymore simply because it is 3D. To them it's just anouther cartoon ... done in 3D.

Which goes to prove that it is not how realisticly you can render the eyelashes anymore. It is the whole piece - and it's contents and scenes that make the story.

BTW Mr. K - I got the job! Yey! It's more Graphical Arts realted, but it does invlove some cartooning. And they love my cartooning work and it fits their styles completely. Your an ass - but you do make some usefull lessons.

Timothy Merks said...

I think the Squirrel animation suffers from being animated head heavy. Like the head directs all the movement and the body is just something that follows it.

I do wonder if this is to do with the technology. With 3d animation and also flash animation you have to work one section at a time. I think it's harder (but not impossible) to do that solid full body acting which is so much easier with a paper and pencil

Anonymous said...

The squirrels wave their flat palmed hands in front of their bodies in a cylindrical motion (long side parallel to the floor) way too much.

I'm not gonna bother watching the Clampett one since I've seen it so many times. Notice the way Babbit and Castello lean forward or backward into each other (depending on who is talking) and the way Babbit puts his hands to his sides, palm facing the sky alot. I think that's Virgil Ross.

I think McKimson does that nice but where Catstello shrugs, puts his hands into his skin pockets and kicks the floor. Nice.

Nathaniel Tapley said...

The thing that I found most interesting about the CG short was the way all of the mouths behaved the same. They all seemed to imitate the look of Aardman's 'Wallace' mouth, with the teeth visibile at the corners of the mouth. I thought it odd that a 3D piece would model mouths based on the way in which a clay model mouth works, especially when they clearly do not have the same versatility.

In fact, it really brought home to me the limitations of CG animation. Rigging a CG character to do the sorts of things I find funniest in cartoons (Daffy having his beak blown or slapped around the back of his head; character's features dropping off their faces after they've been blown up; Tex Avery's Wolf's reactions to Red on first seeing her) are incredibly difficult to do with CG, and the cost of doin gthem would be prohibitive. Why try and make funny cartoons in a medium which is not suited to doing (physically) funny things?

Another commenter said: 'It's that rigging that allows for how much or how little the character's body and particularly facial movements can emulate actual lifelike movement as opposed to remaining somewhat mechanical and "robotic".' I'd suggest that characters in a cartoon should not be emulating lifelike movements, and that, if they are, they shouldn't be in a cartoon.

You can bend and squash characters in a cartoon, put their bodies through immense torment, and they can spring back to their original shape. That is one of the great things about cartoon characters.

Why lose that great thing for the sake of slightly-better depth-of-field effects, or camera movements?

Brad said...

Good point nathaniel. It sounds like maybe CG is best left to realistic special effects that aren't physically possible, like dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

But it seems like every big studio is spending so much energy and money on trying to use a medium for something it was never meant to be used for, cartoons.

Hyper-realism does not lend itself to squash-and-stretch, cartoon "takes", and facial features falling off because it would look unnatural in the CG world. This is in addition to it being too hard and expensive, as some people have pointed out.

If you can picture Cousin Gus walking in CG world, and his huge butt was bobbing around I don't think it would be very funny or interesting to watch even with the same cartoon principles and proportions. I'm getting bored just thinking about it.

Pete Emslie said...

Nathaniel has referenced a quote from me regarding the CG rigging that I'd like to clarify. Please don't misunderstand what I am saying when I use the term "lifelike movement". Not for a moment am I suggesting that CG animation be limited to what a real human or animal can and can't do. What I'm saying is that where CG animation is concerned, the movement possible is only as good as the the rig will allow.

For example, every movement that we humans make, from broad sweeping gestures of the arms right down to the most minute little twitch of an eye, is controlled by all those brain impulses traveling throughout our nervous system, pulling and pushing a myriad of muscles, ligaments, tendons and soft, pliable flesh, etc. In order for a CG character to be just as pliable, it requires a very sophisticated rig allowing for all sorts of subtleties of movement. A more rudimentary rig, as is often the case where time and budget constraints are the reality, is only going to result in a character that looks like a hinged puppet, with limited movement of surface detail.

Ideally, yes, CG cartoon animation should strive to create exaggerated movement, wildly beyond what real people and animals are capable of, for humourous effect. My point is that those of us who still create with pencil on paper are totally free of any constraints in regard to movement. With a few quick strokes of the pencil we can distort our characters into any sort of highly exaggerated pose we want, all the while maintaining a sense of volume as you'd find in a Tex Avery cartoon, if we so choose to do. To achieve the same type of fluid, pliable, exaggerated animation in a CG character requires a highly complex and sophisticated rig to be built in the computer, which is often not within the reach of smaller studios or individuals. I suspect that some software programs have more sophisticated capability than others and thus are restricted to those with higher budgets or are developed in-house at the major studios to their specifications and needs.

Again, those of us who still work with old-fashioned pencils on paper are blissfully unconcerned with these high tech problems, as we can squash, stretch and otherwise distort our little scribbles to our heart's content! I hope this clarifies what I was trying to say earlier.

Andreas said...

I got too bored to watch it all the way to the end. Talk talk talk talk talk. How many times during a Roadrunner and Coyote short did we have the Coyote reveal his complicated plan to us, without words.

Mitch K said...

Hey Pete, I think you kind of made John's point. I agree that it's easier to create acting for existing 'characters' or 'personalities', than it is to create acting based on personalities which don't already exist. That's the point, that the Clampett acting is based off of something real, whereas the acting in the other short is based off of previously seen 'cartoon acting', which isn't orgainic or really seen in life.

Pete Emslie said...

Hi Mitch,
I agree with what you're saying and I have nothing against characters based on pre-sold personalities per se. There are, however, different degrees to how it is done. A character that is developed based on traits and mannerisms one has observed from life and then exaggerated somewhat, is probably going to make for a richer, more believable character than something just created off the top of one's head with no observational input. There is however a fine line between characters based on observations from life and those that use well-known celebrities as the basis for their design and onscreen personas.

For example, I think it's really interesting that Figaro the kitten evolved from Eric Larson observing the obstinate behavior of his own young nephew and imbuing his character with those traits. Likewise, I was very intrigued to find out while watching the documentary on the new "Popeye" DVD set, that E. C. Segar based Popeye on some toothless old coot he knew of who was a real colourful character around town. These are both cases where a fun personality has been created using real life observation as merely a point of departure. There are many cases like this in the Golden Age of Animation.

Another longtime trend, however, is creating characters based on well-known pop culture figures of the time for easy audience recognition of the "type". This Abbott and Costello cat duo is a prime example of this trend, as are the numerous characters having been based on the peculiar looks and mannerisms of Peter Lorre, including the mad scientist in the Bugs cartoons, Weirdly Gruesome from "The Flintstones", cereal ghost "Boo-Berry", and of course John's own Ren. Likewise, "Ren and Stimpy" are themselves part of a long lineage of cartoon duos loosely descended from the screen adaptation of Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" starring Burgess Meredith as streetwise George and Lon Chaney Jr. as the childlike, gentle giant Lenny. Timon and Pumbaa, and numerous Warners cartoon duos also fit these "types", though I should state that all of these examples I mention only use this screen duo as a point of departure before they evolve into more individually nuanced personalities.

On the extreme end of the scale are characters based to a large extent on the famous performer who is actually supplying the voice. This seems to leave little for the animator to do in regards to creating his own performance and is, in the minds of many critics, using the familiarity of the celeb as a major crutch.

Again, in my defence of this Surly Squirrel film, I'd argue that the two main characters do fall into that second category, as they seem reminiscent of characters I've seen in many 40's era gangster films. Specifically, they remind me of Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall, the two main players in the "Dead End Kids", who starred in a whole series of their own films, as well as having appeared with Cagney in the classic, "Angels With Dirty Faces". So, in that regard, I don't think these two characters are totally devoid of observed personality from life, any more than the Abbott and Costello inspired cats in the Warners cartoon are, even if the former are not such obvious examples.

Shawn said...

Hey, John. Are you going to post your anaysis???

Joel said...

The CG animation did not use stretch and squash hardly at all, other than mouth morphing. There was also a lot less character to character contact, hardly any besides surley's hand on the rats neck or arms.

Basically the Environment, rendering and camera were major elements in the CG, while the characters could have just as easily been actors in rubber suits and rope work (not really but almost so due to the lack of stretch and squash). I still enjoyed the CG animation, but can see now what John K means by all the unused potential in CG animation.

The Tale of Two kitties uses stretch and squash not only for mouth and body movements but for characterization, from the fat cat deforming into an ape shape at the start, to the end when they both stretch their mouths and reveal wolf like teeth. It is totally full of the hand drawn characters stretching squashing, pan caking, and deforming into referential shapes like the ape shape. The characters themselves are naturally referential to abbott and costello, the tall skinny conniver and the short fat simpleton.

The CG animation seems to go out of its way to avoid deformation of the characters such as when the squirrel and rat do the evil laugh over the tied up bird, their shadows are deformed instead of the characters themselves. This indicates that the animators would like to use deformation as a character tool, but have decided that it is too expensive, so they opt for alternative techniques.

Just a quick note on character design. Why would you not use buck teeth and cleft lips on squirrel and rat cartoons? Is it a cliche to be avoided now or is it that big of an animation problem for cg?

popeyesLittleBrother said...

I'm going to jump from thought to thought on this. Read at your own risk.

One of the things that bothered me about the cg animation was the long car chase. It went on way too long.

In the cg industry ( I work in it ) its extremely common too put way to much time into the look of the characters. And trying to rig a model to really cartoony stuff can be hard. At the same time you are restricted to what the supervisors and directors want. Like John has said a million times its a political nightmare. Everything is put under a microscope. But thats the industry its a sad thought.

Getting back to the cg clip. Its obvious that they use the camera to make up for a lack of imagination. They do a lot of fast cuts and pans to hide the fact that its not cartoony. This is a big advantage and disadvantage in cg. Its way to easy to move the camera around.

Now back to the two cats. They don't waste anytime with setups to the gags, they just cut right into the next joke. People have forgotten that you don't need much logic to the setup of a joke just get to the funny and let the audience justify it. Let funny be funny and cut out all the borining justification of how you got to that funny situation.

In the cat cartoon they didn't need an ellaborate set unlike the squirrel cartoon that needed an entire city and tons of supporting cast. The cat cartoon had three characters and a yard in some non-descript town, no need to explain anything. Unlike the cg where they had a huge setup so every stupid person would know that its a big city. Make it simple and funny.

Joel said...

um popeyeslittle brother, I hope you wont be mad, but when I read you comments, I imagined it spoken as if the geico lizard toon was reading it, so it was very funny, and as to the substance, I agree with that too.

Jim said...

Oh my god!

That squirrel film was so cool!

Thanks for posting John!

Yeh the 2D one sucked, it had no 3Dness at all. Rubbish.

Babs Bunny said...

Heya! Regarding the image with the two foxes, that would be my work. I'm honoured that you decided to spotlight it. *grins* I'm a freelance artist, and primarily self taught, with very little formal training, aside from art class in high school and such.

I was raised on cartoons such as those from Warner Brothers and Disney, and as such have always admired the simple, yet well articulated design. As you can see, I've incorporated such qualities into my style.

If you wish to take a further look at my art, my main gallery can be seen at

Thank you for your time and interest,


Paul said...

Geeez!! It's painfuly obvious. That 2d short is POWERFUL weak compared to the 3D squirrel!

Has there been any talk of a Surly feature? Does anyone know?

Paul said...

Hello, paul, how did the two of us get the same name without having to do paul42 or something? As for the quality of the 2d versus the 3d shorts, I'm afraid the 2d short is much superior in nearly capacity; characterization, acting, color, composition, variety. Now, as for which one someone likes more, that's subjective. He can like whatever he wants. You like the cg short more? Fine. But the 2d short is not weak.

ted said...

Did we also notice that the City in the CG short is not based upon a real city, but the City Square that you see on the Universal Studios tour (and seen in Back to the Future, etc. etc.)

I also like how Warners parodied popular comedians and brought in their voice talent to do the voices. Now we have "Bee Movie" with Jerry Seinfeld doing a voice for a bee that looks nothing like him. Imagine what the WB guys would have done with the Seinfeld dogs? cats? Hmm!

In defense of anime, though their characters often are stiff, I like how artists can suddenly jump from a realistic style to simple emoticon rendering for sudden emotion. Is there a name for this?

Sorry to go OT, but most of what I wanted to say has been said. The 1940s guys drew from life...the 1990s draw from media.

Sarah said...

the 1940s often drew from vaudeville. The popular media of the time. Just like the Tale of two Kitties. Those characters were not original, obviously. And that's all good! But keep it in perspective lest we get too pretentious, mmm?
I'm quite confused why this 3d short is being compared to the 2D. The 2D was made by a major studio, using known and loved voices/characters. The execution is brilliant, absolutely! But why hold up this 3D short as if it's assuming to be of the same stature? It's not a big studio production and had limited resources. That being said, it's funny and entertaining. There's no doubt when watching it that the animators strove to push the models as far as they could. In the end, It's an absurd comparison, really.

Cindi said...

Hi Babs! Glad you were told about the pix, knew it was you right away.
Glad John K. "discovered" your art.


PS. will write a critique of the film shorts, shortly..

Praveen Nadaraju said...

Flawed comparison.
Your comparing a partial volunteer based animated short like Surly..vs
a professional production with
some of the most experienced
animators in history.