Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Cartoon College Year 2

1 Cartoon Drawing Tools Upgrade
Semester 1:

Appeal and Balance Of Design
Appeal isn't just a matter of drawing cute eyes. It's a matter of good looking shapes that balance well together.

This means you need to know how to use negative areas in your drawings.
Basil Wolverton has a way of drawing ugly that is actually very cute. He uses strong contrasts, negative spaces and obvious distinct forms. The details in the cross-hatching do not try to hide the beauty and imagination of the statement. If you erased the cross-hatching , the shapes would still be distinct and funny.

Avoidance Of Clutter
I stared at this for awhile and still don't know what I'm looking at.

A lot of young (or amateurish) artists have a problem with clutter. I was talking to a student the other day who asked me to look at his drawings on his blog and they had a typical problem. Too cluttered.

Some clutternuts will draw a head shape and completely fill it with the face. No empty spaces. All fill. That makes the face hard to see, and also makes it hard to animate expressions. You need space above your eyebrows if you want your eyebrows to move and make expressions, for example.

You need empty spaces to draw your attention to filled spaces.

Clarity Of Design VS Ambiguity

A lot of young cartoonists are influenced by modern comic strip "art".

Many strips have characters that you have to stare at for a few minutes before you can even see which part is the face. Where the mouth or nose is, etc...What expression the character is trying to make.


Every design and drawing should commit to itself. It should be absolutely clear and distinct, so you have total control over what you are trying to say.

Organic Drawing

Organic Drawing

Semester 2 Cartoon Tools:

Learning and applying the cartoonists' code, our fundamental promise to the audience and our debt to our forefathers.

Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, Jim Tyer, Milt Gross and the rest are up in cartoon Heaven staring down at us wondering what the heck happened to the art they created and took to such high levels.

We should be able to take the head start they gave us and do work that makes them not only proud, but jealous!

This course explores 2 essential concepts of cartooning that just seem to have been completely abandoned

Exaggeration is not some uncontrolled anarchy like many stuffy animation critics would have you believe. Tex Avery was a highly structured master of what cartoons are and he was very careful in planning his seemingly crazy ideas.

Cartoon characters need to look alive, and motivated from within if they are to engage the audience.
Drawing characters that look alive seems to be a rare skill today:
Instead of life, we get a lot of pointy graphic clutter. I want students to learn to draw CHARACTERS, as opposed to graphic symbols. You should think of them as real creatures and draw them as if they are controlling the action, not being pushed around by you and a commitee of executives.


2 40s principles of animation
Using simple organic characters made of pears and spheres.

30s rubber hose character principles are continued and added to by more principles that make the animation and drawings more natural or "organic".

Overlapping Action/Follow Through
Weight Through Timing
Specific Walks and Runs
Lip synch For Assorted Muzzles and Beaks
4 legged characters
Timing Variations - Avoiding tricks


3 Basic acting

The visual language of acting

Acting in cartoons consists of appealing to 2 senses, the eye and the ear.

The voice actors tell your ears some emotions and the animator tells your eyes how the characters feel.

You should be able to do a story in complete pantomime using the visual tools that are at our command.

In this course, we would learn just the very basics of cartoon acting tools. In the next year's more advanced course we would explore more subtlety and specific acting.

Starting with simple basic expressions and the basic emotions, to get used to drawing them with clarity and form.
PosesLearn to make bold, distinct clear poses that tell how the character feels using all the good cartoon principles.

Mouth Shapes -
Generic mouth shapes are better than Specifically Disney mouth shapes, but not as good as mouth shapes specific to the character and the scene.
Training your eye and brain to see that.

Studying Classic Cartoon Acting:

Generic-early Disney, Tom and Jerry
Slightly Specific - Tex Avery
More Specific – Chuck Jones

How Timing Affects Your Visuals


4 History of Cartoons and Entertainment

With emphasis on:

Stage presence
Clarity of Message
Entertainment value
Superhuman ability
Professional performance


5 Life Drawing With Emphasis On Caricature


6 Application Of Other Studies

There will be exercises where the students have to combine principles and studies from different classes into drawing and animation assignments.

The students will consult with the instructor to design their own assignments.

They will have to write what problems they want to solve and how they will combine different ideas.

The assignments will be judged on:

Clarity of Concept
Success in Combining elements
Entertainment value


Your eye and your brain are mortal enemies.
Your eye is a liar, but a sometimes intuitive interpreter.
Your brain is an analyst that has been dulled by too many kicks in the head from modern culture.

I want to train both these important faculties and this will enable you to learn faster and make you a much more aware and inventive functional cartoonist.



The art of cartoons is the art of distilled fun.
It should be fun to learn how to cartoon.
It should be fun to make cartoons.
Your goal should be to give the audience more fun than they ever imagined possible.

That's what this school would be all about.


DJ said...

Hey John,

This is awsome!

Just asking everyone.. how much does it cost to make video lectures of these? Is it impossible to do?

I am ready to pre-order this stuff right now.

How ever, if you set up such a school, that would be cool, but being from India, it will again be one of those pipe dreams for me. An online school, or video lecture DVDs and stuff on these topics, atleast some of them, would be a dream-come-true for me.

Cant we do something like that for a start?


Taber said...

Sounds really good! Like I've said in the previous post, that Application class sounds like the best part!

Whit said...

Uh, it was Irv Spence who drew those bears. Tex could barely draw but he was a genius at staging and timing and being purely funny.

JohnK said...

The layout artists who worked for Tex told me that all they did was clean up Tex's poses, but that all the acting and expression was there in Tex's roughs.

Both Ed Benedict and Mike Lah said it was hard to not tone down Tex's very expressive and funny drawings.

Look at Tex's Lantz cartoons to see his drawing style in its purest manifestation.

PCUnfunny said...

I think that is one of the hardest things about drawing, trying not to tone down a great sketch. Keep these course discriptions coming John.*In Stimpy Voice* I AM SO EXCITED, I CAN HADRLY CONTAIN MYSELF !

Jake Thomas said...

John your cartoon college sounds better and better and better.
Would you be interesting in having this be a online college?

NextGen said...

Why why why must you tease us with such an amazing animation school John? Seriously if this school opened up it would AUTOMATICALLY be the best animation school in the country, perhaps the world!

Come on John, do it!
"John K's Animation School"

Remember though, low prices for those of lower income! We have ideas/want to learn too! :-)

Fabian Gordillo said...

I am called Germa'n Gordillo I am of Argentina; and I am 15 years old.
I like much what beams and I am a great admirer yours. I write you for comentarte that my Pope is sketcher and has blog of the biejos and present drawings of Argentina, is new acĂ­ that does not have many posteos.

Blog is

Please it happens.


My mail is (to

David said...

sign me up for more.

mdouglas said...

Sign me up! NOW!

stiff said...

The best part about this is that it's always clear why you're learning what you're learning. And for what it's worth, I'd rather see a formal school with facilities than an internet jobber -- I think the structure of regular classes and real face time with a professor are more effective at giving the motivational push that some people (i.e. me) need to get everything it's a lot easier to turn in homework that way. But once again, I'd pay good money, and come from far away, to be able to attend this school.

Peggy said...

"Learning and applying the cartoonists' code, our fundamental promise to the audience and our debt to our forefathers."

I love the fact that your sketch of an animation school curriculum has the promise of a MANIFESTO in the middle of it.

I wish you all the luck in the world in getting a school interested enough to let you loose on a few years worth of students. Seriously. Your hunger for theory and technique, and eagerness to pass it on, has been a constant inspiration in how I interact with other artists - even though you'd probably rip me apart for some of my choices of themes and stylistic shortcuts.

Wilford Speck said...

Hey John,

Here's a question: Would you require portfolio reviews to enter this program? I can understand weeding out the fanboys, but then again, there are those who aren't Calarts material either.

Looking forward to the real thing,


JohnK said...

Yeah I would review portfolios.

I would expect that people had already done the lessons on my blog and could show that they understood them

q.j.p. said...


You know, the more you write about this ideal school, the more anxious it makes me. It's obviously inevitable that we'll have it sooner or later.

My question is, are you leaning towards it being online, or is it your intention to try for a real glass-and-concrete facility out in LA? Which is your preference? Which ought we to expect? It becomes a practical matter for those such as I who do not live on the West Coast; if it's going to be there, and we're determined to be students, we are compelled to preparation.

Thank you.

Kali Fontecchio said...

Sounds good to me!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

WOOOOOOWWWW!!!!!!! Very nice, John! At last, a rational animation curriculum! If you ever had a school like this you'd find industry pros signing up, it's that good!

/\/\ikeB said...

Yeah that makes sense to me.

Don't bother with an actual college though. You'll just get frustrated with all the red tape they'll wrap it in.

I recommend a model like something Keith Lango does - have an online course, but also a cheaper, kind of tutorial-lite for those who can't commit the time and money for the full program. If I had the money I'd do the full thing - but I'd gladly pay for a small collection of videos or a pdf of your thoughts. Even the sort of stuff your making right now - I'd pay for that.

Robert said...

The one I think will be hardest to teach (and grade) will be the appeal thing. No matter how many rules or principles you construct to explain it, it's still going to be possible for someone to literally follow those rules and comeup with something awful.

PCUnfunny said...

Robert: Yes it can happen but most of time, it's because the person screwed up the technique. I have read numerous flat "how to draw" tutorials and they are warped versions of Preston Blair's construction lessons.

OT: John someone posted all the episodes of THE HONEYMOONERS on YouTube !

Dan Jackson said...


You've heard this before, but you need to publish a freakin' book with this stuff. We need a counterpoint animation book to Richard Williams tome on animation.

Dick was a brilliant (if somewhat obsessive compulsive) animator from what I've seen, didn't make funny cartoons, or know how to. He tried though, but it seemed like he was more concerned with making "pretty and smooth", not to mention needlessly complicated, animation.

Has anyone here seen that "Recobbled cut" of The "Thief and the Cobbler?" on You Tube (or Bit Torrent)? Some of the animation is stunning, but, sadly, not funny at all, even though it's trying so hard to be. Half the movie he seems to be trying to ape old Roadrunner cartoons.

The world needs a definitive book about what it takes to make funny, well drawn cartoons, as opposed to just pretty movement.

Trevour said...

Yes, yes, and yes! I like it!!!

PCUnfunny said...

Correction to my last post: I meant the lost episodes.

NateBear said...

More than anything in the world. Aside from no bombs or something hippy like that.

NextGen said...

So John, will you actually make an effort to open up a school? You know there's an interest... and more people would know once a few PRs went out. Because at this point only your fans who read the blog know. -- Imagine once you open the school and send out a few Press Releases.... word will spread FAST!

And you've got the backing of your name. People know you and people respect your work. You bring credibility to this whole project!

Oh and I really love that you're making this a community effort, asking for our comments and suggestions!

R. Banuelos said...

"Lip synch For Assorted Muzzles and Beaks"

That's the funniest thing I've seen all day.

Why is everyone asking for this school? All this stuff is on the blog or will be on the blog. That's the cost of what you pay for the internet. I think John's helped out a whole number of artist and animators for free with what he's posted on the blog. It's a very useful site. Thanks John.

Mitch said...

Wow this would really help me out.

I like it.

Tiff said: "I think the structure of regular classes and real face time with a professor are more effective at giving the motivational push that some people (i.e. me) need to get everything done..."

Yeah that's the way I see it too. I'm always having doubts that I'm doing it the right way and that I'm heading the right way I want to accomplice. So professional people around me would really help me out.

Chris_Garrison said...

Boy do I wish they'd had a curriculum like this at the school I attended! They made us make a film in the second year, a film in the third year, and a film in the fourth year. And with barely any of these fundamentals being touched on first! It was kind of a mess.

Still, if I have any comment about the courses you've laid out so far, it's this: Some students will be chomping at the bit to come up with their own characters, situations, and stories. So if they get all the way through the second year and still haven't really gotten to do much of that, they might start feeling frustrated or pent up. Certainly don't make them direct a film in the second year, the way I was made to, but maybe let them start thinking about it, doing some storyboards and stuff. Or something like that, I don't know.

Ironhorse said...

I posted a picture of Tex Avery's story sketches from The Legend of Rockabye Point on my blog for anyone interested in the Avery drawing "style."

Octo said...

Would love that.
It seems so obvious.

Doctor Cerebro said...

That sounds pretty good, but where did all the Avery-Clampett-Jones geniouses learn all that stuff? I guess that talent can´t be taught!

Callum said...

Absolutely amazing- I've said it before, and I'll say it again, you could open a school like this and charge anything, masses would go, I'm sure.

PCUnfunny said...

"but where did all the Avery-Clampett-Jones geniouses learn all that stuff?"

From the best possible source, life.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes. I'd go to school wherever a place like that was. If I was sure I'd graduate with some actual skills and knowledge that I can actually BUILD off of, as opposed to learning how to do one specific style in a specific way, I'd be very willing to join an art school.

Unfortunately, all my hunting around on the internet for art schools have produced nothing but shoddy or pre-fabricated crap.

(By the by, I'd appreciate it if anybody could check out my drawings. Just click on my name, and all of your fantasies will become reality.)

Dan! said...

>Would you like that?
-Heck yes!

>video lecture DVDs and stuff on these topics, atleast some of them, would be a dream-come-true for me.
-seems like a good idea too, for a start

DavidMcG said...

I'd hesitate to call most of what you'll find syndicated newspapers "modern comic strip art" by any measure!

But as nobody under 80 buys newspapers anymore, I honestly don't think you have to worry about Drabble (launched in 1979) influencing any young cartoonists. They're more likely to be influenced by manga or webcomics.

Spartacus said...

John K, I would LOVE to see this school become reality. I wouldn't care whether or not it was an accredited insitution that was capable of granting a degree. It would just be great to actually have a school that focuses on teaching cartoon animation.

Also, I know of a guy who teaches classical drawing, with an emphasis on long poses and accurate observation, and he's REALLY good. He's one of the few guys who can actually articulate what he's doing and how to do it. His name is Lance Richlin, and his website is He's in the LA area, and I think he'd be a great resource if you were serious about teaching some good drawing skills.

Sullenboy said...

would it be difficult to get in?

would the tuition be unresonable like most schools right now?

Im just worried about getting in and if i can afford it. Cause if this school comes to be, then i will try to attend with all my proactive might.