Monday, October 01, 2007

Is a Good Line Important?

Yes, I think so.

I'm just going to touch on the subject because there are so many things I could go on about, so let's just start with an overview.

HERE ARE 2 TYPES OF LINEWORK: A PENCIL ROUGH AND A CLEANED UP INKI think an animation drawing should be tight enough that a cleanup artist or inker can preserve what the animator wants. The animator should not hand in vague scribbles and then expect an assistant to figure out where the drawing is. Both these artists have some responsibility to use lines to convey distinct drawings that have a commitment to an idea.

Jack Kirby is considered the king of comics and for good reason. Many of his classic comics have unfortunately suffered from sloppy inking. Joe Sinnott (who inked these 2 pictures) really worked to bring out the best in Jack's work. He made his characters look solid, organic and made them stand out against the backgrounds.

A lot of other inkers tended to flatten out Jack's work and make the images harder to read. To me, the work then looked too stylized, less alive. Some people like that better, though.

A line isn't important for its own sake. There are some artists who think having a big bold clean line is practically the art itself, and the drawing it describes is unimportant - as in many modern fake-UPA style cartoons.

If you have an uninteresting or ugly drawing underneath, no amount of thick clean lines can hide it-at least not from me.

On the other hand, great drawings can also be ruined by poor line work. Each animator, layout artist and cleanup artist should all understand and feel how to do warm descriptive lines that draw attention to the good qualities in the drawing they are bordering.

Then there are styles that purposely use wiggly
I'm not even sure if this is for real. Maybe it's someone's idea of satire.

or scratchy lines-maybe to make you know you are looking at drawings, maybe to be ugly on purpose, I don't know.

Many artists, as they get older lose their line quality. I know I can't draw as "clean" as I could in my 20s. That's why I rely on younger inkers and clean up people-but I train them to know where to put their clean lines without "losing the life" of the original roughs.
In the 60s, Disney introduced the xerox process. This was a way eliminate the cost of doing all the beautiful hand-inking they used to do on their cartoons. They sold the concept to the animation community as a way of preserving the spontaneity of the artists' drawings -maintain the liveliness.
To me it looks terrible. When I see scratchy lines boiling and shimmering at 24x per second, I can't help but be aware I'm looking at individual drawings, rather than animated characters.
Plus, the xerox line itself loses a lot from the pencil drawings. It's a cold, harsh itchy look.

By the 1980s, sensitive artistic line work was a thing of the past.COMPARE POPEYE IN THE 30S TO POPEYE AND EVERYTHING ELSE IN THE 80S

I had to fight the whole industry to bring back thick and thin organic lines to cartoons. You would never believe how hard everyone resisted. I was a dirty radical to want the lines around cartoons to look good. Not only did I want thick and thin to come back, and organic lines, I even wanted to have some color lines - and everyone thought I was insane! But that's a whole other story.


If you have a grasp of your drawing principles, then your lines can do a lot to bring out the elements of your drawings.

Like Pete Emslie

His lines are very appealing - but not merely appealing for their own sake. They make sense. They are there to help describe the drawing underneath. They are slightly loose and rough, but a cleanup artist would have no trouble knowing where to put the final lines, and how much weight to give them.

His lines are artistic, but they are subservient to the drawings they are describing.

They aren't just one skinny even line that travels around the outline.

Preston Blair also has beautiful flowing lines.They are drawn quick, but perfectly describe the forms underneath. These aren't quite clean enough for a final cel, but the inker knows exactly where everything goes from the clean up.

Many animators work very rough. That's fine, but I think it's their duty to go back and tighten up the drawings to the point where an assistant or inker knows where all the details go, and how the forms actually work solidly. As I've said before, smooth motion is only part of good animation. The drawings you define with your lines, the specific expressions and details are also part of the equation, and I can't see why an animator would want to give up that layer of fun and control.
I think some Disney features in the last 20 years have suffered from cleanups that don't reflect the animators drawings very well. I've seen many scenes with underlying loose animation, but stiff Filmation-style cleanups that undermine the motion. It seems like somewhere between the animator and the clean up department, something is not connecting.

From a rough but defined sketch like the Sody one above, a good inker (like Brian Romero) can work his magic and give you a smooth, alive, organic being. HIERARCHY OF LINES DESCRIBE HIERARCHY OF FORMS
Lines, like forms obey a hierarchy of importance. Some parts of your drawing are more important than others and need thicker lines. Details are less important, get thinner lines, but still have to flow in the same directions as the larger forms.

It's not quite that simple and not completely a science. There are some general rules to help out, but then part of it is instinct.


Shane Glines used to ink a lot of my stuff and he knew exactly how to enhance what the drawing itself was trying to say.

You admired his lines, but you saw a character first, not a bunch of disconnected details.

***Note to Mitch- when you copy the old cartoons, try to get a feel for the pencil lines animators used to use. Your lines can help give your drawings more form.


Paul B said...

Hi John!
Great post about lines!

The old popeyes have great lines!

I painted popeye in a wall the other day, would you like to see it?


Kali Fontecchio said...

"Is a Good Line Important?" Yes!

Them there are some nice examples. Especially the Fonz!

Inking is FUN. So is drawing, oh and painting. But ya, inking is super fun when you have a super solid drawing to ink! FUN PARTY!

Emmett said...

Mr. K,

I can see your point.

What is your opinion of Don Hertzfeldt, Bill Plympton, or Joanna Quinn (and others like them)? They always have sketchy lines, and also lines that boil when animated. I always thought they added some artistic intrigue to their animation. I still feel that way when thinking about how lines should be handled in animation, although I see your point on what the lines should do for the audience.

Anonymous said...

Great advice. That's all I can say, really. This little lession will certanly help me, as it will help others. Thanks for taking your time to write this analys, John.

BTW, Again, I'm not trying to be a pest, but I'm still waiting for that advice you're going to give to me. Keep up the excellent work, and many wishes from a fellow Canadian.

From a wannabe cartoonist/ artist


Anonymous said...

Throw them mechanical pencils out!

Raff said...

I will go back to practicing the exercises on this blog. The arguements and demonstrations are too convincing to deny by this point.

>> You would never believe how hard everyone resisted. <<

Amazingly, I used to like the really skinny xeroxed-pencil look. I thought it gave an interesting texture. I'd find the heavy paintbrush lines in the Blair book to be inky and old-fashioned.

But I appreciate dynamic lines a lot more now, although I still find that scratchy orange dog kind of interesting, very 70's.

I absolutely DETEST digital uniform lines a la Family Guy. Flat and textureless.

But I like the slim linework in Japanese cartoons; it looks crisp and they have the two- and three-tone coloring to round things out.

Ryan G. said...

Hey John. Shanes lines are absolutely amazing. Is he tracing the outline of the final line and then filling it in, or just hitting it with multiple passes. I have a hard time inking on top of a really good flowing pencil line. The ink line never seems to capture that stroke. Any thoughts on technique?

Mitch K said...

You should see Pete's lines as he draws them -- they'll make your mouth water!

NextGen (Hector) said...

Great post. Very informative and useful! Those 80s cartoon look like ass.

Anonymous said...

"Hi Bruce

I've lost your email..."

Oh. No worries, John. I'll write it here again, and it's on my profile page, in case if you lose it once again!

And for all the trouble you've gone through for me, here is a Daffy cartoon to cheer you up, on the house.

The Wise Quacking Duck

Later, and sorry for the confusion

From a wannabe cartoonist/ artist


Nico said...

very very good points John, and thank you! those filmation/HB characters or whoever they are- You described them perfectly.. just a bunch of straight lines that travel around the characters.

the lines in Popeye are amazing, especially the earliest of the cartoons!

Anonymous said...

Oop's, I forgot the cartoon. My Bad!

Here it is, the The Wise Quacking Duck, Directed by one of your heroes, Bob Clampett!

Enjoy, from a wannabe cartoonist/ artist


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, and all your posts. Are there some technique pointers you could give? I see the difference, but have trouble achieving what I want to see in my work. Judy

R. Banuelos said...

What happened to the Oswald lesson?
Any way, here's what I did with it.

I'm completely open to critics, mostly you lady critics. Some young, sweet, sweet lady critics.

And Where the Fuck is Huddles?
That shitstain!

Gabriel said...

This is indeed very informative. I have a question. The two color ren and stimpy drawings you posted are obvious very different in line style. It's not difficult to see the concepts you're talking about in the second one, but the first is done with almost uniform lines. I'd like to know why it works. Why do the first one still feels so right, with so little line weight variation?

Doctor Cerebro said...

very interesting! i grew up in the 80s reading comic books by John Byrne and Alan Davis, and I hated Jack Kirby! his drawings looked so strange to me. of course, i couldn´t understand their importance in comic history, but i reckon that they were really bad inked...

Chloe Cumming said...

Yay lines!

All this stuff continues to be a sideways eye-opener for those of us who have been duped and cheated out of a real education.

I guess I haven't commented much lately because that's always applicable and there's not much I think I can add.

I like your fast drawings. Fast drawing has been a revelation just lately. I guess in some ways it's easier to get an organic natural looking line in a fast drawing. But it's a real skill to draw fast, flowing and solid in the first place. Otherwise we're dealing with scribbles.

JohnK said...

>>It's not difficult to see the concepts you're talking about in the second one, but the first is done with almost uniform lines.<<

You're right Gabriel. I wondered if anyone would notice that.

The lines in the first one are in the right place, but they are not thick and thin, just thin. At the time, it was still considered an impossibility to do thick and thin lines in a TV cartoon.

It was shortly afterwards that we finally started to do it.

I put those there to show the color lines on the nose and Ren's eyes.

Jack Ruttan said...

I think line has a lot to do with tools. You could talk about mechanical pencils, and roller pens, and keeping a point on your pencil, or brush (or how to set your stylus!). That's a whole other area of practice, which is frustrating for a newcomer not to know.

For instance, I learned how to draw a brush line with a ruler (a special ruler with one angled edge, for photo retouchers), a line that was totally consistent in width, and perfectly tapered on both ends (computer programs let you do this pretty automatically).

Great post, by the way!

:: smo :: said...

wow nice!

i actually wrote up a post that i never published called "the death of the line" where i compared the clampett horton suess picture to the new blue sky 3d one.

definitely not as much going into it as this, mostly just rage at a 3D suess feature, but maybe i should publish it anyhow.

Ted said...

Didn't you technically use thick and thin lines in a tv cartoon before Stimpy's First Fart, since Big House Blues used variable line width to an extent (tho not to the extent of the APC image).
See, for example, Ren feeding Mr. Pigeon:\
Or does being the pilot and being shown on the big screen first make it not count as a tv cartoon; or maybe the hand inking made it different enough in production that it doesn'tt count?

Ted said...

Whoops, that link should be
without the backslash at the end.

Chris said...

John - thanks for this post. I always look at the lines first when I see an old HB cartoon on tv. Even when nobody on the screen is moving the fluidity of those ink lines gives them a sense of motion that was all but gone by the 70s. I also have to say I enjoy reading these posts. Lots of smart people follow this blog. Thanks!

Mr. Semaj said...

I wish I knew which cartoons Pete Emsile worked on.

I think Eric Goldberg's animation, namely in the Genie, and his Rhaspody in Blue segment from Fantasia 2000 are both great examples of thick and thin lining, especially since Goldberg uses Al Hirscfield's work for inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Nice post! I've really got to work on my line! Maybe I'll use a softer pencil...

Hey, John, that Klasky Csupo drawing is from GAC. They were making fun of KC. They also got Fox and The Crow David Feiss style and a Mickey Mouse done in the John Kricfalusi style.

JohnK said...

What a wacky bunch

William said...

Lines are extremely important. Shane Glines is one of the best inkers I've ever seen.

the best 'line' work I've ever seen is by an artist named Yoshitaka Amano. It's linework taken to an extreme fine art.

Tony said...

Great post! Thank you so much for all the theories and animation lessons. A must to come here once a day!!


Anonymous said...

>>Many artists, as they get older lose their line quality. I know I can't draw as "clean" as I could in my 20s. That's why I rely on younger inkers and clean up people<<

whaaa? are you sure about this? at what age do people's inking skills start to degrade? I would have thought people would be able to ink well as long as they could draw well.There arent any middle aged clean-up artists?

RyRy said...

Great post.

What are your preferences when it comes to Black lines vs. Colored lines. I always give colored lines a shot but end up coming back to black lines.

murrayb said...

Clean up is a dead art, and one that is sneered at by entry level folks.
"Im more of a ruff artist/animator"
Im a designer"
(how you can be a designer with no line?!)

Greg Duffell told me an interesting story:
At lightbox in the early 80s He had cleanup inked to cel, because, as you do, he hated the xerox line. A young cleanup artist who was working for him and new to the country happened to drop by nelvana, and saw the marvelous xerox machine in action.

He said to Greg timidly,"Did you know they have a machine that puts drawings on to cel automatically?"
"Why do I still have a job?"
Greg put his hand on the kid's shoulder. " I really think you add something to the process. You make the animation look better. Because every step of the process is an opportunity to make it better. Each step is important, and a machine doesn't 'CARE'."

cleanup is like tasty food, Chrome on a car, tight harmony in a song. some people don't care, but there's no accounting for taste.

here's one minute of pure capitalist joy:

akira said...

yeah i would love to see more about how to just draw a nice line.. could any inkers post a Youtube video or something maybe??? PLEASE???

any tools, techniques and tips would be really appreciated!

Pete Emslie said...

Well, this was certainly a pleasant surprise to see a couple of my drawings posted here today on John's blog. Thanks John!

I concur with a lot of what John says in the way he has analyzed my work too. When I draw, I am not thinking about lines per se. What I am always trying to do is use line to describe the form that I'm attempting to portray, sort of like "sculpting" with a pencil. Additionally, I am trying to show the lfe and energy within the character using line in an expressive manner to accomplish this. In my roughs I tend to work quite fast in order to maintain this expressive quality. The ink line you see in that finished sample is the icing on the cake, in that I'm using that nice thick and thin linework to more fully describe the sculpted form of the character. I use a Winsor & Newton sable brush, series 7 #2, in case anybody's curious. (No digital inking for me!)

In answer to the query from Mr. Semaj, you won't find my work onscreen at all. I'm strictly a veteran cartoonist of the print medium, having made that choice over animation back when I was graduating high school some 30 years ago. Blame my decision on a misspent youth reading MAD Magazine and "Pogo"... :)

Jenny said...

Where is Fontanelli in all this? Embarrass him a bit by telling everyone how gorgeous his linework is, which(if I'm not mistaken-correct me if I am)he learned from you yourself.

I'd love to post some of his cleanups(which I stole from work when they were cut from a show, IF I could get the originals; otherise I got xeroxes which are never as nice to study), but you know how he is...way too critical!

Anyway, I had never seen anyone build a flowing, thick-and-thin line as he did-laboriously, but the result looked like it'd been done with an ink brush, not a Prismacolor! God!

Those characters(you know which ones, shut up)never, ever looked so good as when he did his models of them. Now that would have been a good looking show.

JohnK said...

>>whaaa? are you sure about this? at what age do people's inking skills start to degrade? I would have thought people would be able to ink well as long as they could draw well.<<

I didn't say inking skills. I said cleanup skills, meaning tight finished pencil drawings.

It's a generality. Many animators, who spend their lives drawing rough, lose their ability to do clean or even appealing rough lines. Look at the Disney images I posted.

Some folks, like Pete still have great lines (although he is quite a bit younger than the Disney guys in the 60s)

Drawing well is the most important thing, but the lines are what convey the drawing to the eye.

Kali Fontecchio said...

"Where is Fontanelli in all this? Embarrass him a bit by telling everyone how gorgeous his linework is"

I concur. Make Mike blush, his lines are great!

Anonymous said...

I see what you mean now.Yes interesting point.Maybe they should move people around in studios to work different tasks every now and again so they dont become so one sided working in the same area.Good post!

DH said...

Hey John,

If one were to focus on copying preston and Shane Glines as their only two sources for 6 months straight - would they improve?

Anonymous said...

Hey, John, that Klasky Csupo drawing is from GAC. They were making fun of KC. They also got Fox and The Crow David Feiss style and a Mickey Mouse done in the John Kricfalusi style.

I was wondering about that too. Not to be picky, but there's almost a tangent near Crawford's hand. In fact, GAC even has a fake Fox and Crow trailer!

Anonymous said...

If you want to learn how to make nice looking lines get a Windsor Newton Series 7 sable hair brush (#3 or 4) and some really dark india ink. Spend a lot of time practicing on bristol board with a smooth finish. I started inking this way in high school after Neal Adams called my friend a 'retard' for inking with markers at a comic convention.

Currently I use Adobe Illustrator and a Wacom Intuos 3 to ink. With fast paced deadlines I need the flexibility that inking digitally provides. I'd still recommend learning the old fashioned way first.

John, I like that you posted that Fleischer Popeye frame. I really love the line quality they had in the old Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons.

Here are some of my blog posts that deal with inking for those interested:

Early inks in Illustrator

Inking John's Raketeena drawings

How to set up brushes in Illustrator

Digital inking basics

More inking and coloring

From sketch to final art

Wicks for Candlesticks said...

I have to thank Brian up there for his advice on Inking. I suggest everyone check those links out as soon as possible. His digital line is very good and it still looks organic. I think anime has brought up a new generation of artist that use only uniform lines in their work and not just for budgetary reasons like the Japanese probably do.

I agree with Brian on practicing on paper before digital. As long as you can't get the lines on paper right, they'll never look good when you use a Wacom for inking. I'm proof of that. I'm constantly straining with my ink lines on paper.

-David O.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

I'm glad you brought this subject up! There's lots to say about it!

cemenTIMental said...

"From the ago of five I have had passion for sketching the form of things, from about the age of fifty I showed a number of drawings, yet of all I drew prior to my seventies there is truly nothing of any great note. When I was seventy-two I finally made out something of the shape of grasses and trees, the structure of birds and other animals, insects, fishes. Therefore when I become eighty I shall have made more progress; in my nineties I shall have penetrated even further the hidden meaning of things; at the age of a hundred I shall have reached the divine mystery, and at one hundred and ten even dots and lines will surely possess a life of their own. I only beg those of you who will live long enough to verify the truth of my words." - Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

Jorge "Jay" Garcia said...

Thanks for this post...and for the whole blog itself! I found it a couple months back but just now I have time to read most of it.. Hopefully I can do your animation classes and post them soon.. But this post really helped me.. I'm struggling with my linework and this was like a slap of inspiration on the face..

bruce said...

Hey, I'm curious to know what you recommend as far as materials and setup e.g. type of pencils, paper etc and holding the damn things. Also, do you draw at a regular desk, or is a drawing board preferable? Cheers.

Kris said...

I always hated the Xerox stuff, too. It always made me uncomfortable to look at it, it was just too hard and scratchy to work in animation.

So many artists draw with awful scratchy lines. Trying to use larger, flowing strokes not only makes a nicer, cleaner-looking drawing, but I think it also encourages better forms underneath. It's hard to draw a nice rounded Preston Blair type character if you're scratching away with little tiny strokes.

Johnny Mastronardi said...

This is really interesting, I've been thinking a lot about this recently. As much as you hate digital, I find digital inking with a pressure sensitive pen to turn out much better than anything I try with ink. I have dynamic control over the weight and can adjust the curves whenever I want. Too many people try to go for a clean vector look instead of dynamic and artistic lines. BTW, mechanical pencils aren't bad if you learn to use them right.

I love colored lines, though. Color has a way of simplifying designs and lets a drawing that might be a bit too busy in black seem more natural and easy to read.

qeshi said...

Awesome post John!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't care for the rough, sketch-y quality to many of those '60s/'70s Disney cartoons. The Jungle Book especially.

Marcelo Souza said...

I've been a fan of "Asterix" forever and I think those books have the best line quality in the history of cartooning. Luckily his line quality didn't decrease with age, still flawless. Walt Kelly is also a great example.

Mitch said...

Wow great post!

I'm going to start as soon as possible!

"when you copy the old cartoons, try to get a feel for the pencil lines animators used to use. Your lines can help give your drawings more form."

Thanks, that's something I will study both on my inks and my pencil studies. I really like good and solid pencil drawings.
This is always something I really liked, but I never really knew what it was, so this post is really a big help!

Anonymous said...

I also recommend Jeff Smith's 'Bone' and Charles Burns 'Black Hole' as examples of excellent inks and overall line work. Both are very good at creating a lot of mood with just black and white.

Anonymous said...

Hey boss,

You should check out Jeff Smith and his "Bone" comics, if you haven't. There is a master of line.

Carlos E. Mendez said...

Wow, this is a great post about cleanup. I always felt a good animator should give us good drawings. Because if I start changing the drawings the flow of the animation gets lost. Sometimes the lead cleanup artist tells me to stick to the animator's roughs, so not to change the flow of their animation. Great post.