Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Maintaining Guts from Department to department

Did you ever notice that when you clean up one of your own drawings, it loses some guts?
This is a problem all artists face, but it's even a bigger problem in animation because each drawing passes through so many different artists' hands.

Especially in this day and age when everything is so departmentalized.

If it's hard for an artist to clean up his own style without losing something, imagine how hard it would be for someone in another country who is seeing your style (after it's already been traced a few times) for the first time and really doesn't care anyway.

In animation, an idea gets copied over and over again before it actually makes it to the screen. The natural order of life seems to be that copies are inferior to the original, so that the more something gets copied, the crappier it gets.

And unless your studio has a system designed to combat this problem, you are going to end up with bland cartoons, where none of the artists who contributed to it recognizes his or her own work.

Here are 4 stages in an animation production that all use the same poses. Many studios have more stages than this. Each stage tones down the previous stage.



For the last 40 years or so, we have been plagued with an assembly line system based on a misunderstanding of the term "on-model".

Ever since I got into the business, I realized that no matter what you drew in your scenes for a cartoon, it would never end up looking remotely like that in the final cartoon. The system is geared to erase all the artists' specific and original contributions to the film.

Even the few artists I knew that actually tried to put some life in the cartoons would always be disappointed when we screened the finished cartoons. It was as if we never worked on the cartoons in the first place. As if it had all been done by a crappy computer.

All our work had been smoothed out, planed down, straightened out. Most young cartoonists come into the business all eager and optimistic that they are going to be the ones to breathe some life into the art again. But after a year or 2 of experiencing this blanderization process, they quickly lose their ambition, sell out to the man or go insane.

No matter how talented or skilled you are, you need a system that is geared to the creative process and understands practical realities. I have always been plagued with this problem of how to get creativity to happen in an environment that is completely designed against it.

That's why I am so analytical - why I have to figure out solutions to so many problems. I would rather just get a bunch of creative folks together and do what we do naturally, but there was no place on earth designed for that when I started. No Looney Tunes or MGM or Fleischer studio that has a logical production system.

I had to recreate one and then pass it on to all the studios that worked with mine. Most other studios - service studios that do the animation and ink and paint have been trained by the American or Canadian assembly line studios and cannot bring themselves to change their ways to accommodate originality and fun in their work-even when you send them the finished drawings.

They are so used to blandness that they don't believe that you actually want them to use what you sent them, and they take it upon themselves to fix your work for you. That was happening to Spumco on The Ripping Friends, so I had to put manuals together to show our service studios how to use our drawings without completely toning them down or changing them.
Unfortunately, they never gave our manuals to the artists, so we got blanderized despite our efforts to save them money and time.

Maybe you can benefit from some of the tips in this "maintaining guts" manual. If you ever work for me, you will have this same problem - to not tone down what you are handed from the previous department - which is not an easy thing to do.
For months, I kept asking the supervisors in Canada on the Ripping Friends whether they were using our layout drawings or not, and both studios would constantly assure me that they were. When they finally sent me xeroxes of their layouts we saw that they didn't use any of our drawings and had redrawn everything from scratch. Then I sent this manual and called them to go over it page by page.

We were looking at these closeups of Crag that Jim Smith drew and I cleaned up, and the supervisor said: "Wow. You really did want us to use your drawings exactly!"

Then I asked why they didn't after saying they were.
"We weren't doing it because your and Jim Smith's drawings were 'off-model'."
Jim and I designed the show, but our drawings were off-model I found out.

I have plenty more of these manuals about maintaining guts if you are interested.


jesus chambrot said...


Kali Fontecchio said...

Those are some amazing man drawings, holy crap. I wish I could draw. Damn.

Augustin said...


I want one!

Brandon said...

Please do. I download every one of these you post. Put this stuff in a book please!

NextGen (Hector) said...

Post all the manuals! :)

I can't imagine how much AWESOMENESS there would be in cartoons today if they used what John K teaches us.

YULFO! said...

i always notice when ever I take a look at behind the scene stuff in cartoons that the pencil test always looks better then the finished product.something about how ruff it looks makes it a lot cooler also has something to do with the coloring and how smooth it comes out That bothers me.
"that sounded pretty gross""has something to do with the coloring and how smooth it comes out"I'm not taking about bathroom stuff i
but i think you know what I mean.

Julián höek said...

where those clean ups inked with brush? if so what kind of brush?
you must got really talented inkers to do such big think and thin lines in every frame of a cartoon and the line don't vibrate!
and of course please post more of this clean ups manuals, they are very usefull for all!

Ben Forbes said...

I love these drawing manuals!
I remember you posted some for backgrounds and how shapes should be organic.
More! more! more!

Anonymous said...

Yes please.Everybody would like to see some more maintaining-the-guts manuals and any other manuals you have.I always print good manuals out and keep them in a folder for reference.

mdouglas said...

I've been waiting my whole life for this post! I am 100% Interested.

Wicks for Candlesticks said...

These should be printed in a book for all the world to see. They're already typed up all pretty like. Just bind them together, stick a pretty picture on the cover, Bob's yer uncle.

-David O.

Mitch K said...

Yes very interested! Please! Thanks!

Tony C. said...

Thank you for another solid lesson. It's also awesome to see clean, beautiful (and un-blanded) finished pieces of yours and Jim's work.

quack said...

i would like a manual :)

Gabriel said...

interested, of course!!

chrisallison said...

it's a shame that you don't like xeroxed lines. i do, because of the simple fact that usually the drawings look better (being as they're directly from the artists). and i guess i'm showing my animator's bias, as i would rather watch pencil tests than finished animation. blasphemy! p-tests never catch on with audiences because most people just care about the bow, not what's inside the box. how else do you account for the success of people like shakira?

it seems like there's a trade-off. pragmatically, super tight cleanups mean that you kinda have to limit the movement because of heavy costs for time consuming cleanup (thicks to thins, colors, etc). more drawings = more cleanup. but if you wanna do loose xerox'd lines, you can spend more time on the animation. call me crazy, but i'd take the latter over the former anyday.

in a perfect world you'd have time and money for both.

JohnK said...

>>i do, because of the simple fact that usually the drawings look better (being as they're directly from the artists). <<

Well, not really. They are the drawings of the Korean assistant animators who have no feeling at all.

I like pencil tests too, but pencil lines don't translate that way when xeroxed and colored.

WeZ9Alt said...

Could you make a post concerning the format and apporach to writing cartoons from a writer's perspective?

Omar "El Buda" Romero said...

HEEEEY MY FIRST COMMENT HERE, well.. in this post>>>Saturday, September 29, 2007, i seen that draw and i give it some color, i hope you like it, if doesn't, i don't care, but please comment something, i mean something to learn, something for my "profesional" construction, sorry for my deadly english, jajajaa, i need practice, that's all, like all in this life, jajajaa.. ok, see ya

P.S. i love sody character, so casual and... well, you know.. hehehe

Omar "El Buda" Romero said...

hello there...

i give color in one of your sketches, see ya

R. Banuelos said...

"But after a year or 2 of experiencing this blanderization process, they quickly lose their ambition, sell out to the man or go insane."

Which one of these things did you do?

Hey I was wondering if you would post up a pencil drawing and then ask us to ink it. Much like the drawing lessons, I think an inking lesson would be keen. I appreciate all you tell, there's so much animation information now through blogs. Most of the major artist of Ren and Stimpy have blogs and many other cartoonist. There's a lot of history between all the artist and many things to learn.

Taber said...

It's for this reason that I've long had an aversion to the pen, and to the cleaned up drawing. I hate them! I just hate them so much! Give me a lose sketch any day but don't show me a cleaned up drawing.

Please do post more on this John! You might just cure my phobia.

Bitter Animator said...

Mr.K, quick question: are your animation production drawings cleaned up in ink?

Ohjeepers said...

I have always been heartbroken about how a lot of the Ripping Friends turned out, and I remember the first time that I got some interesting insight into cause of the shows shortcomings.

A layout artist at one of the outsourced studios would brag about his layout "technique" online. His approach was to take an amazing Jim Smith storyboard panel, and then IGNORE what the training manuals said about blowing up and actually using great drawings directly from the boards to save time and money, while maintaining quality... So that he could instead RE-DRAW the image himself from scratch.

He then illustrated this with some obviously watered down versions of Jim Smith drawings.

Now certainly this is not completely unheard of since this is how most productions work, and to be fair - ANYONE would be hard pressed to improve upon a Jim Smith drawing...

BUT the thing that completely blew my mind was that he then went on explain that he was drawing his layouts at HALF SIZE, and then PHOTOCOPYING them up to full size!

He was actually blowing up his watered down COPIES of Jim Smith, rather that just blowing up the Jim Smith drawings themselves!!!!

To work this hard to water down drawings, with the added touch of insane irony always blew my mind.

Very strange indeed!

David said...

I'll buy the "Maintaining Guts In Your Cleanups" ebook for five bucks if it means you'll keep blogging about this.

Andy J. Latham said...

John, given that pencil tests can look so appealing, are you aware of any cartoons whose final appearance was simply the original pencil drawings? I have seen this done in small sections of a cartoon (I think) but wondered if it would work over a full one.

Visit Andy's Animation!

Christopher said...

These posts you are putting together are wonderful.You are inspiring me to once more attempt to get back into the animation field.
Recently I thought I had seen on your blog some illustrations from a Robin Hood story on which Disney's RH characters were surely based.They were b&w line drawings.Cant seem to foind em anywhere now.Any iodeas?

Christopher said...

These posts you are putting together are wonderful.You are inspiring me to once more attempt to get back into the animation field.
Recently I thought I had seen on your blog some illustrations from a Robin Hood story on which Disney's RH characters were surely based.They were b&w line drawings.Cant seem to foind em anywhere now.Any iodeas?

T. Jayenti Collins said...

i'm interested in seeing more of that manual. i just came across your blog the other day and am loving it! hope i can absorb all the goodness.

Dan C said...

Hoo-ee those are some beautiful drawings.

greggerg said...

These are freaking amazing. Please post more.

trevor said...


i've been trying to get ahold of your manuals! been trying to track all the pages down that you've posted in the last year! me and my fellow animators here at boootooons are RETARDED interested in your manuals.

PLEASE! WE BEG OF YOU! post ALL the manuals so that we may benefit by your acumen, tutalege and experience!

your pal,

- trevor

akira said...

totally interested!!!! if you just reproduced your manuals together in a book i would definitely pay 29.99 for a copy! and if you threw in some other stuff like that jimmy goes to the barber and some of your rough drawings.. then i'd pay 49.99!

more please!

Adam H said...

I really enjoy these manuals. Little bits of wisdom & knowledge that no one ever bothers to teach you...until JohnK!

Very interested in any sort of guidelines you have to offer us.

pappy d said...

Even when I do my own cleanup, it sucks the life from the ruff.

I remember at FilmFair many years ago, we did a Count Chocula spot & the agency was not happy. They flew the art director out from Chicago to draw over the animation so that the count looked just like he did on the box while the cleanup artist looked over his shoulder. They thought he looked off-model because his head rotated. Needless to say. the result was laughable. The original went to air after all.

Mitch said...

More post about this please! A lesson would be great about this.

And what is the big difference between layout and storyboard?

I wished that I had more time, I really need to practise all this kinds of stuff.. But yeah school :( (9 months and I'm finished with that!)

NateBear said...

Who exactly did the inking on these. It's amazing, especially considering the difference between the details in the 2 stages.

I'd love to see examples of their attempts to put Jim's drawings back on model.

If i ever come upon a butt-load of cash my first priority would be to start a WB style studio.

Hammerson said...

Yes, please post more material from these manuals. This is a subject of particular interest to me, because I often tend to unintentionally sabotage or tone down my pencil drawings during the cleanup process. Perhaps you could (as suggested in an previous comment) give us some cleanup exercises with your or Jim's pencil drawings.

Barbara said...

Do you have any examples to show of the changed Jim Smith drawings? This is interesting.

Skid said...

im interested, we must keep the guts!

Brett W. Thompson said...

More manuals most welcome!!! They're gold!!

paul said...

Cool post, Johnny K. If I ever got to work on your cartoons, I would, as a layout artist, not tone down the story sketches, but to accentuate, or plus them, so I could combine them with my caricatured version of the model packs, resulting in a liveliest interpretation of your work, same goes for animation with my copies and my clean-ups and digital inkings.

MIND'S EYE said...

How frusterating- i hate when people lie espcially in a siutation where it's the master student thing.

MIND'S EYE said...

How frusterating... I really feel this story.