Monday, November 26, 2007

Cartoon College Year 3

My 3rd year program assumes that students now have some solid basics down: Construction, line of action, basic motion. Now I want to take those skills and broaden the students' horizons.

Artists need to learn how to recognize the difference between formula and invention. Animation is full of formula and I would like to see a generation of artists who can break through the formula and start to use their skills as tools in order to create with, rather than simply repeat what has been done to death.

The year is dedicated to honing the cartoonists' observation skills and getting them to be able to apply their observations to their cartooning and animation.

Intense Caricature Study and Application

This is caricature with a purpose: to broaden your creative palette in animation. It's not to become professional caricaturists. It's not to get a caricature style. It's not to imitate someone else's caricature style. In fact, it's intended to cure students of desiring a limiting style.

Every person you draw is uniquely his or her own style, has a unique set of not only features, but expressions, gestures, mannerisms, textures, body language, body shape etc.
The style of your caricature should be dictated not by a preset notion of a caricature style, but by the style of the person being observed and dissected.

You want to get ideas from those you observe, you don't want to impose your own notions of what you think looks good onto your model. That's backwards.

The danger of imitating someone else's style is that you end up imitating their limitations and probably tone down their positive attributes. Hirschfeld is a great designer-caricaturist and unfortunately, much-imitated. What people tend to imitate is a superficial surface of what he does. He doesn't really caricature bodies and he makes everybody look elegant, even though most of his subjects aren't elegant. It works for him and makes for great illustrations, but there is only one Hirschfeld. Drawing spaghetti arms, graphic textures and squinty eyes won't make you the next great caricaturist.

For the purposes of animation, your caricatures should be observant and exploratory rather than imitations of someone else's ideas and filters.
Every subject you draw has new information that - if you can capture it, you can use in your own work. If you filter what the real world looks like through some preset notion of style (what things should look like) then you are severely handicapping your creativity.

Your goals in this course will be:

Make it look like the person.

Be Funny.

Learn the mechanics of the person.
To be able to draw a specific set of forms from every angle.

Be able to articulate what you learned from each person you caricature.
Absorb the ability to make new shapes constantly and not rely on traditional cliched animation shapes.

Specific Faces and their Mechanics

Students will pick either other students, teachers, family or film and TV actors and study not only what their faces look like in repose, but how their facial mechanics work for different expressions.

Specific Bodies
Everyone's body is as unique as their face, yet bodies are hardly ever caricatured. Usually someone has one way of drawing hands, or drawing fat, but this class will encourage students to observe how many different funny forms hands and fat can take.

Specific Expressions, Specific Gestures

I want students to constantly observe everyone around them. Be able to imitate them. Study their unique expressions, body language and gestures. There are no shortage of unique among cartoonists and animators. I've known so many that are full of individual quirks that are really funny. Amazingly these same individuals rarely put their own quirks into their cartoon drawings and animation. People automatically fall into line when they get a job and fit themselves into what they think is the correct and approved way to draw cartoons.I want students to begin to get a handle on real and specific expressions , then apply them to cartoon characters. Students can pick any of a set of classic characters and draw them in specific poses and expressions. This is not an easy thing to do!

Caricaturing Cartoons
The whole point of cartooning is to make fun of things. Did you know that you can make fun of people's drawings? You learn a lot that way.

Blandness is a big obstacle to creativity in animation today. This course consists of taking cartoon drawings that others have done and doing caricatures of them. This will get the students to be more analytical, and will instill a thirst for contrasts and fun in their work.The first semester would be spent doing still drawings and analyzing contrasts in designs. The second would be animating caricatures of cartoon styles and inventing funny ways to move funny characters.

This will teach students how to explore and refine creative ideas. To bring them conviction and clarity. To avoid the middle. To instill a sense of design and balance.

Character Animation

Walks, Dances, Rhythms

We'll study the best and funniest complex actions from classic Popeyes, Disney, Warners cartoons and animate variations using different characters.

Animating different types of designs.

Solving design/animation problems. Animating cartoon designs from media other than animation-comic strips, magazine cartoons, etc. Here's a few I would like to try, but there are a lot more styles to experiment with.

There are a small handful of design styles in animation today: The Cal Arts Style. The Spumco Style (its derivatives). The Cartoon Network Everything Has Corners Style. Each of these graphic styles come with their own set of cliched automatic motions.

They also come with severe creative limitations. I want to show students the vast variety of cartoon drawing styles that exist in other mediums and have them find ways to animate them that enhances the graphic styles - all with a mind to humor and entertainment.

This will open the students' minds to the limitless possibilities of animation that have yet to be explored.

Animating Super Structures with Varied Timings
A lot of animation today consists of quick actions that zip from pose to pose and avoids any slow careful 3 dimensional motions and subtle changes of expression.

This class will ask the students to do more careful and subtle types of acting and actions that don't rely on stock animation tricks.

We'll study live action actors and try to implement a wider range of timings and actions from life.

Bob McKimson's animation will set a great example of motion that doesn't cheat. Doing it the hard way.

Animating Caricatures

This class will take what was learned in the caricature classes and apply it to motion.

Students will animate characters that have the specific mannerisms and expressions that real people they have studied have.

Advanced acting, dialogue animation. Timing, pacing.

This continues the 2nd year studies.

Analysis Of Formula and Breaking Of Habits
Is this all there is to be said for eye expressions? Many animators think so.

Analysis and pattern recognition is the antidote to cliche. If you can see formulas, then you can break them.
The 'tude expression formula. This is used automatically when you can't actually think up a specific expression.

The stronger your observational abilities and your analytic prowess is, the faster you will be able to grow creatively.
During your career you will be called upon to rely on formula and cliche, although your bosses won't call them that. If you recognize them for what they are, you can adapt quickly to different styles.

If you ever get a chance to work on a project that actually demands creativity, you will be less likely to be frozen in someone else's formula.


MikeSnj said...

This course is begging to be made.

Kali Fontecchio said...

"I've known so many that are full of individual quirks that are really funny."

I know a few too! Especially this ONE GUY. He's got CRAZY expressions. Yes, he does.

Colin Kahn said...

Your cartoon caricatures are the best! I'm glad you mentioned them.

Anonymous said...

I would kill to go to a school following your ciriculum. I wouldnt even mind paying horrendous amounts of money!

Dan! said...

John, this school really needs to be made! It would be the ultimate animation school and I would definitely attend, not doubt about it whatsoever.

I really hope for this dream school of yours to become a reality, the sooner the better.

And I love doing caricatures by the way, especially of cartoons- even the crappy ones so that they can be depicted as the ugly retards they really are (only better and funnier). Caricaturing definitely helps my cartoon skills, too.

Leigh Fieldhouse said...

Let me enroll on this course John.

Paul Stadden said...

Goshdarnit, why the heck doesn't this exist already? If this animation course is such a great idea (it is), why hasn't anything like this been implemented? I wish this had been an option when I went to college, I would have eaten it up. Heck, I'd consider going back if this were to come to a major college in the southeast.

Looney Moon Cartoons said...

As a man teaching himself to draw cartoons and animate, posts like these are invaluable to me. I'm still not nearly far enough in my studies for this stuff, but you are definitely keeping me pointed in the right direction. Thank you. If you ever start this school I will be front row center.

PCUnfunny said...

The obervation aspect intrigues me. I really would join this course.

/\/\ikeB said...

While I'm digging the course - certain aspects of it
aren't compatible with current colleges.
This includes buts not limited to:

1 ) copyright issues - The first year requires students to scan and compare with potentially copyrighted material - this is a great exercise - unfortunately it could get colleges in trouble. If a student printed something copyrighted he/she could get in trouble too. Sometimes instructors make knock-offs of good pictures to avoid this - but its not the same.

2 ) Mental Intertia - Certain animation faculties already have a curriculum, and simply don't want to change their mind. They probably should - but won't. To them they have a formula that keeps them employed - nothing needs to change.

Having said that - I think John, you've already done what you've set out for. This blog IS a school.
I for one, am learning.

I for one thank you for the free info.

Ryan G. said...

Well put John. Man, what a school this would be.

PCUnfunny said...

I think something interesting to add to a course would be to examine what entertainment you liked as a child.

"1 ) copyright issues - The first year requires students to scan and compare with potentially copyrighted material - this is a great exercise - unfortunately it could get colleges in trouble. If a student printed something copyrighted he/she could get in trouble too. Sometimes instructors make knock-offs of good pictures to avoid this - but its not the same."

Unless John makes a course book that includes pre-existing characters, then there is no copyright issue. So using the actual films themselves as source material would be fine.

Kyle said...

what you have to say about blandness reminds me of a free lance offer that was made to me, and as far as I can tell, I failed to give them what they wanted. without going into too much detail, I was asked to create a likable mascot character in the style of some other character (an unappealing one in my opinion). right off the bat I was asked to hand in a design that I felt sounded bland on paper. I tried to be creative but none of my designs stood out. they looked completely formulated. the few that I thought had some potential, were turned down for being too different. (for example, one character I designed had almost pop eye like forearms, witch wasnt well received). the end result was exactly what he requested on paper, but it still didn't fly, and I was never paid for it. I feel like I let him down, as well as myself for not being able to turn in something worth paying for.

a class like the one you are detailing here would probably have helped me overcome this whole disaster. its a lot like your profile comment about your band.

"I like playing in a band because it's actually fun and no one tells you to be lousy on purpose."

Hector said...

Mikeb --

I doubt there would be any problem using an image if its strictly for educational purposes and would not be used by the students to make money off of them.

As far the college goes, it would completely revolutionize animation. -- It's about time we had another animation revolution. :)

Bitter Animator said...

Mr.K, this course is, without a doubt, fantastic. Not just for new animators, but for people who have been beaten down by the business and lost all will to do a decent drawing. Getting this going could fill the world with great, enthusiastic animators.

But I'd first like to see a course for producers on how not to be an asswipe and destroy good ideas and creativity. That way, maybe those enthusiastic animators would have somewhere to go and wouldn't be bitter shells by their third year in the business.

I hope you get both these courses off the ground.

Clinton said...

"If you ever get a chance to work on a project that actually demands creativity, you will be less likely to be frozen in someone else's formula."

Caricaturing has helped me get out of your formula, John. My drawing style was a lot like yours because I drew Spumco all the time.

Anonymous said...

i love your cartoons!!!

and you art!

the form to draw!

you are "bueniiiisimo!!"

pilip said...

I love the insights on hollywood animation from then and now offered by this blog.

A school that develops creativity is great.

i'm a little critical on the "always be funny" aspect. Drawings, Cartoons can be funny but they can also reveal all other aspects of emotions. Isn't starting out a drawing with an idea "i have to be funny" castrating?

hum...maybe it's just because i'm a depressive kind of fellow that lives in cloudy socialiste europe rather than sunny california.

Kristin said...

Aw man! I'm like 3 years behind.
I'm STILL learning construction:(

I hope I have time to catch up!

tony lawson said...

I can imagine this would probably be better than being on a course in which the lecturers themselves don't actually know anything about animation/anything, and get their information from google. ie. the one i am on.

Charlie J. said...

wow, a real college really needs to use this.

I'm applying to college next year, are there any ones you think are decent, or at least doing SOMETHING right?

Leigh Fieldhouse said...

Hey John,

I think you should get in touch with the people at, they are always looking for ways to improve their curriculm.

Even though it's a cg animation school and only 18 months, the priciples they are trying to push are the same things you mention alot in your blog.
Especially observation, caricature and planning.

Come and record a lecture for us students John, that would be great!

Chris_Garrison said...

This is all so fun to imagine. I'd be most excited to get lessons in "Advanced acting, dialogue animation. Timing, pacing." Please start putting more about this stuff in your regular posts!

Jim Rockford said...

Love the cartoon caricatures of George and Fred and Barney!
Barney even has the green hair just like the doll!

Brett W. Thompson said...

Awesome! I love your lessons, John, they're great- and of course I agree with everyone that if you started a school, it would be in high demand :)

Henry Mansis said...

could someone please let me know which comic this one is from. My dad used to have books of this guys work, I'd love to follow it up.

Mitch Leeuwe said...

This course should at least be available on the web, I would pay to follow it!

ataricat said...

I wasn't too long ago ago that I realized just how important caricature was to drawing and animation, only to find there's really no book out there that's even remotely decent on teaching the subject. Everything's of the State Fair "give `em a big nose" school of caricature.

There's definitely a need for teaching caricature the right way.

Craig Harris said...

How do you learn to push the right things in a caricature ....further??? And is it me or are there just some people that are really hard to caricature. Its almost like their features are so normal and average that it is hard to pull out something to push. I dunno...but I would love some insight on those things. This is a great post. Your school would be bad ass!!

Guilherme said...

I am going to start this course right now! Your blog will be my guide.

John, maybe you already said before, but I havent find yet: how do you plan a animation scene? Do you start whith the storytelling poses then the key frames, breakdowns, inbetweens ... ?

If i had a chance, I would like to read a specific post about this.


Taber said...

Ack! I forgot to comment on this important topic. PLEASE everyone, coerce, bribe, intimidate, lobby and wheedle everyone in a position of power at any art school anywhere to implement this curriculum!

buh2001j said...

Although people may get all worked up about your comments about Horton; in the long run the important post was this one. Thanks for taking the time to save animation from itself.

Schism-Schasm said...


Just wanted to add my vote of enthusiasm for this course, should you ever choose to take it to a school for consideration.

In the nineties I attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon & Graphic Art, a school established by and -largely- for comicbook artists. I went with aspirations to be more of an all-round cartoonist and found that the Caricature and Animation classes offered far more of lasting value than those geared the specific production processes of comics. Unfortunately, the gems to be had were obscured by the lack of charisma and communicative ability the teachers themselves exhibited, and as such many students struggled with and even dismissed outright what was being taught, rationalising that since it wasn't comics, it wasn't needed.

I think your three-year course would help cartoonists of every stripe as it emphasises the importance of clear storytelling, engaging characters and emotive artwork, all of which are essential to success in all cartoon media (animated shorts, features, cartoon strips, caricatures, comics, webtoons, video games etc). If I has my time in the States over again, and your course was on the table, I'd choose it in a heartbeat.

With sincere best wishes-

Terry Anderson (Glasgow, Scotland)

Andrew said...

Do you have any tips on how to detect formulas and cliches, as well as poor construction?

You should seriously make this course somehow, or do like video lessons or something.

Heather Ferreira said...

>>But I'd first like to see a course for producers on how not to be an asswipe and destroy good ideas and creativity.

There's some of us out there. Ask my senior animator, Raphael Rosenwald.

(But then, I'm a former animator, so maybe that's why.)