Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ken Duncan animates the best girls


Drawing and animating pretty girls is really hard. Girls are much more complex constructions than general cartoon characters. They have more forms to deal with and the forms don't easily flow along simple animation principles. It's hard to get a good line of action.

You also have to keep a very delicate balance in the design elements. If you get a line or form just a fraction off, the girl will look ugly.
Ken Duncan is amazing because he can draw girls and move them beautifully while maintaining all the classic animation principles. Not only that but he has a very distinct style that isn't purely a Cal Arts Disney formula.
I stumbled upon a couple pencil tests of a scene he did of Jane for Tarzan. One test is his roughs and the other the clean ups.
You can see in the roughs that he is concentrating less on detail and more on the essentials-the construction, the posing, the expressions and the movement.
Watch the clip and see how smoothly and beautifully it flows. Jane has weight, form, balance, variations in timing all with a minimum of lines and details.

This is why learning your principles are so important! Construction, line of action, movement are all more important than having a lot of details that you can't control.






Ken has no problem with difficult angles like heads that tilt up and away. You can't do this kind of animation if you learn to draw in a flat style.
Ken is also original. He relies less on Disney formula motions and cliches. He makes up his own gestures and expressions. That must be especially hard in an environment that is so used to doing everything in a way that has already be done.

http://www.cartoonthrills.org/blog/Moderncartoons/Disney/Janeroughclipsml.mov
It would also be very hard to be an assistant animator on such a complex character. Ken gets a lot of strong expression in his roughs and that's hard to preserve when you start adding flesh and details. There is a natural tendency to tone things down.


Some of these expressions are not quite as broad as the roughs, but the assistant work is really good anyway. There is a lot of appeal in these cleanups and the construction is very well maintained. I've seen a lot of Disney animation that has some pretty weak cleanups.

Like they have all these fluid Disney animators do all the animation, but then send it to Dic to get the Ghostbusters crew to clean it all up in Saturday Morning cartoon style.




These faces are great. And the way she anticipates her arm gesture before she points is really cute and clever.

http://www.cartoonthrills.org/blog/Moderncartoons/Disney/Janecleanclipsml.mov

I wonder what Ken would do if unleashed on a more cartoony project. He manages to get a lot of life and originality in his animation, even within a corporate environment. I would love to work with him someday on my girl characters. I bet all you boys would have to keep your popcorn on your laps all through the movie.



I think I'm gonna have to break down and buy the Tarzan DVD, because I remember some unique acting scenes Ken did and want to show them to you.

He does a lot of really specific acting and expressions, expressions that you've seen real girls do, but never before in cartoons. He is a rare observer of life that is able to translate what he observes into caricature and entertainment without first filtering it through what he thinks animation is supposed to look like. That's what us animators are supposed to do...I think.

50 comments:

tiny dean said...

Wow! I am thoroughly surprised. You're generally so harsh on Disney work I did not expect to find you heap praise on something from one of their feature films---and a modern one no less!

I am not complaining, though. I acknowledge that in the past you have pointed out artistic virtues found in Disney projects (like your recent "Donald's Diary" post). I also agree with some of your many criticisms regarding The Mouse. I am just surprised when you find something you like about a work Disney has turned out.

If you want Tarzan on DVD, I am willing give it to you---seriously. Consider it me returning the favor of you sending that Preston Blair book. Just let me know if you want it.

Martyn Drake said...

In my most ever so humble opinion, the best woman character in a cartoon has been Belle in Beauty and the Beast - modelled after former Groundlings girl, Sherri Stoner.

I've always found her cartoon alter egos to be fascinating in their movements, and I just love how the character designers and animators enchance features such as the eyes and lips.

Maximum Awesome said...

This is really interesting, and I remember you saying Stitch was some of the best animation you'd seen - would you consider mentioning some other good points you see in post-70s animation, stuff you'd keep even if you could do everything your way?

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

I might be wrong, but I'm guessing the "cleanup" version isn't cleanup at all. Seems to me it's Duncan's tied down pass, then inbetweened by an inbetweener. As far as I've heard, he's known to be a very tight draftsman (like Baxter or Sergio Pablos).

Jeff LaMarche said...

Unfortunately, it looks like Ken has mostly left the realm of drawn animation and is supervising other animators on relatively mediocre CGI movies - since leaving Disney, he's been the animation supervisor on Shark Tale, The Wild, and TMNT. What a waste of talent.

It's too bad corporate environments don't appreciate their talent more. I'm guessing (just guessing, I have no firsthand knowledge) that in order to take a promotion and make more money, he had to move out of the animator role and into something more managerial. *sigh*

/\/\ikeB said...

Try checking out Belle near the beginning of Beauty and the Beast. There's some skillfull stuff when she's in the library, swinging on the ladder. Her dress was a lot more fluid too ( must've been a bitch to animate though ).

Taber said...

Great stuff. So well controlled and solidly drawn. I'm about to go into my advanced 2D animation course at school and I'm really nervous that I wont be able to draw well enough to convincingly portray my character. Study time!

Weirdo said...

Very interesting. I didn't expect this, but hey, you give credit where credit is due. I think it would be cool to have Ken Duncan do cartoonnier stuff with you. That would be an interesting combination. Excellent post. You inspire us aspiring animators/cartoonists.

Kyle said...

"Wow! I am thoroughly surprised. You're generally so harsh on Disney work I did not expect to find you heap praise on something from one of their feature films---and a modern one no less!"

my thoughts exaclty. :)


I still need to buy the dvd myself, and I was going to, but Ive been waiting for a platinum edition to release. might not be worth the wait though.

Art F. said...

Hey John. I have that DVD if ya want to borrow it. It'll save you some cash.

Frank Macchia said...

haha oh man...i remember that george liquor program...where sodie pops bikini would dissapear if yo uclicked on it....ohhh John..thank you for corrupting me at such a tender age hahaha.

PCUnfunny said...

"Wow! I am thoroughly surprised. You're generally so harsh on Disney work I did not expect to find you heap praise on something from one of their feature films---and a modern one no less!"

John dose quite often so no surprise to me. Getting back on topic, Ken Duncan's animation is great. I find it amazing that recent Disney films actually have some great animation sometimes and never fully take advantage of good artists. All the good animation is usually either focused on one character or in in-betweens that go by too fast.


"I still need to buy the dvd myself, and I was going to, but Ive been waiting for a platinum edition to release. might not be worth the wait though."

Get the old one. Which each succceeding release of animated films, techinicians always add more and more problems.

Dume3 said...

The animation is technically adequate but the character's design and overall movements are still pure cal arts. Her mouth movements are so broad and distracting. Very typical. Just look at the mom in Iron Giant you can see the same thing.

Tom Dougherty said...

There is nothing you could have said on this blog that could shock me more than this Tarzan post. I've dismissed this whole film, but based on that charming clip I think I'll rent it and pick through it for the good things, which really is something I should always do. No point in damning the good parts because of the bad parts.

That little clip was really cute and interesting.

Ben Forbes said...

Surprising... though there are a few good Disney girls.

And could you post the actual Sody animation? All we keep seeing is screencaps... which probably don't show the full effect of great animation of a girl.

gabriel valles said...

I like the poses and animation, it is very solid looking. Is this the same guy that animated the Ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast? That was a very solid scene and my favorite drawings from that movie. Belle's face construction really fell apart in that library scene though. My only problem with Kens animation here is that She has what I call "dead eyes" it may just be the result of sticking too close to the modelsheets.

Speaking of "dead eyes", this is one of those things that you never hear anybody talking about but is a problem that is everywhere. I was talking to a friend about this after looking through the book "Cartoon Modern". There is only one artist in the whole book that draws eyes that make the character seem alive and that's Ed Benedict.

Look at these examples ( http://johnkstuff.blogspot.com/2006/04/design-3-ed-benedict-and-fred.html )

Pretty much everything you posted last week are good examples of living eyes too.

Emmett said...

What are the best ways to practice animating women? What sort of movements? Trial and error?

I have never seen TARZAN all the way through, but it would be nice to see that pencil test. No matter how much life drawing, I still have problems with women's anatomy.

Mr. Semaj said...

Ken did ace work on Meg from Hercules, and she was one of the only interesting characters throughout the film.

However, from what little I've seen of Tarzan, I felt the coloring brought down otherwise good work on Jane. The animators still haven't figured out that females' eyes can be something other than just blue, regardless of their personality.

flashfilmchen.de said...

hello john,

this blog is the best, without it i would not know nothing bout preston blair and draw as crappy as before.

this comment has nothing to do with todays topic, it's bout drawing in flash. when i draw the construction lines with a wacom i set the color of the brush to ca 60% alpha and use object drawing mode. this way i can sculpt the line a little bit or correct forms i'vbe drawn. please excuse my english, it's so bad i hope you get what i am trying to say.

peace,
dennis

www.flashfilmchen.de

Bitter Animator said...

I still haven't seen Tarzan. I guess I'll have to watch it now. I was privvy to some of the development work though and some of the early Jane sketches were lovely, as were the early drawings of the hunter character.

Though, at the time, they really stood out as being a completely different style to the rest of the characters, especially Tarzan who seemed like a modified Aladdin, though I have nothing but the utmost admiration for Glen Keane - probably one of the nicest and most down-to-Earth animators I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. I never saw if the designs were pulled back to the more Disneyfied look to get it all to gel.

Must check it out.

John A said...

Ken Duncan animated Meg in Hercules and the Captain in Treasure Planet, another well animated female character. He also has a very cute wife that was also an artist at Disney's.(some people speculate that there's a little more of her in the designs than the actresses that provided the voices)

Tarzan was a wonderful film--best film they had done in years. All the animators on this film turned in first rate work. If there was a weak link in this particular feature, it would have to be Rosie O'Donnel as Turk. the decision to cast her was an obvious corporate rather than artistic one. (Rosie had a talk show at the time, and the suits thought that having her name attached to the film would help promote the film.) Since a movie like Tarzan's success relies on a believable interaction between humans and animals,she's completely out of place with the whole film. Plus there are a lot of people that just plain don't like her, and let that color their opinion of an otherwise fantastic movie.

Dume3 said...

"Tarzan was a wonderful film--best film they had done in years. All the animators on this film turned in first rate work. If there was a weak link in this particular feature, it would have to be Rosie O'Donnel as Turk. the decision to cast her was an obvious corporate rather than artistic one. (Rosie had a talk show at the time, and the suits thought that having her name attached to the film would help promote the film.) Since a movie like Tarzan's success relies on a believable interaction between humans and animals,she's completely out of place with the whole film. Plus there are a lot of people that just plain don't like her, and let that color their opinion of an otherwise fantastic movie."

I have problems with the design of Tarzan. The way they drew his hair in clumps was awful. And why did they give him a hook nose?

Other complaints: The water in the movie has the viscosity of spit. The stupid gimmick of having Tarzan slide on the tree branches like Tony Hawk. I remember one animator trying unsuccesfully to explain how Tarzan glides on the moss. So ridiculous. The jungle scenes are overly heavy on yellow tones.

If the movie has a strong point, it's the villain.

Sean Worsham said...

Ha I was just watching Tarzan on dvd last night. I remember a lot of people at the Academy for criticizing that Jan looked like a chipmunk in her profile. That always teed me off because I felt the animator and designers of Jane were trying to aim for something unique and more cartoony for the character as opposed to trying something realistic.

Her design and animations and acting beat Ariel from the Little Mermaid at least in my opinion.

Robert said...

Hey, those pencil clips are a great find.

One thing that strikes me is the difficulty I, a novice animator, have in seeing the rough and correctly sensing what it will look like when finished. Of course the animator knows where he's going with it, but how many bystanders do?

Do you suppose part of the problem in big studio animation is that executives panic when they see a reel of these roughs and try to "fix" them with "notes"?

Jeff LaMarche said...

Other complaints: [snip] The stupid gimmick of having Tarzan slide on the tree branches like Tony Hawk.

Gasp! Shock! Horror! They had a cartoon character doing something that real people couldn't do! OMFG! The sky is falling, man! Call the FBI, the CIA, the PTA, somebody!

Seriously, though: I think the only reason something like this stands out in a Disney film is that they normally don't have the characters in their feature films defy the laws of physics quite as blatantly as this, except with occasional throwaway gags for comic relief.

I think one of John's points in this blog has been that cartoon characters don't have to obey the laws of physics and cartoons can be a lot more fun when they don't.

Justin said...

John, you could tear this scene to shreds and your minions would still support you.

Dume3 said...

"Gasp! Shock! Horror! They had a cartoon character doing something that real people couldn't do! OMFG! The sky is falling, man! Call the FBI, the CIA, the PTA, somebody!"

Real people can skateboard like Tony Hawk. Just because something seems 'wacky' doesn't make it good. You seem to think that most modern disney movies are bad because they are bland. I think they're bad because they're crass and and poorly drawn.

"I think one of John's points in this blog has been that cartoon characters don't have to obey the laws of physics and cartoons can be a lot more fun when they don't."

The Fairly Odd Parents doesn't obey the laws of physics. does that make it fun? A semi-realistic cartoon like Bambi is ten times more entertaining because the people who made it had skill. But there hasn't been a good Disney movie since Sleeping Beauty.

Dume3 said...

"Ha I was just watching Tarzan on dvd last night. I remember a lot of people at the Academy for criticizing that Jan looked like a chipmunk in her profile. That always teed me off because I felt the animator and designers of Jane were trying to aim for something unique and more cartoony for the character as opposed to trying something realistic."

If they wanted to make her cartoony then they should have made all the characters in the movie cartoony. And the setting should have been more cartoony.

Larry Levine said...

For once a Disney female that doesn't look their standard rotoscoped heroine. I really love her cartoonier design.

Chupa said...

OMG you pitched a cg project and complimented Disney all within a week. Dick Cheney must be wearing mittens down in his home tonight, it's clearly frozen over.

Ross Irving said...

Wow. I'm going to be studying this scene for weeks! This is one of the coolest things I've ever seen from anything Disney-related. I've always known that there were talented people there of course, but this guy's work really shines. I'll keep my eyes open for anything else he might be up to.

Thanks for posting these two clips, John!

Jeff Read said...

I dislike Tarzan on the whole. The grinding on vines was silly and reprehensible, just like giving Booboo a skateboard in Yo Yogi. (If you're going to animate from extreme sports guys, why not choose parkour artists instead?)

The movie did have a few upsides: it was perhaps the first major Disney theatrical release to de-emphasize the role of songs. There are a few Phil Collins tunes in there (Disney is going to run out of British artists soon; they're going to hit Duran Duran and Kylie Minogue and then it'll all go to shite) but many of those are BGMs and not sung by the characters.

Jane was one of the highlights. Her facial expressions were so cute, as were some of the things she does with her feet. It's been years since I've seen it but I seem to recall the in-betweening sometimes being mushy, in that kind of Disney way. There are also plenty of bright colors and CG water; so John, have a pair of sunglasses at the ready when you put in the DVD.

(Me, I've always liked bright colors...)

akira said...

wow! there were some good things in the Horton trailer, and now Disney produced something that has a few good parts??? next thing you're going to say some people at calarts use construction!..

i think there's lots of great stuff in the 80s and 90s disney animated movies.. they only had to animate like a minute per year i think, so they got to tweak and experiment a lot with their performances, and ended up producing quite a lot of original animation ideas. while Hercules kind of stinks as a movie, there's really some awesome cartoony animation in it.. i'd recommend that before tarzan, although it has more of a graphic (less constructed) look since it's based somewhat on gerald scarfe caricatures..

Roberto González said...

I also loved that design in the movie, most of the other characters looked weird but Jane was great. Jane and the colors in the movie were fantastic. Too bad the story was weak and the other characters looked so odd. The characters didn't have great personality other than their gestures too. Jane could also have been more interesting as a character, but she sure looked swell.

Jeff LaMarche said...

Real people can skateboard like Tony Hawk. Just because something seems 'wacky' doesn't make it good. You seem to think that most modern disney movies are bad because they are bland. I think they're bad because they're crass and and poorly drawn.

Actually, I don't think all recent Disney movies are "bad" (that's John). A few have been, but with most, I just think they're nowhere near as good as they could have been. As for being poorly drawn, I don't completely agree - I think they are inconsistent, with examples of good and not-so-good drawing in pretty much all of the recent movies.

The Fairly Odd Parents doesn't obey the laws of physics. does that make it fun? A semi-realistic cartoon like Bambi is ten times more entertaining because the people who made it had skill. But there hasn't been a good Disney movie since Sleeping Beauty.

That's some poor logic you're using there. I never said that making characters defy logic insured a good movie or show, just that it could be used as a tool to make movies more fun, and that Disney seems disinclined to use that tool very much in their feature movies. I have not personally watched the Fairly Oddparents, but I suspect I wouldn't care for it, but it's been on for a few years now, so somebody must like it.

Personally, I agree with you somewhat. I do agree the early animators had skill, and Bambi is a tremendous showcase for that. So are several of the scenes in Fantasia. Yet, despite that, I find neither one to be "tremendously entertaining"; I find both movies to be incredibly boring (except the Sorceror's Apprentice scene in Fantasia which I could watch repeatedly). I can see all the good things about them from an animation perspective, but they still bore the piss out of me.

On the other hand, I do think there have been good movies since Sleeping Beauty. I thoroughly enjoyed Lilo and Stitch, for example. Find whatever fault you will with it, it doesn't matter: I enjoyed it tremendously.

And that's because personal taste is inherently subjective. None of us are going to agree on exactly what constitutes a "good" movie. I suspect if all of the people who followed this blog were to rank every animated movie ever as "good" or "bad", no two lists would match exactly.

But saying a movie is "bad" and then blaming it on something as simple as a character not obeying the laws of physics, or having been designed with a hooked nose seems to me a gross oversimplification, and that alone was the point of my response. Everything else you inferred from that response is guesswork on your part, and mostly wrong.

Pete Emslie said...

Nothing against Ken Duncan, but I have always had mixed feelings about the design of Jane in "Tarzan". It seemed to me at the time that there was a bit of the anime look creeping into Disney's character designs back then. It really became too much for my liking on Jim Hawkins in "Treasure Planet", which gets my vote for worst Disney character design of all time. What I specifically don't care for is the great distance between the eyes and the tip of the nose in the front and 3/4 views, where there is no indication of what the nose shape is. Also, in the case of Jim Hawkins, the eyes just seem glassy and devoid of life (just like in most anime, in my opinion).

I actually much prefer Ken Duncan's work on Meg in "Hercules". Yeah, I know you probably don't like her because of the "tude" expressions, John, but I think overall Meg is a really interesting design and personality type. By the way, I'm not knocking Ken's animation of Jane, which I agree sparkles with life, but I'm just not that sold on her visual design for the aforementioned reason.

cemenTIMental said...

I remember some horrendously off-model faces in Tarzan; features floating around all over the place and looking like 2nd generation Deviantart.com anime fanart at points. Also the 'deep canvas' background technology was used in a really unsubtle and clunky way compared to the Studio Ghibli films it was developed for.

Still, it was an interesting departure with some redeeming features.

Jeff Read said...

Lilo & Stitch was an excellent movie. With a title character who looked like a cross between Ren Höek and Max from Sam & Max, what's not to love?


Pete, you and John may be succcessful at weaning me off anime design yet! In the past I would've loved it, but today I would look at a character and think "They just drew two O's for eyes and a sideways D for a mouth."

TheZealot said...

There is always an artist to love at the Diz. And though the films from the Tarzan era have a lot of corporate meddling, there's always artistry within so compelling that I'll sift it out. In Tarzan, the two leads stand out (keane and duncan), and the DVD (with the penciled cover) has generous pencil content! In Lilo and Stitch, Chris Sanders manages to get a bulkier, but nevertheless attractive, character designs on screen and out of the corporate norm - as well as some the best cartoon mischief that we've seen in those circles for a while. In Treasure Planet, Long John Silver is definitely a complex personality and the single reason I watch the movie more than once.
Let's hope the creative direction of Lasseter will weed out the "sameness" and "cookie-cutter-ness" of the recent Corporate Disney model. I think there's a good 50/50 bet on that one.

pappy d said...

Ken has his own studio in Pasadena doing CG work.

http://www.duncanstudio.com/

gabriel valles:

The ballroom scene was by James Baxter who also has a studio in Pasadena, doing traditional.

http://www.jamesbaxteranimation.com/

pappy d said...

Ken has his own studio in Pasadena doing CG work.

http://www.duncanstudio.com/

gabriel valles:

The ballroom scene was by James Baxter who also has a studio in Pasadena, doing traditional.

http://www.jamesbaxteranimation.com/

Jeff Read said...

thezealot:

Amen to that. Lilo, Stitch, and the other little kids look like muppets with their round heads and huge mouths. But it works; it's ever so charming, expressive, and doesn't fall back on the focus-tested standard Disney notion of "cuteness". The adult females, like Nani, have body proportions that border on the Crumb-esque -- big shapely hips and legs. Having considerable appreciation of the voluptuous female form, I was surprised and delighted to see such a design reach a "mainstream" production.

Jeff Read said...

Tarzan also had one other really cool part: when Tarzy first delivers the iconic "Tarzan yell" (as an adult, after killing a leopard which had been threatening his gorilla clan), the score changes key twice to match the tone of the yell. I loved that.

Dume3 said...

"That's some poor logic you're using there. I never said that making characters defy logic insured a good movie or show, just that it could be used as a tool to make movies more fun, and that Disney seems disinclined to use that tool very much in their feature movies."

There are many qualities that can provide fun. Tasteless skateboarding references in an otherwise serious story is not one of them.

"I have not personally watched the Fairly Oddparents, but I suspect I wouldn't care for it, but it's been on for a few years now, so somebody must like it."

"Personally, I agree with you somewhat. I do agree the early animators had skill, and Bambi is a tremendous showcase for that. So are several of the scenes in Fantasia. Yet, despite that, I find neither one to be "tremendously entertaining"; I find both movies to be incredibly boring (except the Sorceror's Apprentice scene in Fantasia which I could watch repeatedly). I can see all the good things about them from an animation perspective, but they still bore the piss out of me."

Why?

"On the other hand, I do think there have been good movies since Sleeping Beauty. I thoroughly enjoyed Lilo and Stitch, for example. Find whatever fault you will with it, it doesn't matter: I enjoyed it tremendously."

I didn't.

"I suspect if all of the people who followed this blog were to rank every animated movie ever as "good" or "bad", no two lists would match exactly."

Just because people can't agree doesn't mean there isn't a correct answer.

"But saying a movie is "bad" and then blaming it on something as simple as a character not obeying the laws of physics..."

I never made any such criticism. Having him skateboard on tree branches is a dumb idea. Whether or no it is really possible is irrelavent to me.

Weirdo said...

John, do you think animators should do their own cleanups? that way, we can see their animation the way they see it in their heads.

Carlo Lo Raso said...

I remember having to draw Jane for merchandise artwork when I worked at DCP. I found her face very difficult to get a handle on since her features had a certain amount of exaggeration but not so much that she looked ugly. It was very easy to overdo it and lose the cuteness that Ken was able to achieve in his drawings. Ken was a super nice guy by the way. Very down to earth and eager to help me learn how to capture Jane. Actually ,as a whole, working with that Tarzan crew was one of the best experiences I had during my 9 years at Consumer Products. They were all top notch folk personally and professionally. And just to touch on what Peter said about the character designs on Treasure Planet; I always thought they looked like the characters from that 70s Nelvana film Rock and Rule.

freqazoidiac said...

still, I find Ken Duncan's Postures rigid. Nice gesturing no doubt..but look at her arms..always in triangle spread.. why is she heavily grounded? locked shoulders, but that's just critique of course. Ladies are no doubt a challenge to draw plus animate, but in a good way. Thanks for the hyper informative blog. I am thankful of this learning tool. Retaining a creative, expansive, no holds barred animation style is essential for growth in the industry and art form.

groo said...

John,
just wanted to say "thanks heaps" for this post, especially the animation clips. I got to spend some very productive hours while on holidays, studying the rough animation and trying to learn something by redrawing it myself:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27pp7SoWEr4

Thanks again,
GRoo.

Subject #645-3 said...

I'm surprised, John. I watched this again recently, and I agree: these are some pretty good poses. The possibility of him working with you...wow, that was weird.

Anyways, out of curiosity: what do you think of any of the other animators for this movie (i.e. John Ripa or Glen Keane)?

Oh, and not to throw my hat into an argument: looking back on it, the whole branch-surfing thing isn't a bad idea (nor a good idea neither), yet I'm still wondering about the whole crooked nose and dreadlocks thing.

cuchillero said...

Recently I have discovered the real model Ken used for Jane's character. That's why she's so special and original for a cartoon, such an unmistakeble nose... and so sexy too. That's very funny for a Disney movie, a true strike of wit and humour.