Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ballantine 2

Here are some more Ballantine illustrations with thoughts as to how his style relates to animation.Animation beginners tend to think of design mostly in terms of individual character designs. A really studied designer thinks of the whole canvas.
These characters look superficially a lot like UPA characters or even modern flattish characters.
The characters are good, but to me the design is in how they fit into the larger picture scheme. It's not so much in the individual elements that make up the picture. Simple-looking by itself is not inherently stylish. What makes style and design is the organization of all the elements into a whole visual statement.

All these pictures are carefully arranged so as to be readable and not cluttered, to get the point of the illustration across and then on top of all that to be artistically pleasing.
Some of the pictures evoke the graphic style of the cultures being illustrated.
Obviously, Ballantine understands real drawing, perspective, composition and traditional artistic skills, but he chooses to thoughtfully use some and bend the rules of others.
He is not applying the exact same style to each of his images. He experiments with levels of stylization and different influences.
It's interesting to me that a bunch of animators in the 1950s used their animation drawing backgrounds to aim at a graphic style that had already come about in more traditional ways and more naturally by illustrators.

I think the illustrators were way ahead of the animators, because they had been doing it longer, and in general had higher drawing standards to live up to. There were also many more illustrators than animators. The field was much broader. Let's face it, in general illustrators draw better than animators. At least 50 years ago.

Cartoons developed their more limited graphic tools functionally- simple forms that turn in space easily, lines of action etc. all with the purpose to save time drawing so that they could more easily move the drawings.

Gerald McBoingBoing's characters always fit into the whole graphic image (at least for the first 2 cartoons) but many of the "flat" cartoons that followed didn't see that aspect of the design.

When they came to do the more graphic, illustrative styles they didn't have the strong artistic backgrounds and traditions of the illustrators. Nor the huge talent pool and higher artistic standards.

In some cases, this led to some really great stuff anyway - like the Hubley commercials which combined bold graphics with inventive and appropriate animation movements. In many cases it just amounted to a superficial awkward imitation of magazine illustration, without the good animation to make up for it.

The illustrators started with more detailed, more realistic and more traditional drawing tools and gradually moved towards more simple, more graphic statements that kept intact the broader stronger fundamental underlying artistic sense of order.

If you want to see some of the principles and skills Ballantine is applying to his compositions, click some of the labels below.


Ethan said...

Wow, great drawings. Thanks.

Ryan Cole said...

It's really spiffy to see multiple characters that look good together in a frame, yet differ from one another in terms of design and don't sprout from too many fundamental traits. They make a great cast.

Mitch Leeuwe said...

Thanks, enjoyed reading it.

John, do you have some drawings to practice inking on?

Lluis said...

Hello John, I've been a fan of your stuff for so long and I've been reading your Blog for months now and I'm so happy to have found it... to see real passion in art!! I don't do animation... though I'd like to... I illustrate and paint, try having fun!! reading your insight into things makes me understand things I've done without knowing it.
Thank you
and the art you show is so inspiring!!!
I've also thought that art 50 years ago was kinda more real or something... it seems kinda people now just have stars in the eyes and don't work on their passion like they used to (big generalization)...but I feel everyone is too smart for their own good!!

Paul B said...




Pat Cashin said...


Fantastic stuff!!!

Bill Ballantine was an artist and author who worked on Ringling as a clown in the late 40s. He returned to Ringling in 1969 as director of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College until 1977.

He always stressed to his students the importance of originality, creativity and well developed character as well as personal discipline, which are all just as evident in his art as they were in his clowning.

Bill's Wikipedia entry can be found at..

Thanks for posting these,
Pat Cashin

katya said...

does anyone know how i can get in touch with john k?!? thanks!

Timefishblue said...

Oh man, a clown! This is exciting!

Also John these pics are amazing! Are there any rules of thumb for composing a drawing like that, or is it a special kind of talent?

Chris S. said...

Let's face it, in general illustrators draw better than animators. At least 50 years ago.

That does seem to be the case. That being said, do you feel that an animator needs to have an "illustrator level" of ability to be a good animator? Is there a case of a phenomenal animator with limited illustration ability?