Friday, March 21, 2008

Pete Emslie and I discuss Rocky and Stylization

Hi John,
Originally I was going to post this in your comments section. However, I'm wondering whether you might be interested in posting it as a topic and responding with your own ideas on this subject. Let me know if if that would work, otherwise I'll just post it in the comments section as I'd originally planned, wordy though it may be! :)

Hi John,
I'm going to play devil's advocate a bit here and say that, although I understand your reasons for liking these "Rocky and Bullwinkle" screen shots, I'm wondering how you'd feel about them if they were the work of animation students in a Character Design school assignment. For the record, this is the type of situation that comes up constantly in my own college course on Character Design and I'm often at odds as to how to deal with it. As you know, I share your high regard for the solid construction principles of Preston Blair, and place a strong emphasis on students learning and applying those principles. Because of that, I have to hold up good structure as one of the main criteria by which I grade their assignments. In the second semester I do allow one assignment where they may explore a less dimensional, more graphic approach if they choose to, but I do so with some reservation and expect them to still convince me of how the character will animate from pose to pose and from front view to profile.

You've used the term "wonky" to aptly describe amateurish, awkward character drawing and design, but I'm not sure how one would distinguish "wonky" from good drawing that takes great liberties with proportion and structure, in any manner other than intuitive. As a longtime professional cartoonist, you certainly know in your gut when something is good rather than awkward, but how would you back up that artistic judgment call with solid reasoning in the form of a written assessment of a student's work? I believe that these drawings of Bullwinkle work within the context of the entire scene of animation, yet I am not sure how I might respond to them if taken out of context as individual and inconsistent poses on a student's model sheet assignment. Even if my gut instinct tells me that they really have something, how can I give that student a better grade despite the inconsistencies, while trying to explain to another student why he received a lesser grade for work that may have similar flaws but lacks something that is, quite frankly, intangible, being subject only to my intuition and personal taste?

I hope you'll understand and appreciate this dilemma, as I suspect it is one that all art and animation instructors have fretted over many times in their career. Alas, art is not cut and dried like math or science, where there are clear right or wrong answers. Though one tries to be as open-minded and objective as possible, when it comes right down to it, it is a subjective judgment call on the part of every instructor. As such, unless we set certain parameters and criteria by which to measure a student's work, it makes it tougher when we're later held accountable for our decisions and resulting grades.

Pete Emslie

Hi Pete

good letter.

These Rocky and Bullwinkle drawings are only slightly off kilter.

They still have basic sensible construction. The details wrap around the larger forms and are very slightly skewed - unlike modern design where none of the shapes that make up a character are related to each other. Each element just floats independently from the others.

That's what I call "wonky" - like that new "George Of The Jungle" which is anarchic drawing. Every shape just goes in arbitrary directions with no overall form or position, and no composition within the frame at all

They (the Rocky and Bullwinkle frames) all have great clarity of staging

great use of negative shapes

Line of Action

Opposing poses (characters balanced against each other naturally)

design balance - curves against straights, empty space VS filled space


Variety of shapes and forms and textures

Appeal, cuteness

Funny looking

They have a lot of what we like about Hirschfeld

As far as consistency of model, I am completely opposed to that anyway. I find on model to be bland and boring (at least in the modern definition of "on-model")

Chuck Jones sure played with the models from pose to pose in his cartoons, and I think you like those

Now as far as students go, I would not allow them to draw style and would never encourage them to design their own characters

That's where the problems happen

they get too tied-up in trying to be individuals when they don't know anything yet
You can't design something while you are trying to learn how to move something. Move something that is already built for movement by a professional-animate Mickey Mouse or Elmer Fudd, something simple that actually is built to move in 3-dimensional space

They should learn to draw, learn to animate all the basic principles

that is way more important than style, and you can't have a style if you have no knowledge or skill

all the stylish cartoons that are worshipped by animation students were animated and designed by classic animators. Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom, Mars and Beyond, Gerald McBoingBoing etc. They all use most of the classic principles and just shake up one or 2 aspects to make a graphic statement

I would take these types of drawings (Bullwinkle, UPA, Hirschfeld) and show how all the principles are there.

Maybe if I get time, I will do a post like that

I hesitate anymore to post too many modern drawings next to classic drawings. When you see the 2 juxtaposed, the differences between anarchy and control and thought become obvious

but then the flame wars and hate starts

I somtimes think I should have 2 blogs-one for basic concepts and principles that are viewable to everyone

and then another for more sophisticated concepts that only accomplished artists can view.

When I get past basic stuff and into more complex theories and principles, everyone goes crazy

"How dare you not like Family Guy! It's supposed to be ugly!"


so I am going to tone down my comparisons from now on and just show what I like. Unfortunately some understanding suffers from the lack of comparison between good and bad


Mattieshoe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pinkboi said...

Nothing is more fearful than imagination without taste.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Cory and Tashina said...

John. You rock.

Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

Pete Emslie is a great teacher. You can tell.

- trevor.

Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

Do artists really create their style consciously?

I wouldn't think so. I figured that an artist is an individual, and that individuality is the filter through which they see everything, so their cartoons just look that way.... period.

Mike Peters told me he never had a style, he just kept drawing and learning principles and after several years, before he knew it, there was a 'Mike Peters style' in newspaper comics.

Granted, having Jeff McNelly as a friend and mentor probably didn't hurt.

- trevor.

Mitch K said...

It's unfortunate that you're discouraged about juxtaposing good and bad drawings! The truth is made so obvious when you are able to do that!

Pete's class was fun while I was there. That man actually loves cartoons!

The Butcher said...

"so I am going to tone down my comparisons from now on and just show what I like. Unfortunately some understanding suffers from the lack of comparison between good and bad"

Awww, c'mon. I like it when you post bad drawings and talk shit about modern cartoons. Ignore the fools, the rest of us need to know what to avoid.

Pete Emslie said...

Thanks to Mitch and Trevor for the kind words. When it comes to the animated cartoon, I do what I can to keep "cartoon" in there as an important part of the equation.

In regard to John's hesitation to show examples of "bad" cartoon design, I can certainly relate. In my role as a Character Design instructor, I continue to wrestle with my conscience over that same dilemma. On the one hand, I feel I need to be as openminded as possible when looking at contemporary TV animation design, trying to accept something on its own terms in judging its artistic merit. On the other hand, I believe that one has to be discerning as well when making a judgment call, and not be afraid to take a stand against what one perceives to be plain bad design. If we abstain from engaging in honest criticism, then mediocrity will thrive and take over more of the cartoon industry.

In my course, I do compare what I feel to be good design versus awkward or bad design when I lecture on the concept of "Visual Appeal". I do this in much the same manner as John is doing, in that I point out in the samples I show, why something does or doesn't work in terms of shape, line and contrast, etc. I do this with some trepidation, however, fully aware that there may be students who really like the shows I am critical of. By breaking down a design critically in regard to its components, I hope that they'll understand that I'm not just putting something down because I personally don't like it, but rather, that I'm trying to get them to to be more analytical in judging what they see and applying that same critical analysis to their own work.

I think what John does here on his blog is admirable in that he's able to break things down in terms of valid visual design criteria, giving good reasoned criticism in his opinions. This is what all aspiring cartoonists need to learn how to do themselves in their observations of various animated character designs. Until you know why something is appealing in design or not, you will never know how to make such improvements in your own work.

Raff said...

As for the dilemma, I know what I'd want a teacher to teach me - to develop one strength at a time through exercises. Just teach basic tools of visual design for example, and let the student use or not use them to his taste once all the exercises are completed and graded. Let 'appropriately broken rules' and things that involve judgement calls be a topic of class discussion, not a thing to grade on an exam.

Similarly, I don't tell my guitar students to criticize bands with sloppy timing, I just make them practice scales and rhythms to a metronome, and let them mess with the beat once they've demonstrated the strength to play it straight.

JaZilla said...

mattieshoe said "Well, it's hard to start a flame war over family guy here; seeing as nobody looking for a blog about classic cartoons could possibly hold that in high regards."

Not true. I love Family Guy, classic cartoons, and Ren & Stimpy. Each has their own merits. I don't believe that animation is so limited that there is only one way to use it as the medium for your stories.

There's a lot I can learn here about design, even if I don't share John K.'s specific likes and dislikes. Besides, how can I learn if I only read what I already know and agree with?