Friday, March 21, 2008

Hierarchy 2: Character Design Balance: Rocky and Bullwinkle Step By Step

The difference between a thoughtful cartoonist and a random cartoonist is that the thoughtful one organizes all the elements that make up his drawings into a whole. He is thinking clarity of design, functionality and then an appealing arrangement of the shapes. Style happens only as an afterthought. After the important drawing and design principles have been covered.

An inexperienced and unskilled cartoonist thinks of the individual pieces and his personal style and ends up with a cluttered, disconnected uncontrolled random image.

The drawings from the first episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle are skilled organized images that display most of the classic cartoon principles. On the surface, you may look at them and think, "Oh! That's that 'UPA style' where everything is simple, designy and flat!"

Based upon that superficial observation you might then decide whether you like it or not. People who don't like things to look too simple will think "Oh that's easy to do. There are hardly any details."

this has a lot of details and some reasonable drawing skill, but no design or organization of the total image. Too many details can make an image hard to read and not have a point of view.

People who love UPA because it is superficially simple will think. "What genius! There are hardly any details!"

Cartoonists use lines of action to express characters' attitude through the body. A line of action is even more primordial than a skeleton. Once you have decided on your line of action, then you form your character along that path.

When you have 2 characters together you need to balance each of their body attitudes together so that:

1) They read clearly
2) that we know the difference between them, either as characters in general or their individual attitudes at the moment
3) They create an appealing or aesthetic balance.

I picked this image because it has a very simple pair of lines of actions, just to make this point clear.

Here is an image with no thought to lines of action, let alone opposing ones.
Here is an image with a nonsensical attempt at line of action:

I see young artists do this all the time. They put a curve in the body, thinking they are drawing a line of action.
Line of action is a tool that points your character in a direction. It has to have balance and go somewhere-forward backward, etc.

This drawing has no direction or attitude. It is merely bent. Bullwinkle's huge head in this position would cause him to fall backwards. It's a very awkward uncontrolled drawing.
2 Proportions
Proportions do a lot to help or hurt your drawings. Even proportions tend to look generic and bland. Odd proportions are more interesting.

Bullwinkle has very unique proportions. He has an extra long torso and tiny skinny legs.
His skull is much smaller than his muzzle.

Even the structure of his torso has uneven proportions. The chest area is shorter than his belly.

Bullwinkle's proportions contrast strongly against Rocky's more even "cute" proportions.

Here is a drawing that doesn't use Bullwinkle's contrasted uneven proportions:

Hi muzzle is more nearly the size of his skull. The body is the same size as his head. His body is not as skinny as the god drawing we are discussing. All contrasts have been dulled down.

3 Construction and Negative Shapes- Bullwinkle

I combined these 2 concepts because I couldn't figure out how to separate them.

Bullwinkle has sensible construction in the basic shapes that form him. As I was putting together these shapes, I had to look at the relationship between each shape and the next.

Negative shapes:
I do this by looking at the shapes of the spaces between them. These empty spaces are every bit as important as the filled spaces.

The empty spaces help us see the forms. Unskilled artists tend to have cluttered drawings. What makes them cluttered? There are no spaces- or no planned spaces.

The spaces should have appealing shapes too.

Note the thought in this drawing-not every part of the filled structures have the same amount odd spaces between them.

The arm on the left is close to Bullwinkle's side, while the arm on the right is much more in the clear where you can see it. The artist wants you to see that arm. It is waving. If the other arm also had the same amount of large space between it and the body, then it would compete for attention with the right arm.

Here is a picture made by someone not conscious of the usefulness and appeal of negative shapes:

Construction: Parts of Bullwinkle that in the finished drawing are made up of smaller parts are well organized. They fit within the larger forms.

His Antlers have a very definite overall shape. They aren't just wiggly lines. The negative shape in between them helps define their overall shape.

Unlike these:

Fingers are part of the hand shape. The hand flows out of the arm.
Rocky's proportions are more even than Bullwinkle's but not totally even. He is a bit more than 2 heads high. His design lies more in his details than in his form, but that's for the next post...

Note that Rocky's construction flows along his line of action. I have seen many artists start out with a line of action, but then lose it when they plop the construction on top of it. It happens all the time.

How did this artist avoid that problem? Compare the left side of Rocky's body to the right side. The right side puffs out more. It is a convex curve. The line on the other side is straighter. It doesn't puff out. This makes Rocky appear to have his chest coming towards us.

I am always harping on my artists not to add big lumpy details that break up the silhouettes and lines of action in their drawings. Your final drawings should have clarity of direction and attitude, and too many lumps and details that stick out of the silhouette eat those concepts up.

Raff here missed that subtlety - as many artists do. But now that I've explained it, I'm sure he will get it on his next try, and be a much richer man for it!


I'll explain that in the next post. I'll also add the details of the characters and show how the they follow same principles that I discussed here.

Style is the last element of a good drawing. If your drawing doesn't have all these other principles in it, then it won't have style. It will just be a jumble of mistakes.


Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

That shot of the villians by candelight: in an effort to 'get' what you're on about, I'm going to re-draw it the way I think it SHOULD be according to your specification.

Tell me what you think when I do?

- trevor.

ps: Also, gonna draw the lessons.

Dan! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan! said...

Hmm, I'm still not too sure on what's wrong with the Bullwinkle drawing. I would've thought that it was accomplishing line of action that's accentuated by the book and chemistry set and composes in Boris. I guess I'm still not clear on what's uncontrolled about.

Maybe it'd help if you could explain how it could be improved into a more successful drawing?

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Wow! A real gem of a post! This blog amounts to a free art school!

Kyle said...

are you going to do another video lesson john? I think that would rock.

as I mentioned back on your bugs post, line of action is still something I struggle with. I know it should have the character lean forward or back. my problem is giving the character a reason to lean one way or another. sure, its easy to do when doing extremes like being scared, or maybe sneezing or being sneaky, but more often than not I find myself thinking the character is going to fall.

Raff said...

*scrolls down* Say...that drawing looks familiar, it's - IT'S MINE! I got Johnked! Ouch!

So...lumps that break up the silhouette. The one I see are in:

Bullwinkle's arm
One or both of Rocky's feet
Bullwinkle's feet too
The bottom of Bullwinkle's cranium sphere

Which ones did I miss?

Gavin Freitas said...

Yes I agree with Eddie, this is free art school. I'm getting better with this step John. I still need more practice and VERY few teachers at school teach this to students like myself. A very useful blog John, thanks.......

Tony C. said...

Dynamite post John! It really helps when you break this stuff down like this.

Keep this stuff coming!

patchwork said...

once again, well written!!! I hadn't thought much about complimentary lines of action before

Peter Gray said...

Found a great negative shape in a Norman Rockwell painting which I think people have missed..

The negative shape is a Church even with the cross at the top. Very clever. John your thoughts and many references has really inspired me. Working my way Month by month to catch up...thanks for inspiring me.
From England...Surrey...

amir avni said...

Another Masterpost!

"He is thinking clarity of design, functionality and then an appealing arrangement of the shapes. Style happens only as an afterthought"

--this is the most important aspect of cartooning! It often gets overlooked

Chris said...

Hey John, I just wanted to say I really appreciate your time constructing these really in-depth posts. They are constantly causing me to rethink and reassess my understanding of what makes for expert cartooning. Every time I read a new post on your blog I just want to drop everything and start applying what I've learned. Thanks a lot.


J Hobart B said...

Is it okay if I marry this post?

Philip Willey said...

Good stuff, thanks for doing it

Jason Miskimins said...

Nice post. Very interesting.

Brian said...

I'm gonna print all these Rocky and Bullwinkle posts and make a notebook! I love this!

Timefishblue said...

amazing post!
this is super useful

Jeff Read said...

Completely unrelated:

Real life Feed the Kitty. Awwwwwwwwwwwwww.

Gavin Freitas said...

Hey John. I wanted draw the R&B post that you have here, I thought it would be a good exercise. The link is here to the drawing. It's not exact but I had fun doing it...

Jeremy Brooks said...

Thanks John. Your "step by step" posts are always extremely helpful.

Anonymous said...


Could you explain line of action a little more? I understand it when it's something simple like in the rocky and bullwinkle drawing here, but otherwise, I can't understand it.

I used to think it was more like the spine of the character, but then I see model sheets with the line of action flowing through the leg, or the arm, and I don't get it!


Mark Stroud said...

This info along with the other posts on this blog are the things they should be teaching when your an art student. Construction, line of action, color theory, composition ect. We get it piece meal if we get it at all when we're in school.

The information I have now I wish I had from the start. I've probably learned more and progressed further in the months since graduation than I ever did when I was there.

anyway rant over..John please give us more, I hunger for knowledge.

Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

Hey John,

I tried to apply your rules about negative space to that picture you posted of Natasha and Boris.

Tell me what you think, please?

- trevor.

Mitch L said...

Awesome post.


wangho said...

wow, even before you mentioned your love for the 1st season of the Flintstones, 1st episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle, 1st season of The Flintstones, and first few years of Hanna Barbera stuff, I always noticed the greatness and how they specifically stood above the rest. Im no art student, but understand your keen eye and observations. All of these shows early on were so appealing.

Just wondering if you're a fan of Deputy Dawg by Terrytoons?? This show was as close to Hanna Barbera as you could get, but had its own charm and outstanding music. Your pal Ralph Bakshi even provided art on a handful of DD shorts.

THE SIR, James Suhr said...

i love that you've been talking alot lately about rocky and bullwinkle! i think it was a show that had some great things to it. and i've also got to say that this post was really great and just wonderful to read. i will work harder on making sure i pay more attention to these principles in my drawings. thanks!

Michael Turek said...

I never realized that such simple characters are so elegantly constructed.

It's really incredible to see a professional's view of classic characters. I've really become interested in character design ever since I began reading this blog.