Thursday, May 29, 2008

Cartoon Skin VS Lumpypants

Eddie is fascinated by wrinkles, by real ones and he tells me theories about them all the time. This got me to thinking about how wrinkles are treated in cartoons.


Real wrinkles are really different than cartoon wrinkles.
Ever wonder why clothes fit so tight on old cartoon characters? Why the wrinkles don't look anything like real wrinkles?

Well it's for a logical practical purpose. It's much easier to move solid non-ambiguous forms through space to create smooth animation. Realistic wrinkles are way too elaborate and complicated to be able to control while animating. They are hard enough to draw as single images, let alone move. Anytime anyone tries it, the characters just seem to melt all over the screen. They have no form.
That's why wrinkles are kept to a minimum in old cartoons, and why they are generally very tightly wrapped around the forms of the characters. It makes an interesting surface look. It's called "cartoon skin".
The wrinkle physics of cartoon skin are applied to all surfaces of classic cartoons: flesh, fur, clothing.

Even Rod Scribner who loves wrinkles and draws lots of them, still doesn't draw them remotely realistic. He just does looser floppier cartoon skin and creates a very funny effect.


When I got started in the business they had abandoned cartoonskin in favor of a new form of equally unrealistic fabric surface - "Lumpypants".

This design approach is meant to be more sophisticated and serious than classic cartoon surfaces but it is doubly ironic:

1) It doesn't remotely look anything like the way wrinkles really look.
2) It's impossible to animate and makes the characters morph and melt all over the screen.

So in effect, it's both ugly and impractical at the same time, which seems to be the 2 general goals of animation ever since the late 60s.

Ugly and impractical equals "quality" in the minds of people who don't like cartoons, because it is so obviously not cartoony or fun.

Classic Disney used cartoonskin.

Disney - when it really was a "quality" animation studio used cartoonskin, even in its more elaborate high-minded features.
It was depressing drawing designless formless blobs in Saturday Morning cartoons in the 80s, but it was even more shocking to lovers of classic cartoons when "Disney" in the late 80s brought Saturday Morning cartoon design and Lumpypants to bigscreen big-budget fully animated productions.

LUMPYPANTS hit the big screen

There was a time when there was an obvious difference between quality cartoons and Saturday morning cartoons. You could tell instantly by the look of the designs what was a quality cartoon. Once Disney changed over to the Saturday Morning look it changed forever the automatic distinction between good and amateurish and gave tasteless executives even more control over big budget animation.

In effect we have DIC design fully animated.

Along with lumpypants came Saturday Morning cartoon storylines, too much exposition and explanation, bland music, Saturday Morning Cartoon colors and just general Saturday Morning Cartoon thinking all around - except with humongous budgets that somehow are supposed to magically turn all the bad creative decisions into quality.

The transition: Little Mermaid has a body and fish ass made of cartoon skin, but her hair is made of Ghostbuster Lumpypants.
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More on wrinkles in another thrilling article coming soon - comic book wrinkle theory


mike f. said...

Brilliant analytical post, makes perfect sense.

I hope you don't forget Willard Mullin when you get to newspaper comic strip wrinkles. He was a genius at stylizing simple, loose-fitting cartoon clothing.

PCUnfunny said...

I see what you mean John. Wrinkles in cartoons were not really wrinkles. They were more like skin. You are also right about the Saturday Morning Cartoon stuff. Disney features at least went out of there way to impress you with great animation but now it's dreck. They throw in a bunch of in-betweens, birght colors, songs, and characters that only have one trait. Okay, maybe the last one as always beeen Disney but not the rest. Even worse, they turn their frickin' Tv shows into movies and add a plot that only lasts ten minutes and stretch to an hour.

JohnK said...

Hi Mike

I will if you give me some scans.

HemlockMan said...

This is quite the education for a guy like me who grew up first with the early 60s TV toons, then discovered the grand Disney work later.

Even the mid-level animators of the early days were working on a level that seems to be forgotten now.

nullandvoid said...

that's why everyone should be naked in cartoons.

Dan said...

awesome post.
I wonder how much of these has to do with Japanese animation influence.

Can you explain a bit of the differences between Captain Hook's hair and Little mermaid's hair? why the first one is catoonskin but the second one is not?

Aaron said...

I was a little kid in the eighties, and my parents actually made me wear lumpy pants.

Mitch K said...

Haha This post is hilarious.

JohnK said...

Captain Hook's hair has a basic designed form and it flows around his head shape.

Mermaid's hair exists by itself in an alternate nebulous dimension.

The best animated hair I've seen is Marc Davis' Sleeping Beauty. It is truly designed as an overall form that is made up of sub forms, each of which has its own design, yet fits into the overall form.

And it all moves beautifully. So does her dress. Amazing magic.

JohnK said...

Hey Aaron,I love your caricatures.

Disposable Ninja said...

"Can you explain a bit of the differences between Captain Hook's hair and Little mermaid's hair?"

One of them appears to have an utterly magnificent combover worthy of Guinness. For whatever horrible reason, it's not Captain Hook.

Disposable Ninja said...

"Can you explain a bit of the differences between Captain Hook's hair and Little mermaid's hair?"

One of them appears to have an utterly magnificent combover worthy of Guinness. For whatever horrible reason, it's not Captain Hook.

Beast said...

Shaggy's lumpy pants are groovy, though,

And Yes, John. Aaron Philby's Caricatures are great!

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

Boy, you gotta get that Animaniacs stuff in every chance you get!

I think live action reference is a good idea if they actually pay attention to it, instead of just turning it back into formula.

Anonymous said...

You're a mighty wordsmith, Mr. K.

Nelson C. Woodstock said...

awesome post.
I wonder how much of these has to do with Japanese animation influence.

I'd wonder about that too. Japanese cartoons can have characters with very detailed wrinkles, especially shows from Madhouse. Maybe it's because the characters are more static, or they have fewer keyframes, but the wrinkles don't seem so bad. Asians have a bit of a different approach to art, as when Europe wanted to introduce abstract art to them they said "Yuck! Take it back!" and their perception of animation seems to be more of a cheap substitute for live action.

Here's a couple of clips from a Madhouse show which have very detailed wrinkles to the point you wonder why they don't iron their shirts.

On the American side, The Boondocks artists over at Adelaide seem to like characters with wrinkles in their clothes.

Frank Macchia said...

its funny you mention this cause a bunch of the designs ive been working with lately have the gohst buster pants...been a little frustraiting...ive studied the "science" of wrinkles and drapery in is pretty intereting, cause youd never think theres rhyme or reson to why drapery flds the way it does...but youre right..looks purdy good if you can pull it off in a still drawing...but i never thought it went well with an animated character

in fact..ive been told in the past that the "lumpy pants" wionkle approach is more skillful and a higher quality way of doing cartoon clothing...i always disageed with that..haha so thanks for justifying that opinion with this stuff

btw john..i did a post on your visit the other day..was cool stuff..really appreciate you takin some time to talk to us.

PCUnfunny said...

"I think live action reference is a good idea if they actually pay attention to it, instead of just turning it back into formula."

That reminds me, I recently borrowed Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life from my local library. There was section in the book about how Disney used live action preformers to act out scenes in their animated features. I remember one photo of a live action actress scowling as the Wicked Step Mother in Cinderealla, it's amazing how much the artist watered down that expression !

Anonymous said...

Hey John,

Not sure if you're looking for interns but I've done a couple sketches and a George drawing. If you have time, please give advice. Much appreciated. Sorry, I didn't know where to post this request.

resturant with color

Zack said...

That's exactly why I subscribed to this blog

Kyle said...

In all fareness, Ariels hair is bloby and lacking form because most of the time its underwater. but honestly I dont see anything wrong with it even above water.

I also dont see a problem with modern disney wrinkles. most of the time they look pretty good with a few exceptions. thier animated better than saturday morning stuff.

I do hate anime style wringles though. they go way overboard and its its distracting.

I think wringly skin works great with older style animation, but would look out of place in modern disney stuff. I didnt like it in Cinderella either. at least on the human characters.

Dan said...


ic what you mean..I will definately check out the hair in sleeping beauty.

Anonymous said...

John, where'd you get those pictures of my wardrobe?

Mullins is here:

He looks as if he drew the wrinkles at lightning speed and precision.

Hammerson said...

Well, it's about time to take off the Lumpypants and go back to the pure delightful cartoon skin. Terrific and thought provoking post, as usual! Definition of the modern Disney features as DIC style and "aesthetics" with huge budget and more inbetweens really hits the nail.
And the kissing scene from "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs" must be the greatest single example of successfully animated wrinkly clothes. There's such a complicated action and much detail in this scene, and yet everything looks smooth and perfectly controlled.

By the way, I made some new Jimmy drawings. Take a look at the last three posts on my practice blog . Also I'm preparing a list of links to all the people with George Liquor practice drawings, backgrounds, storyboards, etc. Anybody who's having a blog with GL stuff can contact me.

Mike said...

Bob Clampett was a stone fox.

Andy Norton said...

Some excellent, and amusing, observation on wrinkles in clothes in animation over the years.

Matt said...

I for one embrace lumpypants in many instances. If done properly, it allows for a greater breadth of variation in your character models. Cartoonskin is great for tube-armed rubber characters.

But when you get into the more sophisticated Disney features, I am actually more impressed when a wrinkly bunch of clothing can be properly animated without breaking my attention to the film.

Ariels hair on the other hand, would be a tough mass to figure out, since you have a character suspended in water constantly.

Perhaps you are being a bit to critical? But then again why else do I come here.

Whit said...

The crowd figures in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" were truly horrific and the cheesiest looking character design used by Disney up to that time.

Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

I've seen Sherri Stoner. Musta been some serious "imagineering" going on, cuz she sure as Susan don't look like that mermaid.

Hey John,

When you were working on Mighty Mouse with Bakshi, were you as conscious of the 'candy cane lane' colors as you are now? I wonder, because that show has some pretty garish color design, and I can't imagine you letting Ralph get away with it; that is, if you said anything at all.

Thanks for the insight, as always. Every time I read one of these informative posts, I start looking at things again with new eyes and ideals.

- trevor.

PS: If one were to write a book on Clampett, what type of rights would one have to get?

Larry Levine said...

How about when Fleischer put Popeye in the oversized baggy white sailor suit--would that be considered stylized lumpypants?

Mattieshoe said...

Booo Tooons:

they actually look nearly identical in some scenes.
(Namely he scenes that she actually modeled for)

In fact in some scenes Ariel seems positively rotoscoped from Stoner.

in the custom scenes, She looks nothing like Sherri.

PCUnfunny said...

Larry: Are you sure about that one ? Looks like skin to me.

mike: Please E-mail me. My E-mail is .

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Raff said...


Having a close look at the offender cartoons you're talking about, it seems that the more "realistic" they try to get, the less agreement there is on where the details are supposed to go as the forms turn.

How close together are the eyes? Where exactly are those bangs growing from? How tall is this character, anyway? (And in the case of The Ghostbusters, which cel is this? Didn't we already shoot this one a few frames ago?)

I'm looking forward to the next post.

JonnyPlank said...

I don't know if I entirely agree with you...

I watched the Ghost Busters cartoon, and although some of the timing in the animation was poor, and the posing stiff, I never saw anything especially bad about their clothing. Generally, that aspect animated quite well.

I also noticed you posted an anime picture. I have no idea what anime that's from, but by my experience, anime clothing animates very well. On the other hand, it's often drawn and animated in a very rigid sort of way, more like in-depth key frames than full animation.

But I agree with you explanation of why fabric is not realistically portrayed. It's really a compositional thing as much as a work load issue. You want characters with clear forms, so that you can read their features and actions well. You need to know what's going on. When they have a lot of superfluous lines all over the place, it gets harder to understand what's going on, unless every animator on the team knows exactly how to make every line animate with the proper emphasis.

I've seen quite a bit of traditional animation experimentation with fabric dynamics, but I rarely see any of it in professional work. Probably because it takes so much time and skill to be able to do it properly.

C. A. M. Thompson said...

Your cartoon vocabulary is hilarious, John.

Mr. Semaj said...

Ariel's hair bounces around a lot, even when she's on land. Her hair
is almost a character in itself.

"Lumpypants" seems to be an appropriate way to describe the way I design most of my characters. A lot of my character sketches tend to have long/voluminous hair or ridiculously baggy clothes (including sweater sleeves with no openings).

Mr. Semaj said...

And while we're on the subject...

Trevour said...

Looking at that picture of the Real Ghostbusters' "lumpypants" made my day!

Larry Levine said...

Hi PC, The Famous Studios era was skin but the original Fleischer version of WW2 white uniform was very loose but would move to match the contour of Popeye's body movements rather than just hang limp.

Roberto González said...

That's it! That's why I disliked the look of Hunchback Of Notre Dame so much. But for some reason most people think it's a masterpiece because of the "dark" themes and computer-generated complex scenes.

In Tarzan it was odd cause like you said, Jane looked very good but a lot of the other characters looked as if they have escaped from a Saturday Morning cartoon (Jane's dad, the monkeys...)

Incidentally I finally found some time and I made some attempts at Jimmy .

Newie said...

man i love ow you explain things, you answer quesons i didn't know i had, soooo.... THAT's what happend.Filmation sucks, but one thing, Japanese anime is "lumpy pants" and i think they make he design style appealing

Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

Hey John:

Are you still hiring for inkers?

Because I made some attempts at inking Sody.

If you have time, please drop by and take a look.

Yr. buddy,

- trevor.

Bernoully said...

Hi John,

I agree on dumping lumpypants from the cartoons, because cartoon skin is evolved to fit the practicality and beauty of cartoons. However, lumpypants have more or less been deeply integrated into the other category of animation (the "serious", non-cartoony), pretty difficult to change the perception imgrained.

Lumpypants are better utilized as still images, I feel. It helps define tougher material by showing how it suggests compressed folds. But animating them... that's very troublesome.

tiny dean said...

Hey John,

Since mike f. brought up Willard Mullins, you should check out Will Finn's blog ("Small Room"). He posted some drawings by Mullins. Maybe he can share some with you.

By the way, I like the phrase "Ghostbuster Lumpypants" or just "Lumpypants." You better copyright it soon (just kidding).

Alvaro said...

I guess that I prefer Cartoon skin, then.