Monday, April 21, 2008

Mars Here On Earth

As I have mentioned before, we cartoonists and animators easily fall into creative cliches and artistic ruts, by drawing the same things the same ways over and over again for years. (We are encouraged to do that by non-creative management and a broken production system, so it's not completely our fault, but we also are slaves to trends unless we will ourselves to go against all that is conservative and holy.

We get stuck drawing the same stock expressions, poses and character designs and don't even realize it.

This applies also to background artists. You can see the same stock trees, plants, houses in tons of cartoons. Trees are always the same brown, sky is always the same blue, foliage and grass is always the same green.

The only way to break out of this pattern of animation sameness, is to observe the world. Take a trip to Mars if you can afford it.We went to the Huntington Library last year and took a bunch of pictures of their desert exhibit. You can't believe how weird and varied the life forms of just one environment are!
The way they have landscaped it is like a tour of evolution. You can see certain types of forms in each area and then a million variations of the forms. Like these cacti that are flattened star forms stacked on top of each other.Here's a Martian star cacti with pubic hair.

If you are a painter, you can get a ton of color ideas and break out of the primary, secondary pouring colors straight out of the tubes cartoon palette.

If you don't want to draw stock flat cheat designs anymore, you can study the hierarchy of forms in infinite varieties. (I'll do a post about this soon)
Textures also come in a thrilling variety.

How many times do you draw the exact same bark texture on your trees? Go out and look at how many different really interesting kinds of bark there are. (In Canada all cartoon background objects , not just trees, have the exact same surface texture, trees, houses, dirt, mountains are all covered with the same Sheridan College Layout Class surface itch.)

How many colors can you find just in these rocks alone?

Humans and Martians also come in many forms.


Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Very nice! You can see where legends about giants come from. It's hard to see a cactus and not believe that a giant is just below the ground with his whatchamacallit hanging out.

David Germain said...

Wow! Not only do you get to see all those great plant and earth varieties, but you also get to hang out with Carla from Cheers (Rhea Perlman). You have a terrific life.

Zack said...

As always,
It is a pleasure reading your blog

Jim Rockford said...

Wheres Sam Malone & Diane "the stick"?

Kenny said...

Thats one happy cactus

JonnyPlank said...

This is EXCELLENT! I've been trying to get into background design recently, and this is just the inspiration boost I needed! I think I'll go out and take some pictures of the side walk, now!

Oh, also, I tried to do a drawing of you. I think it turned out okay.

Chaplin said...

That second photo scares the crap outta me.

PCUnfunny said...

It's amazing how strange nature really is. God, or whatever the creator is called, really dose have a sense of humor.

"Carla from Cheers (Rhea Perlman)"

Ah ! I knew she looked familiar !

Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

The first time I noticed this was when I lived in a trailer on someone's property, and they lived in the middle of the woods.

Moreover, the groundskeeper was an amateur landscaper, so I had a ton of varying foliage to study. Before long, I realized I didn't have enough shades of green!

Holy shit! It's Rhea Pearlman! And she doesn't look a day older than Carla from 'Cheers'!

- trevor.

Gabriele_Gabba said...

Buahahaha that last one gave me the chills! I love this post, such a good topic to raise. I remember when i was drawing my layouts for my first 2D work the first thing i did was the A-typical bark, grass and sky. I think in a way its become symbolic/stereotypical of just what those objects are. I totally agree with you though and i like your reference to mars because when we draw outside of the 'norm' it tends to bring an outer worldly quality to it doesn't it?

Payo said...

That's so weird - as soon as I saw that first photo I thought "That must be the Huntington Library." As a kid, we used to hop the fence and go running around in there late at night amongst all the weird plants - usually with a last stop in the Japanese garden to ring the gong and haul ass before the security guards showed up. They're opening up a Chinese garden soon (might already be open) which should offer up even more amazing plants.

Payo said...

Of all of the Rhea Perlman commenters, no one mentioned the hacked copy of The Catcher in the Rye that she's holding. Personally, I'm intrigued.

Barbara said...

Those are some gorgey pictures--I've never seen a more picturesque-looking yucca..and no pissed-off bees flying out of it, either! Ah, the wonders of nature.

pumml said...

Great post, John. I'll be adding these to my interesting plants reference folder. Thanks!

Julián Höek said...

very inspirational post!
did you sketched something from that place john? it would be great to see what you are talking about.

The Butcher said...

Dude, I'm bookmarking this post.

Colter said...

Phallic cacti 1 - Boring Background 0

kungfukoi said...

I love this post....

So much I wish I could marry it.

Thank Jeebus for John K.

heh. >;-P

Mr. Semaj said...

I love biology! Use more examples in your future posts.

But beware of the cock cati.

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Mr. Semaj said...

Rephrase: cockti.

Shad said...

We only get to Los Angeles a few times a year but when I'm there my eyes are always to the many strange things:

The Butcher said...

You know what else is a great inspiration is insects and marine life, especially marine life. Anything that's alien, weird, or doesn't quite register with human brains is good for wacky, surreal realms and crazy colors.

Powli said...

I think botany and zoology are incredible references for cartoons. There are so many things in those fields that we look past or rarely see that have amazing qualities to them. Also, that Popeye looks horrendous. What's with the pig nose?

Nico said...

hey! i see these desert plants like every day.

Nsixqatsi said...

I love you, John K.

Chris_Garrison said...

Please show some examples of this "Sheridan College Layout Class surface itch," in the near future. Because I don't really know what you're talking about.

JonnyPlank said...

Chris_Garrison said...

"Please show some examples of this "Sheridan College Layout Class surface itch," in the near future. Because I don't really know what you're talking about."

I also haven't got a clue what he's talking about. I watch Canadian animation a lot, and most of it is flat flat FLAT. No textures. They're often lucky if they even have SHADOWS these days. They all use this program, I forget it's name, but it does most of the animation for them. It even gets the characters to lipsynch for them. And even though it's all animated in a "3D" space, the animators are so bad with the program, it's even flatter than actual 2D animation! Canadian animation has gone to shit since the glory days of Ryan Larkin. I think our animators fell harder and faster than yours. The fall of American animation was long and drawn out. In Canada, animation just suddenly sucked without warning.

JohnK said...

"Please show some examples of this "Sheridan College Layout Class surface itch," in the near future. Because I don't really know what you're talking about."

Well maybe now that all the cartoons are super flat and primitive, they no longer have any textures.

But a few years ago before the flat craze hit Canada everything was noodly, cluttered and itchy looking.

Greg said...

you guys are so quick to bash Sheridan students. Ever taken a look at some of their blogs john? I'm sure you haven't.

Generalization is a great tool for ignorant people.

Here's a link to an archive of Shridan student Blogs posted by Mark Mayerson. Yeah you'll find some poor work. But you'll also find some incredible work, worthy of even YOUR respect John.

Everything has it’s good and bad. Even you yourself have done good work and bad John.

You're a great mentor for up and comming animators. We look up to you. But don't dis credit all of us if you haven't even taken the time to look at our work.

JohnK said...

Hey Greg

don't get your butt in a barbed wire fence.

I am not bashing students.

It's the system that is to blame. You can't not notice that cartoons get more and more primitive every year, can you?

And life comes with generalizations. They are very handy for understanding patterns and concepts.

There are always exceptions to every generalization, but they don't disprove the categories.

I wish there were a lot more exceptions, and that's why I spend so much time on this blog-to help people break the pattern.

Gavin Freitas said...

Cool plants John. I do get stuck in those ruts, I need to break out from it.

David Germain said...

Hey, John, are you maybe referring to something like The Raccoons? (Believe it or not, that was a hit song in Canada).
Yeah, things could be better in the Canadian animation industry that's for sure. One friend of mine told me about his dealing with a producer on a project in Saskatoon. The guy demanded to know why the grass was painted a nice bright green. He and others spent I don't now how many hours trying to explain to him that "well, it's a night time scene. At night time, everything is a darker colour." But, he still couldn't understand what they were saying and kept insisting that the grass be repainted a brighter green.

Executives! >:P

Greg said...


I understand what you're saying. I know i sounded pissed, but i appreciate what youre doing for the animation community.

and yes i do notice the increasing bland nature of animation.

I'll be perfectly honest, you're a huge inspiration to myself and a lot of us here at sheridan. Frankly, i found it offensive that you singled us out as a cause of the problem towards the blandness of animation. We're not totally wide eyed, naieve, and stupid, trust me, we see the problems in the industry too. and yeah sure, we're just students at this point, but theres a chunk of us who genuinely care about animation as an art form and would like to improve whats been done to it.

and yeah, you do have a point. Having been at sheridan for 3 years now. Ever since they tried to make animation a Bachlor program, it's gone to hell. Thankfully we know the value of resources like your blog. Not all of us, but a lot of us strive to improve on our skills every day.

as I'm sure you and a lot of your readers know. animation isnt just a simple career path. For those who really take it seriously, it's a life style.

So I'm sorry If i got all defensive there. but I'm passionate about it and I know some incredible artists that are students here at sheridan that will go on to do great things in the animation world.

i urge you to look at some of our blogs in your free time John.

haha and don't forget John. at one point you were a sheridan student as well. said...

A Rhea Perlman appearance and you don't even MENTION IT?!?!

K. said...

I go to sheridan (well did) and I see the problem as well.

The thing is, the students are being pulled in two different directions, and instead of being taught old standards they're being left to choose inbetween, and alot of them choose the easy way out.

I've seen the animation and alot of it is very...I'm very disappointed. It is no where as bad as Calarts, I will say that outright. Alot of these kids have some good talent.

But it's so poorly utilized. There are so many final projects that I see that are so...jerky, so amateur. Where it's unoriginal, where it's just downright boring as well.

I'm glad some of them are trying their hardest to go, well, the harder route to learn, but I don't know whether that's going to help them in this current industry or not.