Friday, September 26, 2008

Diversity Within The Same Character

Here are 2 of my favorite stereotyped typical primitive every day white men. Loud, obnoxious, arrogant and stupid. We all have pointy noses that stick way out from our faces. We have no lips either. Only our women have any brains. But most offensive to me personally is the idea that we have triangles for ears. Animation is even more mired in generalization these days, that it discourages variety in character designs of any species. Many cartoons today think it's a sign of quality to have every character look exactly the same as each other - especially in prime time. Even the dog will have the same face as its master, except with a dog nose pasted on. Animation has always had to fight against its own tendency to generalize, but it's worse than ever today.

If your show is in a hip "pointy style", then every character is crawling with corners - and no individual face. Animation producers and executives and even creators just love to come up with tons of rules to stifle the imaginations of the few creative cartoonists we actually have in the industry.

This was not always quite so severe.

Don Patterson
There was a time when individual characters changed all the time from cartoon to cartoon - or even within the same cartoon. And I love this variety.

I have always loved cartoons, where you could tell the difference between animators by how they drew (and moved) the same characters.
Ed Love

Not only am I for creating distinct specific characters, I take it even further than that. I want each instance of each character to be diverse in the specifics, yet maintain his own general traits.
The biggest misunderstanding of a classic animation tool is the slavery to the model sheets that top animation brass foists on us today.

Model sheets used to be drawn to help animators get a round about visual description of the characters. It was still expected of the animators to come up with their own specific poses and expressions. Each animator would also draw the character's details in his own style. He couldn't help it. It's natural for actual creative people to put their own stamp on a character or even a scene. We are doing it, even when we try not to.

So I'm amazed that we have arguments about how we need to have less stereotypes in cartoons, when every studio you work at beats generalization into you until it becomes impossible for you to do anything unique that might break out of the whole generic field.
Yes please, let's make individual characters - and then on top of that - individual instances of each character for each emotion and for each artist.

Even the Flintstones, which were wildly erratic and "off-model" in the beginning are very generalized, toned-down versions of real living characters who had a lot more specific physical traits and personalities.
I used to have heated arguments with Ed Benedict about whether or not an animator should have some leeway to stray from the models at all. As unique a designer as he was, even he had been trained into believing that every animator had to draw the same way according to the tyrannical model sheets. But it's practically impossible for real creative people to do that.


trevor said...

I love that Ed Benedict model sheet. Those are great suggestions.

Did he also do the famous Barney with a big nose design? Why was that rejected?

I have to say, I've never seen a character as rounded and who looked anything like George Liquor. It's good to see you practice what you preach, John.

Now if only others would follow your example.

- trevor.

Jake the Animator said...

A great look at what makes characters unique and memorable. Thanks!

David Gale said...

Don't forget our tiny short legs and big barrel shaped torsos! A majority of my fellow Newfoundlanders exhibit this proud "lemon on toothpicks" body type. Is it as common in the general white population?

Zoran Taylor said...

I think this idea works because that's the way we see real people. Click through an online photo album and you'll notice how the same person's face changes. There are so many factors working at once: The lighting, the angle, the makeup or lack thereof, the expression and it's effect on the flesh that moves with it - but our eyes don't perceive these variables, only the variety they create. Ren and Stimpy took it a lot further, but in Clampett cartoons the characters mostly look the same, except for what the context does to them.

Charley Deppner said...

I'm currently "off my game" on the Flintstones.

But as much as I liked the more Norton-esque voice of Barney Rubble in the later episodes, I did like- if I remember correctly the "heavier" line weight of the early episodes. They seemed to have a real unique style to them.

This is solely based on memory so...

A) Did the early episodes in fact have a heaver line weight to them?

B) Was this possibly to accommodate early television technology?

Anyone know?

Caleb Bowen said...

I like the not-so-on model look. Especially if the story is on track and everything is in context.

Characters that are stiff and static are pleasing in a boring way. Your eyes like them because they don't have to work as much. I use to make flat angular characters, and I'm trying to get rid of that ugly habit.

Whit said...

Joe Barbera told Ed Benedict he wanted Barney Rubble to be a really dumb guy, so Ed came up with that great spaz Barney drawing. When he saw it, Joe 'got really mad!' according to Ed Benedict, and it was not used. Or so goes the legend.

Rotgut said...

zoran, that was very well put, very observant!

Rotgut said...

I know this is off-topic but I don't know where else to post it. Can anyone explain why there are so few places to go on the Internet to study the history of Terry-Toons (other than saying "because they suck")? I can't figure out why this is; that company produced hundreds of shorts yet there is so little to be found on the Net.

I'm a big fan of Deputy Dawg, Heckle & Jeckle, and especially Astronut. Sure, maybe I love 'emprimarily for nostalgic reasons but, like Bakshi Spider-Man, I still love 'em.

Wish there was more info on these great, funny, old, gay Teery-Toons cartoons!

pappy d said...

Hey, Newf!

I've got a theory. The body type with the long torso & short limbs may be a genetic adaptation to a cold environment. There have been isolated fishing villages in that part of Canada since Shakespeare's time & the Newfoundland dialect is very like standard 17th century English.

It's a design that helps to conserve body heat. The best example is the Inuit body type. Where the environment is hot, the reverse is true because it's necessary to radiate excess body heat.

I first noticed it in my black driving instructor. When we were walking together in the street, we were the same height, yet when we sat in the car, ( Lard t'underin' Jaysus!) he was 4 inches shorter than me.

No offence intended. Research bears me out. The oaf is a white racial stereotype.

David Gale said...

I think you're probably right, pappy.

pappy d said...


I'm with you on the subject of on/off model. Cartoon producers are obsessed with homogeneity of product. It's like Budweiser; reliably mediocre. At Filmation they didn't like to see ANY drawings that weren't on the model sheets.

It's like Mom used to say, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds."

Dave Jacob Hoffman said...

Back when I was a kid watching Ren & Stimpy, my dad would always go on about how great it was that the characters never looked the same from one moment to the next.

I don't know if you ever got a chance to see FLCL, but they let the individual animation directors have a lot of free reign over the style of their scenes. It makes for some strange (but compelling) sequences.

Whit said...

Odd thing about Budweiser: at the end of the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour they'll give you a free sample of fresh Bud. It tastes great, nothing like the swill they sell in cans and bottles by the same name. I think they have a whole department where cats piss in it just prior to container sealage.

James Dalby said...

I'd probably guess the reason why a piece may include characters with similar looks would probably be the result of a decision to create a more consistent style in general, independent of whether or not it might be considered unique. Could also help in managing these character more efficiently in production perhaps.

But now that I think about it, I guess you could create a selection of characters that could be considered both consistent in style, but still unique in form, from one another. I know for a fact that there are at least a few recent cartoons I've seen out there that rely on that kind of approach to character design. Stephen Hillenburg's stuff looks like it rests in the same boat with your arguement, and some of Seth MacFarlane's characters that I've seen have some pretty wild head designs.

Zoran Taylor said...

If the Fred in the one above the hammock shot wasn't drawn by either Stan or Jan Berenstein, I'll eat my hat.

Nikita said...

I can't even stay on my own models dammit!

and I believe that I may have found out what's causing the end of the world

watch one of the shows and try not to drink poison.

Elana Pritchard said...

To be creative and poor is better than stuffing your face and losing your freedom...

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

i love this on-model/off-model debate. we have it at work all the time (ESPECIALLY with our Disney characters). i used to pride myself in my drawings looking like photocopies of model sheets. now i tend to lean toward the more creative way to draw -- just draw the damn thing! that's when all the loose awesomeness comes out in the drawings!

i think my turning point was back when - in one week - Jim Smith and my friend Noel Cox (former Simpsons animator) BOTH said that model sheets are more like guide lines... and they don't even know each other!

nice to see this post as another reinforcer!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Well said! Thank God Clampett allowed his animators to show some individual style. It's fun to look at the films and try to guess who did what.

Anonymous said...

Hey johnk if you want you can check out a blog that im working on just for my favourite artist "YOU".
Did you already go through the coloring stages (I need major help in that area),if so is their a link to the page.

thanks again

HemlockMan said...

Arf! Funny comments, but I can argue.

Phantom Spitter said...

Hey John! I posted my copy of Milt Gross Funnies #1 on my blog! Check it out!

If you do another Gross-related post, help yourself to my scans.

Rudy Tenebre, esteemed secretary. said...

R.Crumb's comic-zine Wierdo* published a one page gag comic (rather nicely inked) in around '82 or '83, submitted anonymously from someone who worked at the HB studios at the time.

The submission included a note that xeroxes of this drawing had circulated throughout the studio before being rounded-up and destroyed.

The drawing depicts Fred being knocked-out by the chisled slab the paperboy hurls every morn, and while Fred lay unconcious, the lad has a quick romp with Wilma.

Cliche, yes.

However, the anecdote reflects the disgruntled atmosphere you tell us of, and coincides with your stint there.

Any idea who the CULPRIT was?

* Wierdo's editorial criteria seemed to accept anything nuerotically sexual and, with few exceptions, poorly drawn.

JohnK said...

Hey Jorge,

if you rewrite your comment without the f words, I'll be happy to post it.

Rudy Tenebre, esteemed secretary. said...

It was YOU, goddammit!! I smell you all over it!--and it's credited to a certain "Billy Bunting"-!!! Hah-haa, I deserve a mutherscratchin' prize, you damn subversive!! You old dog! They've been reprinting that piece in Wierdo #9 for 25 years!

That's right, kids, run out and buy an obscure piece of fledgling John K artwork for your collections!

trevor said...

Jorge is a potty-mouth.

- trevor.

trevor said...

Hey John,

I see you finally made that shirt with George slapping Ernie ( or was it Slab? ) for XLU.

I wonder why you didn't go with the more extreme head of George? It was super-cool!

I like the T-shirts where there's a really specific drawing ( my seamstress is currently repairing the 'Fat Bloated Eediot' shirt with THE BIG HOUSE BLUES drawing of Ren's eyes bugging out and squshing Stimpy because I wore it so many times... we're cutting it off and sewing it onto a whole new black shirt ).

I will surely buy one, but I wonder why you didn't go with any of the two extreme Georges in favor of going with the, as you called it, 'Generic George'?

Yr. buddy,

- trevor.

trevor said...

They've been reprinting that piece in Wierdo #9 for 25 years!

This Weirdo #9?

- trevor.

HemlockMan said...

Pretty much, I agree with everything you've said. I think I mentioned this before, but this post requires that I do so again:

One of the very first things that I noticed about Ren & Stimpy was that there didn't seem to be a regular "look" for them. It seemed obvious to me that this was a cartoon that didn't use heavily structured models. You could NEVER tell what kind of facial contortion one of your characters was going to undergo. This hooked me from the very beginning. (Of the older cartoonists, Robert McKimson seemed to do this, too.)

It opened up an endless series of physical and emotional jokes. Keep teaching this one lesson and you're doing a very good deed for animators who are coming down the pike and reading this blog.

Paul B said...

Hi John, i have a question

do you know when it was first used the term "cartoon"?

your pal Paul

Scott Haile said...

Your posts are growing more and more into a master's class on the art of screwball animation.

Your description of the studios destruction of creativity transcends animation into the experience of the whole damn IP crazed millennium.


Rudy Tenebre, esteemed secretary. said...

Trevor--- couldn't link to your highlite, so can't confirm...

C'mon Johnnie, cop to it, sweetums, I got ya cold.

Zack said...