Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Character Design: For Karen - What Makes Lasting "Iconic" Characters









Hi Karen

you asked me why modern characters don't have the lasting appeal of Looney Tunes and Hanna Barbera characters.

You said that even though some of your movies have made money, the characters don't seem to outlast their initial stories. In my opinion, that's because modern movies focus more on "the "arena", the formula animation plot and the special effects but they pay very little heed to character.

Characters that are charismatic, unique and engaging can fit into any "arena". Iconic classic characters appeared in different scenarios all the time, and the audience never questioned it. In fact they looked forward to seeing their favorite characters over and over again. What made these characters iconic?

I'll give you my theories. First of all, there is no one quality that makes an iconic character. There are various ingredients that go into it and not each lasting character has all the ingredients.



One ingredient, I think is the most essential (to a cartoon or film character):

The Look - the individual character design


A character has to have an automatically recognizable and appealing look, even if it has nothing else.You have to want to wear it on a t-shirt, just because it looks so nice.

It should make good toys.


Most of today's characters don't have distinct looks. They are semi-realistic and have no strong visual statement. No conviction to a design.
This stuff looks like it was designed for a 1985 DIC show.http://api.ning.com/files/ljtJAax46z2LPMwVG9NIVeWQ4zgj-ZK-KzmU3WxowmM7zE7WT1J2d9WOWqXGH2bzPNm*O8TT3b8Bb8hsIY7UcD*Szc8v-QdN/LEOG_TitleCard.png

Modern characters are generic to look at - some are even proud of it!

Do these look iconic? Do they make cute toys? If you saw these in the supermarket, would you know who they are? Or would you just say "Oh, there's a lumpy turtle! I'll get it for my niece Tabitha."


The Voice

Having a distinct cartoony voice adds a lot of instant appeal and recognition to a character.


Acting - Baby Bottleneck

Uploaded by chuckchillout8



It used to be an automatic requirement for cartoon characters to have strong distinctive voices. That's why cartoonists went to radio to find stars who made their living on their voices and acting alone.













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Uploaded by chuckchillout8


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Uploaded by chuckchillout8


Too many of today's cartoons use "star voices" which sound like no one in particular. If a cartoon character sounds like your next door neighbor, then he doesn't sound special or unique.

Here, turn this on, close your eyes and just listen to the voices. Doesn't it sound like your next door neighbors trying to solve a community problem? Can you tell one character from another?







Most characters that have lasted decades had strong distinctive character voices.


The Personality

Strong personalities like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Yogi Bear, Jinks the Cat seem real to an audience and therefore stand a chance of lasting a long time.http://www.tommcmahon.net/images/boobwood.jpg

WB characters don't have quite as distinct character designs as some other classic cartoons, but they have really distinct voices and personalities.


Compare these personalities to say, Droopy (who is in some great cartoons) or any characters in feature animation today. Modern feature animation characters have completely stock bland personalities. Every movie uses the same characters. The bland lead, the tough feisty woman, the gay villain, the obnoxious sidekick etc... these aren't unique individuals, because you see them all the time.

Colette







Uniqueness

Puck the Comic Weekly Promotional Portrait

A unique character has to be surprising, something you don't see every day of the week or has a combination of incongruent traits that add up to magic. They can have some traits you identify with, but can't merely have standard traits if they are to stand out from the tons of forgettable stock animated characters.

This uniqueness should reveal itself on as many levels as possible: the look, voice, personality, and movement.

Many WB characters have all these traits in one character.




The character that is the most unique ever created is Popeye.The image “http://images.barnesandnoble.com/images/14540000/14541624.JPG” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.



He is a bald old man with one eye, no teeth, scrawny except for bulbous forearms and calves. Despite being old and decrepit looking, he is the strongest man in the world and loves to fight. He gets extra strength from spinach. He is ignorant and has a completely unique made up dialect and voice. He is low class yet has great nobility.



In today's environment you could never sell a character this unique with so many odd traits, yet he is one of history's most famous and popular characters; purely American during America's best period.











Character Chemistry With Other Characters





A character doesn't exist by himself. He has to have other distinct characters who together create sparks and chemistry. When you have this type of clear entertaining relationship, the stories write themselves.









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http://www.cartage.org.lb/en/themes/arts/drawings/Comicstrip/HistoryofComics/BookGoldenAge/popeyecast.gif







So those are some of the ingredients that go into making characters so strong that you can make many stories out of them. They don't have to die after the first blockbuster weekend that doesn't make enough money to pay for the cost of production and marketing. Real star characters go on to make money for decades after their initial introduction. Why? Not because of the "story". But because people love the characters. The stories are written around the characters. This is the opposite thinking of today's "Create an arena and then stuff it full of characters that fit it."







But the most important ingredient in a star character is not the character himself or even any of the parts that go into it. The secret magical ingredient is the creator who understands character and chemistry. This ingredient is the rarest of them all.



I can explain to anyone conceptually what makes a good character, but that won't make it any easier for the listener to go ahead and start creating them.





You could know music theory and still never be able to come up with memorable melodies. It takes a certain kind of talent who can create melodies - not every musician can do it, even if they are virtuosos in other aspects of music.



The same thing applies to creating characters and being able to bring them to life. You have to just naturally have a feeling for character and gripping situations - and you have to have enough experience in your medium to know technically how to pull it off.



In live action, the actors themselves are the characters and they make it easy for the director by bringing their own custom made personalities with them.http://extremecatholic.blogspot.com/images/three-stooges.jpghttp://farm1.static.flickr.com/249/450229650_21371efd6b.jpgThe image “http://www.talkingpix.co.uk/Angels%20With%20Dirty%20Faces%203.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.http://i7.photobucket.com/albums/y264/MackMcCoy/sub1/maltese-falcon-bogart-lorre12.jpg



In animation, you have to be able to put yourself into the heads and hearts of many characters and that's why it is such a rare talent and not many animators can do it without a good director.

That's why these shorts programs are so crazy. Modern TV execs think that anybody can create characters and it's just a matter of luck until one comes along, so they try out anybody off the street and waste tons of money, instead of finding someone who actually has the talent and letting him develop it with a crew over time.





That's what Leon Schlesinger did at Looney Tunes. He found and nurtured the best cartoon directors in history. He let them experiment; they tried out lots of characters, honed their skills and they ended up creating more popular characters than anybody else....and made a ton of money for Warner Bros. for 60 years.



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http://www.gargaro.com/marvin/images/chuckjones.jpg



It's not enough to have great characters; you have to have great directors who know how to bring them to life.





How many horrible Bugs Bunny cartoons have you seen made in the last 25 years? It's not easy to keep characters alive, no matter how great their raw material is. You need the great director who understands character and uniqueness. That's the most important ingredient to lasting characters.





BONUS TREAT













150 comments:

HemlockMan said...

That was a priceless essay. Great stuff, and I agree completely.

Great photo of Lorre and Bogart. We darned sure don't have faces like those anymore. Not in the movies, at any rate.

Jake the Animator said...

Definitely something to think about for all us one-day-creators.

Ted said...

It's cheating to use strip images of Popeye and to not use strip images from Over the Hedge...

JohnK said...

what's a strip image?

you have whole clips of the movie there to listen to the voices and look at the designs

Zoran Taylor said...

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!! OH MAN, THAT KILLS ME!!!!! JOHN, YOU'RE A FUCKING GENIUS, I'M NOT EVEN KIDDING!!!!!
The best part is that the guy who MADE it (that "Mad World" AMV) probably had NO CLUE WHATSOEVER how perfectly ironic those lyrics are!!! That. Is. Just. Hilarious.

On a different note, I'd like to add an optional point to this: I think you've neglected to mention "The Iconic Moment". That's the shot and/or sequence in a cartoon that gives the merch something familiar to work with that isn't a stock pose.

I'm talking about the robed and capped Mickey with his magic wand on an ocean-side precipice.

Daffy sullenly giving Bugs a piece of his mind with his beak on backwards.

Rocky and Bullwinkle in freefall amid the clouds.

Yogi with one foot and one arm out of the brush, licking his lips in anticipation of the basketed bounty he's about to grab.

Fred in midair and mid-yabba.

A buzzing, screaming Simpson family in Dr. Monroe's electric chairs with their fingers on the buttons.

Ren and Stimpy gawking at each other, Ren pointing at himself with the Happy Helmet on.

If not for these SPECIFIC moments, half of the merchandise made out of those characters wouldn't exist, and it would be a lot harder to spoof or reference them either.

trevor said...

I hate the assumption that money and technology equals quality.

Executives piss me off, and the hardest part is that I used to be friends with some of them.

The worst ones are like the Baby Boomers: they thought the only way to fix things was to join the system so some of them, who were artists at one point, became the executives to try and make changes. Then they start saying things like "You can't fight City Hall".

Thanks for never selling out, John. You're a true hero.

When the head of Cartoon Network asked you why modern cartoons suck, at what point did he stop listening? Because he's certainly asking the right question to the right guy but obviously at some point, they stopped returning your phone calls I guess.

I'll just bet there isn't a single executive that reads this blog, and if they do, they're too ashamed to comment.

- trevor.

PS: Did I mention I hate executives? It's true. I do. Not ashamed about it either.

Mike Caracappa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Harley Jones said...

I think it's amazing that my kids can't remember Danny Phantom's name (I had to ask my wife about 'that ghost kid'), and they watch it every day. But they know Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Fred Flintstone, etc. And they see those cartoons sparsely.

For a while, my daughter kept calling Itchy & Scratchy (from the Simpsons) Tom & Jerry. (Why do kids love old Tom & Jerry so much? It always annoyed me.)

Wilde said...

Great post, more people need to read this kind of material.

SoleilSmile said...

Hey! I liked Freeling's cartoon's too! Put his picture up there!
Don't forget McKimson too. He gave us Taz and Foghorn Leghorn.

Rob Peters said...

Great article. The worst part about that Over The Hedge movie is that is was based on a comic strip. The comic is well drawn with very distinctive characters. The movie managed to ignore everything but the character names.

Andrés said...

The last Yogi Bear clip is supposed to support the argument of "iconic" characters? I hope so, I think they aren't out of character.

Ted said...

Strip image = image from a strip, not a short. You used some Popeye frames, but you also used strip art (implying you're talking about the overall character, not just a cartoon version); you only used Over the Hedge movie art (both are dumbed down from their strips, but OTH is much more dumbed down). The strip Over the Hedge is much more visually interesting than the movie. It's fair to say Popeye's genesis as an iconic character started in the strip, with Segar's designs, style and characterization; the characters in OTH had their genesis in a strip too, and are immediately recognizable (very similar to Walt Kelly characters, but immediately recognizable); it's unfair to the character itself to condemn it based on a bad derivative work. It would be like dismissing the _character_ of Bugs Bunny (or Popeye) because of a bad vitamin commercial (or decades of crappy cartoon versions).

As for the look being the most important part of what makes an iconic character: there's an angry mob of iconic characters out here, from Achilles to Sherlock Holmes, who would like a word. Look out for Jesus; he brought the nails.

Noah said...

Jon, I really love you blog because you are able to give animation insight and forethought and give solid examples of what's wrong with today's animation without siting examples from your own shows. A weaker man would happily post pictures from his own cartoons and say "this is how it should be done, I'm right and everyone else is wrong." And that is why, to me, this blog has not only lasting appeal, but is very truthful and intelligent.

Bob Flynn said...

Great assortment of thoughts and images to support you ideas. The bland factor certainly plays a role, and I too believe voice talent is a key part of the equation. I'm not sure CG characters will ever be as memorable as drawn characters simply because they are by definition, less iconic (and more complicated to look at, even if designed well).

I'd defend SpongeBob as one of the rare exceptions of an iconic character of our time. He meets most if not all of your requirements, especially under the directors of the first 2 or 3 seasons.

ByTito said...

John, great article. You get the point. No words to add, just FINE JOB!

Jack said...

"Every movie uses the same characters. The bland lead, the tough feisty woman, the gay villain, the obnoxious sidekick etc... these aren't unique individuals, because you see them all the time."

What are you talking about? Looney Tunes was nothing but stock personalities. The heckler, the dumb bad guy, the stupid sidekick ect. And they were used and recyled in all of their characters. The only difference between then and now is that now characters are less obnoxious. Sounds like an improvment to me.

PCUnfunny said...

"You need the great director who understands character and uniqueness"

And animators, and voice actors, and probably some more people I can't think of right. Really, to bring a cartoon character to life takes several people. Bugs, Daffy, Sylvester, etc. are not just empty suits anyone can slip into. They were alive and they existed in several people.

Mister Zero said...

'Here turn this on and close your eyes and just listen to the voices. Doesn't sound like your next dor neighbors trying to solve a community problem? '

HAHAHHAHA, thats fucking perfect.

Speaking of horrible Bugs Bunny cartoons in the past few decades, here's the capper- Baby Looney Tunes.

I never really noticed so much the characters interactions with other characters, but now looking back, especially with the lineups you posted, man, those were great cartoons. I always loved the interactions of Daffy, Bugs and Elmer Fudd.

JohnK said...

Hi Ted

boy, you are a man who likes to argue for the sake of it. I still don't understand your point.

I'm talking about iconic cartoon characters, not iconic novel characters.

No one would disagree that Tarzan and friends are not icons of literature.

Mickey Mouse is a cartoon character. He has no discernible personality, a lousy voice, yet he is still an icon. Just because he looks so appealing.

I just looked at the OTH comic strip. Well drawn for a strip, but nothing iconic to me. Just fairly well drawn typical modern comic book animals. Nothing close to the uniqueness of Popeye in either strip or animated form.

Your best friend,


John

PCUnfunny said...

"The only difference between then and now is that now characters are less obnoxious. Sounds like an improvment to me."

Spoken like a person who is completely ignorant of classic cartoons. In the old cartoons you could classify certain characters as overall being hecklers, morons, etc. but you could tell the difference between them. No way you could confuse Screwy Squirell and Bugs Bunny, they heckle but they have their own unique styles of heckling. Today they are all the same. No wit, no personality, no humor, just a role that needs to fill in space.

PCUnfunny said...

I just watched that Ratatouille video. Oh god, what is the point of explaining these characters ? They are just space fillers for generic Disney roles that have been repeated for over thirty years.

Andy said...

You're so damn right!!! Great post!!!

Bitter Animator said...

This post is gold. And it's a testament to the quality of the initial character work that so many can survive poorer versions of themselves, like Bugs, and still come out being perceived as iconic characters.

Jack said...

"No way you could confuse Screwy Squirell and Bugs Bunny, they heckle but they have their own unique styles of heckling."

Spoken like a person who believes everything they read. The same argument could be made about the modern characters John posted. They all have their unique traits specific to their stories. At least today animation has evoled from goofy slapstick to more deep and compelling storylines.

JohnK said...

deep

kapanpun said...

Eidos has definitely had a focus on iconic characters. From Lara Croft to Agent 47, to the upcoming Kane & Lynch. From what we saw of the game at E3, the characters exude bad-boy personality, which can also be seen in the trailer. Livingstone says that Kane originally looked much younger -- "a bit of a ladies' man." He says the decision was made to age him up and scar him to keep in line with the story. He also says that Lara Croft was originally going to be Lara Cruz, but then the decision was made to make her a posh British lady, so the team went through the phone book until they found the right name.

Andy said...

Okay... I don't really know much at all about cartoons but when I look at, for example, Bugs, Daffy and Elmer, they're just so distinct and unique compared to the cartoon characters of today. I think it's because today's cartoon characters tend to just be expressing the opinions of the writers... not the opinions the actual characters would have.

It's hard to explain but I hope someone understands me.

trevor said...

Jack:

Good name, because that's precisely what you know.

At least today animation has evoled from goofy slapstick to more deep and compelling storylines.

You don't read much, do you? Because if you want deep and compelling story lines, you're not going to find it on that screen in front of the couch. Pick up a book and thumb through some Proust if you want deep and compelling story lines.

And as for 'goofy slapstick', there are a great many authors and serious artists who will tell you that the reason they opted for drama was because comedy was too difficult to pull off.

My real question to you though is, because I've probably seen the same crappy modern animation you have ( even though I'm an Agnostic I've read the Bible several times for the same reason ), would you be so kind as to tell me where I could find these deep and compelling story lines?

Was it the whole, "I'm a rat who wants to cook" story line that you found particularly deep, or was it the compelling idea that "Hey, we're a family of Superheroes who look fake except the daughter's got realistic doll hair"?

Break it down for me, Son.

- trevor.

Rated-R said...

Damn, Yogi is right. I should quit smokin'.

Tigeroovy said...

"The same argument could be made about the modern characters John posted. They all have their unique traits specific to their stories."


It seems to me you kind of don't understand what he means by iconic.
He's talking about the characters overall traits, in ANY story or situation, the situation the character is in shouldn't make the character who they are. They're the same recognizable beloved character no matter what it is they are doing.

Beebo said...

Maybe someone finally realized you're the ONLY one who has managed to create iconic characters in the modern era? I sure hope they listen, but I doubt it, Ren and Stimpy made a TON of money for Nick, and had the almost impossible all-ages appeal, and they still killed it. People are just to out of touch with reality these days to give us consistant good creative entertainment on a large scale.

Ted said...

Over the Hedge's characters may not be icons, but it's unfair to damn the _characters_ for being bland and indistinct looking based on the movie when the characters' best face is significantly more interesting looking (especially when you're using images of other characters from outside of their films).

As to look: the look is usually important for characters who are iconic as cartoon characters, obviously, but iconic characters exist outside any one look, in cartoons and out. Santa Claus is recognizable with any number of differing looks. For cartoons, look at Woody Woodpecker; the good and watchable incarnation of Woody is very different from what he was by the end of Lantz's theatrical run. Woody's current look is a derivation of that final (in horribly unwatchable cartoons) theatrical look. When Mickey Mouse (a generic late '20s mouse) became an icon he wasn't anywhere as unique as even the worst Woody. And his look kept changing. Is Mickey remembered primarily as Steamboat Willy design or the Fantasia design? Or is he thought of as something else, a character that transcends his look?

Cartoon icons pop from look to look and remain icons. Do you not think this implies that the look is not the most important thing?

Roberto González said...

Great post. There are two things I'd disagree with though:

- I used to be a great Tom and Jerry fan, but now I'm not so much. Anyway I totally disagree with your line about them having only an "automatically recognizable and appealing look" and nothing else. I think they have very definitive personalities too.

-Even though I believe Ratatouille could have benefited from having more distinctive voice and more gags and less serious messages about "haute cuisine" I don't think the personality of the characters are SOOOOO generic as you make them to be. They could be more specific and I especially wanted Linguini to be a little less bland, cause he could have been a funnier lead if they had exaggerated his clumsiness instead of watering it down. But I don't think Colette is THAT generic. I'm talking about the personalities. Designs were mixed, Remy is pretty generic in its design, even if it's kind of cute for a CGI rat.

I agree with everything else,though, especially the voice thing.

introvert said...

Deep is much more entertaining. I want cartoons that I can think about, for long, long periods of time before I can finally come up with a reason to like them. If a cartoon doesn't make you have to work and look deep, deep within your own psyche in order to find any of it's appeal, then it isn't doing it's job.

The only reason the cartoons John ever talks about are good is because he spends so much time analyzing the hell out of them. Hell, I know this to be true because before reading his posts, I didn't even pay attention to half the cartoons he ever talks about, but after reading about how good they are, I activley seek them out. But pretty words on ancient relics of a past long behind us are meaningless. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. You can do it with any cartoon ever made, but John has way too many biases in order for that to happen.

Listen John, you are wasting your time trying to attribute depth and culture to slapstick and goofballs of ages long past. We have evolved since then. Our modern stuff has everything that primitive crap ever had and more. You just need to work harder and make long winded posts that tell us how good they are instead of how bad.

Which reminds me, I'm still waiting for your post about examples of modern cartoons that are just as good (if not better) than the ones you keep bringing up. Stop kidding yourself. We both know they exist, so stop being so stubborn and quit holding out on us!

Alberto said...

Just a thing, if I want a deep story, I prefer to read Dostoyevski or if I want deep comedy I prefer Don Quixote.
I mean, cartoon is cartooniness.

Brendan Body said...

Deep indeed.

Another great post John.

JohnK said...

I'm dying to know what one of these deep movies are and what about them makes them deep..

is it the rustbucket robot that cries? And the dark future where humans are soft, lethargic inactive and only eat junk food that they end up looking like animators who warn us against becoming like them?

The ugly green thing that finds out that real beauty is under the expensive pores and armpit hairs? The normal bland girl who sacrificies her normalcy by transforming herself into a green Oprah Winfrey in order to contemplate deeper things like too many pores and scraggly hairs?

Is it the suburban family that bickers but ultimately finds the meaning of being a family and that menopause needs to be respected?

Is it the Mom who struggles for a living and thus becomes cold, forcing her son to find love from Frankenstein Jr. but luckily the threat of a nuclear war brings them so close together that the mom marries her son's best friend and they all become hop heads together?



The gang of unlikely bedfellows that get thrust into a strange environment and then have to learn to get along and discover respect for others, but most of all for the beauty of "being allowed to be me"?

Maybe it's the hideous hunchback who falls in love with a beautiful transvestite only to be rejected by her/him in the end for a vacuous but sturdily proportioned mannequin?


All these have taught me things I never would have thought about had I not already seen Saturday Morning cartoons.

unrelatedwaffle said...

I think that the blandness in modern animation is a product of a number of factors. Visual industries have done their best to make a uniform product, because it's more cost-effective and less of a risk. If Model A is successful, if Model B is an exact copy, therefore it will also be successful. Comparing animated characters to actors is also telling. . .today's on-screen personalities look remarkably similar. Same makeup, same perfect plastic nose, same generic hair styles. Anyone who looks *different* isn't going to get a job in Hollywood anymore, and whatever happened to character actors?

Meanwhile, animation has been sped up with the advent of computers, which is presented as a blessing but is a curse in the same way that all technology is a curse in a world where time equals money. Like the housewife who spends many more hours cleaning WITH modern conveniences than she ever did without, the time "saved" through these devices is just expected to be filled with more, more, more. Animation has become a disposable commodity. If it's lousy, it doesn't matter, just throw it up on the screen because we spent this time on it and our deadline is fast approaching.

Adam T said...

I think the best approach to making your own memorable characters is to model them on the extreme personalities of people you know personally. It gives you a strong foundation to start playing.

For example I had an English teacher in school who had great big buck teeth, spoke with an English accent even though he grew up in Rhode Island, had a bulldog named 'Chauncey', wore a green sweater over a pink shirt everyday to class, bugged his eyes out when he was talking to you directly, and would get furious if people used 'who' instead of 'whom'.

Actually now that I think about it... High school teachers are probably the best source of inspiration for cartoon characters. He wasn't the only one.

PCUnfunny said...

"The same argument could be made about the modern characters John posted. They all have their unique traits specific to their stories"

What is the difference between Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin ? Don't just tell me one is yellow.


"At least today animation has evoled from goofy slapstick to more deep and compelling storylines."

Ignorance, just ignorance. What deep stortlines ? Ham fisted attempts at drama ? I grew up watching alot of garbage, I know these so-called deep animated films. Today's idea of character development when something sad happens is a shot of character staring down with a generic sad face and the camera pulling back. If your dumb enough to think songs are "dramatic shots" are character development, you're ignorant.

PCUnfunny said...

John LOL ! I always found Esmeralda quite mannish.

Zoran Taylor said...

Frankly, John, I think introvert might, JUST MIGHT be pulling your chain here. I mean, his name is INTROVERT!!! Or maybe he really is that ridiculous.

These "discussions" frustrate the hell out of me. It's not merely the fact that some neurotic, antagonistic virtual cadaver wants to strip you of your ideas, and by extension, your identity and your whole career. The worst part is that people like that, aside from being annoying and abusive, are giving "deep thought" a bad name! If you hang around me and pick my brains long enough, you WILL get an earful of pretty heady philosophy. I'm not ashamed to be that kind of person. But wasn't Albert Einstein a Charlie Chaplin fan? Didn't Clampett cite Dali as an influence?

I can think about Ren and Stimpy for "long, long periods of time" and find NEW reasons to like them, but it took me all of two seconds to find ONE reason to like them. Calvin and Hobbes is appealing on every level, but more than that, it blends the elements all together so expertly absorbingly that it all but dispenses with "levels". To me, REAL humanity exists in a place where goofiness and grit and serious thought are all just part of the same process. Depth without surface is just space. The world is a battlefield, a playground, a laboratory, a bordello and nuthouse rolled into one. It is ORGANIC. I don't know who decided to splinter those pieces apart, but they had no clue what they were doing.

Aw shucks, I just done some derp thunkin'! *hick laugh*

Sven Hoek said...

Hey introvert, go back to being introverted. Are you kidding me? We've evolved? More like DE-volved. The characters, voices, stories, animation, design, all have devolved into a bland sameness of thought and lack of creativity. Todays art is controlled by too few people all trying to make money and nothing else.

John has already proven himself and has exposed the industry for what it really is. He made them show their true motives. They kicked him off of his own show, took over Ren and Stimpy and made it in their own image, bland and crappy. I havent seen any of your stuff, i'm sure its great though. Real deep, yeah, that's what I love about cartoons, depth. You want depth, go jump in the ocean.

You know what's funny? Nipples. And one day I want the world to know the whunders of MY nipples.

John is right, as usual. And I especially agree with the idea that voices are truly lacking in todays cartoons. I can't find any voice work because my voice is too distinct and unique (a really bad thing to be in the voice world right now)The only cartoon voice that stands out in my mind is Mike Meyers in Shrek, i think it was the only good thing about that green mess.

Love you John,
Your biggest fan,
Steve i mean Sven

JohnK said...

Yeah, Introvert is obviously kidding, but he did inspire me to think deeply about the plots of modern animated features.

Ryan said...

Ted: you're talking about how can Woody Woodpecker and Mickey Mouse change their look and still be iconic. I think that they can be transformed so much and still be recognized is an important part of why you can call them iconic.

And I'm also going to give props to Spongebob for iconic characters. All you people on a crusade to make John admit there's some good modern cartoons, I think Spongebob is your best shot.

pappy d said...

Probably the single most important factor is to get the characters out before an audience. Most of you will live long enough to see the rise of a new generaton which loves the hell out of today's crappy shows just as you feel sentimental about Scooby-Doo or any of that other unadulterated crap I had to work on in my youth.

Every day I ask myself at least once:

What would Popeye do?

Caleb Bowen said...

Amen, John. I can't believe people are trying to defend some of these modern cartoon-like movies. I'm sorry if you worked on the film, or you have stock in the company, or you have bad taste.

Like Trevor said, comedy is too difficult for most actors. It takes years of sharpening your skills to do what the 3 stooges did. Have you ever seen someone try to do Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" I promise it will be awful every time. No sense of comedy timing, because they are too lazy to study.

One of the biggest problems I see is how the younger generations grow to hate the older generations so much, they are willing to throw away everything older. If slapstick is so easy, just do what Buster Keaton did- you will be richer than Jim Carrey and Jackie Chan combined.

The golden age animators were obviously interesting, well-rounded people compared to today. They loved life and music, not computers and tv.

If you want deep stories, look to Japanese animation(not anime) since they're about 15 years ahead in that department. If you want to laugh, however, you'll have to look somewhere else. Which is my point- I've never been laughing my ass off and saying "that's so deep" at the same time.

PCUnfunny said...

I was watching those clips in comparison and you are so right John. Bullwinkle, Yogi, Pixie, Dixie, etc. they sound like larger then life characters. When they talk, you'll be compelled to listen. Those Over The Hedge Characters are the total opposite, so boring and mundane. It's like none of the actors wanted to be in the recording studio at all.

Bitter Animator said...

>>Is it the Mom who struggles for a living and thus becomes cold, forcing her son to find love from Frankenstein Jr. but luckily the threat of a nuclear war brings them so close together that the mom marries her son's best friend and they all become hop heads together?<<

What's this one? I can't place it.

Kali Fontecchio said...

Your deepness runs right through to China, John.

ramapith said...

"Mickey Mouse... has no discernible personality, a lousy voice, yet he is still an icon. Just because he looks so appealing."

In 1930, dozens of characters looked like Mickey. A discernible personality was what made Mickey stand out:

• http://tinyurl.com/5gw38y

Some more examples:

• http://tinyurl.com/5z2u46 (awesome violence... maybe the best Mickey sequence ever done)
• http://tinyurl.com/5t2flp
• http://tinyurl.com/5t2qv4 (dig those awesome deathtraps!)

This comic strip was in hundreds of papers in the 1930s. It also formed the basis of the comic books and most 1930s Mickey children's books. Outside of theaters, Mickey was this: an edgier, funny, more interesting version of what the cartoons were trying to do from about 1932 to 1935.

In the wake of the 1950s Mickey Mouse Club the comics got dumbed down and Mickey lost his edge. But European editors didn't like that and kept Mickey tough. Here he is just two years ago:

• http://tinyurl.com/5jcwtx

Everywhere but the English speaking world, Mickey is still known as this gutsy little runt. Here we wonder why Mickey has no personality.

Jack said...

"I'm dying to know what one of these deep movies are and what about them makes them deep..

is it the rustbucket robot that cries? And the dark future where humans are soft, lethargic inactive and only eat junk food that they end up looking like animators who warn us against becoming like them?

The ugly green thing that finds out that real beauty is under the expensive pores and armpit hairs? The normal bland girl who sacrificies her normalcy by transforming herself into a green Oprah Winfrey in order to contemplate deeper things like too many pores and scraggly hairs?"

Well you can say that just as anyone could say Looney Tunes was just a bunch of animals chasing each other around a 1940's house/the woods for over 30 years.
Don Bluth is an example of someone who's been sucessful at making deep storylines in animated films. Anime is another great example. And all the films you listed have been huge sucesses so you're obviouly in the minority there.

PCUnfunny said...

"Well you can say that just as anyone could say Looney Tunes was just a bunch of animals chasing each other around a 1940's house/the woods for over 30 years."

Hello ? Hello ? Anybody home ? Think Jack ! Think ! You are only judging stories of those cartoons and that is an easy target. Look at Bugs at the beginning of Tortise Wins by a Hare. That complicated acting is anything but simple, you feel his pain. Look at Daffy at the end of "Duck Rabbit Duck !", he goes balistic. He dosen't even care if he gets shot again and we feel his pain through extreme drawings. Come back to this blog in ten years and watch classic cartoons in the meantime.

"Don Bluth is an example of someone who's been sucessful at making deep storylines in animated films."

Bluth can't make a character or story to save his life. His version of complicated acting is squash and stretch.

Brandon said...

Great article. Popeye is the greatest come back ever for anyone that thinks kids will only like characters that are totally awesome and have spiky blond hair.

I'd be interested to hear more of your thoughts on how characters interact with one another.

No character ever exists in a vacuum.

Jack said...

"Hello ? Hello ? Anybody home ? Think Jack ! Think ! You are only judging stories of those cartoons and that is an easy target."

Yeah just as John did.

"Bluth can't make a character or story to save his life. His version of complicated acting is squash and stretch."

That's funny how you just told me told me to look at "complicated acting" in Looney Tunes and then call Bluth films nothing but squash and stretch. Sounds a little backwards.

Anyway the post was directed at John.

JohnK said...

"Well you can say that just as anyone could say Looney Tunes was just a bunch of animals chasing each other around a 1940's house/the woods for over 30 years.
"

A lot of people did think that and copied them. And no one came up with anything that could compete with Bugs, Daffy and the looney tunes cast.

That's perfect executive thinking - exactly what's behind "wacky" features like Over The Hedge.

Roberto González said...

"What is the difference between Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin ? Don't just tell me one is yellow."

The difference is that Homer Simpson was once an original and funny character with unique traits (talking to his brain, for example) and then Family Guy ripped it off and created an unfunny and unlikeable copy of the original character in his worst moments.

Sven Hoek said...

This one is gonna win for most comments.

Jack said...

That's funny how you only repsonded to my first point (which was only a rebuttal to your own generalizing remarks) and ignored the fact that there are a lot of artists who have proven that animation has truley evolved. Looney Tunes started basically as alternative to Disney, but which studio was more popular and continued on? Disney Films. They started out just as silly as Looney Tunes but later moved on from cartoony slapstick to serious, dramatic stoylines which won numerous awards and took animation where it is today. You wonder why movies like Space Jam and Back in Action come out. Because nobody cares about goofy 1940's gag based plots anymore. That's why Looney Tunes are now only a shadow of what they once were. They were iconic when they came out but times have changed they've now lost their meaning so they have to constantly be reinvented. The Disney characters you call "bland" have lasting appeal which is why Disney was as sucessful as it was and most animated films today wisely follow in their footsteps.

PCUnfunny said...

"Yeah just as John did."

Are you even reading the comments or this post ? He was talking about the bland characters in the first place.

"That's funny how you just told me told me to look at "complicated acting" in Looney Tunes and then call Bluth films nothing but squash and stretch. Sounds a little backwards."

Yes it sounds backwards to YOU because you don't know anything about animation.

Roberto- Homer was funny but not unique. I don't count talking to his brain unique because he wasn't the only one who didn't in the show. Marge did and so did Lisa.

Gabriele_Gabba said...

This is the best thing i've read on your blog in a while John. Finally i can understand how to create a proper character and back him up!

When i think of your characters they all have this 'formula'. And now i understand why!

oppo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
paul etcheverry said...

Hi John,

That combination of elements that makes an iconic character is the holy grail, the "Eureka - I've got it" of entertainment. And it's a thin line between a funny character and one that's just irritating.

Tex Avery deserves credit for being the concept guy behind A Wild Hare, the first WB cartoon to give the "skwewy wabbit" a winning characterization. Bob McKimson's animation and model sheets had a lot to do with establishing an appealing design for the character.

The Jules White studio that cranked out 2-reel comedies for Columbia tried repeatedly to put together another Three Stooges with comedians on the lot. Watching these shorts, it's apparent that the exact same jokes just don't work with other comics, even talented ones. You can't put a finger on just why the material isn't funny - but it isn't.

JohnK said...

"The Disney characters you call "bland" have lasting appeal which is why Disney was as sucessful as it was and most animated films today wisely follow in their footsteps."

then why did their own animation feature unit go out of business?

And they don't have lasting appeal, which is why you don't see more cartoons using the same characters.

The whole point of this post.

Anyway, you need to study your history a little more closely.

Jack said...

then why did their own animation feature unit go out of business?

Out of business? aren't they coming out with a new traditionally animated movie later this year? Anyway, they've still been more sucessful

And they don't have lasting appeal, which is why you don't see more cartoons using the same characters.

Ever heard of the Disney channel?
Also for other cartoons Shrek, Madagascar, Kung fu Panda amoung others all have sequels in the works.

JohnK said...

If you've tied up all the distribution and have your own TV channel, you can fill it up with anything you want and force out any competition. It still doesn't make the recycled characters iconic.


If what you believe was true, then animation executives wouldn't be coming to me asking for the secrets of what makes iconic characters, and most them now realize they don't have many modern ones.

Caleb Bowen said...

"then why did their own(Disney) animation feature unit go out of business?" -John K

John, I assume you're talking about that great time period before classic Disney movies were released on VHS, and there were no Disney movies in theaters. A time before "the Vault" was created, before we were all bludgeoned into thinking Disney is the beginning and end of cartoons.

If my history is correct, it was the sales of these classic tapes that brought Disney back from a cryogenic freeze. Just in time to make huge achievements like The Little Mermaid(sarcasm).

When will executives understand that quality equals revenue every time it is released to a new medium? Everyone is so focused on short-term profit, they never see the big picture.

Mr. Semaj said...

Your video links keep breaking.

The worst ones are like the Baby Boomers: they thought the only way to fix things was to join the system so some of them, who were artists at one point, became the executives to try and make changes. Then they start saying things like "You can't fight City Hall".

Those Baby Boomers had the right idea, because we are living in a world where only those with power get to call the shots. What we need are folks who travel to the inside, and sticks with their beliefs all the way thru, not just keeping their jobs by sucking cock and abandoning what they worked for in the first place.

Ted said...

"Because nobody cares about goofy 1940's gag based plots anymore. That's why Looney Tunes are now only a shadow of what they once were. They were iconic when they came out but times have changed they've now lost their meaning so they have to constantly be reinvented."

While many of the pop culture references in Looney Tunes were lost on their tv viewers, many/most of the jokes are still funny regardless. For example, I always liked the line "so round, so firm, so fully packed" on its own terms, but it wasn't until this week that I learned it was a Lucky Strike jingle.

But John wasn't talking about iconic cartoons; he was talking about iconic characters. The reinventions you talk about have done much more to endanger the iconic status of the characters; of course, so does corporate thinking that buries good material in exchange for resume lines of 'in charge of creating extreme show X'.

Jack said...

If you've tied up all the distribution and have your own TV channel, you can fill it up with anything you want and force out any competition. It still doesn't make the recycled characters iconic.

But what does it say when you've been able to maintain that channel for over 20 years with great ratings. Obviously people are watching as opposed to cartoons on other networks. Like I said, Disney did not get to where they are today by coincidence


If what you believe was true, then animation executives wouldn't be coming to me asking for the secrets of what makes iconic characters, and most them now realize they don't have many modern ones.

I'm pretty sure a lot of artists have people asking them for advice. How many of people actrully take your advice into effect?

SoleilSmile said...

Creating iconic characters is a gamble. WB tried unsuccessfully for years with various characters until Porky finally charmed audiences and, BOOM, WB had their first cartoon star.

There's no formula to the phenomenon. Audiences are just going to respond to what they like and when they do, you simply make more cartoons with that character. The problem is, no one wants to spend the money on test marketing new characters in feature animation. I can't say I blame them. It's one thing to gamble on a short, yet quite another to invest a cool precious million or so into a feature length film.
It seems the closest thing to formula that works with audiences these days in the lazy hero. I don't mind underdogs--but I hate lazy heroes. It's bread and butter trends like this that is pushing me towards live action.

Have fun kiddies.

JohnK said...

They don't have great ratings. Not for cartoons. Everyone's ratings are going down in kids' cartoons.


That's why so many execs have been replaced lately.

Caleb Bowen said...

It seems to me that Clampett and crew had the highest success rate for creating iconic characters. What did Termite Terrace have that Pixar can't buy nowadays?

Also, I'm curious how many comments a post can have.

Rudy Tenebre, esteemed secretary. said...

An eyesore becomes an icon if it stands there long enough.

John Young said...

I personally don't have a problem with generic characters going through the motions to tell a generic but entertaining story. I recognize it for what it is and i think for the most part the creators do too. You need look no further than last year's "Enchanted" to see that the people making these films understand that there is a lack of "depth" to these generic characters but this lack of depth can be used thematically. I do wish however that there were at least some character based, emotionally unabashed and self reflexive cartoons being made today but i'm not sure if feature animation is the place for it. I just don't know that they could make an animated film that is as affecting as "There will be blood" for example.

Despite being set in a specific 'arena'-as john puts it- I agree with a previous poster that mentioned Spongebob as being a character that has all the qualities that john speaks of in this post. I know John, that you feel like spongebob ripped you off a bit but i think the character himself is completely his own; great voice, distinctive original look(not really to my taste but that's not what's being discussed here), he's emotionally vulnerable and he's got a great dynamic with the rest of the cartoon's cast.

I also think that you're a little hard on Pixar, those guys make good movies and depite their failures at making memorable characters(with the possible exception of Mike Wizowky and Sully) they still succeed in engaging discriminating viewers like myself and dazzling little kids.

As always i find your opinion to be very insightful and i'm so thankful to you for taking the time to share it with us.

David Germain said...

Don Bluth is an example of someone who's been sucessful at making deep storylines in animated films.

Jack showed us his ass right there, people.

Don Bluth only THINKS he's all about the story. He's actually more about flashy visual gimmicks that cover up the lack of story skills he has.
Take the ending of The Secret of Nihm for example. In the book they explain how Mrs. Brisby's locket could lift her house out of the mud. They didn't do that in the movie. Instead, at the last possible moment, she holds up the locket and suddenly pink light emits from it and magically lifts the house up to safety. Sure, you OOH and AAH at the spectacle of it, but really it just looks like something a hack writer would tack onto the end in order to write himself out of a corner.

Also, anyone who snipes at "the plots of the Looney Tunes" is an idiot. The Looney Tunes were character based, first and foremost. They never did have any plots. They didn't just chase each other, they were in conflict with each other. That's what entertainment is all about, animated or otherwise. Hell, even the most complex anime series can be boiled down to one warrior in conflict with another. I'm certainly not saying anime is worse or better than the Looney Tunes, I'm saying they are pretty much on the exact same playing field. One of anime's biggest influences is Tex Avery.

Like John said, do some more research and get back to us.

MLP said...

Bitter, because of the Frankenstein Jr. reference JohnK makes, I think that's "The Iron Giant". I can't be sure, though, because I avoided watching it.

The one that has me stumped: "The gang of unlikely bedfellows that get thrust into a strange environment and then have to learn to get along and discover respect for others, but most of all for the beauty of 'being allowed to be me'?" Given the prevalence of the get-along-and-respect-one-another and you-have-to-be-true-to-yourself morals infesting current animation, I can't guess which JohnK meant.

chrisallison said...

i wonder if the new availability of easy information has anything to do with this anti-historical, pro-contemporary view. throughout history, information has never been so readily accessible as in our age, and people have never been so adverse to looking at it.

i can't help but feel that even tho you're making this awesome post with clear points, somebody is gonna skim this and still distort it. people do the same thing with information as they do character designs. they will skim your information and think it's the equivalent to actually experiencing the content you're talking about.

i hate to think that anything is "magical", and i think that the ingredient that makes a good creator is firsthand experience. firsthand experience MAKING films, first hand experience VIEWING film history. if what you're making isn't working, it's not that you don't have some "magical" ingredient, it's that you're not objective enough to assess what you need to learn. that's where having a group of good artist pals comes in handy.

i bet the people who are telling you that old stuff is irrelevant have never even seen seen terry toons or a kliban comic or heard a goddam charlie patton song. but by god, they've read your blog!

PCUnfunny said...

mlp: I think John is talking about Ferngully.

PCUnfunny said...

Oh wait, maybe Madagascar ?

Jonathon said...

They started out just as silly as Looney Tunes but later moved on from cartoony slapstick to serious, dramatic stoylines which won numerous awards and took animation where it is today. You wonder why movies like Space Jam and Back in Action come out. Because nobody cares about goofy 1940's gag based plots anymore.

Saying this is sort of like saying a car is "the best in it's class". Who makes the classes; how can they all be the best?

Who assigns the awards to such terrible films as Space Jam? Why, the same boring people that wrote the script, thinking that any kid everywhere would care that the characters have 'strength' within and didn't have to rely on Bug's fake steroid water.

I'm part of the generation that supposedly grew up with Space Jam. You know what, hands down, my favorite Looney Toons film is? The one where a hat truck crashes and Elmer and Bugs act out the personas given to them by the hats. I watched that religiously whenever I was ill.

Watch BattleStar Galactica and Lost for your deep plots.

Wringing more money out of an already abused franchise is disgusting. I'm sick of seeing Tweety on backpacks and T-shirts, wearing jeans and a reversed baseball cap, 'representin'.

Roberto González said...

>> Looney Tunes started basically as alternative to Disney, but which studio was more popular and continued on? Disney Films. They started out just as silly as Looney Tunes but later moved on from cartoony slapstick to serious, dramatic stoylines which won numerous awards and took animation where it is today. You wonder why movies like Space Jam and Back in Action come out. Because nobody cares about goofy 1940's gag based plots anymore. That's why Looney Tunes are now only a shadow of what they once were. They were iconic when they came out but times have changed they've now lost their meaning so they have to constantly be reinvented.>>

There are so many things wrong in this post that I don't know where I should start. I'm also less critic with what we got now than John is, but you need to use better arguments than those.

People watched Space Jam and Looney Tunes BIA because they already knew and loved the characters before. If those were the first time we met them they wouldn't be so popular and well-known. Those movies came out because the studio wanted to make money reusing their old characters and they didn't have a clue about how they could use them, so they invented some absurd plots to include them in.

Looney Tunes shorts are not only goofy and slapstick, there is little slapstick in One Froggy Evening for example and overall it's a more compelling story than Ratatouille. I admit it's easier to keep the interest in a short film, but still. There are dramatic elements in Clampett's short, but they manage to keep them entertaining and funny at the same time. John has talked several times about Bugs losing in some of those cartoons, you can feel how dramatic is to loose for him. Even in a Freleng short, Bird Anonymous there are some dramatic scenes with Sylvester. Space Jam has nothing like that. The only drama is that Jordan had almost more scenes than the Looney Tunes themselves.

Nobody cares about the characters? If they continue using them so badly then it will probably happen. I know people who kind of dislike LT mostly because of their modern incarnations, and their look in the modern merchandising. That's pretty sad.

Disney continued cause nowadays there are more cartoon features and very few cartoon shorts. Since Warner Bros never released a LT movie in the old days people only knew the Disney formula.

To answer your question I DO care about that kind of "goofy" gags and plots. I'm still waiting for a movie feature that is both as funny and engaging as the Looney Tunes were, and I find pretty sad that almost everybody is copying Disney.

However you can't say there's not a LT influence in Disney's Hercules, Kung Fu Panda or Pixar's Presto, so it's not like nobody cares about Looney Tunes anymore.

>>Roberto- Homer was funny but not unique. I don't count talking to his brain unique because he wasn't the only one who didn't in the show. Marge did and so did Lisa.>>

Yeah, that's true, but still, it was kind of something they created for Homer and because it was popular they have occasionally used it with other characters as well. Still it's something original in The Simpsons (at least in the way they do it) and it works especially with Homer cause he's the one who has the longest and funniest dialogues with his own brain. And this is only one of his character traits.

If I were to talk about modern iconic characters I would certainly include The Simpsons, even though they maybe don't have the appealing look in John's opinion, but they do have a very special silhouette.

I'd also include Dexter and The Powerpuff Girls. And of course Ren and Stimpy.

After all those maybe we could talk about Spongebob.

Also Jon Young is right about Monsters Inc. characters, among the Pixar characters these could probably work better than most others in a bunch of shorts. The one short they made with them (Mike's New Car) was pretty enjoyable.

Ted said...

Porky was the first star WB owned; their actual first star was Bosko.

PCUnfunny said...

Roberto: I liked Homer in the Ulman shorts and in the early seasons. He was a man who was actually fusterated with his own stupidity and often tried his best to do something. Now, he is just lazy and fat.

SoleilSmile said...

Bosko was not a bit hit with audiences. The short "Sinking in the Bathtub" was well received but, it's star really didn't stick, despite several subsequent cartoons that were made starring him.
Audiences really liked Porky, though.

MLP said...

Thanks, PC. "Madagascar" sounds like a better fit for JohnK's description than anything I was thinking of.

BTW, your pic is from my all-time favorite cartoon scene. When Elmer comes on a minute later and says, "Wasn't that wuvewy?", I always say "Yes!" out loud.

Mister Zero said...

I say let cartoons BE CARTOONS. Why do they need such detailed stories? Do we, or kids for that matter, even care? The answer is a big FAT ASS NO. People watch cartoons to laugh and be away from reality. Not to get into some dramatic story about an anthropomorphic animal in peril. People have enough of this shit in their everyday lives and the news, for God's sake! Fuck all if we need that junk in our cartoons, too! AMERICA NEEDS SOME REAL, FUNNY CARTOONS, BAD. Let's get our heads out of our asses, here.

Leave it to John to stir such controversy. Good American.

Ben Forbes said...

This is an incredibly interesting post but....

Question, would you consider Spongebob to be a good Iconic character?

It seems to be one of few that seem to be recognized by most.

SoleilSmile said...

I like deeper stories in animation. I think there is room for both genres.
Why limit the art form?

Cartoon Crank said...

You couldn't be more right, John. 'Over the Hedge'.. what a fucking joke.

'Ramapith' is absolutely right about Mickey in Gottfredson's strips. Take a peak at them some time.

Would you say that Ren & Stimpy are iconic characters? I'm not sure if I would, as great as they are.

dibujador said...

Very interesting discussion.

One of the worst moments in cartoon: when the Pink Panther starts to talk. They just kill her.

Roberto González said...

>>Roberto: I liked Homer in the Ulman shorts and in the early seasons. He was a man who was actually fusterated with his own stupidity and often tried his best to do something. Now, he is just lazy and fat.>>

Everybody has his own opinion about which seasons are the early seasons of The Simpsons. New seasons are worst but it's still a good show compared to other things in tv, and it's certainly better than some of their direct oponents, like Family Guy. I'm not saying it's a great cartoon but it's a decent, entertaining sitcom.

I agree all the characters, and the gags and the animation and the plots and everything is better in the "early" seasons (I'd include 1-9 there).

I'd disagree if your point is that the characters were better in the Ullman shorts. Some aspects of those shorts are great, there are some off-model poses, the dialogues seem a little more natural in general, but it wasn't until the series that some of the most specific character traits appeared. The relationship between Homer and Lisa is more interesting in the series, for example. I actually buy the emotional moments in the early seasons of The Simpsons. I won't have a problem with animated features including emotional moments if they were like those. They were not like the Disney movies at all. (Years later they finally did The Simpsons Movie and they included too many cliches in the emotional part but that's another story).

I'm sorry, those first seasons were written by gasp! writers and they didn't use so much off model animation, but they did a great job in the character traits and plots. They did have some great off-model eventually (Homer losing his head in The Shining spoof).

Yep, it was a written show and maybe not the best looking one, but I believe there is no doubt that people will remember these characters in the future. Maybe they will forget about Family Guy, South Park and even Spongebob , but they will remember The Simpsons, and not only because of their longevity ,which is also a sign of people liking the characters. Yes, there are people with bad taste, but I doubt crappy things can stay so long. People will get tired of FG eventually. Most of the people who liked "Shrek" are sick of it now they had made third chapters. Current Simpsons can be quite bad in their worst episodes, but they are still on air cause people really liked the characters and the classic seasons, and they eventually, not very often I would admit, have some of the old brilliance. It's a little like classic LT and the new movies, but I believe the difference in quality between the old and the new thing is more evident in LT.

Borris said...

i thought cartoons were supposed to be funny. not just easily merchandisable.

JohnK said...

No one is limiting the artform more than the people who make these formula insincere movies that all have the same fake one-note characters, while they squeeze out anyone who wants to do something more sincere, original and entertaining.


This big budget bland pathetic stuff is made by executives, not by artists who actually observe the world and interpret it in individual entertaining ways. It's all the same.

If there is room for "both genres" where is the other one?

JohnK said...

Hey Trevor

take out all the f words and I'll print your comment.

Then disagree with it.


Most of those movies weren't commercial successes.

Subect 645-3 said...

>>I'm dying to know what one of these deep movies are and what about them makes them deep..

is it the rustbucket robot that cries? And the dark future where humans are soft, lethargic inactive and only eat junk food that they end up looking like animators who warn us against becoming like them?

The ugly green thing that finds out that real beauty is under the expensive pores and armpit hairs? The normal bland girl who sacrificies her normalcy by transforming herself into a green Oprah Winfrey in order to contemplate deeper things like too many pores and scraggly hairs?

Is it the suburban family that bickers but ultimately finds the meaning of being a family and that menopause needs to be respected?

Is it the Mom who struggles for a living and thus becomes cold, forcing her son to find love from Frankenstein Jr. but luckily the threat of a nuclear war brings them so close together that the mom marries her son's best friend and they all become hop heads together?



The gang of unlikely bedfellows that get thrust into a strange environment and then have to learn to get along and discover respect for others, but most of all for the beauty of "being allowed to be me"?

Maybe it's the hideous hunchback who falls in love with a beautiful transvestite only to be rejected by her/him in the end for a vacuous but sturdily proportioned mannequin?<<

My friends: this is poetry.

Let me try to guess the movies by their titles:

1. WALL-E
2. Shrek
3. Most animated (and live action)sitcoms starring Katey Segal?
4. Iron Giant
5. Most cartoons you're likely to find on a Cartoon Network or Disney Channel movie hour?
6. Hunchback of Notre Dame

It's all so, so true.

JohnK said...

"i thought cartoons were supposed to be funny. not just easily merchandisable."

Funny cartoons ARE the most easily merchandisable, and what's wrong with that?

One of the reasons the execs are fretting about not getting iconic characters in their movies is that they can't sell merchandise off the bland characters from the movies - even when the movie did well.

There are the odd exceptions of course because kids want to buy SOME cartoon toys at least.

trevor said...

And all the films you listed have been huge sucesses so you're obviouly in the minority there.

But what does it say when you've been able to maintain that channel for over 20 years with great ratings. Obviously people are watching as opposed to cartoons on other networks.

OH FOR THE FARGING LOVE OF CHRISTMAS!

Jack, has anyone ever explained to you how marketing works? It's not a bunch of bean counters taking polls. It's an industry devoted to making sure you watch things that you wouldn't otherwise watch.

Great ratings and huge successes seldom have anything to do with pure talent. In fact, it's rare that the shows or movies worthy of praise ever reach their target audience because no one wants to take a chance on them.

Even more rare are the times when something original comes out and it's a huge success despite a marketing department's attempts to under promote it.

The best way to describe to you how marketing works is to relate a story that happened to me while I was still a DJ.

My DJ mentor was a guy named Stan Priest who was the best DJ in Tampa Bay. He had worked for many years at the number one rated ( there's those ratings you love so much, Jack ) Top 40 station for all of Florida, 93 3 FLZ, formerly The Power Pig.

Stan had started as a turntable DJ and worked his way up to Music Director at the time this story takes place. I never liked Top 40 music, so I asked him why, if the radio station is listener-based ( meaning that their playlist that he scheduled is determined on listener feedback ) did all the music they played suck?

He gave me a very forward answer, and I've seen this formula work in every arts related industry since then. He said:

"Let's say you didn't have anything, and I put three pieces of crap in front of you. All you know is those three pieces of crap. Well, over time you would eventually have a favorite.

"You'd say, 'this piece of crap has more texture, a better odor and bits of corn on the side, therefore I like it better than this dried hunk of darkened crap and that last piece of runny crap which smells like my grandmother's house'.

"That's what we do. We give people crappy options and they're so appreciative of the fact that we give them choices they overlook that it's crap."

Most people, even those who don't know anything but surface knowledge about animation, would agree that Ren and Stimpy was a timeless show which, almost twenty years after it's inception, is still admired, remembered, referenced and ripped off.

But why aren't these shows as good as the original? No one knows. Because marketers don't want you to be able to analyze why a show is good or bad, because if everyone was able to break it down as intellectually as John did, their whole industry would collapse.

They keep making piles of crap that look like the original stuff, and then they flood the market with it. Eventually, people like you come around and select their favorites.

Lowering the standards of the audience makes their jobs easy. This is also why we only have two choices when it comes to presidential nominees, ie: two pieces of crap that you have to choose one of.

If everyone is happy with crap, then they don't need to take chances on something original. What marketers fail to realize ( in the music, arts, animation, television, stand up comedy and movie industry respectively ) is that they would save a whole lot more money taking chances on projects that have TRUE sustenance, not manufactured emotions.

They would still lose finances on something that didn't work, but they wouldn't have to waste time and even more money trying to fix the system to make it foolproof simply because it can't be done.

It's an impossible existence they strive for, and we have to suffer for it.

So, if you think John's wrong about what makes characters iconic, that's fine. But get a better argument than commercial success. Because it's just a reflection of how the public's been manipulated.

Forget the public. Be an individual.

- trevor.

Fuzzhound Lluis said...

Yeah I quit Smokin' two months ago!! Yogi!! best thing I ever did!!! hehehe
Great post!!! and these comments are mad!! I can just see people getting all red and angry infront of their screens!!! hehehe! wanting to be right!! very entertaining...

see ya!

Roberto González said...

>>This big budget bland pathetic stuff is made by executives, not by artists who actually observe the world and interpret it in individual entertaining ways. It's all the same.>>

That's true for Dreamworks and Bluesky, but Pixar? I'm not a huge Pixar fan, I do think they're kind of over-rated, people just love everything they do without question BUT it certainly looks as if the directors are important in their movies. Take Brad Bird in that youtube clip you posted for example. Arguably when he defines some of the characters he does reveal some of them are sort of generic, especially when he talks about Remy. But he looks quite passionate and proud of the movie. He looks like that in The Incredibles making off too or The Iron Giant's. I don't think he's just selling the product, I believe he really likes it that way. That makes me think executives have not made so many changes there. We normally don't see Dreamworks directors talking with such passion about their films, we don't even know who the directors of those films are.

I'd also add that, even though I'd kill to see something really different, it's kind of difficult not to use certain cliches in an animated feature or life-action. I have written some stories for my own comic books and I can keep the originality in short stories but when I try to do something longer it's more difficult not to include the villain, the conflict between the two main characters, the love story or some of that stuff. It can be avoided by doing a less narrative film, like the Three Caballeros or an adult oriented film, but it's difficult to make a story for a family audience without including some of that stuff, and studios are not brave enough to make animated features that are not appealing for kids. I agree they should at least try to do it instead of relying way too much on them. I'm just saying you can't expect animated movies to be a lot more revolutionary in that kind of thing that current blockbuster movies. Maybe if there were more independent animated features, we could see more of that.

I'm sure it's possible to do succesful animated features with different stories, but it's not an easy task even without the executives. Even if there had been a Tom and Jerry movie in the classic Tom and Jerry days it would have not been the atrocity they made in the 90s, but it would probably have included some of the Disney feature traits.

We're talking about the shorts, but what classic animated features can we take as an example? I do believe Pixar's ones are among the most original stuff in 20 years or something. So even though I'm not in the "Pixar is perfect" wagon, I still recognize there is not so much competence. I'll take most of the classic Disney features like Three Caballeros,Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland or Soung Of The South over Pixar any day, but there hasn't been anything really remarkable in the middle.

Heh,I'm posting like crazy in this entry, but it's a very interesting subject.

Mr. Semaj said...

People will get tired of FG eventually.

Already happening.

I seem to recall one writer joining a FG forum to inform fans about the meaning behind the WGA strike. But how were we supposed to commiserate when they refuse to make a better product? All we are asking for is some improvements, but they care more about their stupid gag-for-a-dollar "stories" than anything else.

If the writers don't care what fans REALLY think of FG today, why should we continue caring about their pathetic show?

Guy said...

Roberto: I think "artists who actually observe the world and interpret it in individual entertaining ways" is the key phrase, there.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

I can hardly believe my eyes when I read comments defending generic animation. And the idea that animation is better now than it ever was, is...well, unusual. I fervently hope that artists who believe outrageous things like this will start a blog. It would be a fun novelty to see weird ideas like this defended, especially if there's lots of examples.

Owen said...

John,

Loved the post, until you brought up that the character should make a good toy thing. Because I dug up many pictures of your toys, and I've found they are no better than those god awful "Over the Hedge" ones in the post.

http://images.craigslist.org/010100011506010201200809104c120c705f9ac7d764003303.jpg

http://i3.iofferphoto.com/img/item/616/254/41/16dd_12.JPG

http://i143.photobucket.com/albums/r124/cadbunny81/To%20List/2008_06220086.jpg

PCUnfunny said...

"but it wasn't until the series that some of the most specific character traits appeared."

As the shorts progressed, you do see the characters fully formed just before the series aired. My ideal Simpsons would be those fully formed personalities with the wacky animation of the early Ulman shorts. ALot better then what has been for several seasons now, mouth pieces for writers who have a political agenda.

Jack said...

Treveor, I've left numerous responses but John isn't appoving any of them.

JohnK said...

Hi Owen

I agree, the Ren and Stimpy toys were pretty ugly all right.

They should have used cartoon sculptors, but instead got their bland He Man type sculptors to do it.

Jack, listen to Eddie's comment. You could make a great blog and defend your odd ideas with evidence.
You had your chance here, but kept changing the subject and now I'm bored.

Jack said...

Tevor, John's had numerous opprotunities to rise above the so called peices of crap being made and he failed nearly every time. And when I bring this up he either doesnt approve the comment or gives excuses anyone who has failed could say. I'm not sure why I'm even typing this seeing as he'll just delete this one as well but let's see if he has courage to keep it up this time.

Guy said...

"Tevor, John's had numerous opprotunities to rise above the so called peices of crap being made and he failed nearly every time."

He did. With Ren & Stimpy.

If you disagree, you could try giving reasons better than insulting comedies for... telling jokes.

david gemmill said...

hey John.. wasn't it your birthday? Happy birthday. While i don't agree with everything you post, i appreciate you supporting and defending real cartoons. cartoons 4 lyfe. haha. have a good'un

Shawn said...

>>I can hardly believe my eyes when I read comments defending generic animation.<<

Me too. Give me Bugs Bunny, Betty Boop, and Popeye ANY day. Life's too short to watch shitty cartoons.

CaseyBugCreations said...

Great post! I agree completely. I'm glad I've decided to take the time to come by your blog more often. I enjoy the information you have to share, and find it very helpful. -CBC

Jake said...

Reading these comments on a blog is one thing. As someone who's just now entering a creative field - video games, to be precise - I am perpetually stunned by all the people who ask me to dumb down my ideas. It's currently happening a few times a day. Among the few who don't want something generic, most are far more interested in "style" than making something genuinely good.

I've been reading this blog almost as long as John's been writing it. I'll admit, there have been a few times when I've grown a little tired of the long rants about the stifling modern environment. Now that I actually have real, live human beings telling me in no uncertain terms to make my game designs and characters more bland and indistinct, I'm beginning to understand.

Think this is unbelievable? Try having someone tell you face-to-face that generic games with stock environments where place-holder attack stock enemies with cliche weapons is more fun for the player than a game with strong direction and unique design.


On a related note, John, I think I recall you mentioning long ago something about giving talks to colleges. Did that ever happen? Could it happen in the future?

Roberto González said...

>>As the shorts progressed, you do see the characters fully formed just before the series aired. My ideal Simpsons would be those fully formed personalities with the wacky animation of the early Ulman shorts. ALot better then what has been for several seasons now, mouth pieces for writers who have a political agenda.>>

Agreed. But still I think you have to give some credit to the early writers. I haven't watched all the shorts but I don't recall Lisa's personality being fully formed until the first season episode Moaning Lisa Blues. There was not Mr. Burns or Flanders in the early shorts to name some of the best secondaries. And the kind of plots they used in the shorts couldn't hold for half an hour. So my ideal Simpsons will probably include the participation of these writers (maybe not so many of them), but keeping the off model animation from the shorts.


As for the rest it will probably be more adequate to compare classic short characters to modern tv characters and classic feature characters to modern feature characters. The first ones are created with the idea of reusing them, the others not so much.

What I say it's that because of Disney's monopoly and tendence to make fairy tale adaptations the main characters in features were usually kind of generic as they are now.

We can ask for a change there (and I do) but we can't say it's sad that we don't have a movie with a character like Popeye anymore cause there weren't before. Yeah, you could see them in a theatre, but they were shorts, not movies. Tv series have replaced the shorts. Now in tv series you have the likes of FG and South Park, but you also have Tartakovsky and McCraken.

And I know John will disagree but I'd even say some of the South Park characters are not bad in concept, even though the art is...like that. I mean, Eric Cartman has specific traits and he's not a copy of a Simpson character like most of FG cast.

I don't think they'll be classics but they have a percentage of the thing right, the characters have hints of personality. That's why people watch the shows. People should be educate to care about the animation as well but they enjoy some of this shows cause some of the personality traits are enjoyable. Eric Cartman is a stronger lead than Remy, Beavis and Butthead have more specific personalities than the OTH gang (in the movie, the strip is another story).

The problem is in the drawings, but I would like to see characters with those specific traits in cartoon features more frequently. And they don't need to be for adults. Bloo from "Foster's" has also a more interesting personality than most of Disney or Pixar lead characters.

Now I guess everyone could defende his fave shows, but I can't see someone giving good arguments about FG character traits, they are way too inconsistent. Or crap like Drawn Together, there are zero personality traits there.And we could say the same about a lot of Saturday morning cartoons.

BadIdeaSociety said...

I agree that most modern cartoons are rubbish and that Popeye and the Looney Tunes are fantastic, but I cannot figure out what is appealing about Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and Pixie and Dixie. They have lame character designs and lamer programs featuring their likeness.

To be fair, the funniest thing I saw in a Yogi Bear cartoon involved Boo Boo being lynched by bears from the other side of the forest.

I suppose there is only so many times a kid can watch Boo Boo look at the camera and say, "Uh oh, here we go again."

Jeffrey said...

I'm trying to think of any unique animated characters that have really stuck with me in the '00's. The only one I could really come up with was Gir (Invader Zim). Though it's a robot in an expressionless green dog suit, it has 1) a great voice, 2) a unique look, and 3) a memorable personality. Most important, I found myself belly laughing at some Gir moments.

Along those lines, I think more than most other popular animation in recent years, Jhonen Vasquez seemed to "get it". For making an action/comedy cartoon, there weren't too many duds in his oeuvre. Not perfect, but a lot better than the other dreg that was coming out at the time.

I wish I could include Samurai Jack in that category. I'm not sure know why, but Genndy seemed to be missing a beat in those shows. There was always something a little hollow about the episodes. I know what he was going for with the traditional asian (not anime) influenced character designs, but the backgrounds and characters were all a little hollow. He did a lot better with Dexter and (the first) Clone Wars.

I couldn't think of any iconic CG characters that have stuck with me. Gollum? No one from an entirely CG movie, though. But that's a whole other kettle of fish.

Roberto González said...

>>I agree that most modern cartoons are rubbish and that Popeye and the Looney Tunes are fantastic, but I cannot figure out what is appealing about Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and Pixie and Dixie. They have lame character designs and lamer programs featuring their likeness. >>

I wouldn't be so harsh and I think they have some charm, but I have to admit I'm not a big fan of them either. Some of them do have strong personality traits, especially Yogi and Boo Boo, but I don't find these characters or their cartoons especially enjoyable. There are some shorts I enjoy. For example, I used to love the idea of "The Kabong" in Quick Draw McGraw but the rest of the episodes did nothing for me. And for character traits Baba Looey was pretty much like a more generic version of Boo Boo.

Pixie and Dixie, I liked them as a kid, but now I don't see them being too specific either. Maybe Mr. Jinks was a little more, but not that much. Tom and Jerry have a lot more personality and appeal in my opinion.

Mr. Semaj said...

On a related note, John, I think I recall you mentioning long ago something about giving talks to colleges. Did that ever happen? Could it happen in the future?

That wouldn't be a bad idea. I'd love for at least one person from the animation field to visit Buffalo or Rochester.

JohnK said...

Badidea:

I used the early HB chracters mainly to illustrate how distinct their voices and designs are. Obviously the animation is not full.


I was just comparing them as characters to today's vague fuzzy nondescript characters. They are hands down superior in that respect and that's what made them so successful for so long.

Ther 3 ingredients, voice, design and personality don't cost much and it's a wonder to me that no one can pull off at least that much anymore.


Trevor: are you sure you wouldn't want to tone down that comment before I publish it?

mike f. said...

I didn't read very many of the 120 responses to this post - so forgive me if I'm about to make a point that's already been raised.

The characters John cited in the original post - iconic characters which have already proven themselves for decades: Bugs, Mickey, Popeye, Yogi, Bullwinkle, etc. - all have distinct silhouettes that "read" instantly, and are still easily identifiable from a mile away. This is BASIC cartoon character design theory, known to every successful cartoonist.

As an experiment, try blacking-in the characters from "Over The Hedge" and "Ratatouille", just to see how many are still recognizable from their contour lines alone.

If you do that, you'll see what John's driving at.

Sarcastro said...

Great voice acting; YES!

Southern Wolf was in, what, three shorts? 50 years ago? Yet I still hear people, all the time, drawl out "Aw Man" just like Daws Butler did back in '58.

Pete Balsano said...

This post was incredible Mr K. I hope this doesn't get lost in the hundreds of replies you get everyday, but I just wanted to direct your attention to a voice actor that I think does amazing work (and this isnt a shameless plug, it's just a heads up that you might enjoy.)
His name is John Siuntres and he's the host of Word Balloon, the comic book podcast. Here is a link to his demo tape. Its five minutes of funny.

http://cdn4.libsyn.com/wordballoon/WBvoicesinmyhead.mp3?nvb=20080912180048&nva=20080913180048&t=05bb2af2b06b96a6a0fb6

Anyway, its worth your time to listen too. Thanks again for all the amazing knowledge your providing for everyone.
Pete

Robert Leyland said...

Here are a few modern "iconic" characters:

Animaniacs
Pinky and The Brain
Strongbad (Homestar Runner)
Black Mage (8 bit theatre)
Spongebob Squarepants


There are surely some dreck but not all is lost!

Whit said...

Mister Jinks remains an unrealized treasure trove of neurotic possibilities. What a great voice Daws Butler created for him. Jinks' voice alone has been ripped off by many studios, but never yet done justice by the seedy animation business. I suppose the geniuses at Warners will pair him with Batman in another online toon fiasco as soon as they read this.

Kat Friday said...

I think even generic-looking CG character could have the potential to stand out, if the animators/creators reached for something beyond the piggy bank of stock-animation. The lack of human character observation is so blatantly obvious.

Also, something about those big budget CG films voice overs always bothers me to no end. The characters never sound "right"... or if the voice fits their personality. The famous stars deliver perfect lines. Too perfect! Too clean, predictable, generic. I hate it.

Cartoon Crank said...

I can't believe some of the people arguing that today's cartoons are as entertaining as those of the classic era. Are they blind?

But I hate the Hanna-Barbera stuff too. Take away Daws Butler and they have nothing.

trevor said...

Trevor: are you sure you wouldn't want to tone down that comment before I publish it?

Honestly, I'm not sure.

I wrote that this morning at 5 AM EST, and honestly don't remember what I wrote.

Whatever you think's best, John.

Mike: Fear not, that point has not been made and your wisdom has not been matched.

- trevor.

PCUnfunny said...

Roberto: I watched the later shorts and the main cast had all there personalities in tact. I just find the shorts funnier then alot of the series because of the great animation and witty writing. Yes, I found the writing better in the shorts.

paul etcheverry said...

This brouhaha reminds me of what it was like a LONG time ago, when cartoons not made by UPA and comedy in general were looked down upon as hoi polloi, artistically inferior filmus vulgaris and unworthy of study.

I strongly disagree with that point of view and thank the historians who didn't accept that conventional wisdom and successfully challenged it (Leonard Maltin, Jerry Beck, Will Friedwald, Mike Barrier, Mark Kausler, Greg Ford, etc.) by backing up their arguments with solid examples.

Characterization is the ticket, back in the day and now. Woody Allen (talking about Bob Hope), said "you're laughing at the character, all the time." I think this is why Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton get big laughs (and, yes, I've actually witnessed this, with 21st century audiences) more than 80 years later while the films of contemporaries with negligible characterizations often do not.

There's a lot to be learned from "that primitive crap".

Roberto González said...

>>Roberto: I watched the later shorts and the main cast had all there personalities in tact. I just find the shorts funnier then alot of the series because of the great animation and witty writing. Yes, I found the writing better in the shorts.>>

Again I admit I didn't watch all the shorts and I would want to, but I had to download them any time I wanted to watch one. It's sad they can get the rights to put all of them in a dvd. But I have to insist, even if the personalities were fully formed I don't recall any sort of confrontation between Homer and Lisa in the shorts and that's one of the great character relationships in the show.

I like the writing in the shorts, like I said, the dialogues were more natural, and the whole thing has a certain charm that the show don't have, it seems more "underground" and vitriolic. The shorts are perfect as shorts, but I doubt the same thing could have been expanded for a half an hour show. The show is sometimes like a mini-movie and it's really well written in that respect. I'm talking about seasons 2-8 especially, and especially season 2, every one of those episodes are like the best short comedy movies I've seen in a while.

I'd even admit that the shorts were better as cartoons, they were direct, funnier and the animation was more surprising, but the show was the best comedy sitcom, animated or not, in years. I like both the gags in the shorts and in the shows, but the show had plots and those plots were sometimes very well written. They were not as spontaneous as the shorts but they were very good stories if you compare them to another sitcom or a movie.

How much do we want a cartoon to use the narrative formula of a life-action movie or sitcom? I agree that people tend to talk too much about the story (even people like Brad Bird) and not about the beauty or fun in the drawings. But a good plot is a good plot nevertheless, so even if it's not everything in a cartoon it's still an important and difficult part.

Maybe they should have done like John said. They should have hired those writers but not given them full control of everything. Then Groening and the animation department could have concentrated in the cartoony part. Ideally they could have got a perfect mixture of the cartoony elements and the mini-movie effect.

Ted said...

Daws Butler used a slight variation of the southern wolf voice for Lantz cartoons til 1972 when Lantz finally stopped making theatrical Chilly Willy shorts (I think; I haven't seen that last cartoon in probably 20 years; at any rate a bunch of them have a similar southern Daws Butler voice).

Martin Juneau said...

It's very true indeed. The today's characters had zero personnality, identity and originality than WB, Lantz, Disney or MGM had it 60 years ago. Personally, i don't care so much about Over the Edge because the animals characters didn't care me so much.

The 2000's should be called the travesty generation in animation for me. lol

Alvaro said...

"Just a thing, if I want a deep story, I prefer to read Dostoyevski or if I want deep comedy I prefer Don Quixote.
I mean, cartoon is cartooniness."
That´s like saying that cartoons are only for little kids, or that animation couldn´t be art.
But I agree with John, I don´t hate CGI movies, but why ALL the aniamted movies have to be made using that technique?

Guy said...

"That´s like saying that cartoons are only for little kids, or that animation couldn´t be art."


No, it's like saying cartoons are for entertainment. Are adults not allowed to be entertained? Is art measured by how intelligent it makes you feel?

No one has yet to come up with a cartoon with "deep" subject matter where the animation isn't crude and/or matters. In the meantime, why don't we do what actually works?

chris weagel said...

Wonder how many times they had to punch that kid to get him to say the "Wow-wow-wow-Wow-wow" line right.

Akheloios said...

The entire Looney Toons cast evolved over time to suit the tastes of the viewer.

With Warner Bros. churning out large numbers of features it was easy to see which archetypes weren't favoured by the public and either changed the a character (like Daffy) to a different archetype or dropped him altogether.

Of all the Warners Daffy probably had the biggest change without being dropped from outright anarchist, destroyer of authority figures, to the greedy misanthrope we know him as now.

With the strong selective pressure on storylines and art, it would have been hard to not come up with decent characters eventually.

Where Warner Bros. seem to have have succeeded is that they had great initial ideas which were refined over and over again by feedback from the viewer numbers.

The reason we saw great characters with great art and great personalisation is because of the number of cartoons that are actually produced. Throw out 50 characters, some are well received so you leave them well alone, some are decently received so you tinker with them, change the art or the archetype etc etc. and you drop the rest completely or use them as supporting characters (Elmer Fudd or the Martian Furball with sneakers) and/or for reference. Cue the next set of releases where the winners are tested all over again and a completely new batch of wannabes is thrown out to be eagerly devoured or spat up.

So you then have winners, and might be winners, and a stock of well visualised but unpopular lead characters constantly being tested refined, dropped, used in different ways and put into new situations.

What the problem is today, is that you don't have a million different short cartoons being produced all at once. You either have a few big million dollar movies which can have absolutely no trial, testing and evolution which means characters that are a hodge podge of old characters designed by committee. Or you have the Simpsons type, where one cartoon nails it on the head, absolutely great, then everyone jumps on board and copies them character for character, so no evolution or experiment there either.

The only way to have the kind of characters with lasting appeal is to go back to the old way of production, with a million different characters all being tested over and over again, refined, and then exploited for all they're worth.

Jeffrey said...

GUY:"No one has yet to come up with a cartoon with "deep" subject matter where the animation isn't crude and/or matters."

Check out "The Iron Giant" and "Grave of the Fireflies" for deep without crude.

For a TV series, watch "Paranoia Agent", one of the most sophisticated animated shows I've ever seen (it's better subtitled). I swear that Satoshi Kon is the animation equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock or Rod Serling. And, he doesn't animate in "manga" style (big purple eyes, etc.). His people tend to actually look like people; at least more than in other anime.

BadIdeaSociety said...

John: I would never knock a show for having lack-luster animation, but I will knock a show for not being entertaining. The Hanna-Barbera shorts from the golden era is "better" than today's show in terms of voices and basic designs, but I think the average TV toon from the 50s and 60s is more likely on par with the toons of today.

The programs that resonate with generations beyond their original run are Bugs Bunny, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Popeye, The Jetsons, The Flintstones -- and for some ungodly reason -- Scooby-Doo. I am not sure that The Jetsons, The Flintstones or Scooby-Doo offer enduring comedic value... but the can be entertaining.

Martin Thomas said...

Real nice of you to take a quick drawing I did out of context and refer to it as a shining example of "generic and proud".

When you were searching out examples of characters that can't stand the test of time was there no one with a drawing of the Ripping Friends?

Hmmn...probably not.

JohnK said...

Are we talking about the same drawing?

I meant the one that is called "extremely ordinary". Isn't it on purpose?

Tim said...

"How many horrible Bugs Bunny cartoons have you seen made in the last 25 years?"

Not that many, as Warner Bros. keeps focusing on their lousy Saturday morning cartoons and Cartoon Network material to care about him. Then again, after Space Jam and Back in Action, I'm glad they started ignoring the poor rabbit. It's kind of like that one episode of Ren and Stimpy Adult Party, where a younger Ren kept torturing a frog but refused to kill him just to watch him suffer. I think that's the perfect analogy for any classic cartoon characters that keep being handled by modern-day animation companies who think CG is the one tool needed to make great cartoons.

davidshortell said...

Popeye's not bald. He's a redhead!

Kevin Vito said...

Thank you John! This post has inspired me. Those pictures of Popeye especially.
I'm drawing a comic book you see, but I'm still working on the character designs.
Before I read this post, I was totally stumped for this one character. Now the answer is clear to me: This character I'm working on is basically Popeye as a Dungeons & Dragons character. So instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, why not just copy Popeye but make him green?

BluBoy Comics by Ryan Spencer said...

Thanks John for posting all your knowledge!

I just found your Blogs. So great!
I will see if I can get some kind of a donation together.

Great to hear about how the world has been and is working out their... As I am in the Packaging Design world. Things can be very similar that way. Instead characters, its Branding...

But my first dream as a kid was to be a cartoonist. And I hope one day, or at least hope to perfect my Strip, Bluboy and get that off the ground... hmmm

Cheers! ^_^

Waqas Malik said...

you can at least agree that cartoons of the golden era were DRAWN better than today. if you actually read some of John's post you'd realize that cartoons of the past used rules and principles. now its turned to graphic design. i think your forgetting what cartoons literally mean: they're supposed to be CARTOONY

Waqas Malik said...

just because something is popular doesn't mean its quality entertainment. kids and adults alike buy and consume the dumbest crap solely because everyone else watches it. that's like saying jersey shore is art because it's popular.

Waqas Malik said...

my thoughts exactly :,,)

Waqas Malik said...

i just gotta add how you keep defending "deep" stories yet have a profile pic of earthworm jim. you do realize how slapstick and comedic that character is right?

Vampire Danceparty said...

Wow. Things have changed A LOT since this post was written. Cartoons today are better than ever. Adventure Time, Regular Show, Adult Swim, Bob's Burgers, Kung Fu Panda, Toy Story, the list goes on & on. I love all the classic cartoons, too. But, after a couple years watching them as a kid, I grew bored of their same old antics. Except for Popeye & Fleischer. They always gave me something new. And, that's happening with a lot of today's cartoons.