Monday, November 03, 2008

Basic HB Head Bob for Andrew

Eddie will hate this post. Sorry, Eddie.

In the late 50s when theatrical cartoons became too expensive to produce, Bill Hanna developed a system of limited animation that kept a lot of animators in food. A lot of people hate it, but the reality of TV production is you can't do a lot of drawings. My own solution to that was to use more interesting key poses, instead of stock - "on-model" poses that all look the same.

Bill and the 50s animators figured out some tricks to "keep the characters alive" so they weren't just held drawings. Probably their main tool for this is the "head-bob". They animate the heads bouncing up and down slightly according to the accents in the actor's dialogue rack.
There are all kinds of variations you can do with head bobs and other techniques to make it more interesting, but here is a super basic one just to get the idea across.

Key 1 - main head position (H-1)
Each head bob starts from a main position- with the head in the middle - not up or down.
This particular head bob only has 2 keys- middle head position and down position. You can also have an up head position, but this one doesn't.

mouths are animated on another level.

key 2 (H-5) down position for accents
The animator draws the head in another key position - this one is tilted down slightly.
Then he calls for inbetweens. There are 3 inbetweens in this particular head bob. They are timed pretty evenly. This is the inbetween in the middle between the first key (middle head position) and the second key (down position).

The animator listens to the sound track.
He listens for the accent in BooBoo's sentence.

"how 'bout HONEY Yogi?"

Then he moves the head down on "Hon" and leaves it there for "honey" before the head comes up again.

This visual accent reinforces the meaning of the dialogue, by following the actor's reading.

Here there is some extended dialogue, and the animator creates his head bob drawings, then re-uses them in different orders according to the accents in the dialogue.

It's not a modern timing formula. Today, especially in Flash we tend to rely on avoiding inbetweens by anticitating the first pose and then zipping past the final pose and "cushioning" back into the final key.

That technique can be useful for fast actions, but becomes monotonous when used to connect every single key pose. You don't always want to draw attention to each action - and this Flash technique does that and competes with the meaning of the scene.

The old animators used a variety of techniques and timings - even when doing their "limited animation". The head bob is one technique of many that has a lot of potential variations when a clever animator does it. Ed Love was great at making limited animation sem fuller than what it really was and I'll show some of his stuff in another post.

Mouths are animated for each of the inbetween poses as well as the keys. Then when the head bobs up and down, there is a continuous flow of dialgue.

Of course, nothing is better than good full animation, but not too many TV shows have ever been able to afford that, so we make due with the tools we have. These old HB cartoons were produced for about 1 10th the budgets of their earlier Tom and Jerry cartoons. Sad, but that's the ugly reality! The funny part is, I like these cartoons better than Tom and Jerry.

Not having beautiful full animation to rely on, Joe Barbera switched the focus of his cartoons to character, rather than action - at least for a couple of years until it all became another formula.


Dan said...

I can't wait to compare the two (Tom and Jerry and Yogi) myself. I love Tom and Jerry, Yogi DVDs on the way...

ArtF said...

Good Stuff, John. I always love these animation/timing posts.

junior1989 said...

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Frank Macchia said...

interesting post john.

it seems inevitable that those clever "tricks" will become exploited formulas

this summer, one of the directors showed me a sequence from the looney tunes short "Birds Anonymous" used a similar "trick" that we were told to use for extended diologue.

when the cats meet in the alley for their support group, there's a lot of medium shot diologue goin on....not a lot of opportunity for the characters were animated to do half a head rotation and snap back into place to emphasize certain words.

obviously looney tunes have more full animation than hannah barbera stuff, but in that sequence of "birds anonymous" that "head turn" trick is used about a million times..its obviously not a spontaneous acting works though...and i guess its not such a bad thing if you can get away with using a trick porporly.

but yeah, i def agree with you in that it seems like animation these days is all about ONLY using the worn out tricks and formulas.

Tony said...

Hi John,
this post is great! Thank you man!! Your analysis on limited animation will help me to experience a lot with my own characters.


Andy J. Latham said...

Interestingly, my tastes as a kid were very much towards Tom and Jerry, but as I have got older I have grown far more fond of the more limited HB stuff. I still love full traditional animation, but there is something very appealing about boiling the craft down to it's nuts and bolts in the form of limited animation.

I'm trying to study more limited stuff at the moment, looking at it's application in Flash. Reading this post has got me thinking about the similarities and differences between the old limited animation and Flash animation. Would you consider doing a post comparing a show that has existed in both forms? Gerald McBoing Boing perhaps? It might be a very interesting topic.

stevef said...

And the eye blinks. Don't forget the eye blinks. I swear, nobody had their characters blink more than H-B. Everybody uses an eye blink for a comic beat, but H-B characters blink all the time, just to remind you they're alive. It works on Yogi Bear, but it's just plain useless in Scooby Doo. I wonder of there was a formula or dictate on making the characters blink a certain number of frames?

Ross Radiation said...

great post. I too like this limited animation Yogi Bear, Huck Hound etc more than Tom & Jerry. I like the character design, voices and overall personalities more. The animation in Tom & Jerry is amazing but I find I rarely relate/connect with the characters

Phantom Spitter said...

There's something about the simplicity of HB cartoons that I find fascinating. To me they're not great, but they're not bad, and somehow they're not even between good and bad, but they're on another level. The level of simplicity, which can be bad if you use it in a boring way, like Family Guy, but HB used the level of simplicity to great effect, completely different from today's horrible cartoons on FOX, which are at the very bottom of the level of simplicity. HB made their cartoons very interesting, to me at least. I really can't explain it.

JoJo said...

Thanks John. I like how Ed Love varies the bobs not only with differences in timing but the mouth shapes as well.

But I'm wondering, how did focusing on character become formulaic? Did the personalities get blanded down and not call for more interesting stories?

Frog God said...

Have you ever thought of lending your cartoon talents to the Ben 10 alien force series?
make your own alien, story line
movie 2

sponge bob square pants

animated series

Futurama movie 3,4

Ren and Stimpy
-video game for X-Box
-guitar picks

-talking dolls, action figures, log

Larry Levine said...

Being a kid in the late 1960's & early 70's I cannot express the importance the early 'good' HB cartoons played on local NYC television.(Yes,kids..there was indeed a time when HB, Fleischer, WB, MGM,Famous/Harvey & Terrytoons aired on pre-cable broadcast television multiple times a day)

What made these earlier HB productions work was along with the 'head bobs' to give additional life & flavor to the limited animation--the designs, writing, voice casting,music & everything else about these cartoons were top-notch(especially compared to the limited animated junk of the time like Courageous Cat & Minute Rice).

For me the HB cartoons of this era were as much alive as the fully animated golden age classics airing along side them.

Kali Fontecchio said...

I love Booboo doing anything.

Roberto González said...

I haven't really seen too many of these cartoons. I'll defend that Tom and Jerry have strong personalities one more time, but I also get tired of their generic aspect sometimes. The wackiest shorts are fantastic, though (stuff like The Zoot Cat will always be fantastic).

Maybe I should check this Hanna Barbera stuff a little more but I'm not so much in love with it.

David Germain said...

when the cats meet in the alley for their support group, there's a lot of medium shot diologue goin on....not a lot of opportunity for the characters were animated to do half a head rotation and snap back into place to emphasize certain words.

Hey, Frank. I believe that sequence was done by Gerry Chiniquy. He used that trick alot.

SoleilSmile said...

It was great seeing Ranger Smith on Adult Swim Friday night. Make more. Please.

I would love to see what you would do with Huckleberry Hound and Snagglepuss too. They were my favorite HB characters from the early 60's.

Niki said...

I like boo boo alot but I really want to learn both kinds of animation, maybe we can find some way to lower the price with flash.

I really want to know why no one has tried full animation in flash.

John A said...

The H-B cartoons really benefitted from top-notch voice talent and experienced cartoon writers. (Maltese and Foster, both from Warners, not too shabby.) The limited animation had a nice "solid" look when it was hand inked, a few years later they switched to the xerox method and the artwork started to really get clumsy (sometimes the cel set ups weren't even in register.) I know their budgets were about one tenth of their MGM budgets, but the talent involved elevated the final product. Compare this to some of the crap Filmation was doing (Superman, The Lone Ranger)around this time. H-B had a nice simple workable house style that died once the comic book bug infected their output

Frank Macchia said...

thanks david

interesting stuff. i had wondered if it was Freleng's decision or if it was just one of the animator's calling cards.

Gerry Chiniquy...ill have to compare it to some of his other stuff.

heres a link to the episode if anyone wants to check it out.

Rudy Tenebre, esteemed secretary. said...

Wonderful analysis, even for the lay enthusiast.

The HB tropes in your Ranger Smith cartoons, (the torso bob!) and elsewhere, your use of the sound f/x vocabulary of HB in the 60's and seventies, all like poetic allusions to the history of your medium!

I wonder if these allusions resonate at all with these youngsters who, unlike yourself, never saw these cartoons when they were relatively new, and myself, who saw them endlessly syndicated in the 70's and 80's?

The 90's 'cartoon renaissance' is trash! Like single panel gag cartoons come to life with the emphasis on the script and not the artform! Endless stylizations like shit on the heel!

Whit said...

There should be a Snagglepuss cartoon where he says "Heavens to Murgatroid" until Bert Lahr shows up and sues. Then Snagglepuss changes his catchphrase to "Heavens to Betsy" and Lahr chokes on a Lay's potato chip and dies. I would watch that.

Niki said...

but Whit, we all know the story now.