Friday, November 28, 2008

Irv Spector and Style

When people who don't already have strong drawing skills think of "style", they are usually thinking about the last layer or the surface layer of a drawing - the line, the finish, or some trick of the shape of the character's eye.
I know if you make a nice clean storyboard with bold black lines, it impresses the Hell out of executives - even if the drawings underneath the polished line smell like your cat box.

Young cartoonists are a little more sophisticated than animation executives because they can recognize a stylish looser line, but the same problem exists - just to a slightly lesser degree. The youngsters love their squared off fingers and 'tude faces, thinking that they are somehow symbols of high style or that they are drawing just like Milt Kahl. Modern squared fingers and hands (and faces) are 2 dimensional and only have a few easy-to-draw positions vs Kahl's whose are 3 dimensional. These have a potentially infinite amount of angles and attitudes - a huge difference in skill and quality. (I still find them offensively ugly though)

Corners do not make style. Simple surface elements without solid principles underneath are merely excuses for ignorance.

This panel, on the surface looks like Walt Kelly. The loose brush lines on the dog's nose is definitely a Kelly trademark.Spector uses a lot more dynamic angles and compositions than Kelly and also has a very unique style of shapes he uses that distinguish him from Kelly and other animation cartoonists.

If a young cartoonist liked this style, he might think that the secret to it is wobbly lines and shapes.

If you could copy this line style, that wouldn't by itself give you the ability to draw a good composition, perspective, line of action and construction - all of which these drawings have.

You might think the construction is off here because the belly shape doesn't fit 100% on the pussy's form. It definitely doesn't, but I can see that the form is very solidly suggested, but the lines just skirt around on top of the form like a loose glove. The knowledge of construction is completely there though.

Compare to Harvey Eisenberg's lines which fit around the construction like a tight glove.

It's like when a great singer like Sinatra takes the lyrics and melody and just barely avoids delivering it right where it's written in mathematical tempo. Instead he uses and is applauded for his "phrasing" - his slightly loose interpretation of the timing. He starts some words before where you expect them to hit, and some after - and it isn't at random. It's all according to great sensitivity and emotion. He is expertly toying with the listener's expectations. He knows exactly where every note is supposed to land, but varies it on purpose for emotional effects that can't be written in words or in musical notation.

Frank can sing on key, has a wide range, has great rhythm, great control and enunciation - all principles of good singing. The last thing he does after learning his fundamental skills is give you his fantastic moving style.

I like these big pupils but wouldn't assume that if I drew big pupils I would automatically have my own style or could draw just like Irv Spector.

Irv Spector has a unique style - it only superfically looks like Kelly. What actually makes it unique is much harder to define.

It's completely obvious to me though, that he has the same background knowledge and skill that most of the classic animators had. Without that, an animator is crippled. Just like a singer who can't carry a tune.

Listen to Frank and Ollie....starting with "SOLID DRAWING" That's where it all begins - including the journey towards style.


matthew said...

Hello John,
My Name is Matthew and I was wondering if you do T-shirts Designs and stuff Like that.

Reply at:

Deniseletter said...

Good comparison with Sinatra's rubato!

Sherm said...

John: Your Sinatra analogy is totally dead-on -- I'd never thought of brush strokes and rendering in comparison to a singer's phrasing, but it's a wonderfully enlightening comparison.

Thanks for the daily creative challenges! --sherm

Andy J. Latham said...

natra. I guess the same could be applied to motion with animation. Hit poses when audiences aren't expecting them?

Dan szilagyi said...

While i agree that most if not all modern cartoons look pretty ugly you seem to give me the impression that you think these "young cartoonists" aren't good artists because you only show the examples of what they did for TV, if i'm not mistaken that "squared fingers" drawing is done by Steve Silver and i'm sure as hell he knows all about shape, construction and line weight.
The fact that he did it for a TV show doesn't mean he couldn't do something better, but you didn't mention that simple styles also lend themselves to an easier time animating, i'm sure you've seen some examples of horrible animation done overseas because of the design being too tough to animate.

Enef said...

Just a stupid comment to say: Hey, that's great to see all that wonderful stuff!
I really like it and it helps me a lot in my own job!
I'm really fond of "old fashioned" comics and cartoons. We got a lot to learn from all there guys.
Thanks you!

klil said...

thank you professor.

I learn a lot in this blog.

abra├žo do Brasil
(it means a hug in portuguese)

JohnK said...

Hi Dan

everyone draws square fingers today. It's like a disease. It has nothing to do with what overseas animators do. It's just plain easy and mindless. People think it's hip to all be the same.

Larry Levine said...

Irv Spector's drawing style has a playful Milt Gross quality to it.

Calvin Ashmore said...

Hi John! Please give us a post about solid drawing. What is solid drawing? What isn't? It sounds textbook and rudimentary, but it's clearly something that animators either struggle with or haven't learned. It would be fantastic if you could give some instruction.


JohnK said...

click the "construction" label at the bottom of the post and many articles will come up

I'm gonna do a post to illustrate Frank and Ollie's article soon

just gathering pics and clips...

David Germain said...

Yes indeed, learning the basics is important. I certainly keep that in mind while drawing (whenever I have time to do my own drawings anyway).

Latest attempt!

I think I'm getting better but I'd like a second opinion.

Rudy Tenebre said...

You gettin' this Spector stuff from the sterling authority of Ger, or have you managed to aquire some of these books firsthand? What were they published in, like ferinstance, Animal Antics, or Ha Ha Comics, or the like? Or were they newspaper strips?

MikeL said...

Interesting perspective. I actually like "some" of the squared stuff... but the problem is that it has become trendy and is done in everything as you said John.

The 90's Batman cartoon is the earliest I can remember this style, and it was done that way for flavor.

What of the 3d stuff? I've noticed that all of that animation is taking a "Pixar" look.... which also includes some of the squared edges and whatnot... examples range from the Incredibles to the new Clone Wars series.

Rudy Tenebre said...

Also, with the exception of an instance or two of rather pronounced perspective reduction, I see nothing in the Spector compositions here that cannot be found in Kelly. And as far as construction is concerned, where Kelly is quite staid,
(or "on model" as you yucks are wont to say) Spector seems, contrary to the subtle elision of your Sinatra analogy, a really wonderfully violent disabuse of character construction verging on the amorphous. Now yer gonna reply that beneath this veil of appearence lies the knowlege of mastery in fundamnetal principles, but that don't detract from the defection Spector commits. All right, lemmie have it, jack.

PCUnfunny said...

I've seen those square hands in animated films dating back over thirty years, amazing how little has changed. I love those Spector drawings, it's so tempting to copy but I know I shouldn't.

Anonymous said...

Hi, John. First of all, thank you for making this blog and staying with it for so long. If it didn't exist I might still be one of the those people obsessed with Disney just because everyone else is.

Also, I'm curious about getting into the industry. I'd like to make my own cartoons independently, but obviously that would become a financial burden after a while. In today's animation industry, is anyone NOT outsourcing to Asia? I could rough it out making crappy shows, but I'm worried that there aren't any studios left who would hire in the States.

Love the part about Sinatra, by the way. --Michael

Brandon D. said...

Square fingers and angles, does this mean you'll be chastising Jack Kirby (his later work), or Bruce Timm's designs?

Will said...

Reading about hands and style, remined me of all the asterix books, which have so much style and really really nicly drawn hands, and all the illistrations carry great emotion. But i found that you cannot truely apriciate what Uderzo puts into his works untill you try to draw them yourself. =)

Lucas Nine said...

Irv's work have a little flavor of Feininger's. By the way, I would like to see someday how your “line of action“ analysis applies to Lyonel's comic pages...

Jeremy said...

Its great to see how the old masters really thought about their characters and invested themselves in creating the best performances. These comic panels are really appealing with great, sincere storytelling because these guys spent the time to know their character and had the chops to craft what they visualized.
Today, not only is an over emphasis on style an issue but so is lack of thought and a belief that simplicity = easy. Its really hard once someone has gone down that path to restart and get headed in a better direction - but its worth the effort :)

Humphrey Erm said...

"The youngsters love their squared off fingers and 'tude faces, thinking that they are somehow symbols of high style or that they are drawing just like Milt Kahl."

First of all, I doubt today's youngsters even know who Milt Kahl is, so I doubt that they think these styles are 'inferior' variations of his style.

Secondly, you just said kids love this, regardless if it isn't high style and such. In the end, isn't that the market that the cartoon was aiming for to begin with? The youngsters? Not the middle aged men who lived through the golden age of animation or at least cares about it?

JohnK said...

Well let's all become more retarded and inbred with each generation.

We'll let the marketing departments forge our personalities. They know best.

Humphrey Erm said...

"Well let's all become more retarded and inbred with each generation.

We'll let the marketing departments forge our personalities. They know best."

The first sentence I'd say is base on pure subjectivity, though you have an entire blog to use for the validity of your statement, and I wont delve into that too much, seeing that you cant really debate about a subjective matter.

Your second comment there though reeks of truth (in the sense that its a sarcastic point that I'm not taking at face value).

Naturally we don't want marketing departments to forge our personalities, but are they really? If not them (in regards to cartoons) then who? Should we let you forge our personalities? I'm not too sure which one is better to tell you the truth.

No personal offenses meant by the way, and I apologize if I have. I merely want to spark discussion and debate.

Mr. Semaj said...

everyone draws square fingers today

Maybe I'm missing something, but I've only seen a few cartoons, on the Disney Channel and Cartoon Network with this "square digit" syndrome.

Guy said...

I like how people use "kids like it" as a defense.

As if there's anything on television that isn't one of several slightly different brands of ugly and crude.

And kids are liking them less and less with every generation.

PCUnfunny said...

And kids are liking them less and less with every generation."

I have never seen kids like this stuff and enjoy it. I have seen them sit down and watch Danny Phantom and they are bored out of their minds. I have seen a group of adults watch American Dad, not a single person laughed during the whole episode. Very few people like the garbage on today, they only watch it because there is nothing else better on.

Guy said...

Don't worry, I only used "like" in the sense that they don't actively hate them.

I've certainly never seen a kid watch one of today's cartoons doing anything but staring in a zombie-like daze, maybe giggling once in a few hours.