Saturday, November 29, 2008

Solid Drawing Preview

You might confuse the concept of "solid drawing" with "detailed drawing" or realistic drawing".

Solid just means that the form can be moved well in 3 dimensional space. All the details fit snugly onto the form.

The eyes are in the right place on the head, the face is in perspective....the features don't float around as they do in Terrytoons, Shamus Culhane cartoons and modern Disney fully animated features.

In the 40s, everyone copied the Disney/Warner's style - a style made up of simple yet solid constructions. But not everyone really understood it, so there were a lot of sloppy mushy cartoons made by the lesser studios.No form in any of these drawings.
Some of this sloppiness could be attributed to bad inbetweeners and clean up artists; it's hard to know without seeing the actual animators' drawings.


The more details you have, and the more realistic your proportions (tall characters with small heads) the harder it is to control the solidity of them. 30s and 40s cartoons evolved a drawing approach that made it easier to control your details and forms in 3 dimensions - but you still have to understand form and hierarchy or your characters will melt, like in late 30s early 40s Walter Lantz cartoons.

Here's the gay lead in Disney's "Pleasure Package" who can't make up his mind whether to marry the big burly brute who beats him - or his Mom. (who's the same age as him) (I won't give away the ending)
The animators had a hell of a time turning the character's head in space because he didn't have a solid construction. The angular planes at the top of his head didn't match the perspective of his head positions. His facial features aren't anchored solidly on his face. His nose is too low and too vague. His teeth aren't set into his jaw, so his mouth just floated like a magic hole on a sea of flesh color. - like Anime characters, only not so stylized.
Watch a clip of the character moving if you have this classic in your library. You can see his features floating all over the place. His face is constantly trying to find where his head is. I find this extremely distracting and I can't follow the importance of the storyline of whether he will stay with the butch or leave to marry his Mom. (I won't give away the ending)

On another note, would you hang out with this guy?

Bob McKimson was the king of solid drawing

McKimson was so good at drawing anything from any angle, that he didn't have to rely on animation tricks to move from pose to pose. He could move slowly, directly and naturally - moving his heads and bodies into very difficult to draw angles. His characters move less like typical squashy stretchy cartoon characters and more like people. Clampett was able to act out human scenes to McKimson, who would memorize the acting and just draw the scene straight ahead, with no melting and no reliance on animation tricks.

Milt Kahl is also a very solid animator, but it's a bit harder to see in motion because he does use a lot of the other Disney animation tricks.

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There is a lot more to say about solid drawing. To me, it's the most important principle of drawing there is. It seems to be completely out of fashion today.


What's this hair-theory? Why do so many feature cartoons have male leads with half-hair? Half long, half short. This one even has a rat poo coming out of it. Who at the studios thinks we will identify with a weirdo like this? "The burly man-brute? Or Mom? It's such a hard decision!"


Rudy Tenebre said...

forms without form or just plain bad form?

Isaac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shawn said...

>>On another note, would you hang out with this guy?<<

Sheesh! I'd be too tempted to beat the living crap out of him.

I'd be pals with Bugs though!

David Gale said...

They have shitty hair because nerds have terrible fashion sense.

Sagelights said...

omg I totally agree with treasure planet. His face, something was wrong with it, mainly that constant shadow that makes him look like a neanderthal.
And I absolutely hate regular animation with this obvious computer animation that's done usually for vehicles and stuff, its so distracting and this movie was full of it, which to makes me it feel that its cheap for some reason, not to mention also that airbrush quality.

Actually John believe it or not that character has a really huge fan deviant art, which surprised me when I found it. So I guess there are some people who would. Though I just liked the pink goo thing I thought it was cute but not redeeming for that movie.

lol at the last pic.

Tim said...

As I was reading your comments about solid drawing, the first cartoon that sprang to my mind is "Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid." I'm astounded by Rod Scribner's animation of the Snerd Bird in that one. His ungainly form is rendered from all directions and is always convincing and palpable, even when he crash lands and his body folds up like an accordion. I can't think of another instance where an animator has rendered the underside of a bird's beak, but Scribner delights in it here, and the odd head tilts really give life to the goofy vulture.

Zam3d said...

You forgot Captain Amelia, who is just a hibrid cat-face in a human body.


bob said...

hey john k, i know this dosnt have anything to do with solid drawing, but what do you think of joe murrays work. rockos modern life and camp lazlo. camp lazlo seems like it has everthing you love about a cartoon, it has great colors and fun characters.

oppo said...

"What's this hair-theory? Why do so many feature cartons have male leads with half-hair? Half long, half short. This one even has a rat poo coming out of it."

I laughed there.

Toncho said...

Impressive. You are absolutely right. It sucks for so many reasons. This is pure gold, keep up the good work John!

PS. What about George Liquor, Is he ever coming back?

oppo said...

I thought you would've said something about Glen Keane's Long John Silver, considering his penchant for weird design. The Beast, Ratigan, etc.

Rob Peters said...

The human character designs in that movie were so awful. It looks like someone was trying an edgy version of the classic Disney style, but without the technical skills to make the characters work or any idea what "edgy" was. Also, what's up with that small scar on the hero's cheek? It moved from left to right throughout the whole movie.

red. said...

...And I had just spent the last 6 or so years trying to forget the abortion that WAS 'Treasure Planet'...

Anonymous said...

Let me see if I got this right:

Bob McKimson: solid drawings.
Bob Clampett: solid drawings.

John Ripa and any animator working on any Disney feature since about 1986: mushy, floaty drawings?

(And on the note, I agree with you on the whole "Treasure Planet" stuff, although, I sorta like the movie. And the gay jokes were priceless.

Mr. Kricfalusi, you dog, you.)

Christine Gerardi said...

Awesome post, John. I never knew that McKimson was the one who could draw like that.

I noticed the same thing about the bad drawing when I watched the supposedly good Alladin a while back. There was no construction whatsoever.

Niki said...

His forehead is doing this 'thing' I don't like, and his hair is too low.

garsh, Mr. John. Is there some program you use to catch the inbetweens?

Isaac said...
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Miguel said...

Hell, John!
Where do you get all thes time? :)
Your posts are more than brilliant. Thank you very, very much.
Eventually, Treasure Planet, despite its corny mixture of Nelvana stuff, pseudo-manga and Disneyesque conventions, is an interesting feature. At least it is viewable. Or something.
Well, I was obligued to watch Beauty and the Beast by my 3 years old (shes has an exquisite taste on Animation but fails there) and it´s even worse than I remembered. I had to watch some hours of classics and
My tastes are similar than yours regarding to Animated Cartoons but my hopes regarding to (drawn) Animation are not in what north americans are doing right now. Unfortunately.

Just a comment: Mo from "Coogy" (in that Mary Mo Goofs of " comic strip you posted )resembles Chuck Jones´Junior baby bear in The Three Bears (or viceversa). Isn´t it?

Where does that particular solid drawing and design in Chuck Jones come from (I mean in The Three Bears, Charlie Dog stuff, etc) Art Heinemann? Whom?

Freckled Derelict said...

Hey John,
I posted the Grandpa Bunny book and I have some other Dick Kelsey books I'll post later tonight.
I'm curious to hear your thoughts on Campbell Grant, I love his Disney books.
If you click the link z-Walt Disney Studios you can see all the disney books listed.

Taco Wiz said...

No offense, but is it really worth picking on Treasure Planet? Even if the art IS godawful, it was one of the biggest financial failures in box office history. I'd rather you pick on something that people rarely dare to pick on.

The Butcher said...

I would love to see a post comparing actual realistic, illustrative drawing to the Disney pseudo-realistic trend. Perhaps the good examples can include Jack Kirby and Frank Frazetta.

Cartoon Crank said...

Interesting that the two frame grabs from ABOU BEN BOOGIE are taken from Grim Natwick's scenes in the cartoon as examples of 'formless'...

Niki said...

Me again,speaking on construction, when we start making cartoons should we make a fully constructed drawing character each time, or should we make the constructed figure on the reference sheet and free hand it the rest of the way?

saying it I think I know the answer.


Sara J said...

Am I the only one who found out Jim was EXTREMELY HOT when I first saw the movie poster? Much hotter than any prince or male character in lots of animations.

No matter what you've said, that's a success.

Ted said...

The Abou Ben Boogie screen is from a shot where the guy is about to float off into the air; isn't the formlessness appropriate to accentuate the cloud he's about to act like?
About 50 seconds into this clip:

JohnK said...

The whole cartoon is pretty formless; standing, flying, sitting still.

Lantz didn't start getting well formed drawings and tight timing till the mid to late 40s.

Vanoni! said...


I needed a laugh this morning.

Zoran Taylor said...

YEs, Sara J, you are the only one. And as a "straight" male, I would "go gay" for McKimson's Bugs in a split second. Show of hands here, who thinks THAT's weird? Anyone? (Ren too, BTW)

Geneva said...


Could you talk more about solid drawing? Tips, exercises, maybe? You're identifying huge problems in my drawings that no one's ever told me are problems before, and I think when it comes to improving, "solid drawing" seems like a good starting point. I'd really appreciate it.

Also, someone else has said this, I'm sure, but you should really consider publishing a book. Even if it's just this blog with big pictures, it'd be a huge resource for the thousands of other young cartoonists who have no idea we're doin' it so wrong/what to do about it.

bookum said...

what do you mean by milt kahl's disney tricks?

Roberto González said...

I didn't think the drawings were especially awful in Treasure Planet. I don't like Jim's design but as far as I remember the animation wasn't too bad. I'll rewatch though, but I believe Beauty and The Beast and Hunchback of Notre Dame had more of those type of problems.

Treasure Planet has this Nelvana-Wolfgang Reitherman look that I find a little less bland than regular realistic Disney.

It's not my favourite style but it looks solid to me, perhaps not so much in Jim, but more in the other characters, like the dog-face guy or Long John Silver.

The story in that movie was quite boring, though.

Maximum Awesome said...

Treasure-Planet-guy's eyes always made me want to go bobbing for apples.

John, do you actually have a story of animators complaining about that guy, or are you reasoning backwards from the poor result?

Roberto González said...

Wow, forgot about my other comment, it was obviously a long time since I first watched Treasure Planet, I'm rewatching it right now on youtube and both Jim and her mother have very weird movements and facial expressions. I still like the monsters and humanoids though.

Niki said...

Just watched the start of treasure planet, remembered that I turned it off a year-or-two ago after that air-spinning-thing at the start. and watched abou ben boogie a few minutes ago, the video quality was bad but it still looked like one of those grossly done cartoons I'd turn off.

I screen caught a picture of the treasure planet bum with his eyes hanging off the side like it was the big thang today! yeah I grossed out when I realized how bad things had gotten

introvert said...

I hope preview means there's much more to come, because we can't get enough of the stuff! (If anyone could learn one thing about drawing, it needs to be this!)

Making fun of ill-contrived disney flicks is just icing on the cake!

Paul B said...

in animation you should also have to animate in hierarchy? i mean, first you animate de general forms, thenthe second level of forms and then the details.

Adam Oliver said...

This is, if you don't mind my french, a f**king funny post. I take it 'Pleasure Package' is one of your favs then.

What gets me is that it is possibly one of the best books ever written for translation to film, and yet they managed to bugger it up real good.

Anyway, this post is my favourite for comedy.

J. McNair said...

I remember now, he first time I watched treasure planet, I remember liking the "alien" characters much better than the human ones, but the whole movie turned me off somehow.

Some time ago, I took a sculpture class with live models and now I can't look at anything the same way.

I later realized I was a sucker for Disney smoothness. Oil-slick melting forms will make the average person forgive a lot. Note I said "forgive" not "ignore", as I think everyone can instinctively SEE what makes a solid drawing, even if they don't know the principles.

I am proud to say my drawings are much less like formless poo, thanks to that class and John K's history lessons. But I shan't be working in animation anytime soon.

Finally, I can tell you who likes TP's Jim Hawkins: 14 year old girls. He was created to combine proto-emo, cool/dangerous bad-boy and squeaky clean boy-band looks. Adult women, young children, straight and gay guys are repulsed. Something tells me that the poor artist who worked on him had to deal with the MOST executive meddling.

Steven T said...

Hey, uh... When you were saying all that stuff about Treasure Planet I couldn't understand a single word you were talking about. Explain?

Kiki said...

Now that you mention it, that guy does look like a super anime character. That's really sad!

Hilarious comments though, and I agree with David on the bad fashion sense thing.

Also, have you noticed that nearly every lead male character in an RPG has a belly shirt?

PCUnfunny said...

"On another note, would you hang out with this guy?"

If he was in a gay pride parade, the gays would be beat him up.

Chris said...

Hey John,

I was wondering if you could explain a bit about Disney animation tricks, like when you refer to Milt Kahl. I rewatched some of those Medusa scenes, but my eyes don't really know what to look for in regards to separating out the solid construction and the Disney tricks. And very many thanks for these solid construction posts you've been doing. I've been studying them intently since you started posting them.


Tanya said...

Great, funny post. Everything about Treasure Planet always looked a little funky to me; now I know why. I never really realize how much solid drawing has gone down the drain until I read your blog. :)

mark said...

I LOVE Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, Histeria, The Smurfs, Family Guy, and South Park, and what you've said over the years has made me cry or several different occasions. I no longer cry because i finally realized that it's not that you don't like the cartoons you just despise TV itself. you are hell bent on getting shitty cartoons to air so televisions, cable company's, and dish providers will all become extinct.

Mattieshoe said...

John, I really don't think comments like Mark's have much to offer any fans of animation. I think they just shouldn't be posted.

Mattieshoe said...

Also, that character is a perfect example of superficially copying the bad qualities of something decent.

The reason I can stand some Anime is because it's (sometimes) cute, well-drawn, and cartoony. Those are really the only ones I like. Unfortunately all Japanese Animation, whether it be Cartoony, or bland, shares the same surface features that are associated with the "Anime Style", and that's what was injected into this terrible character.

They didn't copy the Cartooniness of some or even the good aesthetic drawing skills of others, all they copied was the Angular face and floating features, which just make the character seem even more vague and uninteresting.

Loren Broaddus said...

"Some of this sloppiness could be attributed to bad inbetweeners or clean-up artists.."

Probably the reason that Culhane's cartoons look bad is inconsistency in cleanups, as Culhane was more focused on ambitious filmic procedures. For example, in "Barber of Seville", one scene with Woody is done fairly solidly, while another later shot by the same animator "floats" as you call it.
Probably another reason that I think it was cleanups is because during that period of Lantz cartoons, animators worked there who were renowned for solid drawing, from veterans like Grim Natwick and Emery Hawkins to new talents like the underrated Pat Matthews. Actually, the majority of Matthews' and Hawkins' scenes during Culhane's stint as a director are cleaned up pretty well. Hawkins only animated on about five of Dick Lundy's cartoons before leaving for Warners, but Matthews stayed at Lantz, where his animation would only improve thanks to Lundy's more careful attention to animation cleanups.