Sunday, December 14, 2008

Appealing Character Design Goes A Long Way

Not every artist or cartoonist has natural appeal. Some , like Freddie Moore and Rod Scribner have naturally appealing styles and can take other people's designs or even generic designs and draw them with great appeal.

Since there are so few of these artists who can make almost anything look good, animation developed the concept of having specialists in appeal that we call character designers. A good character designer, unlike a stylist actually thinks about his appeal. It's partly a science of balancing shapes and contrasts in order to make an assortment of characters who vary from each other in design. You can see in Ed Benedict's baseball players above that he is consciously experimenting with arranging different shapes together. They aren't good merely because they look simple or flat or designy - there is a lot of careful thought in them. Ed has natural appeal in his drawings and strong principles in general, and top of those 2 rare abilities he is visually creative - which is different than being able to draw well. The 9 Old Men are all very strong in principles, but rarely show much imagination in their designs. They recycled the same designs over and over again for decades, with very slight variation.

There is a modern mindset that every artist is a potential designer, which I find absurd. In 80s and 90s Disney feature films, it looks as if they let each animator design his own character and most of them are pretty bland, awkward and uninspired. Plus they don't work with each other in the same films.

Then there is the Hip TV Executive mindset that thinks that as long as you have not been tainted with experience in the animation business, then you have a revolutionary new design style. The executives of course can't tell what is actually new or not, because they are ignorant of cartoon history, and worse than that, they can't even tell a good drawing from a bad one. And they view actually appealing professional drawings as being "too old school".

Now to me, no matter what the budget of your cartoon is - whether it is a $400,000,000 fully animated feature, or a low budget TV cartoon, there is no excuse for any cartoon to have bad design.
I imagine the thinking behind cartoons that are supposed to be educational is that they have to taste bad - like stewed cabbage or boiled broccoli, because if they actually looked pleasing they'd be bad for you like ice cream is. Is there another explanation for how cartoons can look this unappealing?Here are some really expensive nasty designs. Unbelievable. I feel like I live in an alternate universe where nothing makes sense.


A good designer is rare, but nowhere near as expensive as all the other animation costs.


If you start with good appealing design, and then you have good animators or even somewhat mediocre animators, then at least your cartoons will have some kind of instant appeal. I'm just using Ed here as one example of appealing design. There are many other design styles possible but the same principle applies.

Mel Crawford is one of those artists (who is not so much a designer) who has a very appealing unique personal style. When you take an appealing artist and give him appealing character designs you get the best of both worlds.


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But even lesser artists still can make appealing work with good designs. Hanna Barbera made their reputation on their look more than anything else.

These artists are not at the level of Crawford, but they are good enough to allow Ed's design appeal to still come through.



The animation in HB cartoons was limited, but Ed's design style was so strong and appealing that it carried them for a decade before they threw away their reputation and switched to ugly design and worse animation.
As a kid I watched as HB went from appealing cartoony designs to copying Filmation's ugly semi-realistic characters with flesh colored eyes. I was shocked. To this day, I can't understand how big studios can have so many people in charge that can "yes" to having their expensive cartoons look ugly or bland. Just hire a real designer. There are a handful left in the business.

71 comments:

mike f. said...

For me personally, the #1 criterion as to whether or not I'll sit down and watch a cartoon is the design. To this day I've never seen ANTZ, ATLANTIS, ARTHUR, AMERICAN DAD or ANASTASIA, (I'm just limiting the list to the A's for the sake of brevity) because I can't get past the abysmal designs. Some modern ones are downright hideous and inexcusably unprofessional: SHARK TALE, ICE AGE, SHREK and HISTERIA immediately spring to mind.

Who is approving this sh*t? Surely not the artists. It reeks of creative decision making by aging executive dullards, and young, trendy "market research" drones who are not only noncreative, but actually ANTI-creative, contemptuous of professional cartoon design. They are, unfortunately, a dime a dozen in the current industry.

(I also blame the video game industry, which is WAY too influenced by tattoo culture and so-called graffiti "artists" - and the kind of dated, ugly naive "art" that pimply-faced, heavy metal wankers used to draw in their schoolbooks with Bics in the seventies when they were 14.)

I'm compiling a book that touches on this subject. It's tentatively titled: How Hippies and Lawyers Ruined EVERYTHING in the World. (Currently I'm on page 47,398 and counting...)

gabriel said...

I am agree with the good design, but, the appeal is something so subjective, no?

oppo said...

"There is a modern mindset that every artist is a potential designer, which I find absurd. In 80s and 90s Disney feature films, it looks as if they let each animator design his own character and most of them are pretty bland, awkward and uninspired. Plus they don't work with each other in the same films."






In modern Disney features, it is hard to tell who did what. In The Lion King, there are 9 people credited as character "designers", and 13 supervising animators, so that makes 22 people defining the lookas of characters in a movie that lasts 83 minutes from the start to the beginning of the credits.

And you think they could have done better than this:

http://www.lionking.org/imgarchive/Act_2/Group.jpg

Though I wonder what scenes Ken Duncan animated.


And strangely, I still like this film.

Leeann H said...

I faintly remember that not only Disney animators recycled their styles, I think they copy-pasted some animation too... certain scenes of The Jungle Book and Sword In The Stone come to mind. :(

oppo said...

And by the way, I actually like stewed cabbage or boiled broccoli, so maybe that explains something.

Elana Pritchard said...

People are retarded, haven't we all figured this out by now?

Well, not the people at
www.cartooncritique.blogspot.com
bunch of geniuses if you ask me, hehe...

What if you draw giant eyes and flesh color them? Sorry, I'm being obnoxious...

Justin said...

hey John,

new to your blog and it's fantastic. enjoyed this post and this series you're doing on solid drawing and appeal.

the commercials for the grinch, frosty, rudolph etc. are just popping up now on tv. do they support your position? they're not all amazing designs but decent.

it's sad but i don't think enough studios today could create something with as much staying power as though shorts have.

cheers!

Bill Perkins said...

orthingtHi John.
Again, a terrific and intelligent post. Like you and a lot of folk I loved the early H and B stuff for the same reason - the look of it, It had appeal. Great to see the early comic books. Mel Crawford, Ed benedict.. all giants in the field.

Bill Perkins said...

Hi John.
Again, a terrific and intelligent post. Like you and a lot of folk I loved the early H and B stuff for the same reason - the look of it, It had appeal. Great to see the early comic books. Mel Crawford, Ed benedict.. all giants in the field.

Malcolm said...

Is there any modern cartoon character design you find appealing?

(you would give me a big laugh if you just bluntly said "no")

PaulaBlanko said...

i agree with your opinion,John.
But i think what the worst character design is the design of the "George of the Jungle" cartoon,the characters look ugly,and when i say "ugly" i'm saying UGLY,they are so flat and simple,look like the aritsts doesn't like to draw,are hideous.
The art of educational cartoons have a "borning" appeal,cause the educationalk cartoons can't be fun,must be around learning.
I love your art 'cause is fun,humorous,and grotesque,the cartoons were created to funny functions,not educative,it's just my opinion,the parents and school must be educative,not cartoons.
(SORRY FOR MY SUCKISH ENGLISH)

PD:You are one of my personal gods.

Jorge Garrido said...

I would buy Mike's book in a heartbeat.

So, who is in this handful of good designers in the indursty? Is Craig Kellman included in that?

Putty CAD said...

I'd be interested to know what you think of the characters in Wall-E.

My 6 year old daughter absolutely loved Wall-E and Eve and also the little cleaning droid! I think this was mainly due to the emotion and expression on screen rather than the actual design of the characters.

I find despite our age difference we have very similar tastes and I've recently introduced her to Ren and Stimpy seasons 1&2, which I'm glad to say she loves! Her favourite episode seems to be Powdered Toast Man! LOL :D

Zoran Taylor said...

Mike, are you suggesting that hippies actually had the persuasive power over culture to ruin something? Hippies were just kids who followed the actual counterculture like sheep, pretending to understand it. What are we talking about here? Did every designer in the world go gaga for the cover of Magical Mystery Tour, and that was the start of "The Garish Era"? As far as I'm concerned, the same problems that eventually killed cartoons started after WWII, and it just TOOK TWENTY YEARS for the disease to spread, during which time appeal survived despite itself. It was the last thing to go. "The Hippies" were too busy mourning the death of America to worry about cartoons. Let me repeat that: THE HIPPIES WERE TOO BUSY MOURNING THE DEATH OF F***ING AMERICA TO WORRY ABOUT F***ING CARTOONS. And then there was Filmation.
Now as for Lawyers, you may have a point there.

Roberto González said...

As usual, I agree with the theory. When you use examples I usually find myself saying "yes", "yes", "yes" and then "No!". What's so unappealing or bad in Shifu's design? I loved the look of that character, it's one of the most appealing 3d designs I've seen recently. The whole movie in general had quite good character design but I especially liked the look of that particular character.

M. R Darbyshire said...

In the Where's Huddles picture- How many Walter Matthaus can exist in one place?!

Jeff said...

Great post.

JohnK said...

Hi Roberto


what design do you see there?
I see a formless unbalanced blob with no silhouette (besides the ears) and no discernible features. Just like the rest of the characters.

The colors are ok. Is that what you like?

PCUnfunny said...

"To this day I've never seen ANTZ, ATLANTIS, ARTHUR, AMERICAN DAD or ANASTASIA"

You have spared yourself decades of intense pyhsco thearpy my friend.

"I also blame the video game industry, which is WAY too influenced by tattoo culture and so-called graffiti "artists""

3-D rendering has also ruined great cartoony video game characters.

Fun, cartoony Donkey Kong and Mario

Now thanks to 3-D rendering:

Boring Donkey Kong

Boring Mario

mike f. said...

[As far as I'm concerned, the same problems that eventually killed cartoons started after WWII, and it just TOOK TWENTY YEARS for the disease to spread...]

Thanks for making my point for me. I wouldn't usually bother answering an adult male who wears bunny suits, but I'll make an exception - in the charitable spirit of the season.

"Hippies" is just shorthand for baby boomers. The baby boom began in 1946, (which is why it's known as the POSTWAR baby boom.) EXACTLY 21 years later they reached adulthood, and began to flood the job market through sheer numbers. End of Golden Age, beginning of Scooby Doo and Filmation. Any more questions?

Bob said...

what's with educational cartoons???

LeoBro said...

"Spirit" (pictured in this post) is an interesting example of what you're talking about. It's a story with a strong theme, and I assume the designers deliberately avoided a cartoony style. Unfortunately, they also avoided appeal.

"Bambi," in contrast, is another somber story that was treated in a non-cartoony style, but still has great visual appeal. It would be interesting to compare them to see why that is.

P.S. I really appreciate how much time you spend not only writing these posts but collecting all the images. They really make your points clear!

Roberto González said...

That particular picture of Shifu has a somewhat confusing shilouette and unimpressive facial expression, but the character in the movie looked good to me.

This is another one I like better.

Probably not the best picture either, but I quite like this one, especially Shifu's pose. The line of action is visible and the form of the head seems a little off-model considering how on model CGI usually is. Here his face is more like an oval, in his usual design it looks more rounded. Maybe it's the perspective too, but it's a nice use of the perspective then.


He has some distinctive features, he's a unusual specie (red panda) with a peculiar tail and ears, and the nose and whiskers are somewhat special.

It's not super-specific but it's certainly a hell of a lot better than most of the things we usually see in CGI. This character looks both like a serious adult and a baby animal, which makes it funny and appealing to me. He'd look better without some of the details, but it's not so over-detailed as Shrek.

Po looks pretty generic, for some reason the main character is always the most generic one in these movies.

And yes, I also liked the colors in the movie.

クMAコUジ said...

"Just hire a real designer. There are a handful left in the business."

Hi John,

long time reader of your blog, and I've been a fan of your stuff since I was a kid, blah blah...

You've made it clear almost all modern animation/design leaves you cold. You mention there being a few decent designers left in the business.

Is there *any* modern stuff you happen to quite like? and who are these (almost mythical) designers you think are half-decent? ;-)

Niki said...

I've actually begun studying the shapes of different characters I like from the good kooky looking shows. I started with Genndy Tartakovsky because we have a similar style, or look really. I won't call it 'style' really until I can proudly call my self an artist, but that's besides the point, do you have a list of artists you admire Mr.John?

If possible, please inform every one to study their 1st grade "shapes" books.

Niki said...

Sorry to bother you again but in stand for appeal.
--> this What's up with the evil death-spikes on just every curve? or where it's suppose to curve. I mean, I like the show for the fights and the idea and it wouldn't be annoying if it weren't on every comic book action cartoon, but if I were an good alien I would hate to get accidentally shanked by this girl who thought it was fun to booty bump random people. that again all.

Justin said...

That horse shot has horrible perspective.

All of the legs are exactly the same size!

How can they let that kind of thing make it into a feature film?

Aaron said...

maybe the importance of silhouette is changing to something else as the computer and 3D programs become the new pen and pad. we have to ask ourselves, "why was the silhouette so important in animation to begin with?" The answer is because that's how we quickly distinguish one character or object from another. maybe we need to look at characters and think about how they stand up as a sculpture now. 3D animation and an emphasis on different elements doesn't mean animation has to be garbage now, but for the past decade or so the focus has been different, but everything will come back together soon. The golden age of 2D animation is probably over, but the golden age of 3D is still up ahead, and when it hits, what a time it will be.

And mike f. what's your beef with graffiti artists?

Aaron said...

one other thing. I don't think the hippies ruined anything just like I think the hip hoppers didn't ruin anything just as I think John K didn't ruin anything. There's always these genuine movements with good ideas and good heart, but it's just a tiny tiny segment of the population and then the execs and the marketing people say, I can use these ideas to make the average Joe feel like he's a part of something and then he'll give me all his money. then the idea becomes bastardized diluted and spread all over America until some other segment of the population will blame the originators for ruining our culture.

Mr. Semaj said...

When we talk about cartoons in general, I stay as far as I can from the pre-schoolers' stuff (Dora the Explorer, et. al.).

Not that I care for any of those programs, because they are, after all, for babies.

Aaron said...

donkey kong country for snes is amazing! so who cares

Rated-R said...

I had to ask my date for kung-fu panda three or four times if she wanted to keep watching... they all had the same faces, (those horrible round lifeless eyes,) and unappealing celebrity voices!! Ugh! It made Over the Hedge look great in comparison.

Hans Flagon said...

The first example, Caillou, cannot be entirely blamed on the animation designer, as I think it is fairly loyal to the illustrations in the childrens books it is based upon; its like saying the Madeline cartoons had bad design, when they are merely trying to ape the books somewhat. That being said, from what I can glean on Wikipedia, there may be more charm in the book illustrations, it is a bit more like Herges Tintin. But Bland. And not made for movement or expression.

Schulz Peanuts were not ideal for animation either, but Bill Mendelez made do. I seem to remember liking the Little LuLu that HBO did for following John Stanley and Irving Tripp as close as they did, as opposed to say Filmations take on Archie Andrews. One of these days I'm going to write an essay on when staying on model is not a soul sapping experience, and possibly a good thing.

What you are seeing now is characters designed for Flash animation. Not forcing traditional animation using Flash with sweat tears and talent, but using Flash the lazy way. Or some other labor saving computer method.

The execs love the 3D, because they can get their Happy meal toys designed at the same time as the CGI characters, and they don't even have to redraw them, just move them around like puppets for the electronic babysitter sequel while mom gossips on the cell phone.

Putty CAD said...

"3-D rendering has also ruined great cartoony video game characters."

I love the new Mario, Sonic etc. the characters have evolved over time and really suit the modern gaming environment while retaining their original features. The actual cartoon shows they made of these game characters were quite awful though (I couldn't open the DK pic but if it was from the 3d cartoon series that was pretty ugly).

BadIdeaSociety said...

While Ant and Spirit have no enduring popularity among the general public, Dora the Explorer is everywhere I walk in the states. I am not suggesting it is a great cartoon or even a good design, but there are lots of kids who think that she is a cute character.

The studio executives would make a movie of crayon-drawn stick figures glued to popsicle sticks voiced by Mike Myers if they thought people would watch it and buy the products.

In all seriousness, what could possibly keep you or your former Spumco from continuing to make cartoons.

Adele K Thomas said...

I cannot STAND ANTZ or SHREK, they make me visually sick...Im not the greatest artist...but i know what I what I wont be letting my future kids watch...and if they want to watch, i wont be watching it with them! :D

Bill said...

Shifu or whatever the short white Gremlin thing is always looked like a Yoda rip-off to me. I will agree that ANTZ has some horrible blocky designs but I thought that some of the Kung Fu Panda designs were okay, by that I mean the birds and their variants. Most of the "warriors" seemed to have near permanent scowls or unlikable serious expressions. The main villain was pretty bad too, he was basicly a grey male version of the female tiger warrior. I blame flash for unappealing characters though, many flash characters are blocky or just an overly abstract shape with eyes. Theres also the wannabes that try to copy anime that wind up making unappealing characters too. I find older and oddball animes like Spaceship Sagittarius to be pretty appealing, its this mainstream anime style that lacks decent expresions and contains a handicapping formula, it stinks that so many teens try to mimic the mainstream look.

Jonathan Harris said...

"I love the new Mario, Sonic etc. the characters have evolved over time and really suit the modern gaming environment while retaining their original features."

Wow, I think that's the first time I've seen someone say they like the new Sonic! For me he's gone from a character that had both cute and cool elements and actual charm to a flat, soulless, "tude"-ridden shadow of his former self.

Do you really find this or this as appealing as this? I hate Yuji Uekawa's illustrations with a passion, and I'm just sick of these boring 3D renders (and what the hell's up with that fur texture!?) I also hate that they only ever do images of single characters floating in space these days. We used to get great group shots and scenes like the one above, but not anymore.

And, even as a fan, I have to admit that Mario is the practically epitome of blandness (though he's better than the protagonists in all these generic FPSs they keep churning out these days, and at least his games are still fun).

PCUnfunny said...

I love the new Mario, Sonic etc. the characters have evolved over time and really suit the modern gaming environment while retaining their original features"

Sonic looks horrific. He went from being cutely designed to looking unessecarily vicious and just plain ugly with his ridiculously skinny body and demon eyes.

"And, even as a fan, I have to admit that Mario is the practically epitome of blandness"

He always has been bland but at least he looked good. Why did they lengthen his legs and make him slim ? He looks so damn boring. He looked better when he was chubby and short. Look at that DK '81 poster I posted. Mario just oozed with character, a popeye-esque hero who wants to save his girl.

PCUnfunny said...

Oh John this is OT but I was watching that Mel Blanc documentary on the new golden collection. Kirk Douglas was interviewed ! He looks very good for his age and I am touched he made an interview because he hasn't made any since his stroke. He must have really liked Mr. Blanc.

PCUnfunny said...

Sorry for the triple posting John but I missed this comment. ;)

"(I couldn't open the DK pic but if it was from the 3d cartoon series that was pretty ugly)."

I posted the one that has been used since DONKEY KONG COUNTRY. Again, a case of ruining a once good character design.

Tony C. said...

John-

Thought this could be useful for a rant. Shrek on Broadway! Lousy character design made into even worse costumes.

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/12/15/theater/20081215_SHREK_SLIDESHOW_index.html

Zoran Taylor said...

Sorry Mike, right or not, I'm afraid I'm talking about the same goddamn animators who did the really good stuff. Warners had stiff animation by the mid-fifties. Are you telling me ten-year-olds did that? Yogi Bear had appealing designs and voices but nothing animation and conservative everything else - fifteen-year-olds? It had to be the same ilk that was churning out masterpieces half a generation earlier, by then worn out and ready to settle down. By the time boomers entered the job market the studios that used to be able to afford to apprentice the young'uns had run themselves into the ground. Meanwhile, cartoons being produced as early as 1960 had lower standards of design and animation than anything that had preceded them. The boomers chewed up the shit they were already being fed and spat it back out on network TV. And since animation had already declined to the point of being "square", the people who rose to the top must've been total phonies - you know, the bosses.

I would be fascinated to know how many nappy-bearded patchoulioids were employing the decent, hardworking animators of the day. I'm not afraid of being wrong, I just really want to know - weren't they generally just really sterile, unhip people? Not to mention probably somewhat older than those they employed? Or was the whole "don't trust anyone over 30" aesthetic so pervasive by the late-60's that already you couldn't find a joint in town that wasn't under the ownership and management of some 21-year-old phony hipster? This is a serious question.

And the costume is designed to be Ren, but it is kind of bunnyish, I'll admit. I can't wait to tell my friends that a cartoonist questioned my maturity for being dressed as a character he animated! On Halloween, no less. Geez, aren't we cartoon fans here? Fun? Frivolity? Remember?

introvert said...

I always found it funny how the only reason Sonic's design worked in the original sense was because it so closely resembled that of Mickey Mouse. (They even worked it so his eyes reflected Mickey's original design where what looked like they cover his whole face)

The whole "new tude" aspect of his current design makes me anticipate what they'll do to Mickey Mouse next in order to appeal to the new "edgy and modern" generations of young people. (It won't have any appeal, but it's still funny to think about!)

Mario never really had a design though. The only reason he was designed like that initially was due to graphical limitations. It was either coincidence or accident that they had to make him look iconic in order to even be recognizable within that limited set of pixels. (I love how his very creation and notoriety came about as an unintended result from a game that was supposed to be about Popeye. I like to beleive that the indirect relationship between the two has something to do with why Mario is so iconic in the first place.)

I hate it because Mario can easily work as a great design if someone with any sort of skill would actually design him! Mario's "nice" and "easily digestable" design just makes me sick. Just looking at it feels like I'm taking a generous helping of milk of magnesia.

Hans Flagon said...

The way new 'tude affects mickey mouse is, they simply do not trot him out. They have a trademark to uphold after all. He doesn't even host a show or have the drab of personality he had in the fifties. For kids today, Mickey is a guy in a suit that means they are spending time at a really cool theme park.

Disney saves 'tude for other projects, like High School Musical, or Princesses buying bling or otherwise becoming consumer whores.

PCUnfunny said...

"Warners had stiff animation by the mid-fifties."

Mike is talking about ignoring the basic priniciples of animation entirely, he wasn't talking about conservative animation. The state of 50's animation in general contained the basic principles of animation but by comparison of the 40's, it was stiff but good nonetheless. By 1967, when the baby boomers became adults, animation didn't even have the principles anymore. SCOOBY DOO and other crap during that time had at best head nodding as character animation.

PCUnfunny said...

The only designs I liked in Kung Fu Panda were the ducks and some other birds. Everyone else was just Saturday Morning rubbish.

Zoran Taylor said...

I know what he means, PC. I'm just saying that the seed of corruption had already been planted. Even The Flinstones and Rocky and Bullwinkle saw a decline in design value during their respective runs. And there were much bigger forces at work in the world at large that made industry sag. Entertainment faced an entirely predictable fate.

The only part of this that I even disagree with is the notion that the same sort of person who would embrace the flamboyance, innovation and daring of a guy like, say, Jimi Hendrix would decide to make cartoon characters into lifeless, immobile invalids. It just doesn't make sense to me. Where were the corrupt, opportunistic middle-aged jerks? Surely they weren't all dead or broke already. Only in a perfect world!

Harveyjames said...

John, can you show us how you would improve the Kung Fu panda character designs?

mike f. said...

[Where were the corrupt, opportunistic middle-aged jerks?]

Is that how you choose to characterize them?
Could you possibly be talking about the generation that lived through a worldwide depression and a world war, defeated nazism, Stalinism, McCarthyism, and set the American stage for civil rights in 1947 by crossing the infamous major league baseball color line?

Maybe they took a well-earned breather after virtually creating the Golden Age of film, radio, television, animation, jazz, popular song, theatre, comic strips, illustration, fashion, magazines, automobilia, etc...

Or maybe they just retired to their bunny outfits and had hissy fits about things they didn't live through, and don't know anything about?

What do you think?

John A said...

There was a time when art was considered a "discipline"- People worked hard at their craft and instructors would push students to be better artists or leave the profession.(think of all the amazing illustrators that were around in the begining of the last century, see anything like them around today?) In recent decades however, Art school have become a haven for spoiled rich kids who spent their adolecence being told how "special" they are. Most of these trust funders didn't like their work being criticized, especially if Mummy and Daddy were paying to send their useless asses there. So the instructors dumbed down the curiculum so the talentless hack could get a degree, only now they have zero skills as an artist. So what happens to them? they become art directors and creative exectutives, of course.

PCUnfunny said...

"I'm just saying that the seed of corruption had already been planted."

It really wasn't though, it was just plain neglect and laziness and the old timers had nothing to do with it.

"Even The Flinstones and Rocky and Bullwinkle saw a decline in design value during their respective runs."

Golden age characters did too. Alot of characters who were great in the late 30's and in the mid 40's started to become slowlly watered down in the 50's onward. The most unfortunate victims by far were Lantz and Warners. Why did it happen ? My guess is artists just didn't know where else to go so they just went downwards.

PCUnfunny said...

"The only part of this that I even disagree with is the notion that the same sort of person who would embrace the flamboyance, innovation and daring of a guy like, say, Jimi Hendrix would decide to make cartoon characters into lifeless, immobile invalids."

I know people with excellent taste in film or music who have an awful taste in animation.

Aaron said...

"Mario never really had a design though. The only reason he was designed like that initially was due to graphical limitations. It was either coincidence or accident that they had to make him look iconic in order to even be recognizable within that limited set of pixels."

That's what design's all about. Mario's no coincidence. They done a good job.

Jonathan Harris said...

"The whole "new tude" aspect of his current design makes me anticipate what they'll do to Mickey Mouse next in order to appeal to the new "edgy and modern" generations of young people. (It won't have any appeal, but it's still funny to think about!)"

Too late, dude.

Though I must admit I somehow never made the Mickey/Sonic connection. I feel stupid now.

Mattieshoe said...

PC:

Super Mario Galaxy brings back alot of Mario's appeal. the animation is more cartoony, the features seem more exagerated, and many of the characters have the kind of cute appeal that's been missing from the series since 1993.

Also, the colors and designs in Super Mario galaxy are spectacular. I'll find myself being killed more often just beacuse I'm marveling at all the Eyecandy. (It also bring the gameplay back to it's roots, but that's not the sort of thing worth discussing on a cartoon blog)

pappy d said...

Mike:

Don't try to convince me that bunny-boy is not your people.

Corporate executives have a legal & moral responsibility to get the best return on investment. They are not obliged to amuse the children of America & Mike. Congress can mandate air time for you, but what shows they put on is a function of how much you can nag & whine to your parents for toys & pre-sweetened cereal. Market research has shown America that their children are 80% amused by any old crap if it's brightly colored. Why spend 8 to 10 times as much just to amuse them 20% more? Instead of watching the well-animated commercials as the highlight of a half-hour's entertainment, they might get up & go outside & play or do some other economically fruitless activity.

In short, what's been going on since the dawn of kidvid is a steadily improving business plan. In business, if you can see your own moral qualms for what they are: instinctual human fallacies, suddenly a world of opportunities opens before you.

Bill & Joe deserve a lot of credit for giving guys we all admire from the 30's & 40's a relatively easy job & a chance to make scale & have health insurance for once in their lives. Today the business is being run by people your age & younger but it started with the generation that gave us Hitler, Stalin & McCarthy.

john:

Please pardon the profanity in my last post. Sometimes there's no other word.

PCUnfunny said...

"Today the business is being run by people your age & younger"

True BUT people like Mike F. and my best friend's father were the few people who didn't wallow in the ignorance and laziness that came with their generation.

PCUnfunny said...

MattieShoe:

I admit both Super Mario Sunshine and Mario Galaxy did have alot of visual appeal, some enemies actually looked very cartoony and exceptionally appealing.Still the main cast such as Mario, Bowser, and Princess Peach look down right boring. I think Nintendo execs are to blame, they want a those boring designs.

pappy d said...

I've got nothing against any generation. We are all basically ignorant. It's only when you're willfully ignorant that it's a bad thing.

PCUnfunny said...

"I've got nothing against any generation."

I never said you did. ;)

Mattieshoe said...

"Still the main cast such as Mario, Bowser, and Princess Peach look down right boring."
Well, "Boring" is one way one might see it.
They're definitely conservative, but much more streamlined and appealing then what we saw in Super Mario Sunshine.

Mario is mor exaggerated, his head is bigger in proportion to his body and his nose is more bulbous, and Bowser is less lumpy and crappy and much more aesthetic.

PCUnfunny said...

"They're definitely conservative, but much more streamlined and appealing then what we saw in Super Mario Sunshine.

Mario is mor exaggerated, his head is bigger in proportion to his body and his nose is more bulbous, and Bowser is less lumpy and crappy and much more aesthetic."

That's just padding, it's not an improvement at all. They are still boring looking.

Whit said...

Many people working in New York think "Superjail" is great animation. Is this because the work happens to be there?

Joe Moran said...

Hey John,

Check this out: http://www.archive.org/details/WhatMake1952

Just found the Prelinger Archives and thought you and the crew might be interested. Some great stuff!!!

http://www.archive.org/details/prelinger

Later.

Happy ho-ho, too!

VR/

Joe Moran
Kansas City, Mo.

FleaCircusDirector said...

Mr. Semaj said...
"When we talk about cartoons in general, I stay as far as I can from the pre-schoolers' stuff"

With regards to good design it's probably even more important to ensure that it's present for the pre-schoolers.

Борис Цвекић said...

Well, you actually clarified to me what is wrong about certain cartoons. For some of them I knew it was "there" but I couldn't tell exacly what's wrong.
BUT-I must say my oppinion about Disney cartoons.
Example: Pocahontas maybe doesn't have an appealing design, but I'll ALWAYS remember the scene when John Smith and Pocahontas first meet, beneath a tree, with leaves flying in circles and that enchanting music. And again, these leaves are "holding" the entire story, creating the sense of desparation and hope at the same time.
They just have the ability to produce strong emotions using symbols and music. They could do it with two potatoes instead John and Pocahontas, they sometimes don't NEED top character design. Stitch sitting sad over Ugly duckling book. The Ugly duckling cartoon itself...
The only cartoon that produced such an emotion to me was WB cartoon "The iron giant".
Shrek, Anastasia, Shark tale etc just try to earn as much money simply on pure designs and gags Disney studios once found "appealing".
Suddenly, everyone can produce a high quality cartoon with those big eyes, mega-sceneries, and heart-breaking story. And then BAM - Disney releases "The emperor's new groove". The simple-drawing, Cartoon Network-ish masterpiece, that injects directly to your bloodstream. You just LOVE every character in it.
Sometimes the pure graphical representation of the character isn't as important as what you're planning to do with the character. That is the main advantage of Disney studios so far. And Warner Brothers'...

ben r said...

Nico Marlet's Shifu design nasty?
That's blasphemy John! Antz and Spirit okay, but KFP had beautiful original designs, no?

Pokey said...

JK, That Where's Huddles [1970] shot has Josie and Melody of the Pussycats! LOL :-).

Design and music jumped..even bubblegum pop deserved better than this Sat AM crap!

[And I ain't gonna go into the usual guilty parties AT HB--design, music, etc, after the 1960s that totally were responsible by name!!]





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Your Pony Pal, Pokey too
A compendium of the original Gumby and Pokey clay animation with the original soundtracks [many of which were licensed into Ren and Stimpy.]

TedM said...

Your right John. It's a shame what happened to HB in the 70's and 80's. HB could have been up there with Warner Brothers and Disney.

j.m. Stickney said...

Hello. I've just recently found your blog right after I decided to attempt an animation character design job, and I'm glad I did. I've allready taken many of your tips and opinions into account, and I feel like I'm bypassing a lot of useless struggle.

However, I don't always agree with what you have to say. And I love that, because it forces me to push my own opinions and ideas under the same microscope. My biggest difference, probably, is that I think what people have lost is a sense of discerning taste. With so many 'modern (flash based)' projects, the designs most likely to be used are ones that can be constructed the fastest, with the least effort. (I remember watching that Total Drama Island stuff [ONCE. Only once.], and to show characters leaning back and forth, they slanted and bounced the image. That's not animation, that's not acting, that's someone who has to make a five second talking head in about thirty seconds because they have a quarter of the usual production time, and they can get crap past the boss because he can't tell what looks good anyways.) Companies like it because they think they can make four times as much product if they make it in a quarter of the time, and there isn't an immediate and tactile corollary between higher quality and higher returns.
However, I've seen it used well with other flash based series (MLPFIM is a half-example), because they use flash's abilities to save time on the background, and then spend their effort improving the quality of smaller, more important scenes. Increasing the quality of an animation doesn't always mean having the most perfect design, but it does mean catching the audience's attention, keeping it, and making them come back for more. While a large chunk of that needs to be done with narrative, as in what the characters are doing, the thing that will hold the audience's attention from the 1-30 second range is the animation, and the impact of the design in defining what is being done.

Maybe the cause of this is an outdated business process and moel that doesn't account for the right levels of quality and newer technology. Maybe it's because we tend to associate animation with just the 'drawing characters doing things' job, instead of the reasons why we are drawing things, and how we are doing them, or just how good they look. Maybe it's because neither side in animation makes a design good. What may be a designer's dream in appeal, personal aesthetic, and practicality may be boring or unapproachable to audiences, and what audiences want to see on the screen may be tasteless or a rigger's nightmare to draw. The ones that are the best are probably the sucessful ones, that are controllable and expressive with the best balance of quality(first) and effort (a very close second) yet can compose themselves in an appealing aesthetic that adds to the overall story. Design often isn't the most important part in animation, but it's like a bassline or drum- it's what will make the rest of it so good.

And plus, it's good to tell the difference between what's a modern style, and what's a good design weathered by time. We know the top stuff of the 50s is good, because if it were bad, no one would like it fifty(sixty?) years later. (Plus, those good designs from the 50s were the 'modern' style in their day, too. Just because something is contemporary doesn't mean it's modern (or good or bad, for that matter) But we can't know what products being made now will be good in fifty or sixty years. Best we can do is stick to laws and constants we know work through time, and get as much diversity going to pick out the faults and weak ideas.

Anyways, it's been a ton of fun trying to figure out the 'best' thing to do. Looking forward to a battle of the generation bands again.