Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Disney Principles 3 - "Twins" - a bad thing

In the "Solid Drawings" chapter of "The Illusion Of Life", Thomas warns us about using "twins" in our poses. It's a good point, but I'm not sure what it has to do with solid drawing. That's why I didn't include it in yesterday's post. It's more about keeping our characters from looking monotonous, wooden or dead.

Avoiding "twins" is merely one aspect of asymmetry which I have covered in other posts. I recommend for all aspects of your drawings: the design, the pose, the proportions - to not be exact mirror images of their opposite sides. You won't find anything in life to be perfectly symmetrical - except maybe for robots. Symmetry looks unnatural and dead.

This drawing from the "twins" model sheet has a very symmetric robotic face. The page warns against "twinning" in the pose, but not in the design or expression.

Compare to this looser more natural Freddy Moore face. Nothing on the left side of his face matches exactly the shape and size of its counterpart on the right. ***ALSO**** and this is very important - nothing on TOP of a shape is the same as the BOTTOM of the shape. The eyes are not only different from each other...each eye itself is a different shape on the left and right ...AND on the top and bottom. They are asymmetrical in every dimension - just like your own face and mine.

The heads in the drawings from "Illusion of Life" that warn us against "twins" in the posing of Micky, don't follow the same theory on the design. Mickey's head is a perfect circle and his eyes are perfect ovals.

Here is a pose that is asymmetric and each part of the design is asymmetrical - very natural without being "realistic". It's still a cartoon mouse, but one that seems alive.
It's important to note that even with all this natural unevenness, all the features still wrap around the bigger shapes in the right dimensions - organic and constructed mixed together.

It's hard to avoid "twins" in your poses every time. Even Freddie Moore does it sometimes. But you don't notice it, because every part of the design itself is fluid, uneven and natural ..."Organic".

These Moore models from "The Little Whirlwind" show just about every fundamental Disney principle working at the same time - all in balance. To balance so many different skills all at the same time is not easy. To Moore, it came naturally. He was lucky - gifted from the 12,000 Gods above (choose the ones you believe in) .

For most of us, we have to learn each principle one at a time and then put them together slowly as we start to understand them. Eventually, they all become instinctive and we stop thinking about them. At that point, our drawings finally stop looking stiff and come to life. It's a lot of study and work - and PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE.

Once you have "solid drawing" working for you, you can start on "appeal" and "organic", but without the solid drawings, everything will be uncontrolled and mushy.
All these poses were not created to be a model sheet. The models were made after the fact, from Moore's animation in the cartoon. They are key poses: the poses that tell the story in continuity.

Creating model sheets out of your head with no story context or continuity to draw from is a futile and stodgy exercise. The best models are done like this.

When you have a story to work from and are drawing poses straight ahead with a purpose to them, the poses are much more natural. Because each one has a real meaning, rather than an abstracted pose made up by an official model-sheet designer who may or may not even be an animator.

I know from direct experience that the poses I draw when I am storyboarding, drawing layouts or animating are much more natural and lively than when I just try to design a character and make up a random pose for him (or her).

Twins and symmetry were avoided like the plague in the best cartoons of the Golden Age of cartoons.

Not to worry though, you can still find twins and perfect symmetry however in the more sophisticated prime time cartoons at night.


PCUnfunny said...

I LOVE those Freddy Moore Mickey Mouse designs because they are so organic, an animators dream. I honestly don't know why people today don't draw something so animator friendly these days. Today it's all this broken glass stuff and you can only seem them in one view.

Elana Pritchard said...

Would anyone be interested in participating in a critique blog I'm thinking about starting up? I think it would be helpful for aspiring cartoonists following John's blog to get some feedback on their work. Who knows, we might even learn something! haha!

Adam T said...

How are Mickey's ears attached to his head? Do you think it's a conscious decision to keep them free floating to keep a strong silhouette?

It makes sense. Mickey's their most well known character and his head in silhouette is Disney's corporate logo. Plus if the ears ever overlapped it might look like he has a beehive hairdo or a stick shooting out of his head.

Whit said...

Disney tried using ears that worked in proper perspective and tilts around 1941 but they quickly went back to the character's classic circle ear construction because the more accurate design looked and played sterile.

trevor thompson said...

How are Mickey's ears attached to his head? Do you think it's a conscious decision to keep them free floating to keep a strong silhouette?

That's a call back to when he was being drawn by Walt for the comic strip. I don't recall the story, but apparently, Disney decided it would be better to simply put the ears wherever they looked good.

I could be wrong, but that's what I remember reading in that big giant Disney book I had as a kid.

- trevor.

sunny kharbanda said...

Thanks, John! Now I know why I find Mickey and most of his later cartoons boring. Not only did they make his personality squeaky clean, they did the same to his design!

These models show a side of Mickey that's more 'real' and easier to relate to. The asymmetry in these Moore drawings adds a palpable energy to his expressions and poses.

trevor thompson said...

Would anyone be interested in participating in a critique blog I'm thinking about starting up?

Elana, get with David O. ( Wicks For Candlesticks ). He runs a great but private blog called 'CARTOON FUNDAMENTALS' that teaches the Preston Blair principles and we all critique one another.

- trevor.

Mike Tucker said...

Elana: that sounds like a pretty good idea.

John: I love this here animation course. Actually I look at it as a drawing course. It's stuff I've never thought to learn. Nobody teaches this crap!

PCUnfunny said...

"How are Mickey's ears attached to his head?"

That's the one thing that has never made any sense of Mickey's design. They are never 3-d they remain flat circles no matter which way his head turns. Oh and John, what is your opinion on Black Pete or Peg-Leg Pete ? He's actually one of my favorite Disney characters.

Thom said...

Thanks for posting on this oft misunderstood principle. Many of the poses in the Freddie Moore model sheets would be considered by 3D animators to be twinned because his hands are in similar positions relative to his body. They fail to see that the 2D image on the screen -- which is what counts -- is asymmetrical. It's so easy to forget that the screen is flat when you work in 3D (and it shows).

JohnK said...

Hi Thom

I've never seen a CG picture that wasn't full of "twins".

It's all over Ratatouille, for one.

Mr. Semaj said...

I wish they would've kept Mickey's 1941 re-design. Aside from solving the perspective mystery for his ears, the design brought a lot of life and appeal to the character, appropriately at a time when they were trying to revive his career.

Sucks what became of him instead by 1953.

Brendan Body said...

"I've never seen a CG picture that wasn't full of "twins"."

I'm not sure if I fully understand what you're referring to here. Perhaps this is a sbject you could expand on in a post sometime.

Gudrød said...

Mickey's ears: I think one of the other major rules in the Disney Studio was 'don't draw Mickey from above (eagle eye's view)

Gudrød said... much of CG is limited by the Animator or the Tools? *wondering aloud*

HemlockMan said...

It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who is sick to death of CGI toons and effects. I've grown to loathe them.

Caleb said...

Thanks John, I tend to make my lines too similar when drawing straight on. It seems like twins are something a person's brain (or computer) does so they don't have to work as hard.

amanotyper said...

Hi John. Im big fan of your work, and Im also always checkin ya blog. I just finish my graduation project and I´ve consulted your blog lots of time. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us.
If u have time, just check my blog.

Gabriel Fazzioni

Jack Ruttan said...

Avoiding twins: the reason for extreme "tude" in cartoons? (I mean mainly the asymmetric eyes)

Niki said...

All this talk on principals, construction, appeal, made me realized; My dad would be a great cartoonist, if he could draw cartoons.

he works in construction and has to draw everything he makes.

And Mr. John, I'm quite certain I saw you on the tellie last night. You (I suppose) were really funny and making faces for the cameras

MLP said...

This post just made me understand a subtle bit from the book "Like, MAD". In the article "MAD Builds a Better Mousetrap", drawn by Jack Davis, one of the approaches was to frighten mice to death with the appearance of a flying saucer, from which emerges a "horrible alien creature" -- Mickey Mouse. While the most part of Davis's accompanying drawing is asymmetrical, Mickey is drawn almost as symmetrically as in Thomas's "Wooden Character". The contrast between Davis's "real" mouse and Mickey couldn't hardly be more striking; now I understand one of the tricks Davis used to pull it off. Better late than never, I guess!

Guy said...

Those model sheets look much better than your typical vacant, gaping, hyperbland modern Mickey.

Ben Williams said...

What do you call the "twins" sequences like the "Phony King of England" dancing in Robin Hood, and the scene (sorry I don't remember the song) where the cats dance in Aristocats? Is that reusing poses but drawing different characters or does it have a technical name?

Geneva said...

These are beautiful; you post the most wonderful things.

I wish I had found your blog so much sooner!

Deniseletter said...

John,Many thanks for these important tips!Now I can see clearly some unseen details.BTW "12,000 Gods above (choose the ones you believe in)" That's true

Matty said...

Hello John,

I've never been a fan of symmetrical drawings and it's surprising how ofter you see them - Richard Williams writes a theory of his own about this subject in his book, do you have any comments on this?

HenriekeG said...

I don't know if you've ever seen this picture?
To the left is the concept sketch that Daan Jippes drew for the Mousercise album. To the right is what was finally put on the cover.

And for fun, two other scans from the Dutch Disney weekly:
For as far as I know these have never been published outside the Netherlands. What do you think of them?

Jeffrey said...

OT: John, if I hit that "Donate: PayPal" button, the money goes to you, right? I find your site useful and entertaining and would like to make a small contributions when I'm able ($10 here, $20 there when I'm able).

FleaCircusDirector said...

It's very easy to end up with a problem of twins in the CGI relm.

It does have one use though, you can use twin eyes to give a nice hypnotised look to your characters.

Cliff G. said...

"... you can still find twins and perfect symmetry however in the more sophisticated prime time cartoons at night."

Is this why the Simpsons look so unnatural when directly looking into the camera? Or is this just a whole other kettle-o-fish?

James N. said...

"What do you call the "twins" sequences like the "Phony King of England" dancing in Robin Hood, and the scene (sorry I don't remember the song) where the cats dance in Aristocats? Is that reusing poses but drawing different characters or does it have a technical name?"

No, that's not twinning. It's just reusing older animation. Disney (as well as Hanna-Barbara and other TV animation houses) did that a lot especially in the later Wolfgang Rietherman directed films like Robin Hood.
It's not an uncommon time-saving device.

Charlie Can't Surf said...

Trevor- Walt Disney never once drew the Mickey Mouse comic strip.
JohnK- Ren and Stimpy used twins all the time, so where exactly does the line lay? Why are twins okay when they're singing the happy joy song, and when should we stray from them?

Niki said...

One of my friends drew a picture as her final project for an art class.

It was of an evil purse eating beanie babies.

While I looked at it I realized that why I didn't like it was because one of the beanies and the purse besides its legs where completely symmetrical.

The teacher tried to cheer her up, after she said it didn't look good, then I realized one of the reasons animation is going down hill is because we won't dare tell our friends they suck as a cartoonist because we fear their hatred. I'll direct her here on Monday.

Thom said...

John said: I've never seen a CG picture that wasn't full of "twins".

Thanks for the observation. I hadn't noticed that but to tell you the truth, I don't watch a whole lot of CG movies anymore. You've ruined them for me! Just (half) kidding. My work is mostly on smaller productions.

James E. Daniels said...

That model sheet of Mickey featuring "twins" is actually taken from Carson Van Osten's "Comic Strip Artist's Kit" who is an artist that worked on many classic Disney Comic Books.
Here's a link to the "artist's kit" posted on Mark Kennedy's blog:

dave said...

Interesting post, John. I dunno, maybe Ive been misinterpreting the principles all this time, but I always thought that twinning referred more to animation than posing.
Ive always thought of it as, for example, not having the arms hit a key pose on the same frame, but to offset them by a couple frames to give the animation some texture. Having things like limbs hitting on the same frame, while appropriate sometimes, is something you see juniors do all the time. I usually point it out and tell them to avoid "twinning" like that.
Maybe I should really read IoL rather than skimming through it.

GrimCrow said...

Interesting, I tend to avoid that stiff look becuase I am so used to drawings characters at an angle... Not them looking directly at you... If I were to try that, I would fear making them look like one of those old wooden stands that I used to confuse for actual way back when I was little bean.

Philippe Bercovici said...

Wasn't this Mickey Mouse model sheet (as well as most of the animation on this short) done by Ward Kimball?

SparkyMK3 said...

I love these Mickey Mouse model sheets. I practically got Living Color Vol. 2 just so i could see the design in action.

Also guys, if you're so curious as to why Mickey's ears don't match up with his head movements or perspective, the answer is as early as "The Karnival Kid"-Mickey's ears are actually a hat that Mickey keeps on his head and can be removed anytime he desires (he tips it to Minnie in the short) that's loose enough to slide around with his head movements.

Rajesh said...

Hey John,

I know you review every comment to make sure it's not spam or an argument inciting rant.

While this is not that, this is not a post gushing over your latest post (though I do gush over what you post here).

I'm contacting you for advice on outsourcing.

I've had a couple of cartoon pitches with investors, and they love it, but when it comes time to talk money, it falls through.

They've all suggested outsourcing, and I honestly don't know the first thing about it.

Since you've had experience with this and managed an animation studio, I was hoping you could give me a couple pointers on where to start looking in order to keep costs low and still get that cartoon invention that happens when working with local talented animators.

Feel free to ignore or reply here:



Trevor Guitar said...

I've been itching to point this out forever, but the main drawing at the beginning of your blog John, uses twins. The one of Donald.

I don't particularly care, but I also had the itch to point that out since you do talk about it. XD

JasonPayne said...

Good timing for me to read this today. I'd lately been trying to do studies of Milton Knight's "golenage style" comic stuff that he did back in the 80s before working with Bakshi. He's so wild in the way he draws faces that I can't manage to keep up, even though it's very solid looking (to me at least.)

Now I get it. It's his use of asymmetrical heads! I was trying to give it the Mickey Mouse perfect round head treatment, despite being aware that all his faces had crazy exaggerated slants.