Monday, December 15, 2008
Eyes 3: Eyes and how versatile they can be (if you let them)
There are different cliques of animators and cartoonists, each of who have learned a handful of eye shapes and expressions. There are Disney eyes, Cal Arts eyes, Prime Time eyes, Anime eyes, Deviant-Art eyes etc. There are imitation-Spumco eyes.
Each of these sets of eye expressions is extremely limiting. They don't allow for spontaneous invention. Artists memorize their handful of expressions from the style they like and for the rest of their careers can only express symbols of the simplest emotions - using the same symbols and flat emotions that have been beaten to death for years. What fun or creativity is there in that?
As Frank and Ollie say, cartoon acting can't compete on the same level as live action acting:
this last sentence seems like a big contradiction to me. "we must concentrate on acting" - after admitting that cartoons lacks "the subtle shadow patterns...."
Disney took 30 years or so to create a few approved Disney expressions, always weighing them against whether they are appealing (their type of appealing) or not. This severely restricted the range of their acting - in my opinion.
While I agree with Frank and Ollie that we can't compete directly with realistic subtle live action acting, we can more than make up for it with cartoon license if we think liberally.
Having to do limited animation for most of my career, while really wanting to do lush full animation, has made me make practical choices in what to focus on.
In this series of layout poses from "Stimpy's First Fart", a lot of the body poses are held so I could concentrate on the facial expressions. If I was stuck with a handful of eye expressions off a model sheet to work from, I would be completely handicapped in trying to get any specific subtle emotions out of my characters. Because I admire lots of different drawing styles and I absorb techniques and shapes from many different schools of thought, I can draw from a larger pallette of expressions than you will find in most cartoons. I am not afraid to make up shapes on the spot as needed - and then never use them again.
I don't actually memorize a thousand expressions and then summon them up for the appropriate emotions taking place in the stories. I don't think about what eye and mouth shapes to use at all - for the most part. Instead, I act out the scene as I go and draw what I'm feeling. The shapes of the eyes change and bend almost without my conscious control. Somehow my pencil just knows the shapes that will convey the emotions I'm feeling. It isn't random weirdness just to be weird - it's all in context of the story.
The eyes and pupils will grow, shrink, change shape - whatever it takes to tell the ever changing emotions of the characters. The poses that come easiest are the ones generally with the most appeal. Now and then there is a particularly hard subtle emotion to capture, and I have to analyze what my own facial muscles are doing - and those poses tend to come out less appealing - even ugly. I would rather they all be appealing but worry more about the whole scene in its continuity.
Ren is actually a lot cuter in these scenes than Stimpy. Stimpy is experiencing ugly emotions and he is not used to them. He is usually happy. On the few occasions that he doesn't feel blissfully and idiotically happy, he has a hard time releasing his new unfamiliar emotions. They hurt him and I feel him struggling them to contain themselves, but they burst through against his will.
In general I want the overall effect of a scene - even if it is intense and theoretically ugly - to be cute - to be making fun of ugliness. This is different than just being ugly for the sake of it. There are many actually unappealing drawings in Ren and Stimpy and I cringe whenever I see them - but it's never my intention. To me, even gross can be appealing - as in Basil Wolverton's drawings.
Some of Stimpy's uglier expressions on these sheets appear in countless cartoons on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network and have become stock expressions just like the ones I rebel against that come from other house styles.
The important thing to me is not to memorize stock shapes and expressions, but to be able to summon up any shape imaginable that suits the emotional idea I need to convey. This means I have to be a fan of many many styles and many other mediums, so that I am not bound by a small handful of animation shortcuts and visual cliches.
The other trick is to able to wrap unfamiliar shapes around your characters' constructions so that the expressions don't just float on a 2 dimensional plane in front of the head shape. Not always easy! That's why "solid Drawing" is the most important fundamental tool we have.