Friday, December 19, 2008

Lumpy and Itchy Animation Designs


Lumpy Out Of Ignorance

In the 40s ,every studio tried to do the Disney/WB construction style of animation drawing. Not everyone understood it though. If you can't already draw well and you see a construction model from the 40s, you will assume that a cartoon character is made up of sausage like forms, but you won't see how they properly connect to each other - as in these models from Dave Hand's Animaland series. Dave Hand came from Disney - he directed Bambi and many other cute well drawn Disney cartoons and then went to England to supervise production on some imitation Disney cartoons.

http://www.dhprod.com/film1.html
These cartoons have a lot going for them - great background design and color, beautiful motion and timing, but a lot of the designs are these lumpy looking misunderstandings of the "Preston Blair" style.

These drawings are extremely awkward and therefore unappealing and amateurish looking. The lion's jaw and muzzle are formless shapes that don't attach to the cranium. The lip is confused with the chin (as in Tiny Toons and Animaniacs)It's amazing that such expensive fluid animation can have such sloppy drawings, but that was common in American cartoons at the time too at the B and C studios.
You could even find sloppy misunderstandings of constructed drawings in Disney cartoons here and there.

MGM made great cartoons with excellent design and drawing, yet they couldn't find cartoonists to do their posters who could draw a pear and a sphere that didn't look like it was melting all over the place.

I'm sure these toys are not supposed to be formless, but they are. By the 1970s formlessness in all walks of life became mainstream. Just 5 years earlier you could still find very appealing toys of Hanna Barbera characters or any other studios'. In the quickest decline in skill and culture probably in history you saw everything go to Hell within 5 years. Cartoons joined music, TV, movies and all other forms of popular culture in overnight decay. Pleasuring the senses disappeared from the face of the earth.
These blobs are just blobs and unappealing out of straight ignorance - just plain bad design by amateurs.

Itchy

As a kid I never liked scratchy looking non-cartoony drawings - especially when they were pretending to be "wacky". There were some Mad artists that were instantly appealing and cartoony -like Don Martin, Bob Clarke, Harvey Kurtzman and more and they were the first articles and comics I would "read" when I picked up the latest Mad Magazine.
Here's George Woodbridge who not only refused to draw appealing big-eyes, he refused to draw eyes at all!
The more realistic itchy artists like George Woodbridge, John Severin and Will Elder seemed to me to be throwbacks to cartoons from the 1800s that were meant to be funny by being uglier than actual life. The little unsure broken crosshatching crawling all over bland shapes with tiny eyes just baffled me as a kid. I guess this style inspired the underground artists of the 60s who took itchiness to whole new levels of unappealingness.
People always ask me if I'm influenced by underground comics and I'm astounded. It's the exact opposite of what I try to do.

To me cartoons are supposed to be skillful and fun to look at, not eye gouging torture.


Adding Itchiness to Lumps On Purpose

Here's a style made up out of the 2 things I hated most as a kid - lumpiness and itchiness.

I can't find any appeal in drawings like this. You can barely even tell what you are looking at except that it's probably made by really serious responsible people who think fun is bad for you. The odd thing is that as an artist, I can tell that some of these are actually good drawings on some technical level and much of the animation was done by actual cartoony artists from the 40s and 50s.

It really and honestly is "ugly on purpose". I can't imagine for a second that anyone working on this could have thought it would appeal to kids - not after they had been weaned on Bugs Bunny, Donald and Goofy, The Flintstones, Mighty Mouse and a slew of cartoons that were purposely designed to give instant pleasure to young eyes.
What the heck are we even looking at here?

This sequence is astounding. The artist can actually draw well, but purposely is abandoning classic Disney principles all over the place. Including just plain logical "readability"! Every pose has no silhouette-the arms are glued to the body with no space inbetween, every pose is perfectly "twinned". Whatever construction exists is buried under wobbly itchy lumps. It looks like she is covered in some medieval disease.

It's as if this stuff is designed just to be hard to do and to rebel against classic principles and just plain fun. But why? What strange goals for people who work so hard.

The same animators who once did simple fun character designs and entertained millions of people around the world are now working ten times as hard surely knowing that no one is going to enjoy it or even be able to tell what they are looking at.


Here, Corny Cole gets a bit of appeal into at least the eyes of the main characters...

But then is corrected by Richard Williams who knows appeal is selling out to the man.
http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/splog/?p=1179


49 comments:

heretic said...

What about Robert Crumb? That's pretty appealing stuff to me.

Bill said...

Or Vaughn Bode? Bakshi was supposebly friends with him at one point. I usually found his lizards\frogs appealing because they had nice big basic circular eyes.

Weirdo said...

I like artists like George Woodbridge and Jack Davis and such. I like the itchy stuff, but I'm weird like that. However, I also love Harvey Kurtzman and Don Martin.

I do agree with you about the Grandpa model. Very ugly and somewhat creepy. The only somewhat cute characters in that movie were Raggedy Ann and Andy.

Christine Gerardi said...

Hey John, have you ever read Richard William's book "Animator's Survival Kit?" What do you think about his animation philosophy?

Brian Goss said...

I never cared too much for the way George Woodbridge drew people. I did like the way he drew things like the MAD Zeppelin though. That thing was cool. I wish I had a life-sized one!

MAD Zeppelin I

MAD Zeppelin II

Alain-Christian said...

I've heard numermous people lament that Raggedy Ann & Andy was over animated.

Ted said...

I thought for sure by "Itchy Animation Designs" you meant this...
http://tag.rubberslug.com/gallery/inv_info.asp?ItemID=263155

Mattieshoe said...

I couldn't agree more about these drawings. the characters look like they're made of giant tumors taped together.
It's what most young artists do when they're first discovering construction.

They take everything too literally, and nothing is streamlined to look aesthetic or actually follow the line of action (most times it's just put in place of the spine). .


The Chin/Lips dilemma is another example of amateur, unprincipled drawing.

I can't believe the person who directed Bambi could let such juvenile drawings into something with his name on it. these are the kinds of drawing mistakes that can be instantly fixed just by reading a five dollar book.


As far as the Tiny Toons/ Animaniacs characters go, I see what you're getting at, but it seems more like they just made the lips protrude a little too much. you can still see the jaw line stretching when it has to. It's more of a problem with the artists confusing what's a cheek and what's a dimple or something And even when that happened, it seemed more like a form of exaggeration or punctuation than the outright omission of a drawing principle.

For example, this drawing gives "may" alot of impact.

Isaac said...

Probably the clearest post about lumpiness and itchiness. The lion cub makes it easy to see how the shapes aren't connected and how the lower lip makes the chin disappear. This should clear confusion over what makes a cartoon fake.

/\/\ikeB said...

LOL
When I saw the first pose I thought oh no, its waaay to symmetrical. Then I scrolled down to the one Richard Williams re-did and it was just as symmetrical, only more exaggerated.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Fascinating! I've heard different theories to account for why this design style has such a following among intellectuals and fine arts oriented animators.

One theory is that fans of illustration just want to see their favorite illustrations move. The fact that that illustration wasn't created with animation in mind, and just doesn't animate very well, doesn't seem to bother them. They know what they want.

Another theory posits a political and philosophical explanation. Traditional cartooning is associated with "The Man," and is tainted with big money and commecialism. It's the reason why folk singers have disdain for rock and roll. They want to remain "pure."

The third, and only discussable theory in my opinion, is that independent styles are more likely to value experiment. I like experiment too, so I can at least understand this argument. The problem with experiment is that it can become a fetish that blinds you to the wisdom of doing things in a way that people actually enjoy. It's like trying to be different by putting square wheels on your car.

Geneva said...

Haha! The Raggedy Ann and Andy movie made me want to barf (specifically the Greedy sequence) when I was young. Didn't they notice that kids wouldn't like the stuff?

Earlier when I was watching those clips from Song of the South that you posted, I couldn't help but remember exactly why I found animation so attractive to begin with-- smoothness, liveliness, things you want to pause and rewind and rewatch again and again, even though they're split-seconds long. I remember doing that sort of stuff when I was young (and I found myself doing it on YouTube for a bit over SotS). However, even as a young kid with very little in the way of discerning taste, I hated that lumpy nonsense. It looks like watching bags of barf roll around, sagging, lolling, and occasionally leaking. Nasty stuff!

Timefishblue said...

That lion cub looks like it's been dropped on its head a few times.

Josh "Just What the Doctor Ordered" Heisie said...

Yeccch.

Niki said...

really thinking about it, its really strange that they do that, but I think this is why I got that tingly feeling every time I watched one of those really old specials. they were completely different from Disney, that made it invisible from them. Also we probably can't ever really know what they were thinking. I may all be on purpose or a total accident from the whole " beginning to go bad for execs" thing.

Shawn said...

I don't care what anyone says! I like George Woodbridge, John Severin, and especially Will Elder. Will Elder's crowd scenes are funny. Those are good comics!

Zoran Taylor said...

Crumb's skills actually went up considerably. His sixties stuff can be wonky and/or cluttered, but I've seen later stuff that looks almost like a prediction of APC - The A.A. Milne-style bestiality story? Not to mention the Blueprint for Bakshi's breakthrough!

Eric Fleck said...

Didn't you work with/for R Crumb
at one point?

Brack said...

I find certain types of "itchiness" appealing. Where it's being used to be lurid rather than "look at me Ma, I'm drawing" sort of way.

Which is why I get a kick out a John Severin western or war page, but not out of a Severin superhero page where the excess seems out of place with the material.

Lumpiness though, no way.

Lucas Nine said...

Ah, yes, I was going to ask about Mr. Crumb...
I suppose you didn't like his stuff very much, because the cross hatching and because the treatment he gaves to Bakshi...
But I think your very kind of humour, your pathos, your mix between the ugly and cute and nasty, your working around pop culture cliches owes a lot to Crumb's work. Many things related to the “artist-point-of-view” (forgive me if I sound pretentious) and the story telling, but not the drawing, I mean.

Pat said...

I've always thought those "Raggedy Ann and Andy" characters looked weird. Maybe it's the hair.

diego cumplido said...

ok, I agree with you about Richard Williams character designs. But give him some credit!! maybe he's not the best cartoonist, but he is a GREAT animator, who tried to preserve some of the same stuff you want to.

I believe there's no better way to learn how to animate, that reading your blog and the animation survival kit, beside your "philosophical" differences.

JohnK said...

"
I believe there's no better way to learn how to animate, that reading your blog and the animation survival kit,"

Does that mean you've done it?

Xerxes409 said...

I do dig on some of Richard Williams's stuff, but Raggedy Ann and Andy gave me countless nightmares as a kid.

oppo said...

I find some Richard Williams animation to be VERY appealing, like this animation for The Theif And the Cobbler:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGU9UTO2IQs

The use of color is undeniably astounding, and the charcter design of Phido the bird might be more geometic than real classic animation, though Zig Zag mighty seem to you to be "melting", and the One Eyes are obviously not in any way "classical", but I still like it for its aesthetic that seems to precede Samurai Jack.

And yes, I agree that Raggedy Ann And Andy is as ugly as sin, and Roger Rabbit it a gross misinterpretation of classic skills, but I I don't see how any of this lumpyness applies to William's masterpiece.

akira said...

come on, john, you put up some terrible Elder examples... look at something like "Starchie" where he spoofs "Archie" and makes it look even better than the original at the same time. the old mad magazine stuff he did is awesome and he combined cartooniness with realism better than anybody, i think, with perfect inking! kurtzman's cartoony stuff is great but mad magazine wouldn't have survived if the whole thing was drawn like that. i'd like to see some examples from 1800 that can be confused with will/bill elder's professional work (not including elder's sketchbook work or self portrait). do you think he was a bad caricature artist, too?

diego cumplido said...

well, yes, I suppose. just some exercises here and there when I have time. Mostly construction drawings, I started to practice animation not so long ago. We did an animated short with Paul B (who comments here) and some other friends recently. I'm not the best student, but I try to learn.

click here if you want to check. Some stuff related to your blog.

JohnK said...

Akira: I personally was never attracted to Elder's work, though I know many will disagree with me and that's fine.

I find it boring and not cartoony at all - even with Kurtzman pushing him.

Without Kurtzman...well a lot of his artists seemed to be "straight" artists that drew only mildly cartoony and only when Kurtz did the layouts for them.

Oliver_A said...

Raggedy Ann & Andy:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2PV7pOnmuE

Always when I hear the name Richard Williams, I am thinking about animators sitting with their bare chests and backs at their desks, whipping themselves after drawing each frame.

Those black/white model sheets reveal the sheer unreadability and unappealness of those really complex designs. It literally drowns in its own details.

Btw, John, talking about Richard, I noticed you never really talked about "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". I mean, isn't it supposed to be THE movie which refueled interest in classic cartoos again? ;)

Frank Macchia said...

it's funny you posted that drawing of the child abductor dude from Pinocchio.

I just watched that movie the other day...hadn't seen it since i was a little kid and I really noticed how out of place and sloppy that character was

Lumpy is def the best way to describe him.

great exmaples, and a good lesson John.
Thanks.

Gabriele_Gabba said...

This is sooo awesome, no one has ever told me how to look out for lumpy stuff before, now i can see this through your eyes.

Great post John, i'm learning so much!

severin_piehl said...

I know at least one of Eddie's theories for lumpiness applies to the Raggedy Ann and Andy movie. I remember reading the production book Dick Williams wrote for the film; in particular, I remember there was a lot of concern for capturing the original look and charm of the books. Whether they were successful is debatable, but part of making the characters look like cotton-filled dolls had to do with giving them a stuffed look, as in "lumpy."

In Williams' defense, I know many people complain about the Disney adaption of Winnie the Pooh. Many feel like the heart of the series was gutted (selling out to the man theory), and at least part of that has to do with the character designs being simplified and solidified for animation.

Also, I loved Corny Cole's designs, but I'd be terrified to have to animate them.

Adam Gunn said...

I'm beginning to really see the formlessness in a lot of animation your talking about. It's taken a long time reading your blog regularly, but now I think my eye is getting sharper.

When I first got The Animator's Survival Kit I thought it was the best book on the subject, until I saw some of Richard Williams animation. That book did teach me about the break down drawing, and that was a great tool to have.

Mooshe said...

This really helped me realize the strong influence of growing up with "lumpy" and "itchy" cartoons. It's something that comes out more when I try to finish drawings, even when keeping your lessons on clean-up & inking in mind. I'm pretty excited (and exhausted) to finally understand where another bad habit came from.

Elana Pritchard said...

Dammit! My forms look too sausagy! That is not the look I want at all, but that's how things are turning out. Gross! I guess I will try other shapes?

HemlockMan said...

I always enjoyed Will Elder's work. Funny guy.

I like R. Crumb's description of his first encounter with Mad Magazine (it was a comic book then) and how it made him nauseous because it was all so "wrong". He fell in love with it, of course.

I'll never forget the first time I read "Starchie" when I was eight years old--man, it turned the world over on its head.

James McShane said...

In the Star Wars Holiday Special, "Lumpy" and "Itchy" are the names of Chewbacca's family members.

SoleilSmile said...

I'll have to disagree with your opinion of "itchiness". The cross-hatched german etching style of Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton. Even moreso, I love how those two underground artists mentored my favorite under ground comic artist Larry Gonick of Cartoon History of the Universe fame. Look for his black and white work.

Larry uses a hybrid of both cartoon skin and underground etchiness in his work. And the humor! History was never so funny. The man even makes his tellings from the Bible silly.

Dana Terrace said...

I always thought the raggedy Ann characters had a lot of useless movements, it even seemed awkward to me as a kid which is why I would always flip back to Loony Toons. But, as you said, as separate still illustrations they were beautiful.

Haha I love that group shot you posted with ann(or andy? I can't tell). So bad xD

Ed said...

What about mort drucker? To my eyes he strikes a balance between cartoony cartoons and itchy antique cartoons when at his best.

http://bp1.blogger.com/_zMsg9U8UoyM/SIKHU_qKWtI/AAAAAAAAB0U/stT0J_7D9C0/s1600-h/Drucker+Patton+006a.jpg

I've always liked that drawing in particular.

Weirdo said...

"Akira: I personally was never attracted to Elder's work, though I know many will disagree with me and that's fine.

I find it boring and not cartoony at all - even with Kurtzman pushing him."

Will Elder is actually my least favorite of the original MAD cartoonists. I always thought that Wally Wood and Jack Davis did much funnier and much more lively work, especially with Kurtzman pushing them.

Mike Caracappa said...

What did you think of his work on Roger Rabbit?

Kelly Toon said...

Diego, your work is way cool!

I can't help but like the incredibly wrinkly blue camel with the busted knees. I was definitely annoyed by the mess of scribbles that seem to cover every frame of the Raggedy Anne movie. It's so busy I just don't know where to look.

John, I am very interested to hear your further thoughts on Richard Williams. just for fun Here is a drawing of Roger Rabbit that I did when the film broke during a recent midnight screening of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I just love that movie because the idea of toons living alongside the real world is sooo alluring!

Brubaker said...

I read somewhere that MGM had outside people draw the posters for their cartoons. One ugly example is the poster for "Yankee Doodle Mouse."

Why they didn't use one of their staff animators I do not know. Maybe they didn't want to pay overtime?

Roberto González said...

I also think Elder's amazing, especially in Little Annie Fannie. Also, I am pretty sure I read a quote of you defending Peter Bagge's Hate somewhere...

Some Adult Party Cartoon episodes had a certain underground feeling to me, especially Upwards and Onwards and Firedogs 2. And precisely it's some of the "charm" I found in those episodes (even though I didn't like these two too much overall).

Mike Gorman said...

Great post again.

I am a huge Elder fan, but can understand his lack of appeal to you. You are very different cartoonists (and yeah, I define him as a cartoonist - one of the greats, in fact.)

Woodbridge (who is another favorite) was a historical illustrator, who occasionally worked for MAD. He never defined himself as a cartoonist, he just happened to work for a humor magazine. I don't believe he even changed his style for his assignments from MAD.

As far as Woodbridge's skills... I don't think a "cartoony-cartoonist" could have done the "43 Man Squamish" justice at ALL, eh?

Aragones or Cocker would have ruined it, as amazing as they are... Woodbridge, to me, is an example of very good art direction. They needed a guy like him to pull off certain types of humor.

Speaking of Cocker, he's one that's always baffled me. I LOVE his inking style, but it is so icorrect in approach on so many levels that I almost have to turn my brain off when I look at his work.

Areas that should be inked thick are inked thin (and then, only sometimes!) A real talent, but he's a very odd inker.

Love to know your thoughts on him....

--mg.

Various said...

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

One theory is that fans of illustration just want to see their favorite illustrations move. The fact that that illustration wasn't created with animation in mind, and just doesn't animate very well, doesn't seem to bother them. They know what they want.


Would you put the animated adaptations of Raymond Briggs' books ("The Snowman" and "When the Wind Blows", for example) into that category?

Kym said...

To me cartoons are supposed to be skillful and fun to look at, not eye gouging torture.

Hm. To me your cartoons do show skill, but they look so disgusting that I can't really stand to look at them for very long. The humor is what keeps me coming back to your cartoons.

But I find your philosophy very agreeable, even if we seem to disagree quite a bit on what has "appeal"...

Fuzzy Duck said...

Richard Williams is the man.

By the way, John, have you ever seen the "Recobbled" cut of Williams' "The Thief and the Cobbler"? (You've probably been asked that a million times...)