Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bugs Bunny Construction Studies

Drawing On Purpose, VS By Lucky Accident
Rex is a talented cartoonist with a great natural sense of design, who never had any formal training - until starting last year. He came out and apprenticed for me doing layouts and I really leaned on him to try drawing a new way - consciously, with form and hierarchy and a final purpose to each pose. He had previously drawn everything purely on instinct and design. This is a sort of crap shoot way of drawing where you have to depend on lucky accidents. You just hope that your hands will do something that looks cool. Rex's design instincts insured him a high rate of success for drawing fun looking sketch book pages. I think he would tell you that once he had to draw drawings on purpose - that had to do preordained things and had to fit into a story context and scene with continuity and order - that is was a much harder thing to achieve.

People with strong natural talent have a kind of disadvantage when they try to learn structure and discipline - if they have never been to a real art school or trained classically as an apprentice when they were young. Because they have been able to make things look good from a very young age, they have always impressed their peers and it all comes easy to them. By the time they grow up and have to perform a disciplined task with drawings, they have been so used to just being good by accident, that it becomes harder to go back and learn fundamentals.

Rex' layouts for me got better every day, but I know it was frustrating that all of a sudden I was making him draw slowly and carefully and to think about 12 different goals at once - which is what finished art has to achieve. When you are used to drawing fast and all of a sudden have to draw slow, your hand doesn't make the beautiful instantly nice shapes and flowing lines that an untrained but natural talent is used to getting.

So when he went back to Canada I encouraged him to go back and practice all the fundamentals on his own without having to worry about deadlines and production. He's been doing it and I am impressed with the results.

All my crap about construction and hierarchy seems to have recently clicked with him. (That's how learning works - you struggle and hate everything you do when learning something new - and even if you come to understand it conceptually, it doesn't mean your hand will instantly do it. That's why you have to practice, practice, practice - to burn it into your head and your hand.) A lot of people become discouraged by have to learn function as opposed to luck and give up. They doom themselves to the sketchbook scene for life.Rex understands now the most important thing I need from functional cartoonists. He understands the concept of hierarchy and form. He copied these Bugs Bunny comics not "by eye", but "by brain". He did it step by step in the order I have continually outlined. Some cartoonists try to cheat. They draw the whole outline first, and then go back and scribble in construction lines in the wrong places. This doesn't fool an experienced cartoonist.

Rex started with the line of action
drew the basic forms and stretched them along the line of action and made the forms as solid (and pliable) as he could - "solid and pliable" - hard to describe in words, but very important to be able to do.

Then he broke down his main forms- head shape, torso, arms and legs into their smaller parts
making sure that the smaller parts also flowed along in the direction of the bigger parts

Did he get an exact copy of the comic cover? No, not exactly. The proportions are a bit off - you can see that the negative spaces are slightly different shapes. The heads are not tilted in exactly the same direction they are on the covers - but they are solid, and use negative space within the forms. Bugs' cranium has room in it and the eyes are therefore easy to see - and the eyes wrap around the shape and direction of the head.

I don't care about that as much as I care that an artist understands the main important concepts - that you draw with a controlled procedure rather than just dash out a bunch of lines and hope they add up to something that looks right.

Some of the diligent young cartoonists who are doing these exercises are still struggling to understand what construction is. The more they practice the quicker there will be that "Eureka moment" when they all of a sudden get it. That's a great feeling by the way, when after struggling with something that makes you draw stiff - finally makes sense to you. Then you smack your forehead and say "Why didn't I get this before?? It makes perfect sense." And after that you tend to have a flowering of a new kind of creative control. You can now do all kinds of poses and designs that you couldn't before. Until the next new discipline is introduced into your arsenal. Then it's back to struggling and cursing and practice and patience, until the next eureka.
I can find some minor pints to nitpick here - like some of the bendable parts have points where they bend (the knees), but I'm more excited by witnessing a cartoonist make a breakthrough. Rex can draw solid hands now and he has found a way to apply his design sense to them. His natural feel for pleasant shapes is now being controlled and pushed around underlying concepts - which to me makes them far more apealling.
I love the way he treats the hands. He exaggerated them. They still have form and hierarchy, but more contrasts in the proportions. They remind me of Scribner hands.

I suggested to him now that this is starting to make sense to him, that he break up his practice into 2 parts
1) keep doing what he's doing - copying well drawn comics and cartoons
2) Applying the concepts he is using to his own drawings

Rex did a bunch of funny storyboards for me that were dashed out impulsively for maximum spontaneity without thought to solidifying them.
So I asked him to take some of those drawings and make them solid - without losing the guts.

When you study other people's work, or do life drawing, it should all be with the goal of understanding how what you are studying works, not just how it appears to you on the surface. When you understand form an hierarchy or anything else, then you have to take that next step and apply it to your own cartoons - or all that study was wasted.

That's why I complain about all these quick sketch life drawing classes at animation schools. Student portfolios are filled with scribbly structureless gesture life drawings - or sometimes even with very solid slowly drawn figues - but then the cartoon stuff is on the last couple pages of the portfolio and its all flat, structureless and awkwardly designed. There was no link between their studies and their haphazard cartoon drawings. It's as if the goal was less important than the exercises. But when a producer or director looks at a portfolio, he cares less about your life drawings than he does about whether you can actually draw cartoon characters that are functional. He wants you ready to go and start work - not scribble and struggle for months.

Study with purpose and thought and analysis - then apply it to your own work. If you are copying Bugs Bunny, then try to do your own pose of Bugs Bunny. If have correctly learned the concepts and his construction, you should be abel to make good looking poses of him. If they still look nasty, then you haven't yet absorbed the concepts you are studying.

Not everyone is equally talented. It will take longer for some than others to get there. Practice, practice, practice, and not by filling sketchbooks with spontaneous scribbles or blind copies, but by challenging yourself to learn and understand disciplines that you will eventually be able to control and these will eventually free up your creativity. You'll be able to draw more things, things you couldn't even have imagined before. You'll look back at last year's sketchbook and want to hide it.

I hope Rex pipes in and tells you if I'm lying or not. Maybe he hates all this.

Here's one by ComicCrazy:

This is very good too. He totally has hierarchy working. I only have 2 minor crits:
1) There is a point on one of his toes that should be rounded out. and the spots on the bottom of his foot out of perspective too...
2) The eyes seem to be a little off perspective - the right is too low, and the eyebrows too far away from the eyes

The drawing has lots of appeal, the lines flow with the confidence of understanding.

If you read this CC, let us know if you feel that this is helping you...

BTW, Kali did the fancy-ass new header for me. And this very girlie picture too.