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.


Anonymous said...

Holy God, that first one is good!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, John. Good, fun learning to start my day.

Of course, you know, now you'll have apprenticeship requests up the wa-zoo.

Debbie Anne said...

I agree, for someone with a "natural talent" for drawing, it is difficult to go back and learn the basics. I have always had a natural ability for drawing comic-strip drawings, but when I took an art course in college, I didn't do so well with the basics. (I'm not proud of that, actually). I have been enjoying reading your posts about design and construction in classic era cartoons.

Paul B said...

Hi John.
Im a fan of Rex work, it's honestly funny, i can't wait to see his constructed drawing. I Hope they don't loose the crazyness.

It's true, analysis is our best tool, ilearnd so much with your lessons. I hope smack my forehead soon.

here are some of my studies. check it out.


Trevor Thompson said...

That's how I feel.

I got a lot of praise by art teachers and parents when I was younger and could approximate Bugs Bunny. After a while, I knew that if I drew something, ANYthing, that my parents would be delighted.

Chuck Jones talked about that sort of over-praising in his book, I think. He was right.

I'm gonnna keep trying, John. Praying for a eureka moment doesn't help. Drawing does.

Rex is awesome!

- trevor.

Elana Pritchard said...

You see now that's helpful information!

I was practicing a ton but then I got frustrated or bored (plus I needed to sell some art to pay rent) so I started drawing blues musicians (that's what you do to make money in New Orleans)

I will go back and concentrate on construction heavily again- because ultimately I want to be an animator, not a street artist.

I'm so glad yesterday is over! My favorite teacher is back!

ArtF said...

great stuff, Rex! construction gets easier, and then you can't help but see it in every drawing.

Sphyzex_9 said...

Hey John, I was wondering, do you apply this same method in drawing realistic figures and faces? Right now I'm focusing on that; do you have any more advice?

litlgrey said...

Keep in mind though, that the published original, from whatever "authorized" comic book that was, is not very attractive. It's bulky and awkward, displaying aspects of the bottom-heavy, low center of gravity Bugs with yellow gloves of 1940, and owes nothing to the enduring model of Bugs by Robert McKimson from as early as 1943. Both Bugs and the bull betray Disney signature aspects of the late 1930s.

Much like the lobby cards of the era, the comic books were not drawn by anyone connected with the actual studio animation unit, but rather by a cartoonist with apparently limited exposure to contemporary model sheets. The cover with Bugs and the bees is particularly unappealing. From the facial expression to the clothes to the body proportions, the original is fairly grotesque and displays none of the sleek nuances the animator gave the character in the 1940s, let alone the 1950s - the likely publication timeframe of these comics. And the bees? They look more like Terrytoon characters, and are out of place within the Warner universe altogether. The artist of the original covers would have been sent back to school!

Therefore, Rex almost had nowhere to go but up, and in this, yes he has done quite well. He has applied his instincts as well as his abilities and deviated from the original in ways which are actually pleasing. The features he has exaggerated include many of Bugs' most endearing qualities, including the mischief in his eyes, the big round feet, details in the tail, and the direction of the ears. There's overall fluidity in his sketch, which is only possible if the character is imagined in its totality first, and THEN broken down to core components. Rex has drawn more upon his own recollections of the character and upon his knowledge of how Bugs appeared on screen and adapted them to these sketches to actually add to the failings of the comic book originals.

pappy d said...

I want to congratulate you, John for manfully doing your generational duty. Rex, you are lucky AND talented.

Gesture drawings are good to include if you're applying for a job doing traditional full animation. The gesture drawings should never be scribbly. They want to see that you thoroughly understand the principles John has laid out & see them applied to a human figure with economy of line, i.e. fast & solid.

It's important to keep working on those days when you feel that everything you do is crap. You're about to have a breakthrough. I don't claim to understand it, but that's how it works. It's another advantage to having somebody pay you to draw, besides the obvious one.

Christine Gerardi said...

I will try some of these.

Niki said...

yeah I'm struggling from that natural talent bug. I used to draw big things free-hand but now I'm drawing the constructions to things. I used to show my old skecthbook off to my friends and they would love it! but now I don't show it to anybody. I want to be able to get really complex with it now, so that it gets easier to drawn the smaller things.

Trevor Thompson said...

PS: I really like how Rex made Bugs' fingers thinner in the middle, rather than just two almost parallel lines like in the picture. Parallel lines make me think that something is dead... or manufactured.

JohnK said...

>>Much like the lobby cards of the era, the comic books were not drawn by anyone connected with the actual studio animation unit, but rather by a cartoonist with apparently limited exposure to contemporary model sheets.<<

How do you know that? A lot of the comics were drawn by animators.

These sure look like it to me.
I think they are handsome drawings and that's why I put them up to copy.

Geneva said...

A wonderful post to start off an afternoon of studying! I love snow days; they afford me time to actually learn something. Thanks for the post, John. Maybe some day after my eureka moment I'll be able to apply for an apprenticeship without feeling dreadfully embarrassed.

Anonymous said...

"A lot of the comics were drawn by animators. These sure look like it to me."

Pft- what do you know?

litlgrey said...

I'll put it this way, John. If I was not correct about the artists who drew the lobby cards being unconnected with the animation unit, I will withdraw the comment, but from what I have seen of them, the lobby cards do not actually begin to resemble the characters the way they appeared in the real Warner cartoons until much later in the 1950s.

My recollection of some of these is - and I do not claim to be looking at any of them right now - that Bugs continued to be depicted with several non-McKimson model elements all throughout the 1940s, including yellow gloves, bowed legs, or black ear tips.

Ian Andersen said...

I love Rex's drawings, can't wait to see the construction applied to them by himself.

Who would put gesture drawings in their portfolio, gesture is an exercise it's not meant to be displayed. You can sometimes get something that looks nice, but it's not a finished drawing by any stretch. It's supposed to be done quickly so you understand the movement of the figure which is it's life, kind of like line of action.

JohnK said...

The WB lobby cards were definitely drawn by the Looney Tunes artists. Many of the comics were too.

Many animators from other studios would also do comics. They drew in slightly different styles than how they drew their animation.

The lobby cards look pretty much like the cartoon layouts, many times better than the final animation.

MGM on the other hand had non-animators draw their one sheets and maybe lobby cards (I don't know if I've seen their lobby cards)

Nicolas Martinez said...

Great post, John.

Rex is very talented, and I wish him well in his further studies. His stuff looks great so far.

Speaking of Bugs, I've done a study of one of the comic cover studies myself, if you want to look at it. Another one is in the works.

ComiCrazys said...

Here's my attempt at the first cover. How am I doing?

Bugs Cover

El Chongo said...

Wow i thought rex knew construction all along but just great at spontainious design cant wait to see what he turns out soon.
Here are some studies including the Eisenberg cover if you got the time to take a look at:

Kelly Toon said...

Many thanks from my sister Molly and myself. We will apply ourselves with all due diligence.

Peace, and thank you for another excellent post.

Zoran Taylor said...

I'm in an interesting situation as a learning, but apparently "natural", cartoonist.

When I was still too young to discipline myself, I flipped through a lot of how-to-draw books, just to see what was in there. I knew I was nowhere near capable of using them yet, if my nightly five-hour melodramas of homework-induced torpor and mindless procrastination were any evidence. (Being a "high-functioning" autistic like myself really does NOT reveal it's relative manageability until one is at least fifteen.)

But what I saw made sense to me, so I started using it in my doodles. Not the real thing, though - more like what the stuff you teach looks like to an excitable little kid who hasn't exactly conceptualized the whole "work ethic" thing yet, but who is bright and has a pretty good eye for basic guidelines and what they PROBABLY mean, even without reading the explanations.

For many, many years, my drawings could only improve in minor fits and starts, and even then it was not a matter of real substantial understanding. The circles and cylinders and lines of action in my drawings were all sloppy, haphazard and based on incidental impulse, given to change any time I decided that a drawing I was doing didn't excite me enough. When that happened, I developed a seemingly insatiable habit of taking surface quirks from solid designs and placing them out of context, exaggerating them, twisting them around into grotesque fakes and them putting them together with something else with which I had done the same damn thing. I deliberately made my drawings look like frenzied, head-butting attempts at collaboration between two or three incompatible designers who each wanted to sabotage the other's work. (Imagine a very drunk Jim Tyer drawing Stimpy in an anime-Picasso style and you're getting the idea.) And frankly, it was kind of funny.

Now that I've had the opportunity to study this blog, Preston Blair's instruction book and better course materials at college, I can safely say that my drawing has improved more in the last two years than in ten preceding that. Thanks to you, John, I kinda know what the hell I'm doing now. FINALLY!!!

And it's a damn good thing I'm smart, too, or I would fall right back into the trap you're talking about. I've taught myself to feel NO SHAME in screwing simple things up for a while before they solidify. And I have no fear of forgetting how to draw funny - I hasn't happened yet, and it won't. Not as long as I'm sane. (Can't say how long that will be....)

Gabriele_Gabba said...

This is a great post, very interesting to hear your side of what your students deal with. Since discovering construction through your blog, I've been on a massive journey of analyzing and slowing down enough to learn.

The biggest hurdle for me is the insane amounts of energy i use up doing a proper drawing. Before with my scribbly stuff it used to be very instinctive as you mentioned and i relied a lot on my luck and hopefully strong sense of aesthetics.

I've got a while to go and I'm trying desperately to shed some horrid habits of mine.

I remember watching 'Happy 50th Birthday Bugs' on my VHS as a kid and at the end that construction drawing blew me away. Animation is magic.

Btw, have you ever done a post on any of Warner Bro's feature films? I wonder who directed them...

Trevor Thompson said...

The WB lobby cards were definitely drawn by the Looney Tunes artists.

That's true. I think the reason some people think otherwise is because the lobby cards weren't drawn by the directors or the designers, the ones whose personal styles were the most recognizable.

- trevor.

Zorrilla said...

I did a study of the first cover:

Bugs & bull

Hans Flagon said...

I was lucky in that a chalkboard I had as a preschooler emphasized construction from simple shapes with proportion lines and the first few things I ever drew reflected that, clowns cats and horses with a cross across their face. Other art materials around the house emphasized that too.

So a little bit of that was always with me. Of course it was equally as simple as years wore on, and most drawing was doodling in margins of my notebooks, that seeing an image in a squiggle became as prevalent, or more so. Construction theory can be forgotten.

You can even desconstruct someones drawings without consideration of construction, and I think some of Hank Ketchums assistants did this as well.

Without paying a lot of attention to form and weight and proportion, you can whip up a likeness of Dennis the Menace with 5 and 3 freckles an M in an arch, an ear and face line a top of hair and cowlick line, the stripes of a shirt and the details of some overalls. Surprising how close that formula sticks, for the surface details. But you need to know the puppet underneath it all, among many other things.

Hans Flagon said...

Trevor, we probably all know that it is easy to get praise for simply drawing a straight line or a circle, any old shit, from those who cannot piece those together to save their life.

Mantron said...

Cool post! In light of of all rap talk yesterday. I took a stab at Mac G Liquor. I think the george face is kinda a stock expression, but its my first try at it. I'll re work it some more. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

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litlgrey said...

The directors of the Warner Brothers feature films, including "1001 Rabbit Tales" (I can't stant even thinking about those movies, they're so bad) variously included Friz Freleng and the ghastly David Detiege.

drawingtherightway said...

In the skelton foundation section of the Preston Blair book, he says to work loosely. Do you think when we start drawing a particular image that we should first draw the line of action and sketching of basic forms pretty fast and then when we are pretty confident in our basic outline of the forms slow down to be more accurate? I ask this because it seems like the faster you draw, the more flowing the lines are.

ComiCrazys said...

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...

Agreed. I think I was looking too much at the brush work on the original, it has kind of a point to it. If you can see my red pencil it is rounded but I kinda inked with the dark pencil. No excuse for the spots being off perspective.

2) The eyes seem to be a little off perspective - the right is too low, and the eyebrows too far away from the eyes

Agreed. I redrew the head a few times and then added a bit over the eyes because it seemed too crowded.

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

John, thanks so much for the crits. They definitely help. When I finished the drawing it seemed pretty close to the original. Then I did the overlay and saw how off my spacing of things actually was.

Does it matter to be that precise when copying a cover as to have the negative spaces be exact? Or is overall hierarchy and construction more important to grasp? I can redraw it over to get the spacing exact but is that necessary in understanding the other concepts?

Elana Pritchard said...



what is that jellyfish thingy Donald Bastard is biting?!?!

We the people want to know!

(nice colors BTW)

Cartoon Critique! said...

Yes! All of this information is very helpful to us!

I have already gotten a couple of studies in and I will post them tonight- can I get a couple more in before then?

p.s PLEASE CRITIQUE PEOPLE- it's been really dry lately

Trevor Thompson said...

Trevor, we probably all know that it is easy to get praise for simply drawing a straight line or a circle, any old shit, from those who cannot piece those together to save their life.

I concur, Hans, we probably all do.

What's your point?

I still drew better than anyone in my grade ( or the others after me ), but there damn sure wasn't any construction going on in them, and I didn't have any idea behind the theories therein.... I just put pen to paper and hoped for the best, like John said.

Hence, I was relating to the post. Did you not understand what I was saying or were you just being flippant?

- trevor.

PS: You can't say "s--t" on this blog.

rex said...

Thanks for the nice comments, guys.

John knows what he's talking about.

These Bugs Bunny covers came from Shane Glines' blog.

Anonymous said...

The whole "over-praise" thing is going on here at home. I always try to make myself better.

Alberto said...

Hi, here's my try John, how am I doing?
Many thanks.

Paul B said...

hi John

here are my studies

My Drawing

The Checking

The body was too large

the good thing is. every time I make these studies more quickly and more reliably. That has to mean something right?

CrazyHarmke said...

Hi John!

Thanx for posting a nice study again.
I tried to copy Bugs too.
If you like, you can check it out at my blog.
If you have some tips that can help me... well you know that comments are always welcome at my blog :)


Cartoon Critique! said...

send in your studies to be critiqued by people who follow this blog

Cartoon Crank said...

Answering the question, yes, some stories were indeed drawn by Warner staffers. Tom McKimson (layout for Clampett) drew Bugs Bunny from the mid to late 40s, Viv Risto (animator for Clampett and Norm McCabe) drew Elmer, Henery Hawk, and Beaky Buzzard, and Phil De Lara (animator for McKimson) did the Daffy feature (and the solo-Daffy issues) for most of its existence.

But the covers seen here: not by a Warner regular. Probably by Dan Gormley or Dan Noonan.

ComiCrazys said...

Another question: Is it a good idea to pick a cover like the one of Bugs with the flowers when learning construction? His body is so obscured by the jacket, bowtie, collar that it's hard to tell what's going on with the torso? Should we stick with drawings that are less busy until we get the basics mastered? It's like drawing a clothed model before having drawn nude models.

That being asked, here's my first tries > Bugs Flowers

MLP said...

BTW, Kali did the fancy-ass new header for me.

Thank you, Raketeena!

Michael said...

Here's a link to a drawing I did. If you would like to critique, please do. Thanks!

Kali Fontecchio said...

"what is that jellyfish thingy Donald Bastard is biting?!?!"

Hi Elana,

it was inspired by an episode of Outer Limits (the one form the sixties). There was this weird eyeball creature and it apparently scared John when he was a wee one. It looks almost nothing like it though, haha.

Ivan D said...

I tried my hand at constructing a Mickey Mouse cover that you posted a while back.

Please take a look:

Aaron said...

I attempted the bugs.

Zoran Taylor said...

Could one of you folks please explain for me how to make a link that you don't have to copy? I'm talking about the ones that show up in blue. That would be much appreciated, thanks. (I seem to have a hard time finding such advice from Blogger itself.)

freqazoidiac said...

SO true about the naturally talented people having hard time with a way to channel that to uniform congruity in a project setting. Unless you have a keen understanding of story boarding and possible action life drawing, plus those volume and form pre-drawing technics, it can be a challenge. I did learn some volume ideas with that old Kirby "Draw the marvel way",when i was pre-pubescent and that helped with what I did at my short stint at Sheridan college in 1994..before they went digital. I'm just saying everything you outline is very important! Thanks for the best blog on the web! So generous. To have freeform ideals and the basics underneath..that shows a truly skilled and disciplined artist. Just like John Coltrane.

Zorrilla said...


To make a link write this:

(a href="") Text-of-the-link (a)

Replace the ( and ) with < and >, I had to change them because otherwise it would show up as a link instead of code.

Zorrilla said...

An update on the previous post for Zoran, I missed a slash on the (a), it should be (/a).

So the correct code would be:

(a href="") Text-of-the-link (/a)

Remember to replace the parenthesis.

Zoran Taylor said...

What a coincidence that there was a girl in my school when I was seven or smething who called me "Zorzilla" all the time.

I figured out the linking thing, BTW. Thanks! (Look for the big, long rant of a blue link sentence under John's post about the evilness of Carl Barks characters.)

Caleb said...

These picture studies are great, I'm still practicing the basics though. From practicing construction, I felt something click and I see things differently. Now I'm focusing on meaty, negative shapes. Thanks, John.

Traven said...

I have a suggestion. I'd like to see construction study of beaks - all kinds of beaks.

Beaks are
1) unusually(?) complex parts of the cartoon character's body
2) pretty common
3) at the front of the face, where is the usual viewers' focus
4) can take a relatively small portion of space (which can be confusing for a novice)

I might draw a pretty good beak, but I always feel insecure about the steps I'm taking. How do you construct them? For a Duck, do you draw parallelograms and then 'bend' them?

I have no idea whether in this respect I'm a minority or not.

Trevor Piecham said...

Thanks for your wonderful posts on construction John! This is something I feel very weak at doing, especially when trying to create an original character out of my head. I finally had some time to try one out for myself.

Bugs cover

Here is my most recent attempt at applying what I've learned from reading your blog to my personal work. It would be awesome if you could give me some feedback on this.

TWill said...

Well I did a couple of Bugs Bunny studies

Bugs Bunny Covers

If you feel like checking them out and critiquing them it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for all the info you give.