Friday, January 16, 2009

Frazetta Caricatures Composition 18

Frank Frazetta became a master at composition and hierarchy - so much so that his work is almost a caricature of artistic control. Everything in his images fits so perfectly together that it's almost unnatural - even though he is using guidance from a great observation of nature.His images read instantly. I shrunk these down to show how the whole big picture is a blatant graphic design. If you click them and then look at the larger image, you can see how every level of sub forms and details fits within and flows along the larger forms and graphic statements.

The differences between Frazetta and good animation cartoonists are in individual skill and style, not so much in fundamentals. Frazetta can draw much better than most cartoonists (or anybody else). He also can control more levels of complex detail, and difficult elaborate structures - like anatomy.
But he doesn't let his complex knowledge and skill become a disorganized jumble of visual information (like modern superhero comics).
His compositions are as controlled as Milt Gross' or Harvey Kurtzman in his early years.
This idea of extreme composition and artistically controlled staging used to be popular among great movie directors. It was an essential part of their jobs.

John Ford could possibly be the most extreme of extremes.
He made caricatures of movies. The images in his films are so strikingly graphic that I find them beautiful and funny at the same time. They are almost cartoons. Imagine if life was this planned?

Most old time movie directors were artists. They were visual storytellers and used their sense of staging and cutting to tell their stories in the most personally controlled ways.

Modern movies - like modern everything - have a much more random haphazard feeling, as if the creators really don't have any idea of what they are trying to say. Big budget movies look like expensive home movies to me these days. They just follow a handful of trends and hope they win the luck of the draw with audiences. "Blow more sh*t up!" seems to be today's measure of quality.


Jay said...

The composition in old movies is always great, often because they couldn't rely on color to draw focus to the subject, it had to be done with using high contrast and framing to isolate figures and pull them out of the backgrounds.

Also, you can almost see "lines of action" in many of the old screwball comedies because they didn't shoot coverage. If there was a complex/quick dialogue scene they put 3-4 actors in frame at the same time and shot it in one take. Broad body language resulted in postures that caricatured the emotions each actor was playing in a scene, resulting in natural lines of action. The police station scene at the end of "Bringing up Baby" has some great examples of this staging.

Sherm said...

That "How Green Was My Valley" doorway shot is breathtaking!

Whit said...

Victor Fleming was an old time silent director who developed his visual sense with every picture he made. By the time he directed "Gone With the Wind" he used William Cameron Menzies as his production designer, and Menzies painted every single composition in the film, sort of as a combination storyboard/color script.

Niki said...

I noticed this just now, the picture with Mrs.Pollifax is amazing! considering it over all it seems to only have two major shape! I think I understand that hierarchy thing a bit more. It's really just a landscape and a tree! You should have included that!

On film though, I forgot what they call the composition, it was some french word. They actually arrange things in a lot of films but it won't frame the subject, it's supposed to give a feeling about someone. The villain may have a lot of birds of prey, or a taxi driver heading to work walking through a line of the yellow cars. Mise en scene is what it was called I just remembered. Considering the fact that it is actually organized is a good thing, but it just could be so much better.

Do you know anymore directors with quality control? Hopefully there maybe some modern ones too? do you think there maybe any hope?

Noel said...

My two most favorite artists are Frazetta and Paul Felix. I don't get why Frazetta is so good (OH!!! I forgot!! Leyendecker too).
I think that drawing ability is wired funny in the human mind and your technique gets better(also)as you kinda zone out and just mindlessly fine tune things it just becomes theoretically better without knowing theory. Frazetta also likes to draw upside down and he looks at his stuff backwards and junk; this is what mean as fine tuning. If you flip a drawing over you will make changes that are theoretically better without knowing theory and also if you look at a lot of art you subconsciously do this without knowing you are doing it. I always get compliments on design and composition but i have no idea what that is, but i've copied Frazetta since High School.

Kali Fontecchio said...

Do a whole post about classic film directors!!!

I like how Frazetta's wife's ass is juxtaposed to the sky.

perspex said...

Imagine if life was this planned?
there once was a guy that had life planned that way for everyone, except his little square mustache reached up into his brain and made him nutsy-koo-koo...

Ambassador MAGMA said...

Akira Kurasawa also has complex forms arranged so beautifully and seamlessly that any frame can be taken and seen as a composition. Ingmar Bergman as well, especially with The Seventh Seal.

Thanks for posting these Frazzeta pieces. They are truly masterful!

DCLXVI said...

Great post, Mr. K.

Would you consider "300" and "The Matrix" caricatures as well?

Oscar Baechler said...

Thanks for the Frazetta pics; Except for his popular ones, they're hard to find on the interfarts!

Regarding movie composition, I'll never forget when I watched The Third Man the first time. It's building more and more, super intense, and then...that big-reveal camera shot, where the silhouette's walking down the sewer tunnel, he's backlit and every brick is lit up. I had to pause the movie and sketch it immediately.

HemlockMan said...

Striking images from Ford and Frazetta.

Nobody seems to have quite understood how to illustrate fantasy the way Frazetta understood it. His imitators and plagiarists sicken me. Learn from him, yes. Stop there.

I'm enjoying the Barks deconstruction. He remains a favorite of mine from my childhood.

Anonymous said...

GREAT post!

My Darling Clementine has some of the most striking images in a Western ever. That scene where Fonda is leaning on the wooden column outside the sheriff's office, and the lines of shops that form the town all converge on that point, is breathtaking. Ford makes a scene with no action or dialogue one of the best parts of the film.

Michael Curtiz is also good at composition and hierarchy and how to use them to make striking images on film. It's all over Mildred Pierce.

Anonymous said...

Oops, it wasn't until I posted that last comment that it occurred to me to search for the image from My Darling Clementine I was taking about. I actually got two images mixed up as one.

Is this what you were talking about, John?

Mattieshoe said...

"Blow more sh*t up!"

See, at least those movies tried to give you honest entertainment, even in a juvenile way.

Everyone likes to see sh*t being blown up.

More and more modern movies are just so fake and unsure that they're afraid to give you even that level of honest entertainment.

They load their pictures with contrived pathos and pop culture references. and, God knows why, people continue to defend it!

Tim said...

Great post, those are indeed some beautiful compositions.
I know you like Sergio Leone, John;
have you seen much Mario Bava?

Niki said...

Mr.John, after these posts on composition I've been wondering more on it. But I still don't have a good grasp on it. Is there anywhere I can get more info?

JohnK said...

click the label at the bottom of the post that says "composition"

a bunch of articles will load that explain it step by step

read from the bottom post up

Payo said...


The doorway shot it so great he ripped himself off for The Searchers.

Weirdo said...

Amazing post. I'll have to study the older films when I finally master the other fundamentals like construction and such.

Would you do a post analyzing and deconstructing the composition of some of your favorite "realistic" comic book artists like Jack Kirby or Gene Colan?

Scott Allen said...

Frazetta's knowledge of anatomy always intrigues me, no models like Norman Rockwell, all from his head. Amazing.

Dan McGuire said...

where can I find this Frazetta archive?

Tanya said...

These are great examples of composition...I've always understood it as a concept, but I'm really starting to see it for myself now, and that's exciting to me.

It's really true about old movies versus newer movies...I'm really choosy with what I watch in the first place, and it saddens me to see film becoming less of an art.

jaystein said...

Frazetta is my favorite artist from this Genre. He is solely responsible for my love of big butts.