Friday, January 02, 2009

Staging 4 - one action at a time

Stage One Idea or Action at a time - let it settle in







This is a really important point to me. I always tell my artists to not combine a pile of ideas into 1 drawing, because none of them will sink in with the audience.

Use a logical progression of ideas and present them one at a time so that people can follow what is happening.

This is true for all film and stage and even dance. Everything should be staged around central events and ideas that develop themselves with variations as they go. Even Busby Berkely led you along from one crazy visual idea to another in a logical progression - but that's for another analysis.

I wish I had some good digital copies of Tex Avery cartoons. He followed this concept as if it was law. He turned the one idea at a time thing into a formal art that is beautiful and funny even without the gags.
Here's a dialogue scene showing Ernie's thought process and sequence of emotions in a scene from "Cans Without Labels":

Lots of negative spaces both inside and outside the silhouette to help you see what I want you to see.
Most of the focus of each of these poses is the facial expression. The hands are either out of the way, or will add a supporting gesture to what he is thinking or feeling.

"Twins" sneak in...

38 comments:

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

Thanks! These Disney posts have been great.

But, the suspense is killing us all. What's happening with the George Liquor Show?! Switching sponsors? Canceled altogether?

Niki said...

This brings up the question, "Is there a way to make it look like other seemingly random things are going on, yet still have a point of focus? Have everyone dancing, and point you into the main attraction?

Toole said...

Hell yes, do a post about Busby Berkely.

クMAコUジ said...

"Now and then, someone will write in the comments that young artists don't need tools."

You're refering to what I said earlier where you critiqued someone's artwork and corrected it according to what you see as "good principles".

You're misunderstanding me.

Teaching people artistic control is something Betty Edwards does very well. Infact, that's what she's famous for -- "Drawing on the right side of the brain" is the book for which she's famous and I recommend it to every artist out there.
She presents her lessons like this: "I can teach you how to draw and paint things exactly as you wish they looked". Her exercises work very well at achieving this.

You dont do this. you merely present people with a style you happen to like and show them how to achieve it. Just because this particular style happens to require a higher level of artistic control than the typical animation standards we see today doesn't mean you're teaching them artistic control, especially not when you redraw someone's own work. Youre not them and there is no way you can instinctively know how they wanted their own stuff to look.

Do you see what I'm getting at here?

Another qualm I have with your approach is you all too often come dangerously close to confusing craftsmanship with a an objective, one-way route to "good art". You'd have to be a complete philistine to really believe this. If modernism hadn't shattered this way of thinking, there would be no cartoons as you know and love them, there would be no deviation from the renaissance painters of old, and only people who could paint to their standards would be taken seriously on a professional level.

Elana Pritchard said...

Besides being able to draw like the dickins, what computer programs does one need to know to be an animator?

Oscar Baechler said...

Along the lines of what Niki said, any thoughts on keeping background characters dynamic and fun when they're not the central idea? I know in theater they tell you to always assume someone's looking at you even if you're off to the side.

It's also something where watching a video a second time, you finally notice the "background jokes," which often lead to watching a third time.

John A said...

Niki, Why would you even WANT to do something like that? Any movement that distracts from the main action is kind of a waste of time and resources. Now, there are times where there might be something going on in the same scene, like a crowd, or traffic, or waves,or whatever, but the best thing to do in these instances is to establish what is going on and then move in or cut directly to the main action.

There's a scene in the begining of "Pinocchio" that takes place in Gepetto's workshop. Gepetto has just finished making Pinocchio and he's testing him out in front of Figaro and Cleo. There's a lot going on in the scene, what with Gepetto handing the sticks and moving the strings to move the puppet while walking around his shop, it would have taken months to lay out and animate that scene if the artist kept the workshop in full frame. Instead, they focus on just what they want you to see. They start with Gepetto walking,and then move down to the puppet and Gepetto's feet. Once they establish that movement, they move veiwer forward to the kitten, marching in front of them. The music and the sound effects tie everything together and the audience is left with the impression that all that movement is still going on right outside of the camera's range. Now compare this to a scene from a Don Bluth film. You can pick almost any of his films post NIMH, but Rock a Doodle is especially bad. Don has a scene that features all the characters in a flooded bedroom where everything is moving, the furniture, the water effects, all the characters, all in the same full frame throughout almost the entire scene. It must have been a royal pain in the ass to lay out and draw. There's so much going on in the scene that the characters are completely lost (even though every single one of them needed to be drawn,cleaned up,and painted on cels)and the audience connection with their idividual feelings was nonexistant. A few close ups and reaction shots would have been a lot more effective in telling the story, instead, Don tries to "impress" the audience (this is always a bad idea, the audience really doesn't care -- Frank and Ollie's book "The Illusion of Life" has a story about an extremely expensive multiplane shot in Pinocchio that the audience paid no attention to,even though they spent as much on it as an average short. Walt learned his lesson in 1940, but others still make this mistake.)In the end, all that effort didn't keep Bluth's film from being a dud. Maybe he should have spent more time thinking about telling the story instead of filling the scene with a lot of crap.

Mitch K said...

To クMAコUジ: He's teaching drawing tools.

It's damn hard to animate and illustrate and design, especially on every-changing projects, when you don't have any real drawing skills.

If you've ever worked professionally in art, you'd know the value of good drawing skills.

Guy said...

You dont do this. you merely present people with a style you happen to like and show them how to achieve it.

No, he redrew it so that it looks better. There is zero value in being different by being worse.

And next, of course, you'll reply with "according to YOU, man! Objective standards don't exist, it's all SUBJECTIVE! People like you kept art from devolving into worthless chaos for HUNDREDS of YEARS!" Really, just don't bother.

Youre not them and there is no way you can instinctively know how they wanted their own stuff to look.

Early on, no one knows how they want their art to look. You won't find a single artist whose art has advanced by any significant degree who doesn't find his first drawings revolting.

Another qualm I have with your approach is you all too often come dangerously close to confusing craftsmanship with a an objective, one-way route to "good art".

No, he's correctly conflating looking good with being good. And creating things that look good require good craftsmanship, as horrifying as that must be for you to hear.

and only people who could paint to their standards would be taken seriously on a professional level.

If only.

Sphyzex_9 said...

John, is the show cancelled or not? Don't leave us in suspense.

JohnK said...

No, just delayed by the economic crisis.

クMAコUジ said...

"It's damn hard to animate and illustrate and design, especially on every-changing projects, when you don't have any real drawing skills."

Here's a logical reason why I dont think John is teaching "drawing skills", he's teaching styles:

Betty Edwards, I mentioned her earlier -- she teaches drawing skills ie. being able to successfully depict what you set out to depict.

One of her exercises involves copying a line drawing, then copying it upside down and comparing the results. For a lot of people, the picture copied upside down is more true to the original because the artist is drawing exactly what is there as opposed to what he thinks he sees there. Lots of art students are familiar with this exercise. For an explaination of the psychology behind this you'd need to read her book.

Betty doesn't set out any stylistic criteria. Her main concern is giving students the skills to replicate whatever they want to depict artistically.

John's approach is almost entirely stylistic. Whilst his style takes more artistic control to replicate, that's not the same as teaching just pure artistic control.

If people want to draw in exactly the style John advocates, that's entirely up to them and their preference. and if someone wants to hand over their own creations to be changed and edited by someone other than them, thats their choice too although I find it pretty uninspired and it's not something you'd ever catch me doing.


"No, he redrew it so that it looks better. There is zero value in being different by being worse."

Scarily, you've listed "art theory" as one of your interests. How can art theory be one of your interests and yet you still cant manage to grasp something as basic as relativism? If youre so interested in "art theory" do yourself a giant favour and buy a book on Axiology.

JohnK said...

I think if you want your generalities to be taken somewhat seriously, you need to put up examples and say something concrete to go with them.

In the meantime, how are Frank Frazetta and Bugs Bunny the same styles?

Or all the old illustrators I post about? They all use the same basic fundamentals, yet no one one would say they are all the same styles - unless you are the exception.

"Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain" is about copying, not understanding.

Fundamentals and styles are 2 different things as I have repeatedly shown.

Obviously some people will never grasp the difference and their art will stay primitive because of it. I can't help stubbornness.

MichaelA said...

Hey John,

I have a lot of good digital copies of Tex Avery cartoons. Which ones would you like?

Michael
michel@studiomoshi.com

Pete Emslie said...

Since I don't think it's very considerate to have a username that must be copied and pasted instead of typed out on a standard keyboard, I'm going to nickname the stubborn poster here, Mr. Whatsit. Now Mr. Whatsit would have us all believe that drawing a subject by working out its underlying construction first is a "style", not a drawing "principle", and that only John and other studio-type animators need bother with it. The fact is, working out the construction is a basic principle of drawing employed by any serious illustrator trying to depict the illusion of 3-dimensional form on a flat surface.

I also have Betty Edwards' book and, though I believe she teaches some very practical observational skills involving how lines and shapes relate to each other, she never really ventures into teaching how to build a solid drawing through the use of underlying construction. As such, even though there is some noticeable improvement in her students' work in the before and after examples, the fact is none of them are drawing yet with any basic understanding of solid form.

Much better for any aspiring artist is the Walter Foster series of art books, many of which have been around since at least the 1950's. While the Preston Blair book obviously gets the most mention on John's blog, all of the books dealing with subjective art in a realistic illustrative manner also show how to build up your drawing through blocking in with a firm foundation of simple, solid geometric forms before developing all of the surface detail. All of the experienced illustrators that composed these books used the same methods of construction that John talks about here in order to create an image that shows solid form as well as consistent placement of details using guidelines in proper perspective.

The stubborn refusal to use these time honoured drawing principles will result in drawings that lack solidity, with surface details floating inconsistently all over the place because of the absence of an underlying foundation. Proportions will likely suffer as well. Though John's area is animation, these principles apply equally to any sort of illustration work where the same subject must be shown consistently throughout a series of drawings, such as in comics or picture books. The drawings that Kelly had submitted to John for critiquing were obviously two of a series of drawings of the same character, hence the benefit of using construction to ensure consistency.

Now, I'll grant you that portraying solid form is not always essential to some illustrators who prefer to draw in a deliberate 2-dimensional manner with their linework meandering playfully around the page. There are some who do this very well, like British cartoonist, Gerald Scarfe, for example. But even Scarfe would have learned the rules before being able to break them so effectively. Those who refuse to learn the rules initially, however, will be severely limited in their abilities. Sadly, some of them will try to hide these limitations behind what they claim to be their personal "style". Are you getting any of this yet, Mr. Whatsit?

LETS TALK CARTOONS said...

it would be nice to make a house out of cotton candy, but alas a great house is always made with wood and brick then the paint

M. R Darbyshire said...

To quote Stephen Worth, on John K's lessons:

"A lot of artists excuse their lack of skill by claiming that flat drawings and unappealing shapes are their "style". Poor drawing skills don't constitute a style."

http://www.animationarchive.org/2006/05/meta-100000-animation-drawing-course.html

H. Sick said...

This is all off topic... but.... Speaking of Betty Edwards and Walter Foster, I'm curious what John K. and Peter Emslie think of Kimon Nicolaides book "The Natural Way to Draw." I found it recommended in Shamus Culhane's book on animation, where he claims Chuck Jones studied it throughout his life.

(I know we're not talking about construction and staging principals here... but rather about ways of drawing faster and more naturally and better.)

JohnK said...

I think if you wanna be a cartoon animator, start with simple shapes and characters and learn to turn them in space. Preston Blair's book is the easiest quickest eduction a beginning animator can get.

It doesn't hurt to do life drawing too and to expand your drawing skills in general, but if you have trouble drawing simple shapes, then life drawing is going to be even harder and will slow your progress as an animator.


You can learn the same fundamentals quicker by applying them to simpler shapes and forms. The less details the better.


Later, more complex objects - like realistic humans will make more sense to you, because you will recognize their forms under all the details.

All the animation schools waste tons of time with quick sketch life drawing and no instruction - which does nothing to improve the animators' cartoon drawings.

クMAコUジ said...

I wrote a responce but it wasn't approved. Why even bother trying to present a POV if youre just gonna censor people who dont agree?

Pete Emslie said...

Hi H. Sick,

In regard to Nicolaides' book, I think it has much valid information on teaching one how to observe properly before drawing, but is not as helpful when it comes to building a drawing through underlying construction. As Betty Edwards has done later in her book, Nicolaides stresses "contour" drawing a lot, where you look at the subject and attempt to "feel" your way along the form with a continuous line, not looking at your page. This is merely an exercise meant to train the eye to observe what is really there and not to just make up what you think is there. Likewise, Nicolaides stresses the importance of quick "gesture" drawing as well, where in the space of 15 seconds to a minute you try to get the gist of the pose with the main line of action and the rhythm of the arms and legs. Personally, I like to incorporate this exercise into my own Character Design classes too, as it helps the students to overcome a stiff, robotic look that can result from using construction alone. Nicolaides also covers "modeled" drawing, which is an exercise to develop thinking of the subject as sculpted mass, having weight and volume.

I think that the various methods that Nicolaides teaches are all valid, yet none of them should be used out of context of the others in order to produce a good drawing. I agree with John that construction is the most important thing to learn first, and then add to that the feeling of rhythmic movement created by the gestural approach. I personally don't place much faith in contour drawing, and it should never be looked at as any more than an exercise that trains the eye for better observation of the subject.

JohnK said...

Because you didn't add anything new. And are still missing the point.

Why read this blog if you don't like old cartoons and don't wanna know how they were made?

There are plenty of blogs about "avant garde" animation. You'll find tons of people there to argue with.

H. Sick said...

Thanks John and Pete. I read both your blogs all the time and really appreciate getting free lessons and advice from accomplished pros.

Whit said...

Tex Avery always has the viewer looking exactly where he wants. There's one cartoon, "The Magical Maestro" where Tex deliberately holds on the lead character doing a dance for too long an interlude, so that the viewer's eye quickly detects the rotoscoped hair that pops up at screen bottom. One might call that unnecessary background action, but not the way Tex uses it.

Zoran Taylor said...

Pete, if you've seen the animation Scarfe did for "The Wall", you might be surprised. Besides a few minor oddities at the ending scene (which aren't enough to ruin the great ideas), it is very, very solid. It has to be because it features forms in constant flux, yet every stage of their progression must be readable. The only thing that was sacrificed in the process is the occasionally wobblly timing. But it's probably the only time an artist has ever set out to animate a series of scathing visual metaphors for brutality and horror in the absence of literal characters, yet with the same sense of continuity as a cartoon, and completely succeeded. In 1982. Let me just say I was impressed.

Pete Emslie said...

Hi Zoran,

I haven't seen "The Wall", but it doesn't surprise me that Scarfe may have designed it more 3-dimensionally for the sake of the animation. My point though was in regard to his cartoon illustration. His cartoons and caricatures are more linear in a 2-dimensional manner, but this is entirely okay when you're working with stand-alone illustrations, as you are not as accountable as you must be for the continuity of consistent drawings as found in comics or, especially, animation.

But when solid drawings that will remain consistent as they are rotated in space are the goal, then building up from a simple constructed foundation is essential. Nobody will ever convince me otherwise.

クMAコUジ said...

"Because you didn't add anything new. And are still missing the point."

You censored me because I reworded my stance and I didnt agree with you. If this is supposed to be an open forum for discussion on animation, I think doing that is a poor show on your part. Surely if someone has a disagreement with you, provided they don't do it in a profane manner you should allow it as part of open discussion and let people make up their own minds, especially seeing as the last few journal entries you've made have indirectly related to points Ive raised.

And I dont dislike old school animation just because I don't like the way you sometimes confuse style and craftsmanship with "good art". totally different argument.

Discussion is good. Disagreement is good. it means people are really thinking about what they want their art to be and what it can potentially be. But yeah, if all you're after is a platform where you can surround yourself with fanboys who fawn over every flick of a pen you make -- congratulations, I think you've got that front covered.

PS. you dont have to approve this message.

JohnK said...

You still haven't said anything new or with a point, let alone backed anything up with examples.


My suggestion: start your own blog. Post your theories and back them up with examples of your own work and the work of others you approve and don't approve of. I'll even send people there to discuss it with you. See if you can hold on to them.

You aren't being censored. You've been allowed to say the same thing 5 times now and without ever having to support it with any effort on your part.

If you send another post that says the same thing, I will spare the people who like to learn things from reading it again.

Let me know when you post some examples that illustrate your views.

SibbSabb said...

kumakouji:

Let it go man. I understand where you're coming from, but I think you're off base here, especially by belittling the author by suggesting him to 'go read a book on aesthetics'. It does not further help your argument. Are you surprised your comment was filtered?

Now to add something to the discussion: as much as I like old cartoons and the development of animation, I also enjoy drawings that use the medium as the content like Cy Twombly, opposed to baby deer and cute bunnies as the content. I can appreciate both expressions.

Drawing is a process of editing shape, value, and line until the artist arrives at a moment where heshe desires to stop editing. The study of aesthetics is learning when to stop.

What John is presenting here is one way to edit drawings to maintain a consistency of form through a series of drawings, and the tools needed. John also presents methods in composition that can also be translated to drawings of Cy Twombly ilk. His posts also refresh me to think of negative spaces, and how the shapes I form relate to one another in space. They are very helpful for both ways of drawing.

What sort of tools do you use when you edit your drawings? Or does this discussion need not continue?

M. R Darbyshire said...

How dare you utilize the features of the Blogger website, John! Especially to eliminate redundancy. You evil son of a gun.

By the way, I've seen you give that advice to a lot of commenters over the years. Has anyone ever actually put their argument into even one post?

クMAコUジ said...

John K says: "You aren't being censored. You've been allowed to say the same thing 5 times now and without ever having to support it with any effort on your part."

Round my neck of the woods, making sound points supports most arguments and it takes effort to do this too. But if you want something fully illustrated with bells, whistles and diagrams, I can do that. I'd enjoy it. although honestly, I wish you'd be a little more gratious by actually letting me say what I want in responce to the debates you prompt here, regardless of how many times I stubbornly refuse to come round to your way of thinking. I promise not to censor anything you say on my blog, and youre free to say it how ever many times you want -- that goes for everyone.

John K says:"If you send another post that says the same thing, I will spare the people who like to learn things from reading it again."

Youre not sparing anyone of anything but an alternative opinion to your own. Moreover, this is the internet -- if people dont want to read something they can use the scroll bar and scroll on past.

I'll more than happily create some blog entries on the points I made and try to find relevant examples of artwork and animation to back it up. I have a essay due on the 9th of January, so I'll have to start it after then unfortunately.

SibbSabb says: "especially by belittling the author by suggesting him to 'go read a book on aesthetics'. It does not further help your argument. Are you surprised your comment was filtered?"

if you read the comment again, you'll see I'm actually responding to a poster called Guy who said " he redrew it so that it looks better. There is zero value in being different by being worse."

Seriously. What am I supposed to say to something like that apart from suggest he reads some books on the philosophy of aesthetics?

SibbSabb Says:"What John is presenting here is one way to edit drawings to maintain a consistency of form through a series of drawings, and the tools needed. John also presents methods in composition that can also be translated to drawings of Cy Twombly ilk."

I really would like to respond to your comments, and I appreciate you taking the time to share your viewpoint with me, but I've been told by the author I'm not allowed to reiterate any aspect of my previous argument or he wont post my comment -- so there you have it. Discussion cut dead. I will post a blog entry of my own on the subject sometime soon though.

M. R Darbyshire says: "How dare you utilize the features of the Blogger website, John! Especially to eliminate redundancy. You evil son of a gun."

Censoring a difference in opinion is "eliminating redundancy"? The only people who believe that are you and the Communist Party of China.

M. R Darbyshire said...

"Censoring a difference in opinion"

See now, you're already wrong in the first 3 words. Do you really want to say communist fascism is on par with deleting comments on Blogger?

mike f. said...

You know, in every art class I ever had, there was always one insufferable windbag who knew more than the teacher, (and everyone else in the class, of course!)

He was in love with his own words, and so had no compunctions about sidetracking any discussion at hand to make it all about him. He always stuck out like a sore thumb (because he'd make damned sure he would.) For the sake of simplicity, let's call this anomaly the "Pompous Ass".

Now, it was always perfectly obvious that the Pompous Ass possessed neither the credentials nor the intelligence to derail and monopolize the discussion (i.e: "refering" [sic] "Infact" [sic] "dont" [sic] "Youre" [sic] "explaination" [sic] "responce" [sic] "gratious" [sic] etc...)

Nevertheless, hours of valuable classroom time got wasted on this ignoramus - while he endlessly belabored the obvious, needlessly patted himself on the back, or sanctimoniously politicized every innocuous detail for his captive audience, (the only kind of audience that would ever tolerate him.)

There's a happy ending to this story, however. All classroom Pompous Asses have one thing in common: they are never, EVER heard from again after art school.

John, you needn't provide a platform for every smug, uninformed blowhard when there are much more deserving, eager students waiting for you to get on with it. You've wasted enough time on him. We were discussing staging and composition. Let's move on, please...

Isaac said...

"Censoring a difference in opinion is eliminating redundancy? The only people who believe that are you and the Communist Party of China", said the man who has been invited to voice the same opinion, repeatedly, for days, weeks, and months.

When does your opinion stop being the most important thing in the world?

When should you stop yelling "chess is boring" in a chess players' convention?

After the first time? Tenth? Never?

A wise man once said: start your own blog. Post your theories and back them up with examples of your own work and the work of others you approve and don't approve of. See if you can hold on to them.

Stephen Worth said...

I'm with Mike F. I don't think argumentative idiots and emotionally disturbed people should be allowed to derail valuable discussions simply because they have access to the internet and can type blather. As far as I'm concerned, the delete key should be used more often.

surferjoe1 said...

I've got a new theory. I'll bet some music teacher was teaching a student the scales, and the student said "The scales according to YOU!"

And that's when music started to suck.

surferjoe1 said...

Maybe a corollary to this idea, or maybe an exception (agree or disagree): when you have to stage chaos with multiple characters, the attention can be made to go to where there's LESS activity, or contrast. If everybody else does one thing, we look to the guy who's doing something else.

Ward Kimball's "Three Caballeros" title song animation is an example. I wonder if Busby Berkely used the idea, too.

Apologies if this is an unrelated tangent, but maybe it'd be a good subject if you haven't done it already.

Pete Emslie said...

Aw, c'mon Steve, don't be like that! Every village needs an idiot - it's FUN to watch them go on and on about stuff they know nothing about! :)