Thursday, March 19, 2009

Can Life drawing Help Your Animation?

I think so - if you apply something new that you discovered from life drawings to your cartoon drawing. - But not if you look at the 2 disciplines as being mutually exclusive artforms - or unrelated - as most portfolios I get from animation schools indicate.Thanks to Olivia for finding this drawing on Katie Rice's site.
http://funnycute.blogspot.com/2005/07/spumco-bjork-video.html
Make sure you hunt around her site. She is a great example of a cartoonist who first observes lots of interesting things from life, and then applies them to her own unique yet very cartoony style.

When I do cartoons of real celebrities, I start by doing regular caricatures - semi- realistic ones to analyze the structure and specifics of the individual, Then I try to simplify that into animateable shapes. The first animateable models are usually stiff because they have no context or spontaneity. They are merely conscious analyses of the basic shapes of the individual subject. Once you start animating you loosen up and start to caricature your own caricatures as your subconscious takes over. Or at least - you should.Animating Bjork added a lot of ideas and techniques to the way I draw girls in general. It got me away from doing the stock Preston Blair girl, who is really Elmer Fudd in drag.

Bjork is pretty, but not at all in a generic way. She is so amazingly unique that you can't take your eyes off her. The way she looks, the way she moves, her expressions, her timing, her singing are pure charisma. This is great inspiration for cartoon characters. In the end, we are looking to animate charismatic characters, not stock genericism. Aren't we?



These models are all pretty stiff, but are a starting point. This is a step by step procedure. You start drawing with your brain, but aim to draw from the heart. That doesn't happen instantly. You have to first absorb the knowledge slowly and then forget about it and let your pencil be guided by your subconscious. Not easy, and it hurts to go through the stiff period. A lot of lesser men give up during the stiff beginnings of learning something new and that's a dirty shame. Take the pain and shame like a man and get over it. You'll be so happy when your new knowledge becomes second nature. Otherwise you will be stuck, a slave to formula for life and unhappy, maybe even without knowing why. That pain and shame is essential to your progress. Embrace it. Kick the walls if you have to. But get back to the drawing board and force that stiff information into your head. Then lay awake nights obsessing over it. That's your tax for being gifted.








People ask me all the time - "should I study life drawing and will it help my cartoon drawings"? I wish it did more often, but usually it doesn't.

Again, It can if you apply something you learned from it.

Doing caricatures from life, then simplifying them into animateable characters is great for breaking habits and inventing new styles and ideas. But you have to let the subject of the caricature influence you, not the other way around. Don't impose your "style" of caricature upon the model. Or worse, Hirschfeld's. Open your mind and let the specific new information change the way you assume things should look. Otherwise you are looking at the world through thick gauze and missing out on the tons of interesting new information staring you in the face. I wonder how many people understand what I mean by this.Don't throw out your cartoon instincts just because you are taking in some new observations from life. Mix the 2!
I think that the combination of strong cartooniness and conservative but acute observation and caricature from life will make you a better cartoonist. The 2 together add up to something greater than live action or stock animation. It helps you get a style and be extra specific, rather than just follow animation formula.

I'll post some clips later of how each individual animator did his own unique version of my caricature of Bjork. Aaron Springer. Erik Weise. Sanjay Patel. All great cartoonists with their own styles.


40 comments:

patrick said...

Another brilliant post John! And thanks for posting all these framegrabs from the video, one of my favorite animations of all time.

And I'm glad to finally learn who worked on it, and who did which scenes!!!

diego cumplido said...

I love that video, but I'd like to know why does it have those CGI sequences.

It doesn't fit with your tastes, as far as I know.

Geneva said...

"You have to first absorb the knowledge slowly and then forget about it and let your pencil be guided by your subconscious. Not easy, and it hurts to go through the stiff period. A lot of lesser men give up during the stiff beginnings of learning something new and that's a dirty shame. Take the pain and shame like a man and get over it."

THIS! I should tattoo this onto the back of my drawing hand. I've been facing this frustration a lot trying to completely overhaul my approach to drawing.

Thanks, John! Your blog always gets me motivated.

Lluis said...

Yeah I think I know what you mean....? I think that some cartoonist draw in a style that already exists, that is good in one sense because you understand and appreciate tradition, which I think is pretty important now a days, because it seems like everybody thinks history stinks, but on the other hand if that is the ONLY thing you do it is as if you are crippled, I feel like this sometimes.... Gotta break the molds of your own creativity!! if you look at reality you can understand why that cartooniness is the way it is, and you will be able to add to the history of cartooniness... hehehe
anyway I think I'm just repeating what you just said in different words really.... hehehe
ohh about animation and music... was it you that said "animation is music for the eyes" ? if you did your damned right!

Olivia said...

Re: Bigger version of that drawing:

http://funnycute.blogspot.com/2005/07/spumco-bjork-video.html

Also, I've enjoyed your blog for some time now; particuarly your posts on traditional vs. computer animation.

I believe that life drawing can help you greatly with cartoons in that it helps to improve your ability to observe and pay attention to details; once you've got that down, it's easier to identify which elements can be exaggerated into cartoony elements, i.e. figure out "what makes it good."

I remember from an old animation book I had in high school: basically the argument was "the more realistic you make it, the less realistic it looks." (Problem with computer animation.) As long as you are able to identify what are the "realistic/directly observable elements" (a skill acquired in life drawing) it can make for a more successful cartoon. Though, I suppose you can take it in the opposite direction and have animators who make things hyper-real with super sparkly water and visible threads in clothing.

So essentially what you said: "I wish it did more often, but usually it doesn't." Heh.

Niki said...

I actually watched this video last month. It certainly was spontaneous and crazy, but knowing you, everything must have been strongly controlled for the better, huh? Won't be good to practice yet, not now. not never(?) No, maybe sometime.

Rick Roberts said...

"Or worse, Hirschfield's."

Why ? Is his style unfriendly for animation ?

Christine Gerardi said...

Thanks for this, John. I've been meaning to ask you that same question.

Kali Fontecchio said...

This was probably the biggest revolution in girl cartooning since Betty Boop, Olive Oyl, and Coal Black. Seriously, this is probably, even more so then Ren and Stimpy, why I wanted to become a cartoonist so bad. I saw this, and became insanely obsessed with looking at how beautiful and funny everything could be.

Your design of her is genius, and completely still influences me.

Ok, no more feeding your ego, but I'm dead serious about how important this video was to me in my life.

JohnK said...

Aw thanks, Kali


Rick:

The reason I suggest not copying another caricaturist's style is that it makes you miss the point of having a model.

You should look at the model clearly, through your own eyes, rather than second guessing how someone else would draw him/her.

There may be a lot of traits the person has that doesn't fit Hirschfeld's style - or at least someone else's interpretation of it.

The reason to have life drawing is to find out new things, new shapes, new ways people are put together.


Then you can apply those new things to your cartoons in caricatured form.

Maximum Awesome said...

John, your bit about plowing through the stiff period is great - maybe one of my favourite bits from your blog, ever.

David Germain said...

A lot of lesser men give up during the stiff beginnings of learning something new and that's a dirty shame. Take the pain and shame like a man and get over it. You'll be so happy when your new knowledge becomes second nature. Otherwise you will be stuck, a slave to formula for life and unhappy, maybe even without knowing why. That pain and shame is essential to your progress. Embrace it. Kick the walls if you have to. But get back to the drawing board and force that stiff information into your head. Then lay awake nights obsessing over it. That's your tax for being gifted.

I like this statement right here. I've been having a bugger of a time working on my latest drawing, so much so that I find myself avoiding it. I now know it's just the growing pains of learning. This has DEFINITELY inspired me to get back at it.

chrisallison said...

show us the weise and springer drawings!

good post. i think i learned to draw SOLID from learning the glen vilpuu style of life drawing (from superstar life drawing teacher brian kennon) more than i ever would have copying preston blair. i see too many people copying preston blair and still not getting it. however, life drawing you have something SOLID in front of you. i dunno, just like vilpuu said, he's giving you tools, not rules. if you realize they're just tools and you break them for a conscious decision, i don't see how learning styles is BAD

A.M.Bush said...

YEAH, HELL YEAH!

Anthony said...

You start drawing with your brain, but aim to draw from the heart. That doesn't happen instantly. You have to first absorb the knowledge slowly and then forget about it and let your pencil be guided by your subconscious. Not easy, and it hurts to go through the stiff period. A lot of lesser men give up during the stiff beginnings of learning something new and that's a dirty shame. Take the pain and shame like a man and get over it.

People ask me all the time - "should I study life drawing and will it help my cartoon drawings"? I wish it did more often, but usually it doesn't.

Why are you so apprehensive toward drawing realistically? Life drawing DOES help you EVERY time. You ALWAYS learn new information. Why would you have a strange goal of learning to draw somthing without actrully having drawing it accuratly? It's impossible to draw good caricatures if you don't know how to draw portraits. I think it's strange that you see it as a chore. What kind of artist doesn't enjoy learning new art subjects? You're like some kid who never eats their vegetables.

That's your tax for being gifted.

Dude seriously get over yourself. You're a CARTOONIST for christ sake. I don't know masters of fine art that have such an overly inflated ego. And heres an example of good Bjork caricatures.

Thomas said...

more than picking up interesting details, drawing from life is an exercise in eye/ hand coordination; or rather, eye to brain to hand coordination. Its also a way of dovetailing experience with animating.

Drawing from life also develops a sense of space, which can be an antidote for flat animation.

When you have a good sense of space, it can only help with time(ing), which is just space projected (into time).

Rick Roberts said...

John:

Thanks for clearing that up. Makes alot of sense.

Olivia said...

Kali:

Kinda offtopic, but it's so funny that you mentioned Coal Black; it caused me to dig around in a childhood (teenhood?) sketchbook, where I had drawn a picture of her. A few pages from that I was surprised to find a drawing of Sody Pop!

I recall that I found drawings like that attractive because they were FUNNY yet SEXY women. It's easy to do the sexy caricature (boobs, curves) but I think harder to combine sexy with gags. (Maybe why sexy is more often seen as the gag rather than the main character?)

Anyway, thanks for giving me some things to muse about.

JohnK said...

Hey I hope no one misinterprets me. I'm all for life drawing - as long as you learn something from it and apply it to your cartoons.

Many don't though.


I've seen lots of portfolios with decent life drawings and flat lifeless uncontrolled cartoon drawings.

But you don't absolutely need it to be a good cartoonist or animator.There are lots of greats who couldn't draw realism to save their lives. And vice versa.

Rick Roberts said...

You really shouldn't have to clarify John. Well, I guess maybe you should for immature people who get pissed the secound they read something they don't like.

Jay Taylor said...

John,

I'd be curious to know what great animators couldn't draw realistically to save their lives. It seems everybody that's mentioned on your site, animation archive, etc, could draw damn near anything.

JohnK said...

Well actually, most of them. I don't wanna start a war or anything so I'm not gonna name any in particular. The handful that can draw realistically are not always the best cartoonists. A couple are.

You can be a great sculptor without being able to draw particularly well - and again - vice versa.

There are lots of different artistic skills and talents. Sometimes some of them cross over but not always.

But I think you can use life drawing to your advantage, if you are purposeful about it. That's what this post is about.


Sculpting would be good for learning 3 dimensional construction too. In school, they should have teachers whose job it is to guide students on how to cross over practically. Maybe some do, but they must be rare, because I have looked at a ton of portfolios in my life from many many art schools and hardly ever see a correlation between the life drawings and cartooning.

Thomas said...

Just for the record.I hope my post wasn't misinterpreted. I thought I was just adding to what John was saying. I thought John's post was pretty much in favor of life drawing.

JohnK said...

Nope Thomas, I agree with you wholeheartedly.

Nico said...

Ahh, the Bjork video. Still one of my favorite pieces of animation in all of history. It is GENIUS.

lastangelman said...

In the Cartoon Thrills blog, commenters can visit here to download and study "I Miss You" as well as several other great pieces of animation.
BTW, I'm starting to appreciate what was done in "Classico" a lot more now. Originally I thought it was jamming in too much stuff to be appreciated by the average viewer, but the past few posts have opened my eyes what was going on with that short and also the online COMCAST Triple Play advertisement.

Zoran Taylor said...

Anthony, you have to understand that this blog is ABOUT cartoons. You're talking like you think John is trashing realism. He's not, he's talking about it's importance in a specific context. The emphasis on cartoons is a purposefully alternative perspecitve. You can find HUNDREDS of artists out there who don't write about this stuff from the perspective of a cartoonist, because their style is geared towards "fine" art. John is just trying to open up a channel here where a helthy back and forth between the two approaches can evolve. Don't attack a catoonist with a classical agenda. It doesn't make sense.

Thomas said...

Thank you John; much appreciated.

Tanya said...

I completely get what you're saying about applying life drawing lessons to cartooning. Of course, I still struggle with it a little bit as I'm learning both, but I think I'm finally starting to "get" it. And your point about caricaturing first makes so much sense - a lot of times I have to make myself just stop and look at a model for a couple of seconds to truly absorb what's unique about them. It's definitely tough to train your brain at first, although examples on your blog really help me a lot.

Dan szilagyi said...

Great post John, and yes i have seen many people who "push" their style on a drawing of someone and it takes away so much from it.
and you're very correct about the lifedrawing-cartoony cross over, i think lifedrawing is an important step in getting better at drawing in general and i think of it as building blocks but people need to take from it those basics and then push them into something.

keep up this kind of stuff!

Raff said...

Great video.

I see Stephen Worth is credited as producer. What does the producer's job entail on a video like this one?

Leeann H said...

I'm currently gagging for more life-drawing classes at the moment - I've recently fetched this beauty of an anatomical reference book: http://www.taschen.com/pages/en/catalogue/classics/all/01868/facts.encyclopaedia_anatomica.htm

And, yes, I apply what I've learned. :) I enjoy learning! I also find that my style loosens up more after a life-draw-sesh, as I know where bits go properly then. :3

Masked Stinker said...

You have to first absorb the knowledge slowly and then forget about it and let your pencil be guided by your subconscious. Not easy, and it hurts to go through the stiff period. A lot of lesser men give up during the stiff beginnings of learning something new and that's a dirty shame. Take the pain and shame like a man and get over it. You'll be so happy when your new knowledge becomes second nature. Otherwise you will be stuck, a slave to formula for life and unhappy, maybe even without knowing why. That pain and shame is essential to your progress. Embrace it. Kick the walls if you have to. But get back to the drawing board and force that stiff information into your head.

I putting a copy of this by my drawing board.

Corey said...

Thanks!

Ahahnah said...

It takes knowledge of the shapes of the human body to draw cute girls like Bjork!

I think Mark Kennedy has a good exercise on looking at the planes of the human face.
http://sevencamels.blogspot.com/2008/03/strange-exercise-and-some-thoughts-on.html

Ben said...

I think this is one of the best animated girls ever. It's really inspiring. I know it's not easy too!

I really hate life drawing in school when all you do is 3 hours of various 1-2 min gestures. I wish there was some caricaturing to it.

I just got into Sheridan Animation, kind of happy about it but I dont even know if it's worth going to after all Amir has said about it.

Helloid said...

FWIW, check out these artist busts. They suggest using them for 3D modeling, but they also bridge the gap between realistic and comic art. I have been using a real skull and guessing (which is good practice). BoingBoing wrote about this company because they make decent, less expensive anatomy models. They are still pretty pricey.

http://www.freedomofteach.com/products/artist_busts/bust_skeleton_torso#

Waqas Malik said...

Oh no Bjork, why did she have to get hurt? ='( It should have been someone that really deserves it, like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton hahah. I ♥♥ Bjork and yes she is beautifully unique and yes she is sexy! ;) I would marry her in a heartbeat. You know how to draw women! heehee.

Alice said...

I am in animation school and I have struggled to see the connection between life drawing and cartooning. Since, I was not able to get anything out of it and life drawing was emphasized above everything else. It makes me feel better that it is suppose to be the combination of two that creates good animation. Thank you so much for the post.

fandumb said...

Bjork is a very particular type of hot girl; she's a WACKY hot girl! She could easily be one of your original characters!