Friday, October 09, 2009

The Bigloaf Variations

There are a handful of cartoon writer stereotypes that come from different backgrounds:

1) Soccer Mom
2) Groundling
3) Relative of executive
4) Comic Book Writer

Did I miss any?

Bobby Bigloaf is a nerdy kid who longs some day to become a comic book writer (and then transfer over to the more lucrative business of writing cartoons). Just about all comic book writers wish they could draw but give up after finding that God didn't grant them the gift and instead choose to tell the artists what to draw.Bobby reads comic books voraciously (like I did when I was a kid). He tries scribbling his own versions of all his favorite characters in underpants, but gives up and instead dreams of becoming the writer of underpants stories, a much simpler goal. He writes letters to the editors of all the comics and sissies up to them. When he grows up he will attain the comic book-writers' #1 visual symbol - scalp disease.Bobby is a real Momma's Boy and his mother is always worried that he will hurt himself or catch cold (especially on sunny warm days), so dresses him in protective gear every day before sending him off to the neighborhood bullies.


Slab 'N' Ernie love to beat up little nerds because that's what they are genetically disposed to do. It's all part of the childhood neighborhood ecosystem. It's God's plan. There's no point in getting mad at them for it. At least they don't listen to Horror Core.

Now to the real point of the post: Character Design Variations
When I design a character, I do it by feel. I try to make the design match the personality of the character, but I don't tie it down to the point where all the proportions are exactly measured.

DESIGNING BY ADJECTIVES APPROACH

Instead, I design a general structure that can be modified somewhat - as long as it follows the adjectives that describe him.

Bobby is fat - but a certain kind of fat. Soft fat wrapped in tight skin.
His head is overall 2 clumps of fat that aim up into a rounded point.
His cranium is smaller than his cheek area.
His nose is long and points up at an angle.
He wears thick coke-bottle lensed glasses that are held together with medicine tape.
He has freckles on his cheeks, elbows, ass and knees.
His upper lip is high up on his face, leaving a longer fat chin area.
He wears a clean white shirt with a pocket protecter, shorts and rubber galoshes over his shoes.

OK - that's about as far as words can describe him. You wouldn't then try to describe each structural element of him in terms of exact angles and ratios relative to each other:

His nose is on a 45% angle and is as tall as his eyebrows, etc...
Model sheets at most studios (at least today) try to tie down the exact proportions of a character, even while having a generic design that has been used many times before. You are not allowed to vary the proportions or design and that is called "on-model". All the fun police at studios and networks love their on-model rule.


I don't believe in "on-model" to that extent. I believe in "generalized on-model". Does the drawing of the character match his general description? Do the expressions and poses match his personality? Can it be constantly varied and improved upon?This allows the artists a lot more freedom than they would get at a regular studio - but I am a stickler that it still looks like the character - you don't change the essence of the character, but you have some leeway to draw in your own style according to your moods.

Under these conditions...


As long as the specific drawings you do are:

1) good
2) funny
3) the expressions and pose are specific to the gag, the character, the emotion and the story
4) Look like the character to the audience and me - not to the production manager

This theory of mine caused me to have some really heated arguments with my favorite character designer Ed Benedict. Bill Hanna though obviously agreed with my approach because he used to call up his freelance animators and describe Ranger Smith to them over the phone.

34 comments:

Kali Fontecchio said...

Pretty drawings!


You draw so pretty!

How did you get such pretty drawing skills? Pretty, pretty princess!

Chris said...

WOW!!! I love the off-model/on-model approach you developed to your cartoons. It definitely matches the golden-age approach or we wouldn't be able to discern one animator's sequence from another.

Bobby Bigloaf is a great character, too. Nothing groundbreaking as far as the stereotype, but he looks great! Or maybe it's his name that's got me diggin' him.

Move over, Jimmy!!! There's a new Idiot in town!

Jay Taylor said...

I don't know, John. All the characters in Alice in Wonderland are "on-model", and it sure is a fun movie to me. Especially the tea party scene!

ThomasHjorthaab said...

wonderful! thanks alot john!:)

new stuff

cheers

John Scroggins said...

Here's an excellent interview with Sal Buscema.

He talks about his work process, the Marvel Method, and how he thinks that comics aren't just for grown-ups.

Interview with Sal Buscema

bergsten said...

OK (asks the complete neophyte).

So how does your unique style tie into character design? I can look at these drawings and know immediately that "you" drew (or at least designed for someone else to draw) them. There's a "JohnK meta-style" overlaying the character's design.

How do you describe THIS over the phone?

(Bonus questions: Why draw on lined paper? And what's with the multiple colored pens in some drawings? SAID I was a neophyte!)

drawingtherightway said...

Hey John I was just curious about something related to character design. You said that you liked your job as a character designer on Heathcliff in a post a couple weeks ago. I looked up your name on imdb.com and saw that your job on The Smurfs was as a character designer as well. In a post you made a while ago you said that you hated working on The Smurfs. I was just wondering why that character design job sucked and the Heathcliff one was great. Weren't you allowed as much creative freedom on The Smurfs?

Andrés Sanhueza said...

I've read a lot of corporative "style guides", that have the exact technical details of how the brand logotype and allusive graphics have to be displayed for graphic design stuff. The theory of character design should apply to "style guides" as well?

Kaiser Fate said...

I remember in the Aeon Flux animated series (the one from the nineties that was original and opposed to Hollywood formula, totally unlike the asinine movie), Peter Chung wanted Aeon Flux to look exactly on-model in one specific episode that revolved around the concept of clones (or 'copies' as he called them). There were two Aeon Fluxes and he wanted them to look identical, but beyond that episode he gave his animators more leeway.

I know in the two minute shorts, there was one episode with some extremely "off-model" shots which Peter Chung openly liked which were done by a very experimental Japanese animator. You could tell it was Aeon Flux but the fact she looked and moved a certain way really added an element of dynamism that you don't get if you stick to a set of rules and specifications too stringently.

Niki said...

I've tried this exact thing once before. There's a women I've been repeatedly drawing and and I got it down to this. Miss Luup is an uptight early 30 something. She's a single mother and thinks she's "refined" and better than all of her friends, but if she feels nostalgic for youth she'll revert towards he old hippie habits. She dreams of a world safe for her son and everybody does the crap that they're supposed to, which has lead her to dressing up in tight underwear and fighting her neighbors. She loves children in general but they don't like her, and try to avoid her. She has a mother's figure, she's got a small cranium but a big frog jaw, which she goes to extreme lengths to keep hidden. a small chest and big behind, thick legs that tapper into small feet, with thin arms and tiny hands but she's taken a liking to wearing large gloves. She wears a body suit most of the time and adds a mini jacket if she feels like it and a scarf to cover her throat and a suffocating belt to look thinner. big round eyes two big bangs and two small ones that curl on her cheeks, while the back of her hair is stiff and stands up, she uses a hair band to separate the two halves. I actually didn't realize how long this was. I should make a post on this so you can see her.

Niki said...

Sorry for another thing but I made the description after you made this post. I caught on in a few different ways.

Gad said...

great designs
reminds me of the human characters in the Preston Blair animation lessons book.

i always wondered if all that kid class hierarchy system of nerds and bullies and all that is real, or just some thing the media invented...

thanks god i didn't have all that as a kid' i would have probably been a nerd. thanks god we didn't have comics, only good old TV, so i was lucky to be more influenced by ren and stimpy rather then the fantastic 4.

Peggy said...

Best drawing of the Thing ever.

Alex said...

"When I design a character, I do it by feel. I try to make the design match the personality of the character, but I don't tie it down to the point where all the proportions are exactly measured."

John, suppose one's in an animation program in college, and the professor insists the character's proportions are kept consistant.
I believe in your method of general on-modelness, as it's more visually appealing. It is, however, hard to animate that style versus consistant proportions.
As I'm a student of sorts, should I 'listen' to the prof. for the sake of a good GPA, or stick to your guns and be an animation deviant?

O gato said...

I really like the designs of the bullies! :D I imagine them having the same voice actor who did the bully in the show Billy and Mandy.

JohnK said...

"As I'm a student of sorts, should I 'listen' to the prof. for the sake of a good GPA, or stick to your guns and be an animation deviant?"

You should be very conservative while learning. You can't change proportions all through a scene if you want the action to be smooth.

I change the characters sometimes from scene to scene for certain emotional effects. But I don't recommend that to beginners.

akira said...

i love bobby bigloaf! slab and ernie are much better with him around too! i wonder what his voice would sound like.. does "uncle" Eddie ever do cartoon voices?
p.s.how much would you charge for a drawing of Lockjaw (of the Inhumans) (i'd love to see your Medusa (from the inhumans) too!)(man i wish you were making an inhumans cartoon!)

Chip Butty said...

John, god knows you spend enough time decrying animation writers but holy crap it's just so funny when you do. What are the features of a "Groundling" cartoon writer? I know they're responsible for Animanaics, but how do you spot one?

:: smo :: said...

john i think you might wanna add that last comment of yours to the post it's important!

"You should be very conservative while learning. You can't change proportions all through a scene if you want the action to be smooth.

I change the characters sometimes from scene to scene for certain emotional effects. But I don't recommend that to beginners."

i think too people should be able to draw the characters on model before loosening up. when i started out i was too free with drawing stuff "my way" when i got a scene and i think i did it as a sort of excuse for not being able to properly emulate the actual style of the design. it's tough! that's why i like the preston blair exercises you recommend the whole scan and line up in the computer until proportions match kinda thing. being on model is challenging but i think it should be something we should hit before experimenting...instead of the other way around.

Bryce Johansen said...

I use to know a kid like this...He used copy everything I drew...

I noticed that Bobby Bigloaf doesn't have a wide-range of expressions...most of the time he's just relaxed, blankly staring in his fat-boy little world.

I guess the best way for a character to have a good personality is not to shove every god-given expression known to man in the character and keep them to a range of personality-based expressions... is that correct?

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

This is music to my ears. Congratulations for saying things that desperately needed saying.

dancing platypuss said...

ottally agree w u man...the "on model" hell is one of the responsible of crappy animation

Colter said...

I agree with :: smo ::.

David Germain said...

Ha! I resemble Mr. Bigloaf in too many ways. Except I would like to write & direct animated cartoons and I haven't given up on drawing. Other than that, our lives are too parallel.

Are you going to bring this character to animation, John? I'd love to see it.

mr paal said...

Great post & fantastic drawings! I think your approach is sound - Logical & fun!

What was Ed Benedict's take on the subject? What did he disagree on?

Done some more studies of TC:

Toy Studies

Best.

Shawn Dickinson said...

What's horror core?

drawingtherightway said...

Hey John maybe you could try an experiment. Post a text description like you did in this post of a character you've designed but have never shown off before. Then have people send you links to their drawings of the character based off of the text description. Then you could see who comes closest to the design you have! I bet even though everyone used the same description, you would see wildly different interpretations of the same character.

ThomasHjorthaab said...

Hey John! Do you have the Chuck Jones book - Chuck Amuck?

If so, could you please scan a few pages to show it, cause I'm thinking about buying it from amazon, but it's from a private seller, so I can't take a look inside it...
Please:)

Thanks, cheers!
- Thomas

Oliver_A said...

Then have people send you links to their drawings of the character based off of the text description. Then you could see who comes closest to the design you have!

This has several problems, because if someone actually comes close to John's characters, he could claim that John actually stole the design from him. That's the same reason why a lot of film and TV producers won't read fan-written scripts sent to them.

drawingtherightway said...

"This has several problems, because if someone actually comes close to John's characters, he could claim that John actually stole the design from him. That's the same reason why a lot of film and TV producers won't read fan-written scripts sent to them."

Your right I didn't even think of that! I suppose it wouldn't matter if it was a character designed specifically for the experiment with no intention of actually using in anything.

JohnK said...

Well I would never actually write a character design. I draw them.


There are visual adjectives too - shapes that don't have words to describe them.

Bryce Johansen said...

JohnK said...

Well I would never actually write a character design. I draw them.


There are visual adjectives too - shapes that don't have words to describe them.


-That makes a lot more sense then approach I've seen...

Written character profiles never work but they keep trying to educate people in schools/colleges into them.

It's painful to even try making a character out of words because you end up throwing away that mutual understanding of that character in your head and forced into categorising him/her into words that only partly discribe the character.

HemlockMan said...

That ain't a bad Ben Grimm! You should pitch a story for him!

lee artist said...

i think its ok if the character expressions go into the unreal realms if it is needed because cartoons are unreal so why not as long as it doesnt look silly i think its good. some of the mad hatter drawings werent exactly symetrical hence the unreal feel which is fine because its a wonderland cartoon where nothing is real