Friday, October 30, 2009

Animation School 13: Classic Animation Principles and Hierarchy Applied To Stylized Drawing

Is this a rebellion against Disney from within? I don't think so.I think it reeks of Disney to the core. This may look like a simple easy-to-do flat hip drawing like you see in modern cartoons, but it's nothing of the kind.

This is the result of a decade and a half of honing Disney principles, inbetweening and animating on classic rounded Disney characters. It's a Tom Oreb layout and he uses all the tools he learned doing the uncool way of animation drawing. Thanks to Amid for this Oreb composition of an early version of the fairies from Sleeping Beauty-they should have looked this good in the movie!

He came to this style the hard way. Toot WP&B uses almost all the 40s cartoon principles, with a couple of them toned down - which makes it look rebellious or cool.

This style is actually dependent upon MORE RIGID rules than the more organic 3 dimensional typical 40s cartoon characters. It is the extreme conservatism that controls the style and makes it so wooden and soulless. It's like an artistic math problem, existing solely for the challenge of its own problems.

When most people today draw flat, they are starting from no foundation of knowledge or experience at all. They see cartoons like Toot Whistle Clunk and Boom and say "I wanna be cool and rebellious too. Only I wanna skip the hard work and study and just go right to the top and be a designer." Then they draw from the details out with no master plan of organizing the designs. They start by drawing an eye, then a nose, then draw a head around it and eventually get to a finished chaotic picture of geometric shapes all in cluttered opposition and contradiction to each other.

Oreb is instead designing from the big shapes down to the small shapes and fitting all the smaller shapes within the plan of the larger shapes. Starting with the overall composition.
The image is made of two major shapes - the group of cavemen and the girl. These 2 shapes are separated with negative space - a big hunk of it. The cavemen shape is then split into 2 groups of 2 cavemen each-separated again by a negative shape - this one smaller than the larger one between the girl and the men.
Within each group of 2, the men are carefully, thoughtfully balanced against each other using lines of action, negative shapes, overlapping shapes, organic curves....

On the organicness. Here's the main key to the style. These aren't mathematical shapes. They aren't perfect circles, ovals, there are no straight or parallel lines as in today's flat cartoons. These are very organic but on a flattened 3dimensional plane - somewhere in between a 2 dimensional and 3 dimensional space.

The negative shapes exist both in spaces between the characters or in their arm poses, but they also exist within the characters. The negative areas are contrasted against the filled busy areas to provide readabilty and to make you focus on certain areas. If everything was filled up with detail equally, it would be a cluttered mess.

There are lots of contrasts of different types of shapes. Just compare each of their noses to start.

There are contrasts in texture - large flat colored areas against hairy busy areas.
All the characters fit into the larger shapes of the composition, but within each one all the features follow the construction or hierarchy of the overall structure of the individual character.

Next, I'll break down their head constructions and you'll see how they are well thought out and make sense. They aren't chaotic or random breakings of established rules. The eyes fit on the same plane of the head position;they relate to each other, they have direction.

When I first saw this cartoon (and the other handful of chapters of the Cal Arts Bible - Pigs is Pigs, Mars and Beyond and Paul Bunyan) I too wanted to be instantly cool. When I tried to draw in this style and make the characters look like they fit together and were doing something I quickly realized how hard it was to do. Now I know why.

I also realized the effort isn't worth it in terms of the ultimate entertainment value. I'll explain that later too.

This cartoon uses the same principles and more, but is far less restrictive creatively than the stylized Disney stuff.

Was this worth anything to you or did you already understand the style?


Trevor Thompson said...

Was Disney trying to compete with UPA at this time, or were they just trying to save money?

JohnK said...

They sure didn't save any money. These are very deluxe cartoons.

They were trying to out UPA UPA.

In my opinion they didn't really get what UPA was all about.

This looks like a total misunderstanding to me, although it's very clever on a purely mechanical level.

Supposedly, Kimball made it while Walt was away from the studio and when he came back and saw it he said "No more of this UPA - sh**!"

Then when it won the academy award he happily went up and accepted it.

Kali Fontecchio said...


Severin said...

No, it makes sense. If you wanted to draw those characters from any angle other than ground level, you'd have no rules of solid drawing to pull from. Unless you had godly designer sense, picturing what those characters appeared from above would be guesswork, or just impossible. How would the fat guy bend forward without breaking the third dimension?

FriedMilk said...

These sorts of posts have been very helpful to me. Composition is probably the hardest thing for me to understand. I can't verbalize what I'm seeing half the time...I just know that it looks right, or it doesn't, but I don't know WHY.

Lee said...

I think this cartoon is hilarious. How can you not love the weird combination of flatness and frozen expressions with the crazy movements? They're like crazed animatronic puppets. I have no idea what's cold about it at all. It just looks freaky to me, and I love it. And it is extremely goofy and silly. I'm not sure how you don't see that.

Bob Lilly said...

Thanks for the postings which have explained hierarchical composition. I find myself considering this stuff as I refine my own drawings. It is helpful that you break the concept down step by step. I also liked the earlier posts where you showed this element using Frazetta paintings and Bob Hope comics. I appreciate the work you had to do to create this instructional post. Simplicity ain't easy.

juvenile_cyle said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I keep hearing how modern stuff looks like crap (and I agree but I don't know why). this little series looks like it will help me be a tiny bit better of a judge.

joAco said...


that's the kind of iluminating posts I love!
I 'm still not understanding anything, but I love to try to...

I have the feeling taht those rules could be applyed in almost any art form...

JoJo said...

Thanks! These composition breakdowns are always great. I can see how these designs wouldn't be functional in most storytelling and acting considering the characters can't move dimensionally. I think designing characters for animation whether flat or dimensional can be really scary. I understand that you need lots of experience animating to come up with original characters for the medium that are fool proof. Not to mention a good foundation in design.

The bird characters at the beginning of this cartoon are interesting. They're dimensional, but have a few stylized cheats added to them (but nothing to prevent them from turning). I guess it was to make the poses more interesting?

Lucky said...

Definetly makes sence, keep these kind of posts coming please! I'm still following your lessons and analysing the preston blair book. I've also been looking at analysing Hank Ketcham, who I fell in love with after seeing the designs he uses in his strips
More more more!

Jake Thomas said...

I like how you break it down step by step by step.
The composition and use of negative space is beautiful and brilliantly done but the characters to me look ugly. They are posed nicely, but I can't stop looking at their tiny little eyes that are half closed making them even tinier.

Zoran Taylor said...

I think this cartoon is hilarious. How can you not love the weird combination of flatness and frozen expressions with the crazy movements? They're like crazed animatronic puppets. I have no idea what's cold about it at all. It just looks freaky to me, and I love it. And it is extremely goofy and silly. I'm not sure how you don't see that.

(John - Sorry, I'm just reposting this to clarify that it was me and not my friend Lee, who must've been logged in without my knowledge, who said the above. You may delete this footnote and the preceding post of this comment.)

Jesse Rignall said...

When I was a kid I took apart all my toys to see how they worked. Fascinating to see the same done to cartoons. Thanks!

Maximum Awesome said...

Clear, well-illustrated theories - my favourite part of your blog (like "the rise and fall of construction").

The style *is* like a math problem: each coloured hierarchy-layer was undeniable once you pointed it out.

"This looks like a total misunderstanding (of UPA) to me"

Now I'm interested to hear what UPA was really all about.

ThomasHjorthaab said...

I think was a nice drawing to break up and show us the guts!
That's one of the best kind of lessons you teach us!

- Cheers

Anonymous said...

Keep going - this is gold dust!

Drawing flat is a logical progression - distilling the symbolic nature of animation. It looks impressive when technically proficient, but is so academic that its strength lies in hiding its soul & squandering its potentiality. It sure looks cool, but it feels cold.

I've tried to understand the formulas & underlying construction of many flat-pack shows & come up against many unanswered questions...'why don't the eyes follow the same line?' 'What does his hair look like from the front?' etc... It's so frustrating to have to create drawings from model sheets where the poses have no rhyme, reason or relation to one another. The limitations enforce the style, but kill the character.

Drawing flat is an academic pursuit, explored expertly here by Oreb & by the 'Superflat' movement in Japan (Takashi Murakami/Yoshitomo Nara etc). It's an interesting thesis, but i'm surprised that it has become the zenith of our industry & that we've avoided finding a way of developing through it yet.


Andy J. Latham said...

I have a soft spot for this cartoon, although I always did think it was a bit of an odd direction for Disney to go.

I was wondering if there are any CG shorts or features that you have seen that you think have adhered to good composition techniques. I realise that not many do this, but there must be some.

Great post though, thanks :)

ArtF said...

i love these kinds of posts from you becuase i'm pretty retarded when it comes to principles, hierarchy, etc. my reptile brain rebels against the information but i'm getting better at retaining it. thanks John!

Davi Calil said...

always nice to came here.

It seems very clear when I read about...

but, it is very hard to apply it in our own work.

I wish I had more time to practice.

thank you for the lessons.

Trevor Thompson said...

Hey Andy,

you'd do well to rent 'Horton Hears A Who' and then go see 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs'.

To the best of my knowledge, these two movies used a program called Flipbook which lets you animate traditionally into the computer and then take the animation into a 3D rendering program like Maya and rotoscope the character on top of the animation.

Also, Chris Wedge, who was a producer on 'Horton' did some of the more innovative things with CG in the 80's, although John Lassiter gets the lion share of the credit.

Beyond those two movies, most CG films feel cold and dead.

- trevor.

Jack G. said...

As entertainment I always found this cartoon boring.

Walt Disney was away in Europe while this cartoon was being done.

After winning the Academy Award for this cartoon, he reportedly told director Ward Kimball, "No more of that UPA crap."

Disney was always suspicious of "Artsy Fartsy" and felt UPA was "Commie".

I alway find these Principle post very enlightning. I save them to read several times until I "get it".

Jack G. said...

Ooops! I didn't read your comment about Walt being away.

384Sprites said...

Wow! Love when I find gems like this on composition. Composition is the most glossed over gray area I've encountered in academia or books for that matter, specifically in stylized or cartoon illustration. Thank you!

Ryan said...

I'm confused what you mean by "The Cal Arts Bible." Does that mean at CalArts, these are the cartoons they based their lessons on?

Whit said...

Walt referred to UPA as "Those communists down by the river." (The L.A. River channel runs adjacent to where the UPA studio stood, in Burbank)

JohnK said...

"" Does that mean at CalArts, these are the cartoons they based their lessons on?"

I don't know that for certain. All I know is that they seem very popular with Cal Arts grads. Take a look at the development art in any Art Of Pixar book and you'll see plenty of images right out of those cartoons.

My bible is made up of Clampett, the 3 Stooges, Kirk Douglas Robert Ryan, Milt Gross, Jack Benny, The Beatles and a few others.

I guess we all have our own sacred testaments.

talkingtj said...

when actually in the process of drawing should i be deliberately conscious of the overall shape and design, like should i take a pencil and go over the drawing and see if it all flows together? as an artist theres always the desire to just run with the inspiration and hope for the best, or take the time and plan it all out, if i plan it all out dont i run the risk of losing the inspiration by kind of intellectualizing it too much? i know thats a weird question and lately ive been trying to follow your guidelines, they work but there are times when the drawing comes out completely different than i imagined it. and if your examples are "proper"(couldnt think of a better word)then that means there is a lot of "bad art" out there.scary thought.

talkingtj said...

im sorry i feel the need to explain further, when i do a drawing i seem to able to capture a certain amount energy when iam spontaneous, when i plan it out that energy seems to be lacking, yeah there are mistakes but the mistakes are fun, the more planned out stuff only appeals to my intellectual side, i mentally pull it apart then put it back together. i dont do that with the spontaneous stuff. this has been an ongoing mental debate with me since i first picked up a pencil and started drawing, which method is better? discipline is great but improvosation gets all the little hobgoblins out and running around, you know like jazz.

Jesse Benjamin said...

I apologize if you've already gone over this in an earlier post John, but I just started reading some of the celebrated Belgian comic artists of, in particular Morris's "Lucky Luke". I was curious what you thought of his work - I feel like I'm recognizing a lot of the lessons you mention here. Am I totally off?

Amanda H. said...

I'm trying to think of where I've seen this style before and I'm drawing a big blank :/

SÅ‚awek / Watcher said...

Thanks for this post, your 'breakdown posts' are always very useful. Anyway, this drawing of fairies from Sleeping Beauty is just stunning, beautiful stuff.

JoJo said...

On second thought maybe these characters are totally volumetric. Do they look good from only that angle? I find the same problem with caricature too. A person might only look interesting from a certain angle. Maybe the reason why caricature and unique shapes are difficult to apply to animation.

T' said...

Yes, I think this was very helpful, even more so when putting it together with the post about 'Stylish Flintstone Comics.' After reading those posts, I went to youtube and watched both "Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom" as well as "Rooty Toot Toot." Both were beautiful to look at and were really well executed. But there's a very different feel in watching that kind of animation than watching an old WB cartoon. The main importance to me seems to be character, just like you were saying in the Flintstone comics post. While I loved watching both those cartoons I mentioned above , none of the characters themselves was very memorable. I can't see any of them being used as a spokesperson, I don't really care about them as characters, don't need or want to see other stories about them. As you pointed out before, early HB cartoons have horrible animation in a lot of cases, but it's the characters that make the shorts worthwhile.

I wonder if people like Kimball gravitated towards the UPA style as it felt like a natural progression after having mastered the kind of animation they did at Disney or WB.

Watching some of the early HB cartoons, I find that when they break the flatness of the characters, that's when things look funniest. Some of the takes of Yogi and Boo Boo leaping off screen are just great partially because they go off model.

Yes, this was helpful. It gives me a lot to think about. Thanks.

The Artist Aficionado said...

Disney trying to be something their not why am I not surprised. Along the way they have a huge misunderstanding about composition principles.

Disney has some very visually interesting work. However I never think of the studio as the place that should be in stylization.

Disney specializes in lifelike animation. However when they saw what other studios were doing the polar opposite like UPA they responded by at first being shocked by the commercial viability but then tried to emulate it.

The Artist Aficionado said...

I've gotten a bitter taste of the CAL Arts bible. While reading through various books discussing artwork of talented Pixar and Disney animators. While their very talented I don't like how the teaching staff force their artists to keep in the Disney tradition and not develop their own unique style.

JohnK I think that you not going to CAL Arts is an advantage over them because you were able to explore the different styles and diversities of art. Not being forced into a certain tradition on how to draw this or that.

You have your own art bible as a result. I think artists should have their own art bible to develop their own styles.

EatTillBurst said...

Thanks for posting this, I love these little didactic essays on drawing. And I don't mind if you cover the same topic a few times, I like seeing the different examples of the principles you describe. Plus, repetition is essential to education! They help me out alot, so I'm sure they influence others also!

Yowp said...

Looking at the Oreb drawing of the fairies, I can't help but think that it's Disney-By-Chuck-Jones.

I think my problem with Disney is the attitude that:
a) We're art.
b) We draw better than anyone else.

Animation studios bought into this attitude and thus we got MGM and Fleischer knock-offs of Silly Symphonies. Not to mention Columbia and Van Beuren.

Guys like Avery and Clampett said "big deal" and went on their merry way and made people laugh instead of ooh and aahh at "art."

The UPA came along and got all the "art" plaudits, so cartoons like this were made to re-enforce a) and b) above.

While I appreciate art (which is personal concept to begin with), I watch a cartoon to laugh, not to be impressed.

Oliver_A said...

While I appreciate art (which is personal concept to begin with), I watch a cartoon to laugh, not to be impressed.

I don't think that art has to be unfunny, or vice versa, funny cartoons are not art.

For example, I think Clampett's cartoons, besides being funny, are among the visually most impressive cartoons made.

Andy J. Latham said...

Thanks Trevor, yeah I saw "Cloudy" fairly recently, but have never watched Horton. I loved Cloudy. It had a rather defferent feeling from all the other CG films. Quite refreshing!

Wilson Ramires said...

hey john, thanks for another great lesson!

Roberto said...

Thanks, these are really wonderful posts!