Monday, October 26, 2009

The Joys Of Working With Vincent

It's hard to imagine 2 cartoonists with such different styles as Vincent Waller and I - and that's one reason why I like working with him.
Vincent draws much better than me on a technical level, and his influences are probably a somewhat different group than mine. I suspect he's a big Robert Crumb fan- I'll let him tell you who inspired him. But his style is totally unique to him and he gave animated cartoons a big kick in the ass -which it needed.
What I like about collaborative animation, as opposed to independent animation, is that you get to combine the best of a bunch of artists' talents - in theory.

For example the comic book cover above is drawn by Vincent, probably inked by Shane and beautifully rendered by Rick Altergott of Doofus fame.


Like I said, I always liked the idea of working with artists who have different styles and abilities, but there was no studio I ever worked at that encouraged it. Instead, they always encouraged everyone to draw exactly the same and to always use the same colors. The only way I could ever even get my own style into a cartoon was to build a studio that not only allowed it, but actively encouraged it. I had to redesign the whole production system of TV animation just so I could have a fun place to work, and others with strong styles could actually see their input in the finished product.

Vincent was one of the main cartoonists on Ren and Stimpy and quickly worked his way up to director. It was because he has a really strong style and original point of view, he works super hard, and he makes it really easy for people to work with him. He believes in collaboration too.

These comic pages are nice examples of collaboration between different cartoonists.

Before we ever started drawing a finished cartoon or comic, we would "write" it. We'd start with a gag session between a few cartoonists, write a structured outline to keep the story in order, then I'd assign someone to draw the story in rough sketches like these. Along the way the story sketch artist would add lots of extra gags and do the continuity.I would sometimes scribble on top of Vincent's drawings if I wanted to use a different staging or expression. Once the roughs were completed, the final artist- Vincent here, would draw tighter more detailed drawings. Then I'd get an inker (I think this is Shane) to make the final art look super polished. A good inker is a Godsend. Shane preserves the guts of which ever artist he inks, but also brings his own style into the work - without changing the art underneath.
If you wanna see how much influence an inker has over the finished look, go and find some Jack Kirby comics from the 60s. Every inker made the stuff look different - and some of them actually hurt the art underneath. Joe Sinnot was my favorite because he preserved Kirby's style and dynamism and made it feel even more solid - like Shane does.

Sometimes I would throw a post it on top of a panel if I wanted a completely different staging as in the lower right panel on page 28.I would like to make a pot about the difference between "individual style" and "group style". Vincent, Jim Smith, Katie Rice, Bob Camp, Gabe Swarr, Nick Cross, Helder Mendonca and many of the top Spumco artists (I could name a ton more, so don't feel left out) of the past have very strong individual styles. I of course, blended my own and other artists' styles in the cartoons and that's what you see in the final work. It's usually pretty easy to see when one artist leaves off and another picks up a scene. I, being a cartoon and comic nerd and huge fan of cartoonists love to see different styles within the same worlds. That's one of the reasons I love Clampett, 60s Marvel comics and Terrytoons.

It's also why I hate model sheets - or at least the way they are usually used.

Besides the few really strong individual styles that exist, there are also the "group styles" - the Disney style, the Spumco style (which is really the "Games style"), the Anime style, The Canadian style. I discourage that in my cartoons. I've hired many talented Cal Arts graduates and had to encourage them to stop relying on stock expressions and poses and to just train their pencils to put their own personalities on paper. Some learn to. Others are forever trapped in whatever group style they have absorbed.

One Cal Arts kid who started at Spumco is now making the most cartoony cartoon on television. He is super talented and worked extra hard at Spumco.
I've known many cartoonists who personally have a ton of individual quirks-funny facial ticks and expressions, unique gestures and are great storytellers. Some of them have been so conditioned by a group style that they don't translate their natural personality traits through their pencils no matter how much I beg them to. It's because the other studios they've worked at actively frown upon it and they have made a habit of suppressing themselves at work.

Anyway, Vincent has no qualms at all about getting his personality into his drawings, in fact he can't help it - and also no qualms about mixing them with other quirky artists to try to get the best possible results through collaboration.

This is not to denigrate Independent animation. Some artists are so unique, they just want to say what they have to say and the only way they can do it is to completely make their own films. Bill Plympton is a super talented and unique and funny guy that has made whole feature length cartoons by himself!

I always wondered how he did that and then I did a show with him in Chicago and witnessed his secret for myself . But that story is for another day.

Today, let us honor Vincent for kicking our animation butts.