Monday, November 02, 2009

The Stiff Period to the Fluid Period. No Balls on Balls

I'll get to the Popeye toy real soon, but first to set it up.
here is another sample of a lesson from the mysterious secret cartoon college:I suggest (if you don't already) supplementing your cartoon studies with some life drawing. (I know this is a photo, not a live model)

Why should you?

Because when studying Preston Blair type construction - made of spheres and pear shapes, there is a tendency for some cartoonists to think cartoon characters are made up of balls piled on top of each other. Or they draw the balls and pears too mechanical and not organic enough.

Any time you learn a new concept or drawing skill, when you actually first try to draw it you will probably be very stiff, because you haven't practiced the concept enough for it to sink in. This is the tough period of learning anything.

Drawing 1 - STIFF, study drawing. Slow and careful, grinding my teeth

When I first drew this guy, I slowly, carefully blocked in the construction first - having to think about the types of shapes that make up a strong man. I couldn't use balls and pears because real life is made up of more complex parts. They are still solid forms, but bendable solid forms. They are complex organic forms.

Once I finished the first drawing, I knew a lot of things I didn't know before: How the traps are shaped on one side compared to the other in a 3/4 pose. What biceps look like from 2 different angles in relaxed mode. How the biceps fit next to the triceps and the space between.

How muscles weave in and out of each other under the skin. The feeling of flesh, not just the wooden proportions of man.

How the 6 pack works as a whole unit before it's split into parts

How big pecs hang in repose (it's very important to know this, especially for you girls)


Drawing 2 - Looser yet still solid, more organic and confident, more fun to domy conservative attempt at Chloe's style

Then I redrew the drawing faster and looser - while still trying to keep all the forms solid, but to make them less stiff, more flowing: more ORGANIC

Some artists go too far in the direction of organic lines and get wobbly formless characters. I actually really like this one below. It's very funny. Some artists are too stiff and draw mechanical characters.Ever see those Gene Deitch Tom and Jerrys made in the 60s in eastern europe? They are a total misunderstanding of the 40s American animation style. The characters are drawn stiff and move stiffly. They look like they are made of badly drawn balls stacked on top of each other. Here's a weird combination of wobbly and stiff at the same time. That's an achievement! Whenever anyone draws Tom and Jerry now, they give them these bulbous balls for toes that they never had in the original cartoons.

The trick to good drawing is to combine solidity with fluidity. And life.

You have to look at both sides of an object (say a bicep) and draw the whole form, not two lines on either side. Look at the form inside the lines.

I made a mistake in my muscleman drawing above that I warn everyone else about: the side of the man's head that is closer to us (on the right) is too cramped. I squashed the space between his face and cranium. Lots of us have that problem.

Preston Blair Forms don't work for everything!
I saw one student's attempt at caricatures and he was trying to construct them as if they were Preston Blair forms.

That doesn't work.

When you draw from life- DRAW WHAT YOU SEE

Don't try to impose what you think things are supposed to look like. We aren't made of balls and pears. Only old animated cartoon characters are because those kinds of forms are easier to tun in space and they provide a simple foundation for many other concepts and principles.

What you learn from drawing from life and using your eyes to observe new things can then be applied to your cartoon drawings in simplified form.

Very Organic and Solid Preston Blair FormsThese drawings are not remotely realistic. They have no real anatomy. They are entirely made up of animated cartoon forms - spheres and pears. Yet they don't look mechanical and they are full of life. They aren't balls piled on top of each other.
Here it is done wrong: 1980 Tom and Jerry at Filmation, Balls on balls. A complete misunderstanding of the 40s style. We used to laugh and cry at these model sheets at the same time when working on these cartoons. (Thanks to Tom Minton for saving these hilarious monstrosities)

These Eisenberg characters are much more convincing as life forms, even though they have no literal realistic anatomy.
That's because they obey some principles of reality. They are organic and solid at the same time. Asymmetrical in a natural way. They have weight. They are not robotic.
See how the arms wrap around that log? They are flattened at the bottom, but bulge out at the top where they are not being compressed against anything. That makes sense and makes the drawing believable and alive.You can really feel this drawing of Tom smashing into the log. It makes sense. It isn't random distortion. (His belly is accidentally painted wrong; that's why he looks skinny at first.)

It's organic and solid at the same time - and obeys some expected sense of physics.

Don't draw stiff (except when learning and you can't help it). Don't draw wobbly. Aim at drawing convincing solid organic life.



Anonymous said...

I love this post but I have to defend Gene Deitch's Tom & Jerry cartoons. They're so weird and hilarious.

JohnK said...

Yeah, I think they are funny too because they are so ignorant.

I think the same thing about those Al Brodax Popeyes made in the 60s. Sad but funny.

Karley Jo said...

I'm always wary of using magazine photos for reference because I know how photoshopped they are, to the point where they are no longer human. Have you ever seen the Photoshop Disasters site? At least there's National Geographic, I guess...

C said...

Interestingly enough, I can recognize most of the characters in that Lost Heros picture. Makes me wonder how off-base a character can go before you don't recognize him.

chrisallison said...

awesome post, john. thanks for sharing.

The Butcher said...

What do you think of those pencil drawings that look like photographs? I'm blown away by the skill it takes to get something to look literally exactly like the photo they're copying, but I'm disapointed in the lack of personal imput.

I can't even nail the Preston Blair characters exactly, much less anything from real life.

Isaac said...

This series of posts is brilliant.

The Butcher said...

Also, I hope you mean the Lost Heros thing is funny in the same way that a child's drawing is funny. It's funny because it's just that bad.

JoJo said...

Thanks! This is really helpful. I think I know where you're going with this but I could be wrong. Does this have to do with the application of specific shapes from life to animation? Kind of how Popeye is a unique personality and design based on a certain kind of person, but he had to be simplified to work within animation?

Just curious.

Anonymous said...

Thats one thing that blows me away- seeing great cartoon animation that also has tons of knowledge of anatomy. Like some of the funniest George Liquor scenes. Seems like the kind of thing that'd take 2 or 3 lifetimes of drawing to be able to do that well.

Can you put a link or something for that whole Eisenberg comic? Never seen that one.

Niki said...

Gene Deitich is actually one of the reasons I didn't watch Tom and Jerry when I was real little. His cartoons kinda still freak me out now, but then I found the HB and Chuck Jones versions which I loved as a kid. It also provoked me into fighting my brother a LOT.

JohnK said...

Hi Jojo. It has to do with not interpreting Preston Blair animation construction wrong.

We are not trying to draw characters who look like balls on top of more balls.

The goal is to draw something solid, that has construction - but organic construction.

Like Tom's head in the Eisenberg drawings. It isn't a perfect circle.

Neither are his fingers and toes - which is the way they have been interpreted by most people who came after the original Tom and Jerry cartoons.

Trevor Thompson said...

How come you don't like the more extended version of Preston's book, John?

Trevor Thompson said...

For some reason, I remember the Gene Deitch cartoons having really funny movement.... maybe I'm glorifying the past, but the jerky movements and the not-so-finished drawing style always made me laugh.

JohnK said...

Because it's hard enough to get people to focus on the few basics he teaches in the first book.

And the later stuff he did is largely confusing filler and not as well drawn.

JoJo said...

Alright thanks for the clarification.

Zoran Taylor said...

First line of the search box: Sexy Clampett Spongebob

384Sprites said...

This is so great. You're opening my eyes to the beauty of real art and movement. Your assessments are backed up by your enormously large quiver of old classic toons, which I've seen 1% of, and you make me find them to watch. You make me appreciate how it WAS done. =)

thomas said...

A good life drawing book is " The Natural Way to Draw" by Nicolaides. It includes sections on contour drawing, which is drawing the edges of what you are looking at, sometimes while not looking at the paper: gesture drawing, which are quick studies that help you capture movement in drawing, and different aspects of finished drawing. It's a pretty systematic and straight foward method for developing eye/ hand coordination.

John said...

This post helps out alot! I've been drawing from the Blair book for years now and always had trouble constructing my own characters and poses using the balls on balls. I started just using various shapes for constructing but feeling in a way that I was cheating. I kindof got over that by seeing how much better the latter ones looked. It almost seems that these things are more instinctual than a perfect science.

assbackward said...

I love this shit! Thanks for the pointers! I like the school of John K! I will be donating soon o great one!

Sharp Brothers said...

Thought I would try something different and do a digital paint over one of your sketches for this exercise.


What do you think?

Raff said...

This post is a surprise and a pleasant one. I'll give it a shot and post my progress.

Mykal said...

Tremendous lesson, John. Thank you. -- Mykal

vhpayes said...

Great post. Extremely helpful instruction. Now I have to go and apply it. I think I had that problem where I skipped that grinding stage and missed out on really observing new and wonderful details. However, your advice has made me slow down and really learn, and my drawing has improved immensely in just a few months. Please keep this blog open for all of us who have a passion for drawing and learning to draw well, but can't afford to go to art school.

Bryce Johansen said...

I think learning to deform a shape correctly to the right situation is the key to draw organically.

Not everything is squash and stretch, some have bends, some have twists but it's all based on the situation. A lot of those old Tex avery cartoons show it off in their gags...quite bluntly.

Kat Lamp said...

Eureka! Thanky!

Anonymous said...

Hey, John

The benefits of conveying movement and sheer LIFE in a still drawing can't be ignored, which is something that I’m still trying to grasp.

Your approach reminds me of the two books that where illustrated and written by Michael D. Mattesi (Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators & Force: Character Design from Life Drawing.)

The great thing with Mattesi's approach is that he assumes the reader has experience in figure drawing, and then gives instruction on how to build on that knowledge and to use straight and curved lines to show the direction of force in the body. In short, Mattesi follows the animator's axiom of drawing verbs rather than nouns, in a matter of speaking.

I have posted some goods on my blog, with more drawings on the way. Maybe I’ll upload my life drawings on a later date. You can have a look & critique my drawings on my blog, if you want. I know the possibility is very unlikely, but at least I gave it my best shot…

From an aspiring animator/ cartoonist

Gabriele_Gabba said...

Hi John,

I find this a VERY interesting subject. I think it deserves more than one post with more comparisons.

I remember getting confused with those 40s eastern european Tom and Jerry cartoons and Chuck Jones' versions. I think it was the colour palettes or something..

I recently drew from a few of the old MGM T&Jerry cartoon sheets and a lot of the forms are very simple and pleasing. Jerry's toes in many cases are absolutely tiny!

de aap said...

Thanks for posts like these, you are a good teacher.

Chloe Cumming said...

Damn I posted my long comment when this was on the private blog! I should have saved it.

John said...

Great post John! I actually have a life drawing class today, so I'll be putting this into practice. Would it be a good idea to upload the results for you to look at?

Oliver_A said...

As a kid, and still today, I strongly dislike the Gene Deitch Tom & Jerry Cartoons. Weird music and voices, feeling somehow eerie, like a bad dream or trip. I'm actually surprised that Chuck Jones version usually gets far more criticism than these awful cartoons.

Proof that it actually can get worse than Gene Deitch's interpretation of those characters is the Filmation series, which suddenly appeared on German television, replacing the classic cartoons. Even more irritating and endlessly repeating synthesizer music, a perversion of all cartoony principles, and Lou Scheimer's awful voice characterizations.

So empty and hollow, I could feel it perfectly when I was small.

Jayextee said...

John, I'm amazingly intrigued with your take on life-drawing; it's done at my university, but totally frustrates me since the emphasis is more on recreating what we see (like being a human Xerox) than deconstruction and understanding.

I love your second take on the muscle man there, I wish I could get away with doing stuff like that; but we get things like 'measured drawing' which I'm told is a "technical skill I absolutely need to learn".

Which is funny, because I thought it was 'life' drawing, and I'd like to tend toward a more caricature style of recreating my subject. You know, actually capturing their essence.

Post more on this subject! :)

Cristian Avendaño said...

Hey John! loved, LOVED this post. This is the reason why I come here so often, it feels like if I'm going to an art school for free.
Yo mentioned the Secret Cartoon College again. Can I still enlist on that? Should I do the Preston Blair exercices first? What?

ArtF said...

hiya John. good informative post as usual. i remember those Gene Deitch Tom & Jerry's used to annoy the heck out of me. i didn't know if the animation and drawing were done like that on purpose or if it was just meant to be weird. i always figured it was a limited budget thing.

if i'd like to enroll in Cartoon College, how would i go about it?

Lohen said...

Great, and very useful!
I did some studies from this post.


Critics are welcome!

Dorseytunes said...

It was a relief to see the word "stiff" in the development stage of drawing. I tend to draw too stiff at times. Now, I'm working on a loose approach. It's gonna take some time.

I'm glad I'm not the only one that doesn't like Gene Deitch's Tom and Jerry. I can barely watch the Chuck Jones versions. (ducking for cover)

Steve Hogan said...

Gene Deitch's online biography has a section on the ill fated attempt to do Tom & Jerry:

Those were pretty messed up, but not as bad as my first introduction to Tom & Jerry as a kid, namely those awful mid 70's HB cartoons. It was like the characters had joined a cult or something. Stop smiling all the time! Stuff like that used to make me wonder why cartoon studios hated kids so much.

sunny kharbanda said...

I love how you find atrocious modern drawings of classic 'toon characters. I know you posted that image to show the wobbly and stiff characters, but what's up with the BACKGROUND? those swirly drop shadows on smooth gradient grass... not to mention the symmetrical clouds on a lilac sky!

Of course, drawing the characters as towering figures running straight towards the camera instantly makes things better, because, you know, it looks more "three-dee". Every cartoon character has to leap off the page today... just look at your cereal box.

Crystal(RB) said...

These last couple posts have been blowing me much to think about. I'm no longer 'speechless' (*head swims*) - and I think I can muster a tremendous THANK YOU. :)

nagyaron said...

Another inspiring post!
those Gene Deitch Tom and Jerrys are really weird... Not just the drawing, and motion, but the sound effects they used (actually I enjoyed those sounds pretty much, while they were creeping me out), it was like everything was played backwards...
Also, while I know this isn't an anatomy blog, i would like to take the chance to suggest a fine book on anatomy to anyone who is interested in real life drawing. It's an anatomy book, so you don't need to take it literally and draw all the muscles you see in it, unless you want to. I think it's really useful in understanding the organic shapes of the human body. It's titled: Anatomy for the artist, and is written/illustrated by Jenő Barcsay. so... here's it's cover:
the cover
I think drawing some quick sketches (3 to 5 minutes) before getting into a detailed drawing helps a lot...

drawingtherightway said...

Very informative! Sorry if this is a dumb question but when we do life drawings, should we still start with a line of action? I'm not used to doing life drawings and am curious about how to approach doing it.

EatTillBurst said...

Thank you for another great lesson!

Everything I do is still very mechanical, ("balls on balls"). I love finally being able to draw anything that looks remotely 3-dimensional, so I'm hanging on tenaciously to basic forms.

I don't see what's so wrong with the "1980 Tom and Jerry at Filmation" model sheets though. What's wrong with them? Are the spheres just too perfectly circular? To me it looks like a more strict and detailed version of the model sheets from the 40's.

Anyway, thank you again! I love these posts, I just always have more questions after reading them. :)

Zoran Taylor said...

@EatTillBurst: Do the words "completely hideous" mean anything to you?

I hope that helps.

S. M. Denman said...

Thank you so much for this secret lesson, John! I'll definitely be thinking about this as I practice.

talkingtj said...

its funny you bringing up the muscle mags!years ago i was in charge of the magazine section at a local barnes and noble store, when mags dont sell we tear off the cover and scan the upc code for store credit.(its so tedious!)i used to take the muscle mags home and use them for photo reference! word was in the store among my fellow employees that i was probably gay, and id say, naw in just artistic! even before that in high school my buddy dave and i would rummage thru his moms bedroom and take all her glamour and cosmo and any other kind of chick mag and tear them up taking all the pages with the hot babes and put them in a scrap book and then draw them! we had a pretty substantial file, we had photos of betty page back in 1980,we drew her a lot! his mom did not understand and would hide her mags, she also probably thought we were gay! this art thing can be a pain! anyway we learned a lot, cant believe we were on the right track way back then! we would compare drawings, the best ones would be put in a master scrap book, we would show them to girls and they would be impressed and we would often get dates because of it! this art thing can be so cool!

Todd Dolce' said...

John,..this is such wonderful stuff! I'm amazed at your breadth of knowledge and how much of it you are willing to share.

I would love to have you on as a guest on my webcast to share your thoughts, wisdom and experiences related to the world of animation and your amazing career thus far.

I could get with you and provide more details offline,....but again,...only if you would be interested.

I've been most fortunate in having some wonderful guests on previous episodes and they can be heard from here:

I created this webcast to help young animators, illustrators,and other creative talents learn from the folks that have been there and worked hard for success. They need to know that success didn't always come easy and it can often be fleeting.

The webcast has developed a nice fan base and I hope its because it may have helped some folks out there remain positive when self doubt inevitably rears its ugly little head.

RobochaoXX said...

I wouldn't blame Gene's misunderstanding of the T&J's old style. Czech just animates a different way. It may be weird but it's fresh and awesome.

Tuna Ertutar said...

I love Gene Deitch's Tom & Jerry cartoons because of their unique style. To find those animators ignorant is the real ignorance. That was czech style, and everyone has to respect to the style even if he likes or not.

RobochaoXX said...

Another great example of Czech animation are "The Little Mole" Krtek and those cute Hawaiian Punch commercials.

Go youtubin'

John Paul Cassidy said...

Count me as a fan of the Gene Deitch Tom & Jerry cartoons! Sure, they're artsy-fartsy and spacy, but they have a lot of edge to them. Stepan Konicek (Stephen Konichek)'s music is really epic, too! The scary fact is, these shorts lend themselves to a "theatrical cartoon" feel, more than the Chuck Jones ones, which feel more like TV specials.

Waqas Malik said...

hi John nice post on drawing organic life. however when i look at the filmation model sheet its hard for me to understand what's wrong with it. is it because it has no line of action? the Jerry below it looks kinda stiff besides his head moving down. sorry for asking later than your post was written. i've been going through old posts that i haven't read (bought the preston blair book :)) i know i'm a little late to the game but i'm trying to improve more effeciently. i have basic drawing skills and can copy images well though the quality of each drawing depends on how much time i have for each one, so i try to draw as quickly as possible (for animation purposes of course) lines tend to be wobbly or proportions can be off. also hands are tricky!