Sunday, December 20, 2009

Character Design 3: Layout Artist With Versatility, Conservatism, Style and Control

This drawing was not done by the designer, but it took design ability and drawing skill to do it. A lot!

All Ed gave the artists was this:
2 poses!The model sheet pack for Yogi Bear in 1958 was 2 pages high. As opposed to our 6 foot stacks of paper that we call models today and force hundreds of artists to strictly adhere to, no matter how stiff and ignorant the drawings are.
Even in 1965 there were still cartoonists who could really draw, that weren't abstracted specialists on an a broken assembly line. The last gasp before the hippies came.

Gene Hazelton (and the others who did these comics) were less specifically "character designers" than they were great draftsmen with style. They could draw just about anything - and from any angle. They didn't need all the poses and angles of the characters spelled out to them in model sheet packs.This is drawing functionally-drawing scenes on command. It requires more than raw talent or design sense. Yeah, these are very stylish and that's great - as a final topping to the strong compositions and solid drawing.I used to be impressed by fancy sketchbooks that young cartoonists showed me and have hired many cartoonists on that basis alone. I am more wary now. Even if you have raw talent, drawing one-eyed monsters and half naked girls floating in space is a far cry from being able to sit down and draw a careful scene of some event on purpose. ...That has very specific needs of staging, storytelling, continuity and a hundred other skills.
These panels are stylish yet very conservative at the same time. Conservative in the use of extreme self-control - in making the picture say what it's supposed to say and say it clearly and with finesse.
Granted, the stories aren't very funny or interesting, but then most comics and cartoons aren't. But if it was a funny story, artists like these would only make the story more powerful.

I could have the most talented sketchbook or Deviant Artist in the world working for me (and there are lots of them), but if he couldn't draw a folding chair in perspective on a beach he wouldn't be able to do this scene. He would sit and stare at the paper for days, or scribble madly hoping by some stroke of luck that a good looking picture might appear. I've seen it happen many times. Forcing some artists to be functional is just too much for them. They have been praised so long for their abstract sketchbook drawings, that controlling their pencils and forcing them to do something on purpose and on command is just too stressful and depressing.
Studios used to have a solution for this. They started beginners artists as assistants to already functional artists and they learned from the ground floor up. Now you gotta learn everything on your own and that's hard to do.

This above panel looks more like Iwao or Jerry Eisenberg than Hazelton, but who knows? All those guys could really draw.
Whether you like Hanna Barbera characters and their cartoons or not is besides the point. I am sure these artists could do anything I (or any other director) asked of them, and I could push them to be more exaggerated. Tex sure did.
These boxes are very slightly off-kilter, but only enough to make them cartoony and stylish, not enough to make them wonky or to confuse the viewer as to what positions they are inhabiting in space.
These layouts use all the principles and techniques I talk about. All the positive areas-the trees, the leaves, the characters are full of variety and interest-but they are all separated by spaces that are just as interestingly designed.
The poses are varied. They have lines of action and opposition to each other. They are asymmetrical, yet controlled and solid. This is an exercise of extreme balance. It takes an artist who is also a complex thinker to pull off layouts like this.

That's a nice down shot of the kid's head. It's not cheated like in modern cartoons where you just take a 3/4 head pose and tilt it down, making the character look like his neck is broken.
The spaces and the trees accentuate the exaggerated perspective of the ladder. The whole picture is designed, not just the character.
I love the shape of that mountain in the background. Its very subtle curves really make it seem huge and far away. The whole scene would be very difficult to draw, but Hazelton's flair makes it all look simple carefree and easy, like swimming with brand-name protection.
How many character designers can draw a solid simplified motorcycle?
Let alone in perspective.
Ranger Smith is sporting some fine bitch tits in this careful composition. This is surely Hazelton. You can tell by the cuteness of the mom and the kid. (How did Smith get such a hot wife?)
These trees and the composition really look like Eisenberg, but the characters don't. I'm confused about how they made these comics!
I always loved the title lettering in the HB comics. It was different and stylish every week. Nowadays, the marketing department demands that each show and character have an official trademarked title logo. Someone explain this oddity to me. Isn't variety more fun than stale sameness? Smells like lawyers ruining all the fun again.
These are definitely Hazelton kids. Drawing a running crowd and making everyone read clearly is not a simple task.
How many artists today would crap if the director came in and said "Draw a train in perspective screeching to a stop and partly coming off the rails."? I know I would! I'd make Vincent do it.
Anyway, I would trade a thousand "character designers" for 2 great layout artists with style. Hopefully someone out there can see why.

Thanks to Chris Lopez for digging up more great and rare treasures of cartoon art.


Alex said...

I totally get your drift here. I got a similar talk from my animation professor about giving drawings a sense of setting and context. As opposed to characters floating in space (re: doodles), context makes a sketchbook so much better!

Guy Cx said...

Thanks for the posts about character design, John! It's been absolutely enlightening! The JohnKCurriculum blog, you could print the posts in that blog and make a book, you know (would be a pretty good book!).

Zoran Taylor said...

An anal technicality, I know, but where's "Character Design 2"?

Steve Hogan said...

It's sad/amazing what people won't get if you don't spell it out for them these days. I designed a character a few years back who had a little Elroy-ish upturned nose. (Small company, so I also did layout and animation.) At the time there was a "No profiles" rule with the characters so I didn't include one. I went away for a few years and when I came back they had started including profiles. I discovered that for this particular character's profile they'd pasted on a nose from another who had a schnoz like Dustin Hoffman.

David said...

What do you consider a "talented" Deviant artist?

cartoonretro said...

Hi John

This is a great and important post, one I recognize much of myself in.

If I had a time machine I would go back and devote several years to studying form and perspective. Being self taught, I've avoided drawing anything that was difficult, and as a result I've had a career of struggle and pain and disappointment trying to draw anything outside of my limited comfort zone. The more praise I got for my work the less I wanted to draw the difficult things, since that would rub my face in the fact that I had so little control over my work. I was limited to happy accidents.

I've recently come to realize that my lack of understanding of perspective is the number one thing that has been holding me back in having control over my drawing. I learned to draw by looking at 2-d drawings, and copying surface techniques. My figures don't exist in space, they have no depth or dimension. If I had to draw a figure sitting in a chair, I would pull my hair out, just as you describes in this post. It's so frustrating to know that something you've drawn is wrong, but have no idea how to correct it.

So now I'm going through the difficult process of figuring out this perspective thing, something I wish I had done when my brain was young and sharp. But the improvement is already dramatic. An interesting thing happens when I choose a pov and lightly sketch in perspective guidelines- I can almost see the figure in the scene before I start drawing. Having that illusion of depth on the page, and knowing exactly what angle you are viewing the scene, makes it surprisingly easy to
draw the figure. All of a sudden the drawing has dimension- you know while you're drawing that you need to see the tops of the feet, the side of the body, etc. I'm still confused by much of it, but the drastic improvement makes me wonder where I would be if I'd been studying this stuff at 20 and not 40.


Kali Fontecchio said...

These are very pretty!

talkingtj said...

youre so right..when i was a kid i loved the hanna barbera of the sixties, the stuff that was new in the seventies like hong kong phooey just didnt appeal to me, i wanted wacy races, frankenstein jr johnny quest atom ant not the great grape ape(explain that one! i dare you!)i waited for re-runs of the older stuff then attempted to draw them myself.i had loose leaf pages filled with dick dastardly, muttley, top cat, fred and barney, because the designs and the looks were better and more fun. who wants to draw butch cassidy and the sundance kids? not i..not i.

talkingtj said...

thanks for a great year john, dont think i couldve made it without this blog, youve done a great service for us cartoon geeks and i want to thank you! merry chris krinkle and all that!and happy new year!

Trevor Thompson said...

Hey John, have you ever posted that whole article on Ed that you and Amid did? I'd really like to finish reading it.


Hey John,

A big chunk of these strips were drawn by Iwao. After Harvey Eisenberg passed away, Iwao and Harvey's son Jerry created a lot of the Yogi strip art for a while.

RooniMan said...

Damn those evil lawyers!

Jack G. said...

I'm struggling to get beyond the doodle and the happy accident.

Doing functional drawings is a hurdle I'm struggling with now.

I hope I can get through it, but as you've said, "It hurts to go through the stiff period of learning something new".

That's where I'm at. And it hurts.

Jack G. said...

Um, why do the Character Design posts go 1 right to 3? I don't see post 2.

Alishea said...

I know the cynical guy in you will talk yourself out of making a book, because hundreds of cartoon/animation how to books have been published already,(ive bought plenty) but your blog is more like an animation bible and holy cow it would rock to have it as a book.

I agree with Guy Cx, but still think you should do private/small group lessons. :)

C said...

Do people even draw cars in cartoons anymore, or are they all CG? People should have more fun with vehicles like that train.

Isaac said...

"making the character look like his neck is broken."

There are heaps of broken necks going around, and dislocated shoulders, and floating details that aren't connected to the body. People heap praise over these things, and I almost break down and scream "can't you see?"

FriedMilk said...

I have to say, drawing in perspective is the most intimidating thing for me. Sometimes, in class, I'll try to sketch an empty desk, but it always comes out looking disjointed because there are so many planes.

Detached-Solution said...

I can really relate to this post, I used to be one of those kids who would fill up sketch-books that were all style and no substance. The difference between others and myself was that I knew I sucked, and so it just made me angry when people would compliment me. I knew I would only be able to draw like my heroes if I could learn one magical thing: "draftsmanship". But nobody understood how important it was to me that my drawings looked "three-dimensional and believable". They just advised, "draw alot"...

Eventually though your multiple posts about construction, form, and hierarchy finally got through to me - and for the first time in over a decade I started to improve. This past year has been the happiest piece of my life thus far, all because I have started to understand the logic behind drawings. Now I know that I should "build" a drawing, step-by-step, rather than simply just sketch it directly out of my head.

So really, thank you again!

AtomicTiki said...

Wow! These are fun to look at.

I've noticed with good clean art you don't have to stop and think about what you're looking at, you just see and understand it.

Outstanding post.

Nayantara said...

In the frames with snow on the ground, you can see how purposeful even the little snow drift lines are. They're done with ease and not fussed over, but aren't arbitrary. Thanks for the post.

SoleilSmile said...

I remember Jim Smith told me to place my floating characters in cars and seated at tables when he reviewed my portfolio at Cal Arts. I was a spunky sophomore then:)
I never forgot it and I now relish in drawing my characters flying airplanes and reveling in party scenes. Jim advice and my 2 painful positions as a character layout artist helped me hone such skills.
Thanks Jim, Futurama and Dilbert!

Gary Wintle said...

Mighty fine of you to make such a comment, Shane.

I've been a fan of yours for some years and can imagine the struggle you'd have gone through.

Not that I'd ever compare my own struggles to yours, but I found the book "Perspective! for Comic Book Artists: How to Achieve a Professional Look in your Artwork" to be very useful in helping me with that topic. Also, it makes it fun and entertaining to learn too (it's all taught in comic form).

As always, thanks for the posts, John!

SoleilSmile said...

Why don't you write a book, John? Every Cal Artian I know (who's brave enough) fights each other to be able to work for you so we can learn from you. A book would be great for those of us who don't make it.

I know there is a Spumco archive book in the works. Why not a Spumco drawing manual? I'd buy it in a second!

BTW, do those Sody shirts come any larger? I have line backer shoulders and two basketballs on my torso that are tough to squeeze in the sizes currently available.


Juan said...

"How did Smith get such a hot wife?"

The mysteries of Yellowstone I supposed!

nktoons said...

Thanks for bringing back the craft John. This post really hit home layout vs design, Thanks!

Kali Fontecchio said...

When life imitates art, or maybe the other way around...

Mitch L said...

Wow great post. This really reminds me that I should keep training.

But to get a job soon, I need to be able to draw all kinds of "styles" for flash games etc. I hope I can manage to keep the time and energy to stay training, to be able to draw for the real stuff.

Do you have some more tips about learning perspective. Can you tell more about perspective in cartoon backgrounds and characters? Do you use perspective in your characters?
Should I start with studying classic cartoon backgrounds?
If you have a good understanding of perspective, will it help in drawing solid characters?

Colter said...

Maybe Ranger Smith got a hot wife because they could share bras?

These are amazing illustrations, very inspirational.

She-Thing said...

Hello Shane,

studying perspective is frustrating either you are 40 or 20. Sometimes I wish I had the patience of a 40 year old, hah. Using the computer isn't stimulating either... the tablet makes me use my hand rather than my arm. So I'm trying really hard to stop masturbating with the tablet and actually touch paper-- I wish I had your age so I didn't have to grow up with computers around me :S

Elana Pritchard said...

here is my attempt at drawing a cactus using hierarchy
cactus with hierarchy

Craig said...

I feel exactly the same way about puppets and puppetry.

Aaron said...

That is one sharp simplified motorcycle!

smackmonkey said...

Thanks for the last two posts, John. I don't know how you have the self control to remain civil when discussing this stuff. The sad state of design and lack of drawing skill exemplified in the average piece of animated fare is beyond belief these days. I'm so completely frustrated with having to shoe-horn inane "flat" character designs into unbelievably bad scripts calling for world-class hyper forced perspective that I usually resort to profanity and strong drink. Angry? You Fø<#!^& bet!

Don't get me wrong, here. I enjoy pure design more than most, but how many artists working in TV these days could draw the Yogi panel with the unconscious felon foreshortened in the snow? Not many I'd wager.

All is not lost, though. The admission by the very talented Mr. Glines (who has a wonderfully developed sense of appeal) that he has relied on the easy way out far too often is very refreshing. The fact that his eyes have been opened and that he is willing to expend the necessary effort to grow is no doubt due in small part to this blog. Keep up the good work. Both of you.

p.s. - "like swimming with brand-name protection" had me choking on my corn flakes.

Annette said...

great post - makes me rethink my sketchbook. I don't think i'm terrible at perspective - but I don't do enough of it. I'm guilty of doing too many floating cuties!

Annette said...

also- I have Amid Amidi's book and it is a HUGE source of inspiration and stomach aches - like i'll always be a no good chump scribbler! I promise NOT to steal from it.

X180 said...

I feel like a bit of a killjoy posting this, but...

Take another look at that folding chair on the beach. Does that really look like proper perspective to you?

Compare the bottom-most line of the chair (furthest in the foreground) with the line formed between the two armrest corners. They're way out of parallel.

Granted, the scene reads well anyway. But I'm not prepared to call these guys magicians.

Cristian Avendaño said...

"They have been praised so long for their abstract sketchbook drawings, that controlling their pencils and forcing them to do something on purpose and on command is just too stressful and depressing."


Oh my god, that's exactly my problem. In highschool I did those weird drawings all the time, and only now I realize how stupid I truly was.
I'm still young (19!) so I think there's hope for me yet. I just have to practice everyday...
Thanks for posts like these, John! It's great to see beautiful art like this, with your comments on the subject.

And that motorcycle looks awesome.

Yowp said...

It's always a pleasure to see the composition of the drawings broken down as to why they're appealing.

I didn't realise Ed did the title card designs for the Yogis.

One of the effects of watching so many HB cartoons through the 60s is I know what voices the incidental characters would have if any of them had been animated. I can hear Allen Melvin as the jacket-stealing crook.

Mrs. Smith seems to like to change her hair colour. Cartoon characters only do that as a plot gimmick now, right?

Isaac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vigus said...

Awesome character designs posts, thanks, learning alot here.

allan said...

Those comic panels are great! I could look at them all day.

I have the opposite problem of most artists, in that I have a good handle on perspective (from years of drawing mind-numbing backgrounds), but my ability to draw characters is sorely lacking.

But this blog has helped me immensely.

All the kids reading this blog should realize that it contains techniques and tips that take years to learn from the industry, and we should all be grateful.

Angie said...

I just finished reading 1 and 3 of your character designing series of posts.

I'd recently been talking about this similar subject with another artist friend of mine, and it's true.
The younger generation knows nothing about real drawing, or anything that goes into these kinds of thing.

I'm not saying this intending it to be in a bitter tone, as if to say "those darn kids!", because I am one of those kids.

I guess all I really want to say is thank you for sharing your insights. It's brought a lot of things to mind that I have never thought of before, and things that I never realized were bringing me down. This has made me realize that there's more to this than just "a pretty face", so to say.

Pokey said...

Wow! (Dec.2,1966 Yogi Beach comic)(No one mentioned this appearance of a non-Yogi series HB stsar)..Granny Sweet from Precious Pup from the old Atom Ant show. And regarding another Yogi Bear comic, yes, Ranger Smith HAS a hot wife (the Gene Hazelton wife) (referring to the one John K.mentioned.)

paul said...

Ooh, Johnny, you are so right on!
I agree with ya wholeheartedly on the logo bit. If you look at the Yogi Bear Sunday comics, as you put out, the artists and designers who worked on them were having fun coming up new logo styles whenever they had new stories, but when you look at any modern cartoon after that, say, Family Guy for instance, the artists weren't allowed to be creative with the logos at all; if they did, they would get yelled at by the marketing department, as they would think that the audience wouldn't have a clue on what they're watching.

In my opinion, in cartoons like Yogi, variety is more fun and creative, which makes it better than sameness and consistency put together.

rodineisilveira said...

Johnny K.,

These references from the pos-1965 "Yogi Bear" Sunday pages shown on this topic, were drawn by two creative forces from Hanna-Barbera: Iwao Takamoto (who worked on Disney) and Jerry Eisenberg (Harvey Eisenberg's son).