Thursday, April 01, 2010

Messmer's Pure Cartoony Style

These are some great examples of cartoony drawings in their purest forms.
Otto Messmer is probably the biggest influence on American animation there ever was.
His drawings are boiled down to the very essence of what a cartoon is. He's not even trying to mimic reality. His style is very simple, but also appealing.
Even his props are fun to look at. This quality of being fun to look at is what makes a cartoon different than other forms of illustration.
The simple shapes and symbolic stylized expressions Messmer uses tell the viewer clearly what is happening and what the character is feeling.
Messmer's style owes a lot to early cartoony comic strips like The Katzenjammer Kids, but also reveals graphic innovations that he discovered through trial and error by having to move characters about on screen.
Poses that are moving have to be even more clearly staged than still drawings in a comic strip, because in film, we only have a limited time to look at each pose before it moves into another.
Animators like Messmer and most who followed him quickly learned that clear negative shapes and using only a few lines and details helped make characters communicate faster and more clearly when animated. It also made them easier to animate, which resulted in better movement.

By turning the practical realities of animation into graphic appeal, he solved a lot of problems for the rest of us.

http://comicrazys.com/2010/03/26/felix-the-cat-various-sundays-otto-messmer/

23 comments:

PeteyX said...

Reminds me of Herriman!

thomas said...

You can see the influence of animation when looking at the full pages. Seems like there was usually one settng and a cast of shapes that was shuffled around from panel to panel; although shuffle isn't the right word; the movement feels ordered and determined, not accidental.

Cory said...

I love these! I don't understand why you don't see more of this style being used or built upon today - everything I see around today looks like some flat, lifeless, computer-puke... thanks for posting these!

Cory

http://coryart.blogspot.com

EZ Goodnight said...

These drawings really make me smile.

ComiCrazys said...

John, what do you think of this version of Felix from 1932? He has a more mischievous look to him, not to mention scraggly. I guess he was going through leaner times.

It's interesting to see how Messmer went from the 1930 look (the four strips at the top of the ComiCrazys post) to the 1932 look, then to the 1934 look (the bottom 3 strips on ComiCrazys).

I also noted once on Sherm's CartoonSnap blog that you can see a lot of Messmer-ish poses in Ub Iwerks cartoons.

smackmonkey said...

I've always preferred animation that takes place in it's own little world vs. the hyper-reality we see in CG stuff these days. Simple, stylish, and appealing artwork seems to accomplish this so easily.

I love the first two panels with the moon and find the scenarios very easy to immerse myself in. Perhaps it's nothing more than leaving a little room for the viewer's imagination rather than spoon-feeding them every tiny detail. I'm reminded how fake I thought everything looked in Cameron's Avatar despite the 3D and millions spent.

Isaac said...

This is definitely my favorite style of cartoons.

Rusty said...

What happened to the fun that cartoonists like Herriman and Messmer brought to cartoons and animation? It seems people are more interested in making money than making a film or even a comic strip that is fun.

John is their any hope to bring back the fun? We are so far down the rabbit hole with Tangled and the new Yogi Bear

Rusty said...

"His style is very simple, but also appealing."

It may be simple but for an artist to have Messmer's charm is next to impossible. I agree with you the Termite Terrace boys wouldn't have come about if it wasn't for him. He is the godfather of all things cartoony.

Elana Pritchard said...

Very good to study when you are learning perspective!

Craig Something said...

I remember seeing the Felix the Cat movie when I was younger, didn't think to look into it.

On another note, I had never watched the Three Stooges until today (April Fools marathon of course). I had no idea what I was missing.

kurtwil said...

Another great animation background topic, JK. Thanks!

Messmer's Felix must be one of the most durable characters around, although THE TWISTED TALES OF FELIX THE CAT seems the only modern Felix effort capturing a bit of Messmer's original feel.

Cory, many computer drawing tools artists use today are horrible at letting artists sketch __fast__ or with volumes. Hence the ugly flat art we see too much of.
A workaround is pencil/pen out and scan a fast/volumized sketch and use that as a trace over reference.
I suspect if JK drew __solely__ in FLASH he too would have trouble __quickly__ building construction frameworks for his characters (plz correct me if I'm wrong !!).

FriedMilk said...

These panels are really fun and cute, but there's also this very designed, composed look to them that's appealing to my sense of logic. They're fun and they don't look dead the way super-designy cartoons can look nowadays, but there's this very satisfying sense of order.

RooniMan said...

Messmer is one the great grandfathers of cartoons.

Alvaro said...

I love Felix the cat.
It´so adorable...

Calvin said...

Awwww, man! These are great!

I can't wait til' they turn Felix into a real life CG movie just like yogi bear! j/k! *barrrrrf*

HemlockMan said...

I dreamed last night that I was watching a new computer-generated cartoon with my son. We were both horrified at the cartoon--in my dream it was just as lousy as a real computer-generated cartoon.

Android said...

I would love to read your thoughts about Albert Uderzo, co-creator of Asterix.

Martin Juneau said...

Messmer's cartoon style is very well done and is true and honnest. We needs more artists like that these days if we drop some bad habits like draw flat and without lines of action.

Ross Irving said...

Felix the Cat is always fun, save for the TV cartoon. I try to get some of the energy of the eyes he draws on his characters in the eyes of the characters I draw, but I've had no luck.

But yeah, I can see where early animation would be inspired by Messmer's work. The curvy looking backgrounds flowing into wavy props, the simple shapes of course, and the gestures first created to instantly convey how a character felt. I like thomas' observation of the way the comic panels are arranged as well, since I always have trouble making comics because I don't know how to arrange the panels in an appealing way. This new insight should help.

Jeff Overturf said...

Messmer was a true pure cartoonist. I can't get enough of his great stuff! A joy to see and all you think of when you see it is "CARTOON". Genius!

paul etcheverry said...

These are fantastic, John - and thanks for posting them. I've been checking out Messmer comics on the ASIFA-Hollywood Archive website.

Too bad no producer was able to ante up the do-re-me to hire Messmer to create two-strip Technicolor Felix cartoons in 1933, jam-packed with the energy, swagger and original drawing style of these comics - as well as that "this is a cartoon, so anything can happen, anytime, and there doesn't have to be a reason, ever" m.o. that the silent Felixs exemplify.

The Van Beuren Felix cartoons made by the Burt Gillett regime in the mid-30's are pleasant to watch, but lack all of the aforementioned qualities which made Messmer and his character great.

SparkyMK3 said...

Great post, and i'm currently awaiting my copy of "Nine Lives to Live: Felix the Cat" in the mail as i'm typing this. I'm hoping it'll wash out the taste of that horrible, horrible 90's Felix movie.

And John, have you ever seen or heard of Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat? It's very cartoony and plays out very much like a Max Fleischer cartoon, or Otto Messmer if you want to go back further. It's not on DVD in the US, but i've found episodes online-oh, and Charles Adler voices Felix at one point halfway through the series. You said you like Charles Adler, so i thought that would be worth tell you.