Sunday, April 25, 2010

Specific Acting - Sven Hoek

A specific expression can't be described in one or 2 words. It also hasn't been used a million times -and only in the cartoon medium. "Happy" is not specific; it is general. Even "very happy" is not specific. A specific expression is one you make up just for one scene.

Retarded, yet alert and obedient to responsibility.
Retarded in automatic response mode.
Dreamy version of automatic response retard.
Eager to share a secret idiotic thrill.
Slow realization of a new and wondrous sensation; not sure whether it is good or bad yet.
Nervous and guilty but having an uncontrollable urge to admit a dirty secret.
Admitting the sheer joy of a shameful pleasure.
The face of ecstasy you make only when snugly immersed in wet litter.

Specific expressions can't be described as clearly and distinctly as they can be drawn. "A picture is worth a thousand words" - unless the picture is generic.

These kinds of expressions would not be created at the model sheet stage by a designer. The designer can't anticipate every scene of a cartoon and all the emotions a character will experience. Specific expressions have to be created by either the storyboard artist, the layout man, director or animator. They are customized to the character and each specific moment within the story.

If you are working on a production where everyone has to stick to the model sheets, then your cartoon will not have specific expressions. It will have pre-designed generic expressions.

This makes most cartoons less interesting on an acting level than live action. Real people do not have a mere handful of pre-determined expressions created by someone else. They have their own unique myriad of expressions and can make them spontaneously with little effort. We cartoonists don't have it so easy. We have to imagine each expression and then figure out how to draw it - a very unnatural procedure. This might explain why it hardly ever happens.


smackmonkey said...

It is advantageous if the artist creating the specific expression has an empathetic connection to the character. Not that all animators are fine-tuned to the inherent ecstasies of being immersed in wet litter - but it sure helps.

Noel said...

Hey man this is your legacy these expressions, most cartoons have these type of expressions nowadays, which i didn't see before Ren and Stimpy.

Scrawnypumpkinseed said...

Hey John,
There's a specific facial expression I've been trying to draw for a while now.

It's in a Mr. Bean skit where a police-woman sees him doing something silly. The look he gives her is sort of trying to act as if nothing happened and that the woman should mind her own business.

Every time I try to draw it comes out as a generic sneer or some bizarre retarded looking face.

If I finally get the face down I'll post it somewhere

Oliver_A said...

Just had to ask, John: was the last expression of Sven Hoek modelled after your own face? Did you draw this?


fruityth1ng said...

It's funny you mention "Real people do not have a mere handful of pre-determined expressions created by someone else" - as I just recently realised that, when making certain expressions, they make me think of the person I copied them from. Some sort of visual/physical empathy...

HemlockMan said...

Jesus! You've just succeeded in describing G. W. (Moron) Bush!

ChanceToScoopUpGatherer=0.5 said...

wanted to see something like this, great update

J C Roberts said...

For an artist capable of it, this is the fun part. It's a skill that requires all the principles covered here as well as an ability to really feel the character's personality and the situation at hand. Such a shame it's the first thing to go in most TV productions. As you say,there are a few people involved in the process pipeline that can contribute these at different stages, but it's apparently viewed as messy anarchy by the network suits. It's also the difference between a cartoon that really engages the audience to feel the story beats and one you just stare at blandly waiting for them to try to make up for it in the writing (which they seldom do).

Any one of the stills in this post have more life in them than a whole season of a model sheet-led show. In the end, is it worth the cut corners?

Oisin O'Sullivan said...

I don't remember Sven Hoek from when I was a kid but yea, this was a good one (especially the ending) and as always your expressions are great.

Could you take a look at these and tell me what you think? Thanks


Chad Taylor said...

Mr K -- I still find 'Sven Hoek' one of the funniest things in the world - right up there with violent Road Runner cartoons and the Marx Brothers in The Big Store. What made me laugh most (apart from the squeaking glass face bit) was the stasis of the characters in the opening scenes - Ren tense, Stimpy drooling - while night changes to day around them. I'd be interested to know your thoughts on "still" animation: the freeze frame or pause. You use that technique a lot, both to build tension and as a (sarcastic?) contrast to the action.

Alex said...

When in doubt on how to draw an expression from my head, I refer to my own expressions or those of a person I'm modeling the charactetr after. It's the same if one is to reference live-action for full-figure animation.

Sven Hoek said...


Ya!!! That's is my Yavorite. I am liking dat one. Thst's what kills me about your cartoons the very specific expressions that convey so much with so little. Amazingingly funny to watch. Just looking at the stills is hilarious.
Sven and Stimpy Vs. Ren.
And Ren's energy is intense in this one.

Elana Pritchard said...

A very intuitive process if you can get there.

The mechanics has always been the hard part for me, not the acting.

You are good at both.

Peter Bernard said...

This one and "Man's Best Friend" are my favorites from back then. I showed this one to regular (non-cartoony) people and they laughed out loud at the litter box scene, just the expressions. I showed it to kids and just before Ren comes home-- just the way the film cuts to a shot of the doorway made the kids gasp. They knew that meant "Dad" was about to come home and spoil everyone's fun. So brilliant in its simplicity.

Anonymous said...

"Sven Hoek" is one of my all-time favorite Ren and Stimpy episodes. Did you act this scene out yourself and then try to draw the expressions you made onto the characters or did you just drew expressions from real life reference (specific people, movies, etc.)?

RooniMan said...

I've alwaysloved the faces in Sven Hoek.

JohnK said...

"Did you act this scene out yourself and then try to draw the expressions you made onto the characters"

for the most part, yes. I'd act the scene out and then figure out what my face was doing, then draw it.

smackmonkey said...


Cracks me up just thinking about it.

Zoran Taylor said...

I learned as a child that acting this kind of stuff out could have some serious consequences. That's why I say cartoons are the art you make with the shades pulled down.

@Scrawnypumpkinseed - I know the exact expression you're talking about. It strikes me as being specific not only to the context of the scene but to Rowan Atkinson's face. They're like a match made in heaven.

kurtwil said...

Very Interesting! We had that model sheet problem on CROCADOO, where production deadlines forced animators to literally cut and paste poses of the characters into their sequences, or use a limited set of mouth shapes for dialog. What furthered this practice was the most poorly animated show got raves from its TV audience.

Have folks here seen any CGI examples of mouth animation they particularly like?

SandraRivas said...

This is one of my favorite R&S episodes! I really love the acting of Ren when he's angry at Stimpy and Sven. It was so hilarious and intense at the same time!

Space Madness also has some great specific acting and expressions as well.

Paul B said...

who did these backgrounds, John?

Cristian AvendaƱo said... you do the same thing that I do when drawing expressions?
Everytime I draw an expression, I'm doing it on my face. While drawing.

People always think it's hilarious for some reason--oh, the woes of being an artist!

kurtwil said...

JK, do you consider (aside from R & S Adult Party Cartoon) Sven Hoek, Space Madness and Stimpy's Inventions as the 3 top R & S's you made? Or are there others?

Niki said...

I've gotten my light box and I plan to start animating when school is over.
I constantly think about this, I don't even think of unique movement as much as this and I'm constantly thinking about what my faces may end up looking like.

Paul B said...

off topic but in this interview Gerald Scarfe says what you said about caricature someone, at 7:10


Matt said...

I'll never, ever forget that expression on Sven Hoek's face! I specifically remember that mouth shape, thinking "how did they DO that??"

I'd never seen a cartoon with such hilarious facial expressions and there really hasn't been another one that nailed those so well, since.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Well said! I love posts like this!

Oliver_A said...

for the most part, yes. I'd act the scene out and then figure out what my face was doing, then draw it.

This is very obvious in the last expression of Sven Hoek, which has a very strong resemblance to your own facial features. I would also estimate that you are the model for at least half of Ren's expressions when he is angry or in rage.

Oliver_A said...

Btw, Sven Hoek contains probably one of the best acting scenes ever created for TV and animation in general.

"Oh yeah, you're scared eh?"

When this scene comes up, it's pure electricity, the tension is gut wrenching. Nothing in TV (except your own work) comes EVEN CLOSELY to this kind of brilliance.

Martin Juneau said...

It's a shame that the version we watched from this episode was serevly cut and replaced by a re-used sequence from the first episode.

Sven Hoek is one of the true funniest episodes ever. And even to the TV animation world.

Al said...

Great drawings John.The truly show real emotion..which artist animated those scenes?
I'm just curious.

fandumb said...

Would I call it 'acting'? The expressions of these characters are great. And you did a wonderful voice performance towards the end, John. You should do more acting.

fandumb said...

Duhh, OK! I'm going to be an animator in the future so I'll keep this advice in mind.
I will ONLY use a model sheet to determine the height of the character and what it will look like from different angles.
The expressions I will leave to the storyboarder and animator.