Monday, June 28, 2010

Larry MacDougall

Here's some excellent "illustrative art" to contrast with all the great cartoony art I admire.
I don't know who this is exactly. I just stumbled on his work through links at commenters' blogs.
I love his compositions, his poses, his design sense - and especially his trees. He has a nice combination of style and observation.
I'd say this is draftsmanship on a much higher level than what most cartoonists aim for. It makes me embarrassed to show my feeble attempts at "realistic drawings" when I see real drawings like these.
I wonder if MacDougall went to an art school that actually teaches fundamentals, or whether he is just a supernatural talent who taught himself. If there was a real art school that could turn out artists with this much skill, I would recommend it to everyone.
Cartoonists as a whole see things very differently than illustrators. We tend to see things in simpler terms - as very general and almost abstract shapes and forms - not based on the details in reality. That's why I think it looks so sloppy when animators are forced to strive for artificially "realistic" styles - like the humans in Disney features. Animators just don't draw as well as illustrators. Everyone loves Milt Kahl, because for an animator he draws better than most - but I think if he had been an illustrator he would have had a tougher job standing out.

Animators try to force complex forms of nature (like human anatomy) into easier to grasp simple shapes, but even our simplified human mannequins are too much for us to control convincingly in motion. In the last 30 years or so we have evolved a handful of animation tricks that allows us to move awkward designs from pose to pose without actually drawing the subtle steps inbetween. The way fully animated characters move now is completely stylized, repetitive and artificial. It's neither real nor cartoony. It's how we get away with moving the clumsy designs that aren't practical for animators. I don't think it's the animators' and cartoonists' fault though. It's a survival gimmick.
For some baffling reason, most animation producers are ashamed to be in the cartoon business. They want so badly to be doing the more respectable business of live action, and so they use our medium as a stepping stone toward their real goal. That's why they force animators to make movies about stiff humans doing what they think are "normal" and "realistic" things - which no one has ever pulled off. I wonder what would happen if they just went out and hired a big crew of actual illustrators and trained them to animate. I mean illustrators like MacDougall, artists who actually can control anatomy and perspective. Could they finally make animated humans move convincingly? I don't know what the point of it would be, but it would be an interesting experiment.

Yes, I know they sometimes hire real illustrators for development and inspiration - like Rowland Wilson and comic book genius Mike Mignola. But then they take what these superior draftsman design and dumb them down into the same old wobbly wimpy animation stock characters.I found the doodles on the side of this storyboard page illuminating. I was struggling to figure out a way to make a frontal face have structure in the spaces between the eyes and nose. Larry made it look easy. He defined the orbitals around the eyes with shadows that helped anchor and link the sensory features together. I'm sure if he read this he would be amused at how something that is probably second nature to him is a mystery to me.

Faeries and elves aren't exactly my sort of subject matter but that's beside the point. I completely admire and envy the talent and skill of someone who can draw and paint like this.