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.

http://www.art.zaprasza.eu/Author.php?user_id=78

IN A SIMILAR TRADITION

34 comments:

kevin said...

Whenever I see pictures like those I trip out. I don't get how it looks so real, its mind frakingly awsome!

Niki said...

I really like these. not as much the first picture though, minimalist backgrounds are what I do now and I can't do them too well either. But I really hope that I 'll be able to make as well an illustrator.

martinus said...

Definitely some John Bauer influence here.
He was a Swedish illustrator, and writer, and he drew images similar to this, but much more stylized, and much creepier.
Check him out.

Severin said...

Looks like this artist is hugely inspired by Swedish illustrator John Bauer. The connection is really obvious when you look at the trolls, pale-skinned girls, and swirling forests.

http://bauer.artpassions.net/

Bauer's style is actually simpler and more cartoony. I suspect Larry also draws from artists like Frazetta, which is where all the anatomy would come from.

Unfortunately, Bauer died at a young age. Had he lived longer I feel he might have had an impact on animation.

Tom said...

I think this blog is the fastest digital way to develop a crippling inferiority complex

manuel said...

There are only three Art Schools that could teach a sense of simplified realism:
personal interest, observing life and looking at masters' work.

I bet this guy could do simpler, while not cartoony, and even more realistic.

Nowadays the kids are very competitive to what they see:
When around 10 years old, many start copiyng bland manga illustrations. This way, many of them lose their "explorative" pencil-line and try to do perfectly round and straight lines.
Kids around 14 have a great interest in "making it look like the real thing."
They can draw very well if they want to, from what they see.
Around 18 most have lost their interest... the "natural selection" begins.

Cartoons get life from a sensible choice of "realistic" properties:
A little bit of perspective always applies, and may it only be overlapping objects. It could be altered seamlessly until a point where colour-perspective applies (in daylight the really far away objects get a little bluer and whiter).

I agree that modern realistic cartoons tend to be dull and unimaginative due to a tight expectation on what looks "believable".
But it is possible to get a great degree of realism, for example Hayao Miazaki's work, still being a feast for the eyes (though, mainly through the beautifully painted Backgrounds).

On the other hand, an overly simplified cortoony style can get bland, too.
Andreas Hykade, for example tries to achive the simplest style and the smoothest animation possible:
http://au.video.yahoo.com/watch/7619660/20224131
- I like the Mickey-Hitler-morph.

Sorry, bad quality, too much geometry here:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3083389232768384489#

I personally believe, the more you know, the more you have got to choose from.
And I also know artists who only have a very limited set of possibililties, but apply them with great virtuosity, much like a beat-box musician.

K. Nacht said...

Gustave Tenggren, Brian Froud and especially the older style of Art Suydam (Mudwogs!) come to mind... maybe even a little Jeff Jones.

Noel said...

I think you might underestimate how hard it is to layout or storyboard well John. Also to think "AROUND" the character is also another thing that not everyone does well,also cartoonist are not always Animators. There are some guys in animation that are monsters: Mike Ploog, Alex Nino, Paul Felix and a few Filipino guys that do....everything well. Here's a link to Mike Ploog, one of my favorites going back to comic books: http://comicrazys.com/2010/06/06/shrek-character-design-and-pre-production-artwork-mike-ploog/

Noel said...

Oh i also thought you might check out : Arthur Suydam. Art Rakham ,and, ,as mentoned, John Bauer. These three kinda combine in his style

Mike said...

The first pic reminds me of Australia's Norman Lindsay, not only author of 'The Magic Pudding', but a prolific artist/illustrator.

The next reminds me of Englishman Denys Pitchford-Watkins who illustrated under his real name, and wrote under the pseudonym 'BB'.

tyranno1 said...

Hey John, I really want to show you this. It's another CGI movie (Alpha and Omega), and it proves that every one of them is a dime a dozen. Not only does it have similar, if not identical features to every other movie in CGI. There's the psychotic ducks from Open Season, the villainous trio similar to the ones in Ice Age 1 (the only good one), the 'sensitive' female protagonist from Tangled, the dart-in-the-ass scene from Madagascar, and even some retardedly suggestive poses. That's all from 12 pictures. At least the male isn't gay-acting, it's too sad he's a nasty crossbreed between a fursuiting freak and a dog manequin. And the worst part is that when I saw the pictures on Rotten Tomatoes, they were advertising a movie about two parrots (chained together) called Rio, showig practically the exact same photo, with a similar pose and scene context! I lost my faith in movies produced in CGI, I'm going to watch old cartoons on Youtube.

Roberto Severino said...

These are really interesting. I'm not planning on becoming an illustrator, but I deeply respect the work they do. I think as cartoonists, we can learn a lot from the illustrators, and apply what they do to our own work.

"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."

I wonder why no executive has ever thought of that idea. It makes good common sense to me than to force all the poor animators to move difficult character designs that they never designed themselves. I'd love to see to that and see how it goes. Maybe it could revolutionize animation forever if that were to succeed, even though it seems like a lot of work for something you could easily do in live-action.

Ben Hodson said...

Larry MacDougall is a Canadian artist who works on everything from Magic: The Gathering cards to Inuit folktales. His renditions of the Arctic giants are incredible. And he's a good guy.

Gad said...

thats nice
but all the fantasy artists always look to me like a poor imitation to
frank frazetta, or other great illustrators from the 50's. even when the subject a completely different

to detailed for me any way

on another note
are you aware of the attempt of Bob Clampett to do a John Carter Of Mars animated film...
well why am i asking you probably know... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1H2ZdSbyHhQ

now that could have been something

HemlockMan said...

You're right. That guy's great!

I'd never seen his work until now. What I like most about him is that he obviously has his influences, but his art style is fresh. Definitely not one of those posing Frazetta plagiarists who stink up the Internet.

David Nethery said...

In an interview Larry MacDougall talks about where he went to school :

"I attended the animation school at Sheridan College for one year. The training at Sheridan is excellent and I learned a lot about drawing, however I also learned that I did not want to be an animator. I wanted to be able to draw like one but not work in the business. I was too interested in my own ideas.

After leaving Sheridan I then went to the Ontario College of Art and Design hoping for some training that would be a bit more useful to me. No luck. I ended up leaving O.C.A.D. also after a year and decided it would be better to teach myself. I went to work in a comic book store and drew constantly in my spare time until I was finally able to start free lancing in the gaming field. This process took about five years.

At Sheridan the importance of structural drawing and anatomy was constantly drilled into us and it was this fundamental approach to drawing that I slaved to learn and still study today."

Joey Lee said...

Thanks for posting that link David. It was a great read.

gamzoo said...

The Amazing adventures of Screw On Head was a pretty good cartoon based on Mike Mignola's characters. But it was only a pilot and it was not picked up.

Furinax said...

If you are interested, he has a DeviantArt page: http://bridge-troll.deviantart.com/
At least, it is what the profile says.

ANDROID said...

What do you think of Pixar? Aren't they fully embracing the cartoon aesthetic?

JohnK said...

Toy Story is the closest thing to what I would think of as "cartoony", but it's still very Cal Artsy.

Pixar does the modern style better than everyone else, but it's pretty anti-cartoon aesthetic.

Those designs and stories are meant to make you cry and run to your mom. Cartoons make you laugh. They are a relief from authority.

Rajesh said...

"The lessons learned best at the lessons we teach ourselves" or something like that.

While I think schools can do more to emphasize the importance of basics, we also have a culture where parents and students think they can take a 8-16week course can go from amateur to greatest ever in that tiny span.

The truth is, it takes years of self-education, and the best teachers lay a strong foundation for that. You've certainly provided that with this blog for me and thousands of others (and I hope to take your class one day).

Some schools in LA/SoCal area:

http://laafa.org/

http://www.wattsatelier.com/org/WattsAtelier/cms.aspx

http://www.3kickstudio.com

I don't work at any of them, but the drafting abilities of their students make me seethe with jealousy.

I'd also give a nod to the Gobelins school in France.

Erik said...

I study at an art school in Zwolle (Netherlands) and i study animation there. The only thing is that i am the only animation student in my class so i am mixed in with the illustration class.
So sometimes i have lessons from illustration teachers, wich is some times very difficult for me since they look a whole other way at animation. And ofcourse that can be a good thing some times.

with illustration they have to tell a story creatively as posible in one illustration. they spend more time in detail and composition becouse they don't have the worry of how they would make their characters move etc.

the thing with the disney human characters is that they have forgotten that anything is possible in animation. its so useless to make a character walk as realistic as possible. If you go for that, you might as well film it with a video camera.
so making a character cartoony will stimulate you doing more bizare movements that is in real life not posible, so you can be way more creative.

a good example is the disney picture Aladdin. The genie is way more fun to look at than the other characters becouse he can do impossible things and he is cartoony!

(btw sorry if my english is not perfect)

Taber said...

LOVE this stuff.

thomas said...

Reminds me of Gorrillaz a bit.

Not so much for realism but the basic shapes of the amatomy.

Qing Qing said...

I like this Blog very much!
Have a lot of nice sketches..
I wish I can have the skill too^^

nagyaron said...

cool pictures

Elana Pritchard said...

That live action film producer theory actually explains the non-cartoony boring Disney stuff. I thought nothing ever would.

PatriS said...

I think the more you know how to draw realistically the better the cartoonist will be, I think a good cartoon is the product of an illustrator who can express an idea with just few strokes of the pencil and yet doesn't lose the value behind the fundamentals of his draftsmanship. And I highly agree that cartoons are meant to liberate us from our day and life. And laughter is the best medicine.

I think many artists are just impatient and don't realize that learning to draw takes a lifetime. I can't say I blame them, Studios are just as impatient if not more so. I know that most early Disney animators were great illustrators and Walt Disney basicaly did hire a staff illustrators Take Bill Tytla for example. Also look at fantasia, it basicaly is illustrative art animated. Chuck Jones was also a great draftsmen, he could draw very realisticaly. but I think animation takes more than just exceptional illustrators, it needs storymen(or women), jokers, pranksters,... and a producer with a lot of money whom you've locked out of the studio.

RooniMan said...

Man, what I'd give to be as talented as MacDougall.

damsel said...

John, I love your blog, but how can you say that? That animators normally aren't good at drawing? When animation is done right, Animators are amazing. Of course, the stuff you see today isn't a good example of Animation's range, but Animators are totally unconventional artists. That's a very weird thing to say, coming from someone who's an animator and a great artist. It sounds like you don't believe in yourself...

First off, I think Larry is great in that his style doesn't look LIKE a majority of what's out there as far as Illustration goes. The problem with most fantasy art is that it tends to fall into the realm of totally cliche and lots of illustrations have the thing you hate: clutter, bad design, bad color choices, etc etc. Larry is awesome, but definitely not for the reasons you pointed out. And the samples you picked don't show the range that guy really has. From your selection, you'd think he's a Frazetta clone, and he's definitely not. I think that's typical of most Fantasy Artists to try to "Frazetta" their work, but Frazetta didn't even try to always gun for realism; Frazetta's women aren't real people, neither are his men, that's what MADE Frazetta great, it was total fantasy. But all these other Fantasy artists don't get it, they just see the "realism" aspect and they want to emulate that to a tee, without having their own style.

Animators are great BECAUSE they don't constantly have to rely on realism as the gimmick. Yes, realism looks nice, but you need more variety than that. Ultimately, EVERYONE can draw like that if they wanted to, they just need to sit down and practice practice practice. Honestly, the obsession with realism is the reason why Illustration and Animation are both starting to become monotonous, because it's all dominated by the same generic "concepty" style. What animators have is variety, it's way more dynamic. Illustrators have to cater to what sells. The main reason I left Illustration was for this very reason; it's either boring business stock crap, or "CONCEPT ART W00T" or even "CHARACTER DESIGN, WOOT". Now, I'm not trying to bag anyone's work, or say it isn't good, I know what I like, and of course you'll be drawn into the realism art immediately, because it looks real and it looks good, but who's to say cartoons can't look good and DON'T when done right?

damsel said...

Also, I want to add that a huge part of animating is movement. For a lot of illustrators, you're right, they don't know how to do this, and this is where a lot of illustrators fall apart. I had a teacher who is a pretty successful illustrator try to teach a "Drawing for Animation" class, and he was WAY in over his head. It's nothing like illustration, much like what you're doing right now, studies, you have to really study the way characters move. If you don't have a good understanding of this, you'll be screwed two ways to sunday. In that same vein, you have to understand anatomy even better because of that.

damsel said...

John, I love your blog, but how can you say that? That animators normally aren't good at drawing? When animation is done right, Animators are amazing. Of course, the stuff you see today isn't a good example of Animation's range, but Animators are totally unconventional artists. That's a very weird thing to say, coming from someone who's an animator and a great artist. It sounds like you don't believe in yourself...

First off, I think Larry is great in that his style doesn't look LIKE a majority of what's out there as far as Illustration goes. The problem with most fantasy art is that it tends to fall into the realm of totally cliche and lots of illustrations have the thing you hate: clutter, bad design, bad color choices, etc etc. Larry is awesome, but definitely not for the reasons you pointed out. And the samples you picked don't show the range that guy really has. From your selection, you'd think he's a Frazetta clone, and he's definitely not. I think that's typical of most Fantasy Artists to try to "Frazetta" their work, but Frazetta didn't even try to always gun for realism; Frazetta's women aren't real people, neither are his men, that's what MADE Frazetta great, it was total fantasy. But all these other Fantasy artists don't get it, they just see the "realism" aspect and they want to emulate that to a tee, without having their own style.

Animators are great BECAUSE they don't constantly have to rely on realism as the gimmick. Yes, realism looks nice, but you need more variety than that. Ultimately, EVERYONE can draw like that if they wanted to, they just need to sit down and practice practice practice. Honestly, the obsession with realism is the reason why Illustration and Animation are both starting to become monotonous, because it's all dominated by the same generic "concepty" style. What animators have is variety, it's way more dynamic. Illustrators have to cater to what sells. The main reason I left Illustration was for this very reason; it's either boring business stock crap, or "CONCEPT ART W00T" or even "CHARACTER DESIGN, WOOT". Now, I'm not trying to bag anyone's work, or say it isn't good, I know what I like, and of course you'll be drawn into the realism art immediately, because it looks real and it looks good, but who's to say cartoons can't look good and DON'T when done right?

Name: Chris said...

Hiroyuki Okiura is a guy who can pull of the realistic forms in 3D space thing you're talking about. Most of the best scenes in Ghost in the Shell are by him.