Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Toy Drawing 11: Observation VS Rote Animation Cartoon Style

It's great to learn fundamental cartoon basics, like construction, line of action, silhouettes etc. But those are just your starting points. You don't want to be trapped in formula. Principles alone don't make a point of view or entertainment.
Not everything is made of the same few shapes. Animation, being probably the most inbred artform ever (maybe excepting rap) has a bad tendency of producing artists who ignore observation of the world around them.When animators do life drawing, they tend to draw what's in front of them with a filter or animation goggles between them and the model. Any visual information emanating from the individual model that doesn't fit the accepted way of drawing "animation style life drawing" is often ignored or erased.

Drawing actual creatures-whether humans or animals is much more complex than drawing cartoons - and not because real life has more pores and hairs. I've seen tons of animation portfolios and sketchbooks with life drawings and visits to the zoo where the artists didn't draw the animals or humans to look anything like what humans and animals look like. Instead they draw animation school ducks, elephants and humans. It's because animation encourages animators to ignore the evidence of our eyes and to convert everything into the approved vague animation shapes. So many animation students' zoo sketchbooks show the same vague ducks, giraffes and chimps - all the actual details and specific parts that many animators consider ugly have been tastefully removed- which defeats the purpose of studying from life. There's no point in looking at anything in front of you if you don't see what's actually there. You'd just be converting everything into the same pre-designed anmal life drawings you've seen in other students' sketchbooks.

I think toy drawing is generally more valuable to animation cartoonists than life drawing. Most animators don't believe their senses and real life is far too complicated to study when you haven't broken the habit of ignoring the senses.
(If they really taught anatomy and observation in animation schools, my opinion might be different).

Drawing toys shows us what simple cartoony shapes look like in 3 dimensions-but we have to get our eyes to believe what we are seeing in order to benefit from it. We have to draw what we actually see and not conform the shapes and textures into accepted animation shapes.

I gave this assignment out awhile ago and was amazed at how much trouble most cartoonists had in seeing how funny and unique this balloon character was. Most cartoonists who copied it converted it into Preston Blair shapes (or the modern equivalent - Cal Arts shapes) and lost the feeling of what made this balloon look like a balloon. They tried to correct the balloon and make it look more like a stock cartoon drawing.These drawings were done by Patrick. They are the best of the drawings in this assignment I've seen. He managed to make the drawings look like a puffy wrinkly balloon. He believed the evidence of his senses and didn't pass his observations through a filter of what he thought a cartoon character was supposed to look like.
There are some things that could be improved. Like these:
Patrick could check his other drawings against the photos and find any similar problems and correct them. But he did very well on the main point of the exercise: to use his eyes, not just his preconceived knowledge to draw something that doesn't fit exact cartoon formula.


The next step in an exercise like this (once you have corrected any mistakes) is to use the knowledge you learned from the exercise.

I would suggest taking another cartoon character and drawing him like a balloon to see if you retain an understanding of what general concepts make this Yogi toy look the way it does.

The eyes see things in front of them. The mind interprets them. It either adapts itself to the new information or it conforms what it sees into what it already thinks is right. The eyes and mind have to work in balance.

The mind learns why things look the way they do by studying construction, perspective, lines of action and all other kinds of artistic generalized concepts.

But the mind must also help the eyes to see, while at the same time to be checked by the eyes when the mind is not enough.

If what you see defies what you already know, then believe your eyes and draw what you see.

Then try to figure out why what you see doesn't conform exactly to what you already thought you knew. - Donald Rumsfeld

When you achieve this, you have learned something new and have added new visual tools to your collection. Your toolchest will grow and grow if you constantly expand you ability to observe new things and apply them to your own work.

If you go through life only drawing (or modeling) the same old approved animation designs and shapes, then no amount of drawing from the real world will do anything for you.

Observe with a purpose - that purpose is to constantly change the way you draw and to avoid blind formula.



Mouse said...

Wow John, hip-hop music is almost exclusively about observing the world around the artist.

patrick sevc said...

Wow, thanks John, I'm honored and flattered. I sure knocked myself out on that lesson, and learned tons from it.

Most of all, it taught me to notice the texture of characters' skin, and the texture of other misc. objects. And not to just draw a line for the sake of drawing a line.

By the way, I just came across a Disney knock-off toy call "Blandness girl" Here hehe.

RooniMan said...

Spoken like a true genius.

Here are some Preston Blair studies I've been doing.

I'll try my hands at the and other as soon as I can.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could do this lesson, but I've sharpened all of my good drawing pencils to death, filled my sketchbook with tons of studies, and my scanner's broken. To me, this looks like a really funny balloon toy. Why anyone would want to change the shapes into animation shapes is beyond me. Bad habits, I suppose.

Luckily, I keep some Moleskine sketchbooks around, and I try to use them as often as I can, constantly sketching and observing from real life, etc, but I don't change the people I sketch into "animation" shapes. I just draw what I see. It's very worth having, but for me, it's really hard to apply what I've learned from that to my own work. Any advice on that? I'm still really young as you already know.

Christine Gerardi said...

John, how do I get into the Cartoon College blog?

here's my blog with Preston Blair studies: here

Elana Pritchard said...

I did the Preston Blair squash-n-stretch study (because I realized I had never done it)


I found a place to stay in LA.

I also have the $1200 ready to go.

I have been studying this stuff for a while, and I did Cartoon Critique to help myself and others learn.

I would give anything for this opportunity to improve.

Thanks for your time,

Paul B said...

What a Nice study!
He capture the feeling of the material.

I fix the gif in my last study.


thomas said...

A good book for life drawing is The Natural Way to Draw by Nicolaides.
Contour drawing, gesture drawing, etc. Also, drawing "blindly", that is, not looking at the paper while you are drawing, only the subject.
I remember finding this challenging and rewarding.

Important to get away from the trying to make a "finished" drawing. More about the process.

Scrawnypumpkinseed said...

Drawing toys will improve my life, huh? I guess I'll give it a shot.

By the way great balloon-puffy-yogi drawings Patrick! I can practically feel the rubbery surface tension

patrick sevc said...

Whoa, and I love all the stuff you said in this post, it's a veritable gold mine of insight! Everyone bookmark this post.

Niki said...

I actually avoided this one completely, I was pretty intimidated. I actually do draw the things I see as I see them, but I avoid those freakish things that look difficult to me.

I want to do it now though, but I've already collected an unrealistic amount of sheets from this blog. After I learn to draw Tom and Jerry, I'll do this so that I can have something to make into a balloon animal

Ricky Earl said...

"If they really taught anatomy and observation in animation schools, my opinion might be different."
I am happy to report that these places do exist. My uni in Bournemouth (U.K) taught me how to "see" properly. Observe not make it up. I know of a few other courses that place observation first, too.

Anonymous said...
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spøf said...

The impressionist motto was 'paint what the eyes see, not what the mind knows to be there'. This was extremely helpful to my progress at art school! Every time I fall into stylistic habits and shortcuts I have to force myself to draw/paint what I see.

Paul B said...

John, do you know Nate Theis?

He made some godamned funny commercials for Jimmy John's Sandwish in a Roger Ramjet Style!!!!

I can't send you the direct link to these videos but in his page click in the seventh character to see it.

Nate Theis site

Pete Emslie said...

"I've seen tons of animation portfolios and sketchbooks with life drawings and visits to the zoo where the artists didn't draw the animals or humans to look anything like what humans and animals look like. Instead they draw animation school ducks, elephants and humans."

John, I'm pretty sure I understand what you're getting at here, but I would like to qualify it somewhat. Animation students are encouraged to keep a sketchbook on hand wherever they go and to do quick sketches to record people they observe around them. These are popularly known as "Café Sketches", and , yes, you'll see tons of them in student portfolios. Likewise, they're encouraged to sketch animals in the same manner, whether at zoos, farms or simply family pets at home.

The problem with the "Café Sketch" is that it often seems to be undeveloped, with broad shapes blocked in hastily but with no real observation of distinct facial features or expressions, etc. The problem of course is the time available to record such details, and often the subject is fleeting and unable to study at length, therefore the resulting sketch seems undeveloped and not very satisfying.

However, I would make a distinction between the "Café Sketch" and the "Gesture Sketch". With the former, you're trying to record a pose or attitude, usually static, which is why you'll always see many sketches students have made of people around them on buses, in food courts, etc. where the subject is not very active, often just doing something mundane like sitting and reading a newspaper. In the "Gesture Sketch" though, you're trying to capture the feeling of movement and personality in your subject, which to my mind is a far more worthy and legitimate goal in how it applies to animation. Most animals at the zoo are constantly moving, so a series of quick gesture sketches may be the best you can hope to achieve if you're drawing monkeys or birds. These gestures may be little more than the line-of-action and scribbled limbs, but if they help the student to understand how a creature moves and behaves, then the exercise is a valid one. If, on the other hand, you're drawing an alligator or iguana, you may have the time to do a rather detailed study, showing all of the interesting and "ugly" bits that make the animal what it is. Again, I think it's all about the intent in the sketching as to how worthy the endeavor is.

JohnK said...

Hi Pete,

I understand the theory behind gesture drawings. It's one of those theories that sounds great but doesn't pay actual practical dividends.

I've seen about a thousand portfolios filled with scribbly gesture drawings and a handful of bad unstructured bland cartoon drawings.

I wish there was a cartoon school that produced artists who can cartoon well and not just draw animation portfolio styles.

I end up doing the schools' work for them by teaching the graduates how to be functional and funny.

Pete Emslie said...

Sorry, John, but I have to disagree. I highly commend you for stressing solid structure in drawings as you have in many of your online lessons. Rest assured, we stress that too at Sheridan. However, structure alone is not enough. I've seen many students who can draw with solid construction but whose animation is stiff and robotic, as if the character has been cobbled together like a hinged puppet, piece by piece. The missing element in such animation is gesture, as that is what helps to create more organic form and movement. Solid construction combined with inner gesture is what makes for superior animation. I therefore believe that gestural studies are an essential part of any animation program.

JohnK said...

Being able to scribble a line of action is not very helpful to an animation production. At least not to any of mine.

You can learn line of action in a day if you have even a tiny bit of talent.

Being able to observe and incorporate interesting and unique characters, poses, acting and everything else that makes a cartoon actually worth watching is a lot harder.

I know this from tons of experience making cartoons and working with animators and cartoonists of all styles and backgrounds.

I teach line of action too, which is what gesture drawing is theoretically for, but I have never seen those animation school quick sketches of live models ever pay off in any kind of important useful way. It's just an excuse to draw vague sloppy flowing blobs.

The Canadian animation style is about as stiff as anything I have ever seen (remember I'm Canadian and can say that). Most Canadian cartoons have the characters standing straight up and down, with no clear silhouette or attitude at all. But I can bet that 90% of the cartoonists drawing these stiff robot cartoons all have tons of scribbly gesture drawings in their portfolios.

I spent years trying to get Canadian animators to stop stiffening up the poses I'd hand to them, so something is not working.

There is theory, and then there is practical painful reality.

aalong64 said...

As an animation student, I obviously don't have a lot of perspective on this yet, but it seems that a lot of students have trouble connecting the different concepts in their minds, and remembering how they relate to each other.

They don't realize that the gesture skills they learn in a life drawing class are supposed to be used in the drawings they do for a cartooning class.

JohnK said...


There need to be classes that teach you to apply concepts you study in other classes.

Pete Emslie said...

As the commenter above just alluded to, there unfortunately is a disconnect between what the students learn in their life drawing and what they seem to forget to apply in their character design and animation classes. This has been quite frustrating for me personally, as I honestly believe that gesture has to be part of the equation in successful animation and character design. Through gesture you can accomplish the following:

- Visually conceive what the character is doing, thinking and feeling before then working out the structural forms and surface details.

- Consider the figure as a unified whole, as opposed to a sum of parts, with line of action and placement of limbs creating a rhythmic flow leading the viewer's eye through the pose. Otherwise, there is the risk of a figure looking as if assembled piece by piece with awkward placement of the individual parts.

- Quickly visualize a pose or series of continuity poses to see whether a scene will communicate well.

- When first designing a character, a series of quick gestured poses will let you know what may be impractical in the design, inhibiting movement, therefore solving design problems before investing too much time and effort in developing it further.

Like I say, gesture and construction have to work together - neither one alone is going to do the job as effectively.

JohnK said...

"Through gesture you can accomplish the following:

- Visually conceive what the character is doing, thinking and feeling before then working out the structural forms and surface details."

Hi Pete

We are in total agreement on that, and I have probably said it a hundred times on this blog.

But practically speaking, these 5 minute scribbly gesture drawings do not achieve that purpose.

I also think that a big mistake in all the animation schools is to let students design their own characters.

Having to animate, pose and act using awkward amateurish designs is sure to slow down a student's progress in all the fundamentals. You need to understand the physics of how a trade works, before you can be a designer in it.

Animation schools seem to blindly label many classes after Don Graham's classes at the classic Disney studio. They do it because they think Walt did it and whatever Walt did must be the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, it's been so long since these classes originated, that no one knows what they are really for or how to teach them, connect them to each other or turn them into practical skills.

about 9 generations of blind dogmatic repetition have lost the original meanings of all the old animation terms that came about through practical usage in the 1930s.

Now we have many teachers who don't themselves draw very well (Not you, Pete - you're a happy exception)and who don't guide the students in their lessons.

They just sit them in front of a lesson or model and say, "Uhhh. see that model? Draw her really fast and scribbly. That's called 'gesture drawing'. Somehow it'll be good for you."

My opinion is that a teacher should be much better than the student and be able to sit down and draw over the student's work and show him exactly what he's doing wrong-and make him do it right, and then make him apply what he's learned to a cartoon drawing.

Schools are not practical anymore. They just give the students bad habits that have to be unlearned afterwards at someone else's expense.

Half the classes in art schools aren't even about art anymore.

She-Thing said...

Hi John, thank you very much for the post.

Please, could you post a "wrong/cal arts" example? (what comes first through your mind when you think "formula life drawing") Just to make sure if I'm taking the wrong or right direction.

I'm also studying Bridgmann. That would be "wrong" too?

JohnK said...

If I did, someone would cry.

Just search "animal studies" and a bunch will come up. They are all vague and uncertain sketches of animals.

Bridgman doesn't do anything for me. His drawings don't look anything like real people.

Real people are the thing to study, not someone else's highly stylized interpretation of them.

thomas said...
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qwertyjpc said...

gesture really isn't that bad.

when it comes to gesture there are two types: Glenn Vilppu and Sheldon Borenstein's gesture or John Clapp's gesture.

Vilppu and Sheldon's gesture help set up construction faster. curves against curves help pop out the shapes more...

it may seem like a bad habit, but Clapp's gesture is more like...trying to get a feel rather than look good or bad. they're either sensitive or unsensitive.
this type of scribbly gesture is actually a hand exercose..
they are more suited for inbetween drawings..you have to realize...Picasso animated for Disney as an inbetweener and he did gesture drawings as his inbetween drawings.

but to know both helps with lightning sketching...hehe

She-Thing said...

Ok, Mr. K, I'll do it. Thank you for the reply.

Bridgmann what was helping me is rather construction, direction and perspective. But it's true that I'm not facing reality as it is.

It'd be a great goodie, if you could explain someday up to which point is perspective & construction important- with pencil drawing examples and stuff.

Gracias again

pappy d said...

There's no place for scribbling here in the real world. Scribbling lines of action is even worse, especially when you're animating! They convey force & movement in our drawings. If lines of action aren't drawn with a definiteness of purpose, the best you can expect is vague, sloppy blobs.

An animator should go to the zoo & study bears, too. Probably the worst thing for kids starting out is drawing Yogi. H-B's formula has 3 working head angles (flopped for the opposite side) & none of them describe a consistent form. It's easy to master, like the old Preston Blair formulas but when challenged to draw as they see, a lot of guys retreat & excuse themselves by saying they have a "cartoony style".

Turn off the TV & go draw some naked women. Sketch the freaks at the bus stop on your way there.

rod said...

I gave the YogiBallons a try. Any feedback would be great!

Zoran Taylor said...

Quite frankly, I think animation students SHOULD design their own characters with the specific (but concealed from them) purpose of miserably failing. That teaches firsthand what you're trying to convince us of with words.

Zoran Taylor said...

Also, as someone who has done gesture drawing, I can say that it taught me why a line of action exists, rather than why it's SUPPOSED to exist.

Zoran Taylor said...

But I agree with you about life drawing insofar as it is OVERVALUED. And not usually taught right. I'm talking about the difference between teachers I've actually had, not just what you say vs. what everyone else says. When someone say something that doesn't make sense, you just KNOW it. And the reverse is true, too.

Timothy Merks said...

hmmm that's a lot to think about, in the post and in the comments. Thanks to you and Pete.

I do have an opinion about people drawing stiff characters and that it might be less about drawing skill and more about understanding how to put character, reason and purpose into your drawing. How to act. I dont know if this is really a technique but more of an ability. Definitely you have to have the drawing ability to pull it off but if you are trying to create a pose out of techniques rather than I guess purpose or feeling behind it it's still going to look stiff.

rod said...

Thanks for all the great lessons and the comment! I'll keep at it!

Rafi animates said...

"Observe with a purpose - that purpose is to constantly change the way you draw and to avoid blind formula."

Spot-on John. I attend life drawing class once a week (wish I could manage to attend more) and the points you make in this post are exactly what I've been trying to achieve. Really great to read about it in the context of animation and cartooning.