Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Simpsons Interview pt 2: Models and Abandoning Inbetweens


So I did some character models to give them an idea of how I would draw the characters as caricatures of the Simpsons and then explained that even drawing them that way wouldn’t be enough to achieve what I wanted to do.
I’m even bored with the pose to pose style animation we did at Spumco where the only control we had over the look of the cartoon characters’ acting was in the held layout poses.

My whole experience in TV animation has been to chase a production around from department to department to make sure the original storyboard poses don't get toned down.Which is why I always made sure we at least made lots of layout poses for the animators (across oceans and continents) and instructed them to not redraw them "on-model".The effect of that system was: the characters would strike a funny pose, then basically inbetween into the next funny pose, but between the poses, not much interesting happened. It was a compromise between the 40s cartoon system and the practicalities of Saturday Morning television budgets and schedules.
Bob Camp Layouts from Space Madness

The few episodes that were animated at Carbunkle had much better animation and they added visual interest in the way the characters moved but still based the actions on the held poses. –Held poses by the way that didn’t always work from pose to pose and Carbunkle had to invent some very clever ways to connect them smoothly.

On the Simpsons I wanted to try moving the characters in crazy fun ways, not just looking funny each time they come to a stop. I tried doing layout poses that looked just like this storyboard and the layouts kept looking like toned down versions of the original sketch. And when I began animating I couldn't make it work anyway. So I abandoned trying to interpret it literally and just animated the cycle straight ahead and let it take me where it went.
The intent of the action is the same as the storyboard but the details are different and took advantage of movement rather than just a basic pose with moving legs.
I loved animating Marge's hair so much that it kept threatening to take all the attention away from the walk. I had to fight to keep the hair action as a secondary supplement to the main action.
This project has given me a whole new outlook on hair personality, by the way.
Hair is a feature, just like the eyes and mouth. Hair can reveal intimate secrets of the character living under it.


When you are animating you don’t draw the same kinds of poses as you do when you are drawing layouts. (Just like you don’t write the same kinds of scenes on a typewriter as you do when you storyboard them) You are using a different part of your brain; you are flowing from action to action. This is hard to put into words, but you just draw differently and you think of a lot of things you wouldn’t think of if you were merely drawing individual instances of emotions.

I try different paths to get from one place to the next – but I’m always aware of the context. I don’t change what the characters are doing, I just try to give more specific meaning to how they do it. The inbetweens are as fun to me as the bookended emotions you are aiming at.

No one is happy one instant and then mad the next without some kind of unique transition. Pure inbetweening makes the transition mathematical and cold (even with slow ins and outs and slick timing). In reality, a lot of indecision and emotional torture can happen between 2 different emotions or even just 2 thoughts. I learned this by freeze framing my favorite actors, in particular Kirk Douglas.

next...Kirk Douglas' tormented transitions...
This is Kirk leaving one emotion and on his way to another. It always seems to hurt him to move from feeling to feeling. A real man hates his feelings. Half his muscles try to hold them back, while others crawl towards the next intense one. There's a war going under under the twisting skin of his face. Some of his features resist longer than the others and it makes for wonderful emotional pain and distortion of flesh.


SparkyMK3 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Waqas Malik said...

that's wonderful that you created a simpsons opening!! it would have been great if you were allowed to create an entire episode.

it'd be interesting since it would have less emphasis on the story/what they say, and more about their actions.

cartoonretro said...

Fantastic. Glad you're back on the blog...

Archie said...

Im curious to see how Ren and Stimpy would look like now with these techniques.

JohnK said...

Hi Sparky:

"With that said, i'd have a hard time convincing anyone to try this."

Well drawing is hard enough. Drawing acting is even harder! But it's fun to try.

It's also hard to try new things and encourage artists to use their individual styles and ideas when the TV system is geared for formula and against individuality.

That's why I enjoy working on small projects where I can try stuff I have been thinking about.


"it'd be interesting since it would have less emphasis on the story/what they say, and more about their actions. "

It wouldn't be less emphasis on story. I love telling stories. It's not one or the other. The stories prompt the animation.

Shane: Thanks! It was fun hangin' out the other day.

Archie: Look at "Big House Blues" and you'll find more custom made animation by both Carbunkle and Spumco.

SparkyMK3 said...

(It wouldn't be less emphasis on story. I love telling stories. It's not one or the other. The stories prompt the animation.)

Wow, as a longtime follower of your blog John, i'm surprised that you would say that, since i always felt that characters and drawing skill came before a story, and that you get irritated when people tell you the story is all that matters in a cartoon (i partially align with the Alfred Hitchcock school of filmmaking, which values technique or cinematography over the content of a film, which is the polar opposite of say, John Lasseter and Pixar's "story is all that matters" dogma, which really irritates me, considering how many animation fans go by that rule.

That or i've been misinterpreting you the whole time.

Laylassong said...

I think kirk douglas looks like your bodyless character from your UPA bump.

Corbett Vanoni said...

I'm pretty amazed this all went through without a (perceived) hitch, considering the amount of free thinking involved.
I bet you got a ton out of it. Hope more come your way.

Can't wait to see Kirk's tortured mug.

— Corbett

Kyle said...

Its an interesting experiment but I don't think it works to be honest. I find it impossible to read anything that's going on.

Sex Mahoney said...

A remarkable examination of motion and emotion. These last two blogs have been enlightening. Thank you.

JohnK said...

"i always felt that characters and drawing skill came before a story, and that you get irritated when people tell you the story is all that matters in a cartoon"

I would get irritated if someone said that. Why draw it if story is all that matters?

But I've never said "let's have lousy stories, because story doesn't matter."

Ren and Stimpy was full of different types of stories in many genres.

But the stories took advantage of animation instead of fighting it.

Herman G said...

Dig it!

Joshua Marchant (Scrawnycartoons) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Sporn said...

Have you ever tried straight-ahea animation. With your discussion of inbetweens, it seems that that's where you'd like to go. The daring in working straight-ahead is trying to get the character to not morph into something different from the guy you started with.

Dick Huemer, who identified himself at the first inbetweener, once said that you could put a brick intbetween two poses and no one would notice it. I'd notice it, but it would make me what to stop frame the action to see that inbetween.

Anonymous said...

So fun to watch this intro. Love how homer melted on the couch at the end. Also the butt slap. Anymore projects coming up?

kurtwil said...

JK, am guessing you'll absolutely hate Toon Boom's or anyone else's "tween" tools, as they do exactly what you say - provide a transition (usually boring) from one key to the next.

One interviewer thought my drawn characters were 3D because I had used tween tools to fill in between sketches. When I told him that, he went "oh, traditional..." and lost interest.

Hopefully TB's tweaking or getting you more tools to avoid tweens (draw more creatively, faster)!

Lee Kalba said...

I noticed what you're talking about, going frame by frame on Hugh Laurie. As Dr. House, he has a monotone voice, but a very animated face. In one line of dialogue, his face made something like seven, different expressions. Just pronouncing "A", his face turned into a kind of snarl.
This was a few years ago, and it dawned on me that people make all kinds of micro-expressions when they talk.
I recall one cartoonist (I forget his name) questioning the point of even teaching expressions, since people restrain them, anyway. But, I remembered seeing the micro-expressions and thought about how cartooning is all about simplification and exaggeration.
The idea of universal expressions seems to be both true and false, to me. It's like how we all (more or less) follow the same, basic body plan, that makes us recognizable as humans, but individuals vary, sometimes wildly.
We can also use those varieties to communicate ideas, at a glance. Like how many gymnasts have short torsos and long limbs. You can see this idea in old cartoons, with the hulking brute having a huge torso with a barrel chest and tiny legs.
So many modern cartoons seem to forget the exaggeration part and only try to simplify what they see illustrators do. They end up putting ideal (Greek) proportions on everyone and it's just a bland mess.
Comics have also fallen into that trap, with interchangeable bodies and faces, with only the details of clothing and hair being any different. Some of them are so bad about it, that if you see the character out of costume, you can't be sure who it is, unless it's explained in the dialogue.
For a while, I tried to solve this by basing the faces on actors, but this enslaved me to photo references. Now, I've been trying a more cartoony approach and trying to push realism to the back seat - to find a balance between pure cartooning and straight illustration. I've found it rather freeing.

Cotton Gin said...

Did you base you Homer on the father from "This is England '86"?

mansard peridot said...

are you...!! gonna do a Simpsons episode?!?
i would FINALLY watch it again!

Tyson Cocks said...

I really enjoyed the animation. It's crazy and organic and really refreshing. I love Homer and Barts interactions. But I am torn because I had a hard time following the action sometimes. When Marge gets up I couldn't enjoy the animation because I was too busy figuring out what the action was. Looking at the stills on your blog I really like what you did, but when I watch it in real time... the magic is there... but the action is lost (at least to me). When animating in this fashion, does watching the character in motion matter more than the action the character is doing? I'm not saying that what's happened here, it's just something I was thinking about as I watched Marge's walk.

Herbert Barry Woodrose said...

This was an incredible insight and not just for drawing. I've been an acting student for something like 30 years.