Friday, July 20, 2007

Animation School 7 - When Generic is a Good Thing

Remember when I talked about the two different types of cartoonists?
One conservative, the other wild and crazy?
These two types worked together all through the 30s and came up with a blended style-the 40s style of pears and spheres and sausages style which is my favorite type of animation.

If you are a young cartoonist (or a geezer who wants to improve his skills) who wants to learn the best way to draw and animate, you should study this approach in its most generic form.


When is "generic" good?
When it is highly skilled as in these Tom and Jerry model sheets below.Generic is good for study.
If you are trying to teach yourself the principles of good cartoon drawing for example, it's best to study bland cartoons that don't have individual style. Strong style will distract your attention away from the underlying principles that are more important.

Disney helped popularize a style in the late 30s that most other studios adopted-the pear shaped, squash and stretch style.

It's not really a "style" though.

It's a drawing method that makes animation fluid and sensible.

It's a collection of principles that everyone in animation used in the 1940s.
It developed out of the rubber-hose style but added some techniques to help smooth out the animation and give it weight.

3-dimensional but cartoony construction:
The characters are rounded and turn in space like real objects.
But unlike real anatomy, the characters are built out of simple shapes-mostly pear-shaped bodies and round or oval heads with sausages for limbs.
In a strange way, they are real because they are 3-dimensional, but they are also cartoony, because they are made up of forms that aren't anatomical.
All the details of the characters wrap around the major forms that the characters are built from.
The eyes obey the perspective and direction of the position of the head, etc. They don't exist on their own planes.

Squash and Stretch:
These 40s characters bend and stretch and squash like soft rubber.

Line of Action:
The poses are usually strong and simple and all the details of the characters flow along the line of action.

Clear Silhouettes:
The poses usually have strong silhouettes-which helps them read, especially when the actions can be so fast.

Organic Forms:
Unlike rubber-hose cartoons which have very simple curves that have the bends right in the middle of the curve, these 40s style characters have more complex flowing curves which makes them feel more organic like skin and guts-although no bones.

The 7 Dwarfs are perfect examples of this style of animation. They are completely generic designs-meaning they really have no design at all-but they do have all the principles that make up the classic cartoon style.

Here's a frame from Chuck Jones' Barbary Coast Bunny, one of my favorite cartoons. The design and style is a more modern 50s approach, yet it still retains all the principles of 40s style cartoons. This type of cartoon is not good for beginning cartoonists and animators to study from, because the shapes are more specific, and they have angles and more complex design elements.

This is much harder to study and grasp than a Tom and Jerry or earlier Disney or Warner Bros. cartoon. It's more interesting graphically for sure, but the more complex design elements will distract you from learning the principles underneath.

Here are some frames from Bob Clampett's Gruesome Twosome. This is a scene by Rod Scribner. It's much more exaggerated than a Tom and Jerry cartoon and has slightly more complex design elements in it.

It's still based on all the same principles though, so once you understand the principles you will be able to then start exploring your own style and variations of designs.

I always recommend to animation students to draw Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig and Tom and Jerry when learning.

They are fairly simple and very rounded.
When you are animating you have to turn out a lot of drawings.
The more complicated the drawing, the longer it will take you to make the animation work.
NEVER use your own character designs when you are learning to animate.
It will slow your progress.

Use characters that were designed by top Hollywood professionals that already work in 3 dimensions and are simple. You will progress much faster that way.

This frame is from Chuck Jones' Elmers' Candid Camera. Jones hasn't developed his strong personal style yet and is just trying to make the characters look solid and move well. This cartoon is a great one to study for rounded smoothly moving characters.

This is from a later Chuck Jones cartoon and is much more complex, but again it still is based on the same principles. It has angles and more complex forms-but the angles are all in sensible places - unlike today's angular cartoons that have arbitrary and inconsistent designs that don't work well for animation. -think MULAN.

That's why the best cartoons to study are the cartoons from the early to mid forties.
They are all very rounded and do not have really distracting angular styles. Study Jones, Clampett, Avery, Disney, Tom and Jerry.
Avoid Freleng and other 40s styles. They are all trying to imitate what the stars were doing but the drawings and animation are much sloppier in the rest of the cartoons being done at the time.

(By "avoid" them I mean, avoid copying them if you are trying to learn to draw good principles. Watch them, because they are all fun, but study from the best!)

Beware of 50s cartoons!
I'm not saying I don't like 50s cartoons-I do, but in order to do those styles well, you need to understand how they came to be.
If you start by drawing angular characters before you understand your principles, you will put the angles all in the wrong places and not have any control over your designs and animation-like most modern cartoons.

Principles are the most important thing!