Thursday, September 28, 2006

Influences Won't Help You Without Skill

Here's part 2 of my post about having a lot of influences.

I repeat: It doesn't do you any good to say you have a lot of influences if you don't put them to tangible use.

I see a lot of people eagerly jumping in and agreeing with how important it is to have a lot of influences, then I click the links to some of their blogs and see that while they may believe they have influences, the art doesn't show a bit of it.

You can't be influenced in any useful way if you have no discernible drawing skills. First you have to get to the point where you can just draw basic principles, before you can start to absorb and use, say... Chuck Jones' personal stylistic flourishes.


What almost all the people I admire have in common is that they have high levels of skills. Then on top of that, they use their skills to express their own ideas and personal quirks and styles.

Now most people today have little or no skill. Why? This is an era of amateurism. The whole idea of skill is a concept from the distant past. There are no schools teaching basic functional skills. There is no general high standard in the arts to look up to that you could at least reach up for or be embarrassed by your lack of the general level of skill in professional art.

The most skilled artists today can't touch the average skills of artists from 1940. The best modern Disney animators are shadows of the masters they look up to. I'm a shadow of Bob McKimson and Rod Scribner. The few of us who have any skills at all are completely bucking the system and having to flounder around and get through sheer talent and trial and error and searching the past. There is no one around to help us.

Well, I'm helping you and you should take advantage of me. What has taken me decades to rediscover from the past, I am offering you for free. I can save you a lot of time, but I can't make you do the work you need to do to get there. You have to actually draw and copy solid drawings that use basic principles.

David Germain admits in the last post that he is too cocksure to copy anything directly. Look at his art and see the result of his attitude.

Now just for comparison, take a look at the drawings of a 22 year old Canadian lass who went to the crummiest animation school in North America.

What's the difference between these drawings and most of the drawings on the cartoon blogs? They look REAL. Like...professional. Well Jess taught herself to draw like this by watching old cartoons when she was a kid and copying them and trying to figure out what made drawings look real.

She taught herself-with the help of classic cartoons-how to do

Line Of Action
Clear posing
A bit of perspective

And on top of that she was doing full animation by the time she was 18! Now Jess is an exceptional case. She absorbs information and things she likes like a sponge. Obviously if everyone had her gifts we wouldn't have crummy amateurish drawings and animation everywhere today like we do.

But everyone doesn't have super human talent. But if you have some talent you can learn this stuff too by following the free lessons I put on this blog.


All you have to do is do the work. Copy the Preston Blair drawings EXACTLY. Do the drawings in the order of the steps he tells you to.
Check your mistakes and draw the same drawings again and fix them.
Then, when you start understanding drawing principles, start copying the best drawn classic cartoons.


Copy Bob McKimson in the Clampett or Jones or Avery cartoons.
Copy Tom and Jerry cartoons. This may surprise you because I have mentioned that I find Tom and Jerry boring and bland as entertainment. I do. I can barely sit through them. They are totally generic.

BUT-they are full of good drawing and animation principles and are perfect for learning these principles yourself.


Preston Blair is not a style. It's an approach to drawing for art that moves easily and well.

On the other hand, while I find many of Chuck Jones' 50s cartoons infinitely superior in style, thought, craftsmanship, wit and humor to Tom and Jerry, I don't recommend copying or studying those-not until you understand the basics, which will take many of you at least a couple of years of steady concentrated study and practice.

It's too easy to be distracted by all of Chuck's stylistic flourishes that he lays on top of the principles, and you will miss the foundations.

You need to be able to tell the difference between fundamentally good drawing-and style. Everyone today thinks he has a style. You don't. You have to be able to draw before you can have a style, Chet. Even among highly skilled animators and artists, very few have original and unique styles. You can't learn style. You either have it or you don't. It's like personality. I only know one person who actually made up a personality. Don't make up a style. Draw well instead.
Study 40s Chuck Jones and you will learn a lot.

This is why I also why I don't recommend studying 50s or later Disney-it also has many superficial stylistic nuances that distract from the great principles underneath.

Look at the difference between say, Sleeping Beauty and Mulan. Sleeping Beauty is phenomenally well drawn and animated and staged and colored. It's a technical masterpiece. Mulan is just a piece.
The only similarity is that both movies draw sharp corners on the characters. But in Sleeping Beauty, the corners are in consistent and sensible places. In Mulan, they just morph and switch places and warp all over the structureless melting characters.

Classic Disney features are waaaay too sophisticated and difficult to draw to be able to help you learn anything. They also use very specifically Disney type cheesy expressions and you will absorb those, as all the Cal Arts kids too. They absorb the cheese without the solid foundation.

Late 30s and early 40s Donald and Mickey's are good for principles and solid drawing, but they are dangerously sissified, so be careful!

Disney is a very dangerous influence. Those original artists had a ton of serious drawing training and they combined strong principles with vacuous kitschy Walt Disney acting and sappiness. The amazing craftsmanship lures you into thinking that everything they did was right-even the cheesy ideas and sick expressions and sissy movements.

A horrible thing about how ignorant people in the business are today-especially management at the studios, is that when you do learn solid and appealing drawing, sometimes studios will tell you that you have the "Spumco style". That's a danger of being able to draw these days. Executives and art directors think that good drawing is a "style". So learn to draw, then hide it when you apply at the flat or wiggly style studios. A friend of mine today showed me the model sheets for a new show being worked on and it was shocking how amateurish the "designs" were. They had not a single drawing principle, no style whatsoever and they were just purely depressing to look at. There are networks that run tons of stuff that look like mean 10 year olds draw and write them.

If you want to do that kind of stuff, then ignore this blog. There are plenty of suicide inducing jobs out there for you.

But if you truly love old cartoons and wonder in awe how they could be so beautiful and fun and out of this world with magic, then do the simple lessons I put up here. And forget worrying about style.

Once you learn basics, then you can start being influenced by a wider group of artists because then you can actually understand some of what different artists are doing and apply a bit of their tricks.

Here's another supertalented gal. Brianne has lots of skill and a very personal style. She obviously has mixed together a lot of influences and added her own personality to tie it together so well. I hope I get to work with her some day soon! I think the girls are taking over!

Take it From Shane-and join Cartoon Retro!

Cartoonretro has left a new comment on your post "The Importance Of Having A Lot Of Influences":

When i first started "Cartoon Retro" I sent John a password along with a note telling him that I wouldn't be doing the site if it wasn't for him. I wasn't at Spumco long, but it was a defining moment in my life. It was exciting to find someone else who not only loved old comics, cartoons and movies, but who had an intellectual curiosity about them. John wasn't content to just experience art- he wanted to know how it was done. What were the tools? The thought process? The influences? He analyzed, studied, and interviewed- not just as a fan, but in an attempt to discover the secrets so that they could be applied to his own work, and that of his artists.

THEORY was a big word at Spumco. Don't just copy. Analyze, study, write it down. Explain in words what you are seeing. It's not easy- It uses two conflicting sides of your brain.

When I first discovered the Spumco library I was in heaven. John noticed how much time I was spending in there, and the big stacks of books and binders and videos I was checking out. He called me into to his office- "I'm glad you are taking advantage of the library- but in return I want you to write down what you are learning." He wanted me to make "theory binders"- so that he and other artists could benefit.

John has given you an impressive list here- but it's Important that you realize that this is John's list, one that developed over decades of study and research. Use it as a starting point to find what excites YOU. One of the drawbacks to working at Spumco is that John's personality and taste is so strong that it's hard to not be overwhelmed and only like what John likes. John respects individuality, and I don't think he would want you to unquestioningly parrot his likes and dislikes any more that you should accept every word written by Frank and Ollie.

Be curious, smart and critical. Don't believe everything you read. Develop your eye and your taste. Find what excites you- not because you were told it was good, but because you have a mental (and even better, a physical) reaction to it- and then dig deeper. When I was young I worshipped Frank Frazetta. I would read interviews that discussed Frank's influences and when he mentioned people like Howard Pyle or N.C. Wyeth, I would head to the library and find out who these people were. Artist interviews are my favorite thing in the world, because you have someone you admire telling you who THEY admire. What better education could there possibly be?


P.S.- Join Cartoonretro! ( Just today I posted complete comic stories by two of John's favorites- Milt Gross and Owen Fitzgerald.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Marlo Enters The Ranks With Her First Zombie Crowd

Here it is. Look at it. This is a zombie animal crowd to end 'em all. Why, you'd swear Marlo has actually slept with the dead.

When I first made contact with Ms. Marlo Meekins, she showed me jpgs of her marker caricatures. I said "You have the makings of a cartoon painter. I want to develop you."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Exaggeration - Eatin' On The Cuff (1942)

Here's a nice note from Paul Etcheverry about Bob Clampett:
Hi John -
Heard you gave a fantastic show and in-depth look at the incomparable films of Bob Clampett in Ottawa. I'm glad you got to know Bob and spend time with him; he struck me as a fun guy.
Bob Clampett is very important to me personally. The same day when I met Bob I bought my first 16mm films - PORKY IN WACKYLAND, PORKY'S PREVIEW and PORKY & GABBY. He was uncommonly nice and generous with his time to me, then a goofy 17 year old long-haired rock guitarist obsessed with music and old movies (now I'm the same thing, only 50). He was also very supportive of my efforts to get recognition for animated cartoons as an art form and was the only "Golden Age Of Cartoons" icon I heard say nice things about such lesser known non-Warner Bros. directors as Hugh Harman and Sid Marcus (who produced some absolutely wonderful work in the 30's and 40's, artistic flaws notwithstanding). That said, when I started doing interviews for MINDROT a few years later, I was very surprised - shocked - by the controversy and hard feelings that seemed to surround Bob in the business. It never made sense to me at all; in my conversations with him, if anything Bob was effusive in his praise of other artists, more interested in talking about stuff that inspired him - whether it was the exciting swing music of Duke Ellington or the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Willis O' Brien's innovative stop-motion animation in THE LOST WORLD or Tex Avery's cartoons - than about his own work.
The other thought I would like to convey is how strongly Bob felt about his artistic collaborators. Bob's eyes lit up whenever I said the words Rod Scribner or Manny Gould. He loved these guys! Also got the impression that Bob was tremendously fond of Tex Avery, not only as a groundbreaking director and comic mind but as a person.
So, not only are Bob's films still the best, I'll always have a soft spot for him and am proud to have worked, in collaboration with one of my heroes, the incredible Mark Kausler, on one of the first published filmographies of his work.
Also much enjoyed the blog postings on the early seasons of the Flintstones, still the textbook case on how to do limited animation right, with funny character designs, good acting, solid storylines, excellent music & voice acting and (to quote an obscure Beach Boys song title) good timin'.
Have fun in Canada. The Ottawa Festival looks like a great time.
Your pal,


Monday, September 25, 2006

Acting - Bashful Buzzard (1945) & Baby Bottleneck (1946) McKimson and Scribner

Hey folks, how many of you made it to the shows at the Animation festival? At the Clampett panel, I talked about some of the different talents Clampett had and how he used them in his cartoons. Acting was the first topic. Clampett had the best personality animation of anyone during the Golden Age of Cartoons. Say hi in the comments and tell everyone what they missed!
Here are two examples of 2 different aproaches to animation acting.
Bob McKimson tends to use body poses, attitudes and gestures to convey his characters' emotions. He watches Clampett act out a scene and then draws all of Clampett's motions and gestures. McKimson uses a limited range of expressions-they are kind of generic (not as limited as the other studios)-but the characters' movements are full of personality and meaning.

Rod Scribner on the other hand tends to use very specific custom designed facial expressions. He listens really carefully to the voice track and makes up an original drawn expression for every little nuance he hears. Scribner was completely unique during the golden age of cartoons. I don't know anyone else who did this. He gave me the idea to do it in my cartoons.

Bob McKimson Acting:
Here's a scene from Bashful Buzzard. Note how Mckimson doesn't veer much from the model sheet, but he does so much with the body language that he doesn't really need to. (Actually, I think the model sheet in this case was made from the animation drawings-which is a great idea)

(Model sheet taken from Kevin Langley's GOOBER SLEAVE - thanks Kevin!)

Acting - Bashful Buzzard
Uploaded by chuckchillout8

Rod Scribner

Here's an example of a model sheet of Daffy Duck from 1940:

(This model sheet is from Kevin Langley's GOOBER SLEEVE - thanks Kevin!)

As you can see, the expressions on the model sheet are typically generic 40s cartoon expressions. They are "broad stroke" emotions, and sufficient for general cartoon type production, but not good enough for Clampett. (It looks like a Friz model sheet.)

Now watch Rod Scribner's great animation of Daffy Duck. It still looks like the Daffy on the model sheet, but he is much more alive and real, because he acts as if he is constantly being confronted with new challenges, thoughts and emotions and reacts instantly with unique custom-tailored expressions. Clampett's characters act as if they are motivated from within, as opposed to Chuck's who act as if the director is pushing them around and guiding them to their marks that have been pre-planned on stage.



"Mister Dionne..."


(To see more images from this scene, head on over to DUCK WALK....)

Acting - Baby Bottleneck
Uploaded by chuckchillout8

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Clampett Music - Polar Pals (1939)

Early cartoons were very musical, especially Looney Tunes which by contract had to animate to music owned by Warner Bros. Later, this obligation was removed, but Clampett liked music so much he preserved the tradition more than the other directors.

Many 40s cartoons used background music as sound effects, rather than actually animating to hummable tunes. (Scott Bradley's MGM music is the ultimate example of music not being used as music; instead it just reduntantly echoes the actions in the animation. Try to hum it!) Clampett usually only used sound effects music to link 2 different tunes together.

One of the things Clampett used tunes for was just to put the audience in a good mood and prepare them for the cartoon. Here is a great example of Clampett using really happy, bouncy music for no other reason than to give you pure cartoon fun. What a swell guy! He really loved his audience and always tried to please.
The animation is really happy and totally uses the music to show off what cartoons can do that live action can't. No one at Warner Bros. was more comfortable than Clampett at animating to music. When I watch Friz' few musicals, it looks to me like he is struggling to find actions to fit into the songs. It's very uncomfortable. There will be tons of scenes that aren't very entertaining that are just there to fill in the music. Very awkward-to me, anyway.

Clampett preserved the Fleischer tradition and added his own brand of wackiness to it. The Fleischers did the best musical cartoons ever.

Notice how all this cuteness and young hearted playfullness ends with a sick joke! Good old Bob!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Timing/Pacing - A Tale Of Two Kitties (1942)

Here's a sample of one of the many clips Marc Deckter has prepared for me to show how incredible Bob Clampett is tomorrow at the Ottawa festival.

When the historians talk about Clampett, they really don't understand the vocabulary of animation, let alone animation direction well enough to really describe his achievements.

They usually grudgingly give him credit for 2 things: surrealism and being "wild". Well, he is both those things but he is also a master at every other animation principle and incorporates ideas from other mediums as well.

I think he is by far the best animation director when it comes to timing and pacing. He can cram more ideas and information into a second of film than any other director in history. He not only fills every scene with info, he makes it all read clearly!

This crazy sequence from Tale Of Two Kitties shows just how well he can take an idea and build it and make it get more and more exciting through quick cutting, tighter and tighter shots, great music, contrasts in the angles and scene lengths and stunning animation. He weaves together all these separate disciplines to give you a sensory experience no other medium can provide-and no one else in his own medium.

Bob is in a total class of his own. There are cartoons-the most creative art form in history, and then there is another medium even more inventive and fun than cartoons-The Bob Clampett Cartoon.

Come down to the National Arts Center in Ottawa tomorrow at 4:00 and I'll show you lots more of what makes his cartoons so great.

Then at 7:00, come back and watch film prints of his best cartoons. See what is possible in an animated cartoon when you let truly creative people do what they were put on this earth to do!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bob Clampett Retrospective in Ottawa Sept 23 -next weekend!

Hey folks get out to Ottawa next weekend to see a great show of Bob Clampett's best cartoons-on film!

I'll be there, and I'm gonna do a pre-show "workshop" panel and show clips all about what Bob Clampett does better than anybody.


Cuteness and Sickness at the same time


"The workshop is a complement to the Bob Clampett retrospective we are doing at the Festival this year. It's scheduled for Saturday, September 23, 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm at the National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage. The space holds 150 people and it will likely be busy because it's at a good time slot. Here is the description: John Kricfalusi presents: The Genius of Bob Clampett Legendary Looney Toons animator, Bob Clampett, has been a tremendous influence on Ren and Stimpy creator, John K, and many other animators and artists. Find out why in this presentation from some of Clampett’s biggest fans, including John K himself."

After the Clampett Show, I have a retrospective too and I'll show some old and new stuff and tell behind the scenes stories.

Meet the wonderfully talented Jessica Borutski! And her partner Chris Dainty-make him pitch a dirty cartoon to you!

Nick Cross!

Kristy Gordon and many other top Ottawa talents!

Jessy's "I Like Pandas" and Nick's new film are playing back to back in a tribute to Ottawa Animators over the past 65 YEARS. Be there!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I want you to love Carlo Vinci