Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Walt Disney

"Animation is different from other parts. Its language is the language of caricature. Our most difficult job was to develop the cartoon's unnatural but seemingly natural anatomy for humans and animals."

A caricature is a drawing that is based on observation of something's specific distinct features. A caricature artist has to have a good eye for what makes something or someone look different than others of its kind. What makes this man unique from all other men?
What makes a rabbit unique from a skunk?
These caricatures are by Marlo Meekins. She really has a gift for this ability.
When you caricature, you have to abandon your preconceived notions of how things look. You have to be let your model show you what a nose looks like, or whether the space between the eyes is close or far.

A caricaturist should really be wary of developing a style.
Or worse, to steal a famous caricaturist's style. How many Al Hirschfeld and Mort Drucker clones have you seen? Are any of them as good as the originals?

When you try to emulate a famous caricaturist's "style" you are undermining the usefulness of doing a caricature. Now you have to filter what your subject looks like through "Gee, now how would Al interpret this person?" So you are not really getting the most of what you can from the subject. The subject is the style.

Of course there are tons of bad caricaturists-you see them at the theme parks usually. They draw everyone to look the same and just change the hair. These aren't really caricatures.

Caricature is really important in animation because animation tends so much to reuse designs from the past and the whole assembly line process of animation allows a succession of artists to retrace the first artist in line's initial pose or expression. And each time it gets traced it gets toned down a bit until the actual drawing that appears on the screen doesn't reflect the animator's idea. How many animators have complained about getting a bad assistant who tones down her or his work? I even hate tracing my own rough drawings because I myself tone down my first sketch.


An underture is the opposite of a caricature.

It takes out specific features. An underture is a drawing that says nothing about the character it portrays. It is the absence of opinion or definition.

Undertures are less interesting than real life.

Here are some famous undertures from animation:

These are considered subtle and "realistic", when actually they are neither. Real people have distinguishing features and subtleties. Nobody looks like this. It's neither cartoon, nor real. It's just nothing. It's no ideas, an excuse for not having to create anything.

Now, I'm ready for the few of you who will rush to justify characters like this. There'll be some reason like, "Well, John those are the HEROIC characters! They have to be subtle and bland and have no distinguishing features."

Milt Kahl would disagree with you. He hated animating the Prince and any kind of "realistic" characters. He wanted to go back to fun stuff like Br'er Fox and I agree with him.

Now, here are some real life heroic characters from the movies.None of these characters (well maybe the last one) are bland-either in look, or in personality.

Do they have distinguishing features? Would you rather watch a movie with stars that you can't recognize because they have no faces?

Even heroic or "handsome" characters can have distinguishing features:

Here's an underture of the most beloved leading man in the movies. It's less specific than the actual man himself in real life.
The same thing applies to female characters. Here are some undertures.
Here's Mary Blair's version of Alice. It's still bland, but a lot more interesting graphically than what they settled for in the movie.
Sleeping Beauty is very well drawn, but has no distinguishing features. The angles give her some graphic interest, but as a character she is not remotely interesting. Every girl you know in real life is more interesting than this.
Maleficent has some mildly specific features, at least compared to the average animated humans. She has a pointy chin and a hooked nose and big heavy lidded eyes.

Here's a real life beautiful person.

Our real lives are filled with potential inspiration for our cartoons. We don't have to have bland characters if we choose not to. I mean, why are we cartoonists in the first place? To tone down real life?

Even general types can be caricatured.

Here's what babies look like:

Here's an "animation baby".
It's as if the artist had never seen a real baby. He just copied some other animator's baby who copied a previous one who copied a previous one.....

I used to caricature babies all the time because they are so funny looking. I wish I had some to post. Maybe Eddie can find a couple for me.

Here are some Undertures to collect and trade: