Monday, February 05, 2007

The rise and fall of Construction in cartoons Pt 2 - 1940s - honing the same principles, adding style

I'm purposely putting a lot of effort into these principles posts in the hopes of inspiring animation students, to give you more tools to create with, to make your future career easier and more creatively rewarding. I see a lot of students - even very talented ones who are great at life drawing, being lured by the modern trend of "designy" flat unprincipled drawings.

I was surprised and impressed at a Cal Arts art show a couple weeks ago to see some really observant 3 dimensional life drawings and reaized that if the students wanted to, they could actually apply this ability and thought to their cartoon drawings.

I don't know how anybody with a good eye could not be totally inspired by the sheer draftsmanship and control of all these great drawings below.

I hope it inspires you to spend your school time methodically aquiring the most powerful skills you can. You will have plenty of time to develop a "style" later - after you've spent your hundred thousand bucks at school. Make that investment pay off now! When you have skills, you will realize how much more important they are than superficial style. Once you're out working for the man, you won't have the time or youthful energy you have now. Take advantage of it so you can be great!-John

"Women are the best judges of anything we turn out. Their taste is very important. They are the theatre-goers, they are the ones that drag the men in. If the women like it, the heck with the men."- Walt Disney, from Wisdom 1959

Disney's forte: really cute, appealing and well constructed drawings reached their pinnacle of execution in the 1940s.

Disney perfected general animation principles in the 1940s. Good principles are not a "style."
Warner Bros. APPLIED the principles to specific individual characters and styles.


Honing The Principles

A pretty generic design of Mickey using strong drawing and animation principles.

The 1940s animators didn't make earth shattering progress or discoveries in animation drawing, especially at Disney. The animators mainly polished the principles they learned so fast in the 1930s.

In the process, the extreme attention to these principles created a generic cliche ridden style that has passed down to us today, only now without the principles of good drawing, staging and posing.

Many of Disney's supercial cliches are still used today (only not drawn as well), probably without many animators even knowing where they came from.
Disney painted his characters in the most general terms. Someone is good or evil, nice or stupid or wacky, but no specifically defined individual version of any of these general types. He wanted the audience to project their own personalities onto the characters on screen and experience the adventure, rather than witness the adventures of specific original individuals. The Disney character designs reflect that generic attitude.

They are very well drawn, but all made up of the same basic simple shapes. But the animators can move these simple shapes in amazing ways.

Instead of moving animation to the next level of creating specific characters with individual looks and expressions and personalities, Disney used his creativity to
polish what his animators already knew how to do while giving his crew more difficult technical problems to solve.

How to animate animal anatomy, how to control crowds, how to make water look more realistic, how to shoot more levels under the multi plane camera.

Slight Variations In Proportions, less organic
The animators, surely bored by now of having to animate such a bland cartoon character for 10 years, cautiously played a bit with Mickey's proportions, probably to drum up some interest for their work.
Some of Moore and Kimball and others' work is really pretty to look at, because of the strong principles and the slight stylistic tweaks.The great appeal in the drawing above is an appeal of admiration for great control of principles, lost things of the past. It looks magic because no one can do it anymore.

The expressions are general. Disney animators found a formula for how to draw a mouth attached to the cheeks and used exaggerated squash and stretch rather than specific expressions that could define their characters' personalities.

This kind of facial mugging looks like chewing gum to me. It doesn't attempt to match the distinct inflections you hear in the voice actors' dialogue. The Disney animators created formula designs and movements for each phonetic sound and assigned them routinely for decades to come.

Pinocchio is a design made of principles alone with a tiny suggestion a bit of angularity tossed in to give it some modern appeal. He isn't an individual, he instead represents all boys. It is designed to move easily in 3 dimensions, an impressive feat for sure. Generic but well done.Beautiful examples of solid general principles working together

Pinocchio's construction is stock "baby" structure. It's the same construction as Elmer, Porky, Sody Pop, Red Hot Riding Hood, Peter Pan, Wart and a zillion other characters.

You could give this structure different shaped eyes, or a unique mouth or any kind of specific details to make the character these.These quick doodles all have baby structure but have specific features attached to them. Katie gets ideas by drawing caricatures of real people and then applies the ideas to cartoon principles. Of course it's harder to animate specific designs, but we need something new to strive for!
Caricature is your best friend! Break habits the easy way...draw your friends and family.

Here is the same structure in the same movie, but with added specific touches that add up to verrry cute.

Lampwick here is less solid than Pinocchio but has a clear line of action. His generic bullying is easy to read. He has stock baby head structure too.

Stromboli is very solid in still drawings, but moves like rubber bags filled with jello.
His acting is practically non-existent. He has a generic blustering action where he shakes his arms in the air and wobbles his cheek sacs. In almost every scene!

This blustery action, as simple and generic as it is has become the standard action for every other fat villain in Disney history.

The routine at Disney's seems to be:
Everyone wants to please Walt because he is a scary man.

When they do something that finally pleases him, they repeat that action every time there is a similar situation in successive films. It's safer than risking something new that might displease him.

That's why you see the same movements, expressions and gestures in every Disney feature...and every Bluth feature and Cal Arts film and Pixar feature. (Although, now and then Pixar adds some new expressions and actions-as in the great shark animation in Nemo.)

These stock movements have come down to us all because someone wanted to please a very bland man in the 1930s, 40s or 50s.

Animators today-some probably without even knowing it, subconsciously pull out these stock movements and expressions and glue them onto their scenes, not because they thought about what could be happening in an interesting way in the scene, but because "That's the way you animate someone saying no."

Here's a specific character...It's kinda hard to go wrong with Hitler. He is the ultimate cartoon character.

These general characters are loose and fun and full of strong animation principles.
The 40s characters get more streamlined than the late 30s characters. Less overlap, less curves, a bit simpler, more conservative.

Generic but well structured whale.
Here's an interesting design. This approaches the way pretty girl artists in magazines drew. I'm gonna guess it's Milt Kahl, but I'm not sure. It's a beautiful design with complex structure-she actually has a defined jaw and chin under some skin and tricky eye shapes. This would be very hard to animate if you didn't have extreme drawing skill.

Compare it to this awkward and completely unstructured girl that melted and deformed all over the screen a few years ago:
What's more appealing?

I believe wholeheartedly in construction and other powerful skills, but there was a danger at least at Disney's in being ONLY concerned in skills, so concerned with the general that they drifted into extreme blandness by never tackling the specific.

Good construction but with even proportions and no specific design elements or human expression equals this monstrosity:

The Disney animators-had they worked under a more creative and observant student of human nature could have gone on to the next level to discover acting and specific expressions and poses and specific designs, but that was left for the Warner Bros. animators and directors to do.

To take Chuck Jones for example:

His early cartoons looked more like general animation principles without specific individual design elements, but he quickly developed not only a specific signature look of his own, but also very specific character designs.

This is an amazing design. The coyote is made of up strong constrasting shapes and curves and straights, rather than simple balls and pears, yet all these more complex visual ideas follow the same logical and effective animation principles that the more general Disney designs do.
You couldn't draw the coyote if you didn't already draw fundamentals well.

Here are two chracters that are both a general type: tough strong military men, yet they are two different specific characters that fit into the broader category.
Disney never went past the broad categories into specific individual variations of the type.

Chuck Jones's acting could also be very specific. This Dad character is really funny because of how human his reactions are, His whole body attitude tells you how he is trying to keep from exploding over the antics of his (he thinks) retarded family. Jones doesn't merely present his jokes like today's cartoon sitcoms; he emphasizes them and makes them much funnier by the very specific emotions he draws into his characters. ...using construction, line of action, hierarchy etc.

Jones was the king of lummox design. You would think a lummox is a general type, but Jones had a million ways of drawing them.
This extremely specific design may look like a different style than the more generic rounded drawing below, but both drawings use the same exact strong principles. You couldn't draw this vampire if you didn't understand how Stromboli works.If you learn to draw the basic animation principles of the 1940s, you'll be able to draw almost any style you like. Everything else will seem easy. Anime, Batman, Ren and Stimpy, Sponge Bob, Samurai Jack are all offshoots of this great era of skill.