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.


Charlie J. said...

Thank you so much for all this knowledge!
I'm gonna go copy tom and jerry now!

Jamie said...

Awesome post John!
I really enjoy seeing all these examples and learning from them so thanks. I just started practicing the preston blair drawings so if you have a chance I put some up in my blog.

Josh Lieberman said...

awesome post
thanks John.

Kali Fontecchio said...

A true testament to good construction! This is layed out so plain and clear; this really helps!
Thank you so much!

What a wonderful quote from Walt, and yourself, hahaha!

Julián höek said...

hi john, i have a print lots of avery's model sheets, blairs books pages and other you recomend all the time and i copy the every time i can, even at work i was doing the knight from the reluctant dragon and the animation direction cought me red handed and they really went mad!! they took me to the produccion cheaf office and scream at me. i even have to show them the disney model sheet and the no more than 5 minutes sketch i was doing so they understand it was no big deal!!! it was a hard moment in deeed! would you punish an employee at spumco for taking five minutes to do a sketch in the corner of the paper??

a question: how much time of the day do you think we should spend copyng from the 40's cartoons? 80% copying 20% doing my own characters? i don't mean the hole day couse we have work to do. at least i work 8 hour doing asistance and inbetweens and i'm trying to lear as much as i can but in my own time if i draw 4 hours for example how would you sugest me to use them to take the most advantege out of them? 1 hour of clasical cartoons, 1 hour of puting a character in some perspective? 1 hour inventing posible lay outs to aply the principles and 1 hour to do human anatomy?
it was an idea that came to mi mind. there is so much cool stuff to lear my mind is going crazy!!
what's your advice?

thank for everything!

William said...

Well worth the wait. Thanks John! I hope you realize how applicable this stuff is outside of just cartoons and animation. It's the best art lessons I've ever read since Bridgemans, I'm not just kissing your ass here.

William said...

And it is fascinating how much Walt Disney was a scary, convicted asshole has affected 20th century art.

kurdt said...

I read a really good book when I was a kid, It was an autobiography of this Children's book illustrator named Bill Peet, who worked for Disney for a bit but got fired for refusing to draw the same pictures of Donald Duck over and over! John, I noticed you had a picture from the book in your post about storyboarding. I remember it fondly and wish I still had it. This post made me remember it for some reason.

Brian said...

you know after seeing the setup for the 'cute' character it seems like Anime is a bastardization of that style. Though now I'm seeing the very poor animation and low quality construction.

Oddly enough it's still better then Disney.

S.G.A said...

wow , thank you, amazing stuff.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

I really love those Chuck Jones characters.

I don't really care said...

There are quite a number of pics not showing up, at least not for me. Hate to miss anything.

JohnK said...

...all the pics are there. Blogger is just playing tricks on us.

Max Ward said...

Best post yet. I could listen to you talk about 40s cartoons for hours.

Max Ward said...

When we are drawing generic characters copied from cartoons, should we worry about drawing a perfectly symmetrical circle as a head, since it is a habit we shouldn't be getting into anyways? I am not saying I draw Mickey and Donald with a really oblong oval as a head, but I don't think it is perfectly symmetrical.

JohnK said...

Hi Max

don't overthink it.
Just copy good drawings and absorb.

Brian said...

John K your one of the few artists who encourages copying to learn.
I've met alot of artists who take it badly. Usually those are the first artists who start screaming copyright.

Aso for these lessons they're so good. I can't wait till you start talking about the animation decline and the rise of anime.

JohnK said...

well I won't be talking about the rise of Anime. I don't know much about that.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Unbelievable! The mother of all animation posts! many thanks!

BTW, I didn't get all the pictures either. If it's Blogger's fault mnaybe thy'll be up by tomorrow.

Rodrigo said...

But what about Astro Boy!!!? You bum!

No, but seriously, this post is ridiculously awesome. I'm inspired. John, you rock.

I was looking into the admission page at Cal Arts and Ringling, but there's no way I could ever afford that kind of schooling. What advice would you give to someone who can't go to these schools, but is impassioned with animation?

David Germain said...

I always knew I worshipped Chuck Jones' work for a reason ( and ESPECIALLY his Wile E. Coyote character). Now I have it phrased so elequently thanks to this blog. Keep doing your thing, man.

RoboTaeKwon-Z said...

Great post, John. I've not seen these designs compared and anlyzed in such a simple clear fashion before. Great examples!
Not to beat a dead horse, but I can't see a bunch of the images either. Damned blogger.

Mad Taylor said...

Wow John, thank you. Oh and me if I found this post 4 years ago I would have reconsidered college. You might as well go to a cheap school just so you can complete higher education. Study something easy, you can also still get art education at a cheap school too. Major in animation on your own time with the help of John's blog and ASIFA Archive. Here I am 4 years and a for-real $100,000 later and realizing I got about 1/4 the education in animation John has given me in just 6 months. If you want to learn about art go for it, but you don't have to pay out the ass.

cableclair said...

"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."

Because a picture says more than a 1000 words...
Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat

Anonymous said...

A lot of the pictures are missing for me :/

BadIdeaSociety said...

Will we ever see a post where you point out some of the hidden gems (or garbage born of oppression) you scribbled into many my generations mediocre and downright terrible cartoons (Filmation Tom and Jerry, The Jetsons, The Smurfs, etc)

reane nadina said...

so much information and knowledge in this post..

thank you john

Vladimir Bellini said...

great great material!!!!
amazing images, and i love que disney quote about the women judgementt!!!



i am an starting animator, if you can, please watch my 1st animation. its called "the crane and the giraffe" and its about a love story between a lonely port crane and a cute giraffe:

in contact,, great to discover your bloggggg!!!!!! :DDDD!!!!!!
thanks for your share, images, and this great bloggggg!

vladimir. (from bsas argentina)

Timothy Merks said...

Yeah this is brilliant, everything that I should be learning to do. Thanks John!

I think where Chuck Jones directed well was all in the before action rather than the action itself. Just those brief moments of when Wile would realise his trap has gone wrong or yeah that father bear waiting for his son to so something stupid. You see it all in the face, I love that stuff.

ChristopherC said...

John, I'm glad you are not going to talk about Anime, I just don't get it , I know it's a style but I don't see the attraction. Most of the animation is almost stop motion like.

Chloe Cumming said...

Thank you for taking the time to cover this subject so thoroughly. I do feel I've had extra... dimensions, literally, added to my understanding of drawing based on the information in this blog...

Increasingly it feels like since we live in a post-Looney Tunes... post-CARTOON era it would be silly not to take advantage of all those creative pinnacles. And I mean, just in my understanding of what drawing is, whether or not it's actually applied to cartoons. This stuff is simply too good to ignore, and you've helped me to see that with much more clarity.

It's too easy to coast on just 'having a good eye'. Construction is HARD to learn. But the good kind of hard that makes the whole process have so much more meaning... struggles... goals...challenges. And it's so rewarding when there's even a sniff of having made tangible progress.

And it's nice to put together all these familiar images that we lazily think we understand, to make some workable theories... I mean, I had observed the fact of Stromboli wobbling about like jelly. Jello, I mean. But without your spelling it out, I would never quite have been able to recognise what the shortcomings of that might be, or that this was the beginning of principles elevated to an end rather than a means to an end.... and yet, the importance of understanding those principles before trying anything clever. It's humbling, in a good way.

Rodrigo said...

Thanks, Taylor. I appreciate the insight. :)

I just crave for something a little more right now. I currently copy model sheet after model sheet, I do life drawings, I caricature my friends and profs, but I wish I had some more direction with actual moving pictures. I know a bit about timing, but it just came through by screwing around with Flash.

John, I hope you are considering posting something related to how to make broad cartoon actions, slow and fast, read correctly, or about those small nuanses that really polish an action up.

Ms. Jane D'oh said...

hysterical AND informative posts.

Jessica Bayliss said...

Thanks for all the hard work. These principle posts are really helpful. Great examples. They may just save the next generation of animators.

he said said...

Speaking of anime, I'm trying to subtly goad my nephews into liking funny cartoons instead of the unfunny violent anime that is on every channel. Preston Blair helps and so does Fantasia, but nothing is quite as enchanting as violence that's funny too and nothing has funnier violence than the old Warner Bros stuff.

Jenny said...

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.

It's a design by Fred Moore, who also animated this girl along with (I think)Ken O'Brien).
Fred had by this time done a lot of squaring off of some of his angles on his women--in fact, you can see it in all his drawings and doodles. Anyway, it's Fred's.

Great posting! I too wish all those damn images would show up.

JohnK said...

Hi Jenny

thanks for the info.

All the images are there, by the way.

The ghost rectangles are just some strange thing that Blogger did. You aren't missing anything.

Anibator said...

"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."

Now THIS I agree with wholeheartedly.
A lot of young artists assume that Picasso always painted in an abstracted fashion, but the fact is that he had mastered all of the representational disciplines first, THEN went on to abstraction and cubism.
Ever seen those caricature artists who sit around in theme parks and wonder why their caricatures are so horrible? It's because they don't know how to draw from life let alone caricature it. They learned some cookie-cutter method for drawing lame caricatures with big heads.
How can you abstract or caricature reality if you don't understand it?

The same is true for animation. If you watch closely, you can easily differentiate between an animator who works in an abstract style but has a solid foundation in construction (because their scenes have weight and mass and form) and some lazy kid who just watched lots of "Dexter's Lab" and copies it hoping to be the next flash-in-the-pan rockstar cartoonist.

cemenTIMental said...

John, really great post!!! Very true about the unfortunate legacy of animators trying to please Walt! :)

John, I'm glad you are not going to talk about Anime, I just don't get it , I know it's a style
ChristopherC, you certainly don't get it. It's not a style, for a start...

I too am glad John's not going to talk about Japanese animation tho. He has the decency to admit that it's not an area he's very knowledgable about, which is a refreshing change and something that the internet needs more of! Most people will happily give you their authorative opinion on anime or any other thing they know nothing whatsoever about!

Raff said...

Amazing examples and discussion!

>> It's a beautiful design with complex structure-she actually has a defined jaw and chin under some skin and tricky eye shapes. <<

My favorite. I've been trying to get my head around that kind of design for a while.

I should draw more Mickey!

p.s. Are you going to discuss the cartoon wire skeleton
in the future, and describe the process of composing a pose from imagination? That would be great.

Gabriel said...

you know what bugs me? Even when doing a well constructed 3d drawing, you still have to think about some 2d aspects, like silhouette and negative spaces. Those are obviously in the 'shape' realm, but i find it hard to think about that and about 3d objects at the same time. Often i end up paying more attention to one than to the other, that is, the character is well constructed but the pose might not read well. And i won't even mention line of action!

Anibator said...

"Even when doing a well constructed 3d drawing, you still have to think about some 2d aspects"

that's what pisses me off about the term "3-D animation"... it's not 3-D unless it's a hologram or a live puppet show... if you're watching it on a screen, it's 2-D.

I also loathe the terms "computer animation" or "flash animation"... again, there's no such thing... no matter how advanced the program is, there's still a person animating it.

the media loves to make the masses think that all of these awful CGI features were made by computers... but, sadly, they were made BY humans WITH computers.

sad, pitiful, flawed humans.

Thad K said...

One of the many things I love about all of Chuck Jones' work, regardless even if it's his dreary early cartoons or his pretentious Tom & Jerry cartoons, they always have amazingly strong drawings. You definitley can't say the same about Freleng or McKimson or even Clampett.

It's interesting to see all of those wonderful drawings by the Disney artists when they are regularly bashed on this blog.

I'm a little perplexed though, at why the drawing by Katie Rice is there. It looks like a doodle, and it leaves me cold compared to all of those beautiful Disney and Warner cartoon images.

Philip said...

Very well put, thanks for the post.

Muppet Pro said...

So John, what your showing us is that when cartoonists from way back when used proper contrustion, it have them a more flexable 3D look to it. But things became more simpler in contruction and there for the fall, right?

Okay, I wanna see if I got it right.

And I totally argree that Hitler is the ultimute cartoon Character.

You got to laugh at your ememies people, the total oppisite of what the ememies want from you (fear).
Just look at what Mel Brooks did.

Hey John, you working on The George Liquor Movie? Will he be making more of those delisious bacon balls? _Eric ;)

ZSL said...


Stromboli is kinda scary looking when he's just pencil drawings. Even scarier than he is in the film. :S

I wonder if I still have my Pinocchio VHS somewhere?

JohnK said...

>>they always have amazingly strong drawings. You definitley can't say the same about Freleng or McKimson or even Clampett.<<

Well I wouldn't say that about many Freleng cartoons.

"why the drawing by Katie Rice is there. It looks like a doodle, and it leaves me cold compared to all of those beautiful Disney and Warner cartoon images.<<

They are doodles, like I said. Even so they have far more design sense than any of the Disney drawings and any other drawings of girls I have seen in any animated cartoons ever. She is by far the most original designer of pretty girls in cartoon history. I've seen her routinely invent 10 new designs in a week.

Are you an artist Thad? Your opinions sound like you must be pretty accomplished. Share some of your drawings with us.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Thad: Katie's great! the drawings are so "girly", so full of happy energy. I also like them because they cry out for animation that has the same happy quality. If I were an animator I'd be delighted to get something as inspiring and challenging as this.

Stephen Worth said...

As a design, Donald is just a generic duck. He needs an annoying voice and sailor suit to give him personality. The annoying voice and red shorts don't help Mickey much. But Katie's drawings of girls are the definition of "specific characters". You look at them, and you know exactly who they are and what their personality is. They don't require costumes or voices or props or anything else to convey their unique character.

See ya

Gabriel said...

that's what pisses me off about the term "3-D animation"... it's not 3-D unless it's a hologram or a live puppet show... if you're watching it on a screen, it's 2-D.

I totally agree with you. I don't know if i made myself clear, when i said 3d drawing i meant a normal pencil and paper drawing built with construction, as opposed to a 'flat' drawing.


About Katie's drawing, what does being doodles have to do with quality? Aren't we all sick of polished up crap?

eric said...

Posts like this make me wish I never dropped out of cartoon school.

Talking about strong life drawing - how much importance do you put on that kind of practice? I'd love to see some of your own observational drawings as an addition to the cartoon/caricature posts.

BrandonPierce said...

Good lord, where did you get those old Disney Drawings? Particularly the one with the Fox and Cat from Pinocchip?

OT- Hey John, a friend of mine was informed by Mitch Schauler (creator of Angry Beavers) that Nickelodeon is making a book covering all the shows they've produced, and interviewing the show's creators. Has Nickelodeon interviewed you yet on Ren & Stimpy?

Anibator said...

Sometimes a 'generic-ness' is useful depending on what you want your character to accomplish.
Mickey Mouse ceased to be a 'character' a long time ago... for good or ill, he's an 'icon'... he's basically the "Have a Nice Day" smiley-face with black ears. Sure, it's generic - but you can basically put Mickey in ANY kind of situation or ANY kind of outfit (fireman, policeman, etc.) and viewers will accept it entirely.
I happen to find generic characters boring, but they do serve a purpose sometimes.
Mickey's pupose is no longer to be a character, but to be an avatar that pretty much anybody can associate with.

Kali Fontecchio said...

Katie is my female hero! I guess that would be heroine then...

boob said...

Really great post John. All great stuff. Katie's doodles too.

Here's what gets me:
I understand the importance of life drawing and learning about volumes and shapes. Having things wrap around and solid construction. I agree with all of that. I think it can improve everyone's work and I agree that we're not seeing that in today's cartoons.

But you know, I kinda like the flat stuff too. That pic of Mulan is pretty nice! Sometimes limited animation makes me laugh. There's some AMAZING anime out there even if it's only a technical marvel (who the hell has the patience to animate fighting robots spinning and falling in space with explosions all around on 1's)

Man, I can appreciate everything on some level or another. Triplets of Belville's colors were poop and pea colors but I thought it was good! For whatever reason I thought it fit.

And when I sit down to draw, the only person I'm really trying to please is me. And if that's the case, I'll draw however I want to feel good. Sometimes my perspective is "wonky" on purpose. Sometimes my stuff is horribly flat but I'm attracted to the simple flat shapes that contridict each other. Sometimes I'm just trying to compose the lines nicely and not worried about the dimensionality. I like Samurai Jack just as much I like the animation in Baloo's dance in Jungle Book. Sometimes I want this very round dimensional character and sometimes that takes time and I'm selfish and want to have a fun drawing right now!

Man I just like good work.

There's a lot of Flash animation these days and when it's done well I really like it. I'm just drawn to the snappiness of it. I'm not about to renounce the nine old men for birthing the principles of animation though.

Art is subjective.

I love Tom and Jerry, but I loathe the episodes that were done in Chezkslovakia on a shoe string budget with the worbly sound effects. That's just my own taste. Maybe someone out there loves 'em.

...Man I hope this doesn't sound too preechy - "we should all love everything!"

I guess there's a lot I like about Spumco's work and things that you've done and sometimes you'll use an image or make a comparison where I'm like, "oh...but I appreciate the multiple outline, shadow, light, and highlight pass in Danny Phantom (in certain scenes) even though I don't dig the design that much."

And there's a certain level of involvement with stylized flat stuff. Balancing things is tricky no matter what the style/artistic upbringing.

I went to school for 3D animation and hated it. Toy Story was coming out. I learned very early that I just don't like thinking in 3D. I can think it, but it's not fun. I've just gravitated a different direction. And sometimes my art is flatter because of how I think.

Maybe I'm just a soft sap tryin' to find the good in everything really, and sometimes I feel like I'm being brainwashed.

Regardless, I can't deny the greatness of this post.

Corey said...

Very informative. Each new post like this helps. It's also good to hear you say at least something positive about animation students.

Roberto González said...

I'm glad to see so many Make Mine Music framegrabs, it's actually my favourite Disney movie and nobody seems to know about it, especially here in Spain. I especially love the "All The Cats Join In" segment. Pretty sexy teenagers in that segment. I also love that jazzy little segment with the music instruments.

I'd love to print each picture you post every week, but I'd spend a fortune in ink for my printer!

akira said...

whoa! another awesome post, dr. k! maybe you should slow down so you don't burn out. i want this blog to keep going at least until i'm dead!

i guess the book company executives are idiots, too, because it's unbelievable that they aren't (as far as i know)publishing your writings. even though you offer it here free to the world, i'd buy a hard copy just for safe keeping!

thanks again for the free edumacation!

J. J. Hunsecker said...

"As a design, Donald is just a generic duck. He needs an annoying voice and sailor suit to give him personality. The annoying voice and red shorts don't help Mickey much."

Mickey Mouse is definitely a generic design, since it's basically Oswald the Lucky Rabbit as a mouse, and Oswald was based on Felix the Cat to begin with. But I disagree with you about Donald Duck. He was a slicker design for the mid-30's. That alone makes him stand out among the competition of the time. His streamlined, pearshaped construction was copied many times after that, but it was once unique -- even if the fog of time has clouded all that.

PCUnfunny said...

"Has Nickelodeon interviewed you yet on Ren & Stimpy?"

BAH,HA,HA! My dear Brandon,I suggest you do some research.

"Sometimes a 'generic-ness' is useful depending on what you want your character to accomplish."

That is true. Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd fill in these types of roles but to keep them from being boring,they were given certain quirks. Mickey Mouse is also generic but he is boring,there nothing funny about him at all. He is too nice to be funny.

Ted said...

Did you directly use de sebben dwarf design for Jimmy in Jimmy's Impossible Accidents, or did it just happen that using the underlying theories resulted in some similarities?
In these images from one scene,
Jimmy exhibits some of the same physical characteristics. The droopy eyes in the left image, and the mouth shape, ears and tooth (and the nose to an extent, tho Jimmy's is more complicated).

Anonymous said...

damn great post, John! i'm soaking it all in!

the plummer said...

oh god, how about comparing the skill of disney, as simple as it was back then, in say - Bambi, to a modern-day equivalent, in say - Bambi 2 (stifles laughter). The drop in draftsmanship and anatomical knowledge and skill recently makes one's head spin.

today we're plagued by design and no understanding.

Thunderrobot(aka Chet) said...

Hey John,

Im still having trouble with construction and i was wondering if you could help me out. Im trying to figure out how to construct RHS and its killing me. His head is not circular at all and i just cant figure out how on earth to construct him. Ill post a wacom drawing of him soon and i would really appreciate it if you told me how to construct him.

I have been practicing the Preston Blair examples and have gotten pretty good at it, so know im trying to apply it to my own characters, instead of his.

Some of those chuck jones drawings are really confusing me, especially the two army guys and the vampire, how are they constructed? i cant see how he built those drawings up.

Hannah Stockdale said...

Thanks a million!
And I gotta say, you sure do know a whole lot! Which is fantastic, we need people like you to show us young whippersnappers the ropes of the animation biz. Keep it up!

Mitch K said...

Superb article! I'm saving it. It's great to hear an alternative to what is normally taught.

Anonymous said...

John, have you seen that Animation Archive just posted a scan of Disney's old Animator Tryout Book? It seems to totally fit with a lot of what you've been saying on your weblog, in particular on this post.

Brian said...

Anime is kind of a cool subject it starts to shoot off of the 30's and 40's cartoons. They go through a similar rise and fall like american cartoons. As much as they are affecting our current animation standards, we're affecting thiers.

CaveMatt said...

Amazing post! A shame Disney sort of froze up on the personalities. Guess that's why I never really appreciated their stuff as much as the Warners, Fleisher, Lantz and MGM stuff.

Could you post some stuff about Terrytoons some time? I remember seeing some stuff(mighty mouse and heckle and jeckle) when I was really young and I've never seen it since. I read on ASIFA about Carlo Vinci working there and I saw the youtube clip of the gypsy dance. AMAZING! Why aren't these cartoons available?

Again, thanks for continuing the great posts.

Te-Xuan-Ze said...

Besides to say that I liked the subject, I want to ask something, you use some program to animate or only the old art of sixteen drawings per second? or exists something simpler that that? I want to know. Thus I save a little work in this story of the animation.

R2K said...

Hi I just wanted to invite you to participate in my 3rd Caption Contest:


Anonymous said...

I see what your talking about Charles's character designs. Having the good fundamentals down pat first, really does help with the complex characters.

He really can express emotions through his drawings.

Not just standard emotions. Instead of sad, happy or mad. His emotions read like, sad with a twist of sorrow and heartache, Happy with a shot of pure mind blowing excitement and mad with a soul boiling in venom and malice.

Rod Scribner Project said...

Hey John,

This post was inspiring as always. People have talked about how you should write a book on animation, and you're sort of doing it now, which is excellent.

Anyway, my alterior motive for this post is I was wondering if you could check on a possible Scribner mislabeling ( Or you can just answer it on here if you know the information offhand. Do you know if the dog scene from baby bottleneck ("Listen jackson I got a brand new invention that will speed up production one billion percent!") is by Rod Scribner? Someone posted that it might be Manny Gould and I have seen you identify a Gould scene and was wondering if you knew the answer. Actually, if anyone else knows the answer, let me know! Thanks a lot.

(sorry this isn't really related to anything I just didn't know how to get ahold of you)

IZA said...

Aww Inspiring Stuff John!!! So Great, and it really makes me not only want to excel at all these areas, but to help my fellow up and coming animation buddies do the same!!! Thanks again John!!!

Rodrigo said...

Hey John,

I don't know if you remember, but I had mentioned working on a project in my non-animation school, taking a group of proficient classically trained artists and having them animate some short shorts.

Anyway, I've got a good team of people, and I'm giving them a crash course in animation using your tutorials simultaneously presenting the 12 principles according to the "Illusion of Life."

I thought you might like to see this unfold, as we all have near to no animation experience, but are going in head first with your tutorials around our necks.

I'll post some work up eventually so perhaps you can have a looksie at our progress.

Keep us chugging on, John. :)

fabiopower said...

Hello John… I am trying to find you by different ways. Would like much you could give I me an answer. From Chile, we are analyzing the possibility that you come to our country to give a conference about the cartoons. Previously you had said to me that you would be arranged to travel to South America if the economic means exist to do it… Then, this is a serious proposal, but that still needs analysis. For that, we must count on your possibilities and your interest of visiting to us. Soon, we want to make the costs and the prices for to reunite sponsors… what you say?
S. Worth has my email.
A hug

mike f. said...

It always bugs me that Disney animation nerds (you KNOW who you are!) never recognize the importance of WB cartoons from a DESIGN perspective.
Sure, they'll (grudgingly) give Warner's credit for the studio's comedic abilities, but never its innovative character designs.

On the other hand, they somehow overlook the incredible blandness of Disney's character designs, especially its forgettable secondary characters.

A case in point: If there's an elephant in a Donald Duck cartoon, let's say, (there's one in WORKING FOR PEANUTS, 1953) you can be sure it'll be the blandest, most embarassingly generic elephant design you've ever seen.

However, the elephant that appears for mere seconds in Jones' RABBIT FIRE, 1953 ("You do, and I'll give you such a pinch!") who isn't even the primary foil in that cartoon, just inserted for a throwaway gag - is nonetheless a hilarious, completely memorable character - both in terms of design AND personality, and could probably carry a cartoon all by himself.

Conclusion: Warner Brothers wins hands down.

On a completely different note:

There seems to be some controversy regarding Katie's design sense amongst cartoonists and cartoonist wannabes, and it seems to have developed into a pattern lately.
I originally thought it was just professional jealousy, but now I think it's something else.

I think I've seriously overestimated her critics. For me, at least, it's now a virtual acid test for intelligence.

Specifically, If you hate Katie's designs, you're a full-fledged idiot.

Congratulations, all you winners!

Anonymous said...

John, this post is legendary!!!

>However, the elephant that appears for mere seconds in Jones' RABBIT FIRE, 1953 ("You do, and I'll give you such a pinch!") who isn't even the primary foil in that cartoon, just inserted for a throwaway gag - is nonetheless a hilarious, completely memorable character - both in terms of design AND personality, and could probably carry a cartoon all by himself.

Definately. His tiny feet contrast with his HUGE core and give him an effeminate appearance, which, paired with his homo pose and his homo voice (Blanc was thE KING), make the gag all the more funnier. That intense mix of femininity and brute strength reads before he even opens his mouth!

>I originally thought it was just professional jealousy, but now I think it's something else.

Mike figured it out. It's not professional jealousy if you can't draw.

Ramakrishna P said...

Great collection of some line drawings of disney characters. I am practicing simple line drawing art on paper with pencil. Your post really helps a lot to get some inspiration for line drawing art.

Andrew said...

I'm having trouble understanding what you're trying to say. I think I get it, but that sure is a lot to read. I never knew cartoons were this complex.

cafecito said...

This authur of this post and all those who agree with him, have absolutly no idea what they are talking about. To say that WB is better than Disney is idiotic. They have different styles, different cartoons, different character, and different purposes... that's it! WB was meant to be quick and funny. So their character designs had to reflect the humor and action they were producing. Wb characters were mainly seen only in animated shorts. Disney characters needed substances and project a thinking mind. Because they needed to carry the length of an feature film and keep the audiences attenetion. Isn't interesting that none of the Looney Tunes movies ever receive any good ratings or popular. While all of the Disney movies last the test of time. All the Disney characters all loved throughout the world, even still today. Don't get me wrong, I love the WB characters very much. But I feel this whole blog was a waste of time and gave out incorrect information. The construction of a character, whether it be cute, evil, heroic, or whatever, was perfected at the Disney studios. WB, MGM, Max Fleicher, Tex Avery, FRiz Freiling, Fred Quimby, and Chuck Jones and more all copied, used, or were inspired by Disney and his team. One last note, to say the animators at Disney were bored and that the Disney character designs were generic has to be the stupidest comments I have ever read! This blog needs to be completely corrected or better yet completely deleted.

SparkyMK3 said...

Hey John, I think Fred Moore was the guy who drew that girl near the bottom, not Milt Kahl. Andreas Deja's blog posted a drawing of Moore's that is very similar to that one on his blog.