Tuesday, May 08, 2007

WILLARD BOWSKY, Popeye, A Date To Skate

I used to notice a really unique drawing and animation style in the early Betty Boop cartoons. The way they drew ogres and tree monsters didn't look like typical "animation-style" cartoon drawings. They looked more like a comic strip artist who learned to animate. Think of the close ups of The Old Man Of The Mountain.

I think I've figured out who the artist is and it's Willard Bowsky. I see his name in the credits of almost all the cartoons that have this style in it. It's more detailed than the other animators. He would do those gruesome close ups of Bluto with all the wrinkles and crazy expressions-like in "Sinbad The Sailor".

I'm pretty sure this scene of Olive and Popeye in "A Date To Skate" 1938, is him too.
Look how cool these drawings are! They have a whole bunch of drawing skills happening at the same time.

Construction: All the features of the face wrap around the bigger forms of the faces and are in perspective.

Design: This is a really unique stylistic look. If you look at the other animators' Popeye cartoons from 1938, they are less stylish. Almost every 30s Popeye has great animation, but this style is like a throwback to an earlier more designy look. By the late 30s even the Fleischers were being influenced by the "west coast" animation style that Disney was doing. That style was more fluid, more organic but also more generic. When the Fleischers started doing this style, they lost their own more graphic gritty manly look.

The New York animators never quite understood the west coast style and when they tried to copy it, the couldn't figure out how to combine construction with organic timing and drawing, and their animation became kind of mushy-especially into the late 1940s.

They also were influenced by the cutesy look of Disney but couldn't draw cute themselves, because they were more manly street type guys.

Bowsky though seems to have retained a " cute-ugly" style.Tightness: Nothing wobbles or melts in the animation. All the details and finish are really tightly controlled. Some of the other animation in cartoons of the same period have a sloppier finish, even if the animation itself is very good.

Some of these screen grabs are inbetweens and they are just as tight as the keys. I don't know how the animator was able to control every drawing so well.

Thick and Thin inking: Other Popeyes at this time had abandoned the earlier Fleischer style of thick and thin inking. Here it is looking great.

Note that the less important lines are thinner. Wrinkles are thinner than the more important shapes they help describe. That's hierarchy of lines.

Hierarchy of forms, lines and shapes and animation:

In the animation, the main motion of walking to the beat of the music never falters. Within that basic motion the characters also have to act and talk.

Within each character's construction all the details have to follow where the forms are going and wrap around them.

No elements just go off in their own direction. Everything follows some higher authority.

Cartooniness: Hard to define but here it is, undiluted by cutesy-pie Disney influence.

Cute-Ugly: This is a really cute scene without being "cutesy". It's a cartoonist drawing characters that are supposed to be ugly, but his drawing style is so appealing and well balanced that it comes off as cute. Sincere-cute, rather than pandering-to-moms cute.

< onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_mJ4lc_Q9Q6k/Rj-5Kk_CKUI/AAAAAAAAD8w/vbStRQzgIqA/s1600-h/adatetoskate_meekpopeye.png">

Control: Bowsky controls all these different artistic elements and makes it all work together. The more creative skills you have to balance at one time, the harder it is to control any one of them.

This is a marvel of control and skill, but is really fun on top of it. It doesn't lose any spontaneity.