Saturday, May 26, 2007



The animators who founded UPA tried a different tact than Disney. Most of them were highly accomplished animators who could do the rounded fully constructed flowing Disney style animation.

Bobe Cannon was a fantastically gifted full animator who did animation for Clampett, Jones and Avery before he went to UPA.

bobe cannon

For some unknown reason, he decided to totally abandon what he was a genius at.

He and John Hubley (a layout man and BG painter)

and the other UPA guys decided to abandon animation, fun and lush movement and instead focus on "design".

And not always good design either. They just wanted to do something that rebelled against the look and more important, the attitudes of both Disney and Warners.


It's funny when we talk about UPA and flat styles, that we refer to it as "design" at all. No one did before UPA. It was just called "cartooning".

The "design" that UPA did was nothing new to cartoons in general, just sort of new to animation. Chuck Jones had experimented with it in animation (with Bobe Cannon) in 1942 with The Dover Boys.

Magazine cartoons though and comic strips, had been done in similar flat styles and many other non-animation styles for decades.

To me,

Gerald McBoingBoing and Milt Gross' comics are very similar graphically.

Milt Gross had been doing highly stylized comics and strips for a long time-only his stuff wasn't meant to be high-class, it was meant to be fun.

So what's the difference between "design" and "cartoon"? I guess if it's fun, it's a cartoon. If it's bland and sterile, it's design.
That was UPA's revolution. They took the life out of animation.


If you don't know cartoon history and you just grew up watching Cartoon Network, you might think that this flat stuff is something new and "hip". It's not. It's much older than UPA and the more graphic styles in cartoons before UPA didn't come with the wimpy trappings.

Because of our association with UPA's beginnings, we assume that when we do something in a graphic style, we have to also carry over all the other attributes that came with UPA's particular cartoon vision-the blandness, the wimpy world view, the snootiness.

People usually don't analyze or break apart the elements that make up something they like. If we like it we assume that every ingredient in it is equally good.

Then when we develop our own styles, we copy the bad with the good.

That's what we need ANALYSIS for!

Like many artists, I have tons of influences. There are lots of things that inspire me. I try to figure out why they do and I break them down into their separate ingredients.

I then decide which ingredients are the ones that are useful and discard the others that might have just come along with it, but don't actually add anything. There are good things about UPA and Disney-Tex Avery combined them and added his own worldview to them and made cartoons more entertaining than either style.Avery was the exception. Most artists copied the bad part of UPA, the lack of animation, simplistic drawings' slow even timing and lifelessness.

What I dislike about trends and imitators is that usually when people copy existing styles, new or classic, they copy the faults, rather than the positive attributes of the styles they love. They copy surface elements and decoration and don't copy the underlying principles.

People do it with Disney all the time.

Animators who love Disney, copy all the worst elements of Disney, his faults-the sappy stories, the simplistic personalities, the terrible "animation-acting". The formulaic character design.

They can't draw and animate the difficult anatomy, perspective and construction, nor control elaborately composed crowd scenes-no one was better at that than Disney. But anyone can do fake pathos and memorize the arm flailing that we've seen in a hundred features.

This happens with everything that makes a splash. Everyone imitates the superficial aspects of the trend, without adding any personal observations or humanity to it.

There are Simpsons imitations, Ren and Stimpy imitations, Warner Bros. imitations and on an on...all without personal points of view, just shallow imitations.

In the 50s, that happened with UPA. And it happened again in the 90s. (My fault that time)

Why do young artists say they like UPA? Because it makes 'em cool. Hipster Emo time. (It's also easy to fake) It's like when teenagers discover communism. They think it's real cool to go against common sense and experience. But then when they meet the real world head on later, they realize it was youthful folly. You're supposed to grow out of it.

I too fell under the UPA spell for the 3 weeks I wanted to be cool. Then I realized I kept falling asleep during the cartoons. Don't wait till you're 30, still drawing flat and it's too late to learn anything else.

Personally I think it's way cooler to have an open mind and lots of drawing skill, so that you can actually make cartoons with your own point of view.

But I still like a lot of the UPA style commercials!

By the way, it's possible to have construction and design at the same time.

to be continued...