Friday, August 29, 2008

Don Martin and the Essence of Cartooning.last dentist scene

All fields of art branch out and take in influences and skills from other fields - sometimes eventually to the point where it rejects its own reason to exist, but thank God for the purists who remind us why we chose our particular field in the first place.If you could boil down the definition of a cartoon to one concept could you do it?
Don Martin sure could.
It's not acting; that can be done better on stage and in live-action movies.
It's not "story"; that can be done much better in novels and live action movies.
It's not even funny voices or sound or movement. All these things are add-ons that already exist outside cartooning.
There is just one element that can only be done in cartoons; its "fundamental atom" as Eddie calls it. What is it?
It's not grossness or slapstick either.
I am dying to read your answers (and arguments).

Sergio Aragones and Basil Wolverton also distill this atom and focus all their work around Eddie's atom.Plop Magazine With Basil Wolverton Cover

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Assorted Liquors and the cartoon production system

To satisfy popular demand, I have posted more sneak peeks at the new George Liquor Show...

Thought you might like to see the stages of art production that happen before animation and what the difference in drawing approaches are.
Storyboards are rough. Their purpose is to tell the story, make the characters seem spontaneous and have a lot of guts.
A storyboard artist doesn't need to draw "on model" but does need to know how the characters look and act. He has to feel the story as if it is happening right in front of him at the very moment he is drawing them.

He has to be able to change personalities and fit himself into the souls of the characters. He should not rely on stock animation poses and expressions. He needs to FEEL the right characters and their proper distinct emotions within the context of a story and make it all seem like the characters are creating the story as they go along, just by being themselves in the situation they are in.

This has happened very rarely in the whole history of animation. Most cartoons - even in the classic age - feel contrived or controlled by their creators. Chuck Jones and Tex Avery characters are frequent victims of their directors' whims, but not compared to cartoons today where everything is completely contrived and controlled by super conservative committees or even individuals with too many rules holding back any chance of spontaneity and invention.

Clampett's characters always seem self motivated; the story follows them, not the other way around. Fleischer Popeye cartoons are self motivated even though their cartoons are highly structured. This is an amazing achievement.
For me, the storyboard artists I like are ones who can fit themselves instantly into diferent characters and spontaneously play out their dramas. You have to be very observant of life, not just of other cartoons to draw stories that aren't mere illustrated scripts with rubber stamp acting.
Layout drawings are tighter and more finished. They have to have construction, more details and flip well from pose to pose so they can be animated. This is a more anal job than storyboarding. The layout artist has to do his damnedest to not lose the guts of the storyboards by toning down the poses, expressions and humor in the storyboards.

He still has to understand the story and the context of every pose and expression, but he is preparing the scenes to be functional and clear.

Inkers pretty up the finish of the layouts and give the drawings weight and a hierarchy of forms. They need to understand the order of importance of the elements that make up the total form and use line technique to enhance the visual ideas inherent in the drawings. A knowledge of construction is very helpful to good line artists. It's not just having smooth lines.
I'm lucky to have found inkers who did many of the lessons and exercises on my blog and now have a clear understanding of how to get the best out of the layout drawings.

more layouts...
No matter what artistic job you are doing on the assembly line of cartoon production, your work will be much better if you know the whole story, get the jokes, understand the characters and constantly refer to your storyboard. ....and know how to draw.The natural progression of a non-supervised ignorant assembly line (modern cartoon production) is for each creative step of the way to decay and stray further away from the original intent. Like when you dupe things multiple times-each dupe loses more information than the previous one.

This is a very hard natural tendency to fight, but fight it you must if you are to have finished cartoons be as exciting and spontaneous as the original ideas they sprang from.

Having a studio system geared to prevent the natural decay of copying copies is a huge factor in whose cartoons end up with the strongest, most believable characters.

I envy the Looney Tunes system most of all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Some Things Milt Gross Excels At

I think Milt Gross is probably the most all around talented cartoonist in history.

Many great cartoonists are known for certain distinct skills or unique traits. Gross had a ton of rare skills.

Oddly, many of Milt Gross' main characters were fairly indistinct basic 30s style comic strip characters. He used more imagination in the designs of incidental characters.

What really amazes me is that he will design each character in a crowd individually, where most cartoonists will just repeat the same designs in a wall of generic people.

I love this kid design!

Gross is my favorite funnny animal designer.


Gross knew that facial hair is intrinsically funny, especially when you juxtapose variations of it.
He loved to draw mustaches and beards. Here he draws the same mustache 3 different ways.

He uses the facial hair to help create the expressions.
Like all truly creative cartoonists, Gross wouldn't ever draw the same character the same way twice.
This Indian's turban, proportions, beard and nose are different shapes and sizes in every panel, yet you always recognize him as the same character. Even the stripes on the turban can't make up their minds about which way to transverse the hat. You would get fired at any studio today for being this free and creative. I don't even think it's possible in CG.
Kirby shared this talent of eschewing consistency in favor of spontaneity and visual fun. I used to be in awe of how his uniforms would change from panel to would his machinery and weapons. I think I read somewhere that it drove Stan Lee crazy, but he had to put up with it.

Kirby would change Doctor Doom's mask of armor from panel to panel to give him expressions! A crazy impossibility; cartoon license in a serious comic book!

Most comic artists draw the same characters as if their faces are even incapable of moving:


This is a rare talent for any cartoonist. Milt Gross was a master of staging and composition.

One of his unique recurrent framing devices was to have an L shaped frame to one side of the panel.I haven't noticed other cartoonists who use this. Maybe I'll try it. It looks so great.

This is a device that really makes the characters come alive. One character's pose directly affects and balances the other's pose. The poses compose around each other.
The negative spaces between them are as much of a design as the poses themselves.
Other artists with this skill: Harvey Kurtzman, Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery,Owen Fitzgerald, Hank Ketcham.

Owen Fitzgerald was also very aware of the power of opposing poses.

Composing crowds is very hard to do. The more details and characters in a scene, the harder it is to arrange them so that you can see what's important.

Gross arranges his groups of people into clumps in a clever hierarchy. The kid and the man are one clump. The evil Punjabs are another clump that fit into a large overall shape. Then that shape is in turn broken into sub-clumps. The main Indian in front has a unique outfit and is separated by more tightly grouped villains behind him.

Even that group has a sub hierarchy made of sub-sub-clumps.

Gross even controls his mayhem scenes. Everything in this panel reads clearly: first as an overall statement of anarchy, but then it breaks up into sub-scenes and groups of actions and characters.

Jack Kirby has this same talent of controlling complicated crowds and making them easy to read.Jack Kirby Marvel Not Brand Echh
Owen shares another trait with Kirby and Gross - design and control of crowds.

Other artists noted for drawing crowds are the Mad artists of the 50s. The difference between their crowds, and Gross' are that the Mad crowds are usually wall-to-wall haphazard piles of people with not as much planned arrangement.
The fun in these is to hunt through the picture to see how many gags you can find. It isn't an overall design.

Controlling crowds with composition is difficult enough, but then to add a feeling of wild action with a lot of stuff happening is simply amazing.

Every one of these panels of crazy action has a plan and a center of energy that controls the arrangement of the mayhem.
All the crazy stuff flying out of this window radiates from the same point. The crowd and police at the bottom of the frame curve around and frame the radiating energy.

Buy The Milt Gross Funnies Book!