Monday, September 01, 2008

More Handsome Cartoon Compositions - helpful to layout artists

Ger Apeldoorn is a great resource for rare cartoon art. He collects all the stuff that I would love to have.'s another Kurtzman above. The whole spread is fun, but take a gander at the first splash panel. It uses all the same compositional tools as the last one I dissected for you. He uses elements in the background to frame the characters to make them read clearly - and to look good.

It's the same principle of hierarchy of levels of shapes too.

The whole picture works as a shape, then it is broken into sub-shapes, and these in turn keep getting broken down.

Each sub level follows the form of its larger parent.

Interestingly, Kurtzman, did a knock off of Blondie for awhile and abandoned all his natural instincts.

Kurztman, being so god at life and composition, apparently thought Chic Young's art was still and rubber-stampish, so he abandoned his own natural instincts made his knock off even stiffer!

Here's the real Blondie, which actually had a lot more life to it (and was pretty funny too!)

This comic below is a different style than Kurtzman, but the artist (Irv Spector) uses some of the same handy compositional tools.

Either way, it's very appealing and controlled. I love the contrasts in the top panel:

The building is tall contrasted to how wide it is.
The front entrance is very small compared to how big the building is.
The roof has more detail than the walls do.
The windows on the walls contrast in shapes and sizes and are very small compared to how big the wall is.
The fence is short and near the bottom of the picture. It is contrasted by the tall negative space created by the tree.
The foreground tree is in turn contrasted in size and direction by the smaller tree silhouetted behind it. - which you can read easily because of the negative space between them.

That little crowd of animals in the lower right works well as a single shape.
A clump of animals, that all follow a similar direction. They are all leaning back. They are not totally symmetrical, nor evenly spaced. The giraffe's neck pokes up the give the clump a more interesting overall shape and to create a nice negative shape between the clump and the house.

The building is slightly to the right of the composition and tilts to the right at the top. The rest of the details on the building follow basically this same titled perspective.
This is not wonky. This cartoon license with control. Spector picks one dimension to distort and makes everything that is warped on the distorted object follow the same distortion.

The area of bricks is both:
to the left of the vertical middle.
Higher than the horizontal middle.
The smaller groups of detailed bricks come in different arrangements and different amounts.
There is a group of 7 bricks. A group of 5, a group of 2.

A professional BG layout artist at a service studio was working on one of my shows. All his layouts were very evenly spaced and had no contrasts and went to him one day ask him to use more contrasts and organic thinking. He told me there was a "rule of 3". He had arranged groups of bricks on a background for me in perfectly even groups of 3 and I asked him why they were so even, like wallpaper. He said haughtily, "I used the rule of 3's!". When I asked what that was, he rolled his eyes, thinking, "You call yourself a director and you don't know the rule of 3's?"

He said that this rule was to avoid monotonous symmetry. He said "even numbers are symmetrical, odd numbers are more interesting." Then he started to draw some grass. He pointed out that no one wants to draw every blade of grass, which I agreed with. He drew an expanse of lawn and then began to fill the area with groups of 3 blades of grass, each group expertly and evenly spaced, as though he had been doing this pattern for decades. Each group having the middle blade being the longest.


as opposed to "wonky" and unsure of itself:

Here are cluttered poses trying to hide under shiny airbrushes. A lot of modern cartoon art directors purposely stage things from awkward camera angles, thing they are imitating live action and thus achieving "quality". You would never see a classic cartoon staged so clumsily.

Here is no composition, no thought t the overall image. It's merely an area filled with things that have no graphic relation to each other. Things just fell where they did as if all the elements were tossed in a salad and then dumped onto the frame.

Here is someone who has been paying attention to my posts about composition. He is using negative space to help frame the positive shapes. He is using artistic silhouettes in the trees, and making the trees flow, sing some hierarchy.

The church is too cluttered and filled up with details and too evenly designed, but the artist is making improvements and using tools now as man is supposed to do, so that is very encouraging to me. It's still has some Canadian cartoon style hanging on, but I imagine that will disappear with more practice.


diego cumplido said...

I'd like to know how the "Canadian cartoon style" looks like, just to avoid it, I promise.

Kali Fontecchio said...

I've only heard of the rule of 3's with filmmaking, not cartooning, and it wasn't the exact same theory either. Weird.

JohnK said...

If you didn't grow up in Canada during the 70s or after, you probably don't have it.

Although it has seeped into modern Disney films because so many Canadians are good animators and get jobs here.

Rudy Tenebre, esteemed secretary. said...

Enjoy your focus on early Kurtzman work, something the literature of comicbooks seems to only footnote.

By default, i was instructed in layout and principles of composition by a wonderful guy, (alas I forgot 'is nom) he hammered away for years, and did beautiful background layouts many of rustic villages and 18th century sea-ports.

I remember him working in Disney television, and I imagine circulated for many years through various studios as did you.

This blog reminds me of that course, which was invaluable. I had already attained my B.F.A. in painting when I took that course, but many things in the course were never articulated on the way to my B.F.A.

What I found lacking in the animation world were things the other experience helped cultivate: resourcefulness, the intuitive, problematization of what is "good", and the benefit of discovery, or play, in non-objective production.

What the animation world had in spades was Formula.

Mitch K said...

Fantastic post! Lots to think about -- thanks!

Frank Macchia said...

yeah i have the same qustion as deigo.
not tryin to be a smart ass.
just curious to see if i have the symptoms of a "canadian cartoon style"

does it have something to do with nelvana's "style"?

seems like every canadian animator i know has done their time at nelvana

Caleb Bowen said...

I love the story about the rule of 3's. I first heard that term relating to comedy punchlines. Wait, doesn't it apply to bad luck too? I think a lot of those rules were created in the 80's- "Can't we think of a shorter word for renaissance?"

Borris said...

um bongo um bongo they drink it in the congo

the hippo took a melon and a mango

pspector said...

Hi John -- Osh is indeed written and drawn by my father, Irv Spector. Good take though with Gordon, as there was a stretch for a few years where his (my father's) style was super similar.

Osh is from the comic Muggy-Doo Boy Cat, in which he did all the stories, and Muggy was a Hal Seegar creation that a decade later saw life in animated form (a dud).

Mr. Semaj said...

Never heard of this "rule of three".

This artist sounded like he had the right idea in avoiding monotony, but there would still need to be a sense of variety in an assymetrical composition.

Lampshade said...

John, I'm not sure if you haven't seen this, but I saw a little interesting bit of the process from storyboard to CGI. Check it out if you like.

Zach Cole said...

I've never seen a camera angle that awkward in a decent live action film. If that angle in the Sylvester image is considered quality because they think it resembles live action, they obviously don't look at what camera angles live action film makers use.

Rule of 3's? It sounds like he heard "rule of thirds" and made up his own false definition.

HemlockMan said...

I always liked Young's stuff on BLONDIE. Strangely, some of his scenes of so-called cartoon violence were sometimes quite disturbing. He seemed to be able to find a link to reality with some of those choke holds.

trevor said...

Hey John,

Whatever became of the WB wraparound idea? Did you pitch that?

- trevor.

Maloni said...

It looks like artist of the Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries promo placed the horizon line in the center of the field. That's a no-no. You get those extreme skewed, alligator jaw angles that way.
However, it takes years of experience and the tutelage under good mentors to know how NOT to make mistakes like that again. I hope this artist got the chance to go work at a studio with the training budget to remedy his/her "green habits".

Jake the Animator said...

Great Post!
... I'm wondering what you think of the composition of Walt Kelly's '40's Pogo Comics (from "Funny Animals" comic books)

Ryan said...

Maloni: Alligator jaw angles? What is this?

Love the "rule of three's" story. Everyone likes to think they've found a secret shortcut, but you need to step back and see whether it really accomplishes what you think it does.

And I'm also curious about the Canadian style.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Some great lessons, almost makes me think I can draw... I took the Spector credit for Osh from Scott Shaw! who I think got it from Mike Kazaleh. I am mailing with Mike for some more information about Spector, s I am building up to a big run of Coogy. I agreed with the Spector attribution for Osh, because it looks exactly like the (signed) Coogy Sundays I will be showing. Not only the art and inking, but also the lettering and balloon placement. I have a hard time seperating Gordon from Spector and/ot Hultgren, but I can spot that 1952/54 Spector touch. I agree there is a similarity to Howie Post's comic work of the period (as well as Mel crawford or whoever it was' taking over from Walt Kelly on Dell's Brownies). I may be showing some of Howard Post worst work after I am done with Spector and will love to see your opinion.