Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Working on a post about the Canadian Style...

a few people have asked me "what is this Canadian style you speak of"?

It's not an easy question to answer and I don't even know if it's all that important. But I'm working on a short historical post that traces the roots of the Canadian commercial style (as opposed to the National Film Board animation, which comes in many styles).

It may be important in this respect: regional styles are like accents. Many people don't know they have accents, because they grew up with them.This is very true of Canadians who all think we talk like American newscasters.

I got a rude awakening when I moved to LA and everyone started making fun of my accent. I swore to them that there was no such thing as a Canadian accent, which only made them laugh harder.

The image “http://www.badmovies.org/capsules/r/rockrule/rockrule_cap2.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
There is also a Canadian visual cartoon accent that most Canadians don't know they have, but it's blatantly obvious to me because I watched it develop. All my animation and cartoon influences are directly American and the Canadian style didn't start to appear until I was fully formed, so I escaped it.

America, having a much bigger population than Canada, has a few regional cartoon accents,The Cal Arts accent being by far the strongest and most influential today. Cal arts style animators, like Canadians swear they don't have a style or visual accent, but it is completely obvious to cartoonists who don't have it.

Having an unthinking regional style or accent is like being trapped in a cage. Once you can recognize your accent, you can work to allow other influences to keep your accent from holding you back.

It's not an insult to say that groups of people have a group style or accent; it's merely a fact of nature. It's up to teachers to show the students the difference between stylistic habits and real technique. Visual elocution should be taught in animation schools to broaden our visual communication skills and help us to recognize the difference between proper technique and blind habit. Substance over naive style.

Let me say, that a personal accent is an attribute; a group accent is a handicap. Some animators are like character actors (Ken Duncan, Carlo Vinci, Rod Scribner); they can do something that is purely unique to themselves and that should be taken advantage of, the rare times it appears. Unfortunately, animation tends to encourage herd mentality and forces everyone into the regional styles.

Weiner noses are part of the cartoon accent in Canada:

maybe I'll have something ready and up tonight with more detail and fun.


David Gale said...

Stuff has an icky furry vibe! Also a bit of a Moebius vibe.

Jake the Animator said...

I used to watch "The Racoons" here in the states back in the mid-80's. More so than the visual style, there was something a little *reserved* about the punchiness in the animation. I can't explain it... but it seemed unsure of itself.

Floyd Bishop said...

It is interesting to note the noses, as I have often wondered if the droopy nipples in some of your own work was a subconscious variation on this.

Ryan G. said...

A little off topic John, but Dana White is going to make an announcement today regarding the return of Randy Couture and possibly welcoming Fedor in early 2009.

Sarah Stillson said...

Haha weiner noses.

John Young said...

i've got this problem and i don't know where it even came from. i pretty much only watch american cartoons but i work in canadian studios. It's weird 'cuz none of the flat graphic shows i work on have that weird rock and rule look and i never saw that movie as a kid. i used to watch the raccoons as a child 'cuz we didn't have cable t.v. Maybe it's my parents' fault; i wasn't allowed to have toy guns or sugary cereal when i was young but who knew that would lead to me drawing pig noses on everyone. Oh well, fix me john!!!

Mark Mayerson said...

I'm looking forward to reading your next post about this, John. I really enjoy the way you tease apart visuals into their components and explain why they do or don't work.

I would point out that Frank Nissen, who was a main character designer on Rock and Rule and a big influence at Nelvana during the '70s and early '80s, was a transplanted American.

Emmett said...

I don't think I know the difference between stylistic details and natural drawing. I'm still figuring that out. Part of me says I am still experimenting,

I look forward to this Canadian Cartoon Post. Still, I have always been curious: what is your personal opinion of the stuff that comes out of the National Film Board of Canada? Its some of my faviorite work.

Ian M said...

I thought you meant that jagged, super flat style they do today on shows like Johnny Test, Total Drama Island, and Clone High. Almost like a dumbed down version of recent Disney television animation.

But whenever one of these shows came on TV when I was a kid, it was an instant channel changer.

Jim Rockford said...

I remember "The Racoons",it ran on cable out here in the 80's.
That was actually the first show I thought of when you spoke about "Canadian style".
Does that mean all Aardvarks are Canadian because the have weiner noses?
Cyril Sneer is the Aardvark incarnation of Charles Montgomery Burns.

CartoonSteve said...

It would be interesting to see a time line. I recall badly wanting to move to Toronto after art school in the early 80s - seeing it as an alternative to Hollywood Smurfs.

Taco Wiz said...

I want to go to CalArts someday. I can't draw. However, once I graduate, I'll try to expand upon my design by imitating Looney Tunes and Spumco projects, instead of repeating everything that I learned there. It's like how once you graduate from high school, you should go to college, instead of attempting to live on your own.

Pete Emslie said...

This is pretty funny, John, and right on target. I well recall the birth of Toronto's Nelvana, back when they started out doing half hour TV specials like "A Cosmic Christmas", "The Devil and Daniel Mouse", etc. leading up to their ill-fated feature, "Rock and Rule". Though I kind of appreciated and respected what they were trying to do in their early TV specials, I always found the character designs a bit odd and ungainly. The broken, bent over nose that you have aptly described as "Weiner Nose" was rampant in these characters, which seemed to hinder the ability to animate the mouth in dialogue, as it was partly obscured or twisted off to one side. Likewise, that odd design trait showed up in Ottawa's Atkinson Films (later becoming Hinton Studio), which did the "Raccoons" series.

The other thing that always bothered me was that, although there was usually a pretty good feel for solid structure, there was no organic flow to the designs. Instead it always looked like the various appendages as well as facial features were just stuck on haphazardly. This tended to also result in animated movement that was stiff and robotic. To be fair, I think the designs improved somewhat as Nelvana progressed, especially in "Easter Fever", where animation great, Dan Haskett had some input. But the humanoid animals of "Rock and Rule" (which you've pictured) really were a big step backward, in my opinion, being an early example of today's ugly "Furry" trend.

Whereas the animated styles of the NFB shorts ran the gamut from funny and bizarre to the bland and ugly, it always struck me that Nelvana was a studio that wanted to be taken seriously by the college crowd, forsaking the appealing rounded look of traditional Hollywood cartoons in favour of designs that they themselves likely would describe as "Edgy". Unfortunately, "Edgy" also seems to translate into "Ugly" and/or "Bland".

JohnK said...

Hey Mark. Thanks!

I didn't realize Frank was American.

How ironic that his style is probably the #1 influence on the rest of Canadian animation.
Where did he get that style? It doesn't look anything like American classic cartoons.

How did he decide on square eyes? That's always been a mystery to me.

I'm also curious about Robin Budd's style. He even influenced Disney feature animation.

trevor said...

I betcha they did that piece of crap 'Teen Wolf' up in Canada too, huh?

Looks Canadian.

- trevor.

pappy d said...

Great topic! I can't wait for your next installment.

The noses seemed to be an outgrowth of the early Ottawa School of cartoon design. The first thing you notice is that there is no life in the lines or volume in the forms. Then the nose. It's a style that grew out producing filmstrips for the govt.

Personally, I would have said it looks more like a limp penis.

Mitch K said...

Ooooohhhh I can't wait for this post!

Bill Perkins said...

Hi John. I'm reading this with a lot of interest. I agree with Pete Emslie, I found Nelvana's early designs odd and ungainly but there was an improvement with "Easter Fever" where Dan Haskett's influence came to the fore. I can't fill you in on all of Frank Nissen's background but I'm sure he went to Art Center, animation came later. One thing you have to give the Canadian Studios was that in the late 70's early 80's they were happening. It was pretty grim in L.A. during the same time.

Anonymous said...

"Cartoon Capers: The History of Canadian Animators" is a book I would highly recommend on the subject, John.

It even has a small section on Charlie Thorson, who is one of my favorite chracter designers from the Golden Age of Animation.

Hope it helps,

From an aspiring animator/ artist

Rudy Tenebre, esteemed secretary. said...

Ironically, I was beginning to weary of the now multi-generational Spumco style...

As much as you pride yourself on the differences of your artists, and your playful inconsistency, the Spumco style is still coherent as, well, a style.

Ever get sick of your own?

JohnK said...

there is no spumco style

there is only the spumco imitation style

we change all the time

Marcela Trujillo said...

hey.... what a good answer!! thanks John, I get the idea now.

diego cumplido said...

sorry, the "Marcela Trujillo" comment was mine. You can erase it if you want. Thanks for the answer (again) I get the idea now (again).

Ryan said...

Man I don't remember John ever qualifying a post so much to avoid offense. I guess he knows Canadians like to complain.

I've been looking up Nelvana, and I remember seeing a lot of those cartoons when I was a little one, but didn't realize they were all Canadian. You ask me about Canadian animation, I think of all the NFB stuff first off.

Maloni said...

Gee, I'm a Cal Artian with an accent! H'yuk!


Anyhoo, I LOVED Rock and Rule when I was a teen. It was the only anthropomorphic animated film around at the time. I was really big into the Furry genre for the longest. Then came Cal Arts and my 1995 WB internship. I worked on Lola Bunni as co-character designer and though her reception, I realized that people will always associate Furries with perversion.
So all my anthropomorphic characters in my personal work lost their cat ears and became goddesses instead. Pity.
I liked really Rock and Rule. I thought it was super hip and brave risk. The Devil and Daniel Mouse was awesome too.

Frank Macchia said...

haha...i appreciate you takin the "canadian" style analysis a bit deeper john...good post...im lookin forward to the follow up.

good stuff.
thanks john.

Frank Macchia said...

haha weve got pete and mark on board with this post...im even more excited now

Jack Ruttan said...

Sorry, there is a Spumco style. You've got to be outside of a style to be able to see it! Otherwise, it's just "the way you (we) draw."

I'd be interested in your take on the French style.

SteveLambe said...

Those are some pretty dated canadian cartoons to be using as examples. That would be like someone taking all those crappy 80's toy cartoons and saying here are some good examples of american animation.

Truth is that modern canadian cartoon are not that different stylistically than today's american cartoons. Just youtube:

-Totally Drama Island
-Ying Yang Yo
-Gruesomestein's Monsters
-Yakitty Yak
-Atomic Betty

With a lot american cartoons being outsourced to canadian flash studios,I guess it only makes sense that these styles have slowly be absorbed and reproduced in canadian cartoons.

Anonymous said...

mmm...I'm gonna sound like a jackass for asking, but was Klasky Csupo a Canadian studio? Some of those screenshots (especially the last one) remind me of post 90's Nickelodeon and a lot of failed cartoons. I don't know if that bottom one is KC, but it sure looks a hell lot like it!

By the way: on the subject of Cal Arts, you should do a post COMPLETELY describing Cal Arts style. It'd really clear up a lot of crap for me!


JohnK said...

>>Truth is that modern canadian cartoon are not that different stylistically than today's american cartoons. Just youtube:<<

Those are all the Canadian style imitating
Spumco and Genndy.

The Canadian thing shines through the surface elements of all the changing trends they imitate.

Aaron said...

That's a really darn interesting topic.

Aaron said...

No Spumko style. That's a good one..

Anonymous said...

I get what you're saying, but I have to say this: aren't these modern Canadian cartoons just so much flatter and jagged than these cartoon screenshots you listed? I mean, Johnny Test and Total Drama Island both SUCK!

Anyways, can't wait to see your post!


JohnK said...

"No Spumko style. That's a good one.."

it's an approach, rather than a style. It's an open style that welcomes and encourages individuality, as long as the artists strive for good principles. You are not allowed to rely on formula and model sheets.

Spumco changes its looks and ideas all the time and thus influences trends, rather than follows them.

Big difference.

SoleilSmile said...

I like the character designs for Total Drama Island. Hip teens/college aged characters are always alright with me. And get this--most of the male characters are as attractive as the females!
Fancy that? A very rare design decision in the Western comedy genre. Although it seems that the "Pretty Boy" was voted off the island.

HemlockMan said...

Regional accents are a problem. At least for me. I have a very powerful Southern (US) accent. When I used to head up to NYC to look for work in comics I would face the most outrageous comments and attitudes. Everyone assumed I was in the KKK. It was tough. I never could fight through that, and finally made my first sales in comics long-distance, and from a reputation for a certain kind of story, and not from pitching anything.

SoleilSmile said...

Well, John...how would you describe the overall design concept of your cartoons? I'm not criticizing you. As a character/production designer myself, I'm just curious.
All of my training would suggest that Spumco has a studio style. It varies slightly from show to show---but anyone can point of your cartoons out from your imitators in a flash.
I see a Clampett/Hanna Barbara/John K. hybrid. We're all hybrids of our childhood influences and our own observations on life. The Ripping Friends definitely had a different style than Ren and Stimpy--especially in clean up and BG layouts.
I also noticed that the acting had changed. Broader wilder, gestures replaced the balance of subtlety and broad gestures.
If I still lived in LA, I would love to sit down with you and talk design. Your throwing me a different loop here. I'm intrigued...

Shawn said...

Ugh! I remember that weird raccoon cartoon with the raspy-voiced pink aardvark. Yikes! It hurt to watch it because I could never understand why they had broken noses.

SoleilSmile said...

stevelambe: The Cal Arts style is the Disney Feature stock style. Cartoon Network is also another Cal Arts strong hold so you have the flat Genndy, Giamo style for TV.
Look up the life drawing teacher Glenn Vilppu and you'll get a sense of the life drawing style that is the base for feature.
I think Glenn works for the Animation Guild now. So try their site in addition to Googling Mr. Vilppu.

JohnK said...

>>Well, John...how would you describe the overall design concept of your cartoons? I'm not criticizing you. As a character/production designer myself, I'm just curious.<<

There is none. Heartaches is different than Ripping Friends is different than George Liquor...

designed for specific character and function
custom made
no formula

each artist brings his or her own take to the shows and the style changes all the time, even from scene to scene

you can tell my cartoons from others simply because they don't follow the formulas and they reflect humanity

we try things on the spur of the moment and don't find reasons to squash spontaneous inspiration

pappy d said...

The flat, jagged design style is due to a misunderstanding of what it means to be "edgy". It's the sort of simple mistake any retard could make.

The great Dan Haskett is American, too. I think he had to go up there because he's black. Frank was a political refugee from the US draft.

"there is no spumco style
there is only the spumco imitation style"

There can't be a genuine Spumco style. If there were, it would be because Spumco was imitating itself in the trendy Spumco imitation style.

Rudy Tenebre, esteemed secretary. said...

Baby, how can one imitate a style which is no style?

This is a matter of zen, no doubt.

SoleilSmile said...

No MODEL SHEETS?! Hooo! You must have some amazing character layout artists at Spumco, John! Either that, or you don’t mind of the characters are off model-so long as they can still be recognized. You suggested something like that earlier when you mentioned:

“each artist brings his or her own take to the shows “.

I still have battle scars from my character layout gigs about deviating from model sheets. I would draw my poses freehand and then make friends with Mr. Copy Machine to pull them on model with model sheets. After I got really good at drawing the characters on model ( usually after a season) I would wean my way from model sheets.
So, do you let people who have never worked on your characters do character layout? Or do you train new artists in clean up so they can learn to draw your characters on model first?
Inquiring minds wanna know.

JohnK said...

by imitating the mistakes

Rudy Tenebre, esteemed secretary. said...

Inflections, inventive variations, don't eliminate stylistic continuity.

Kali Fontecchio said...

"A little off topic John, but Dana White is going to make an announcement today regarding the return of Randy Couture and possibly welcoming Fedor in early 2009."

Off topic too sorry!


Anonymous said...

your right "us" canadians draw them noses :)
Well I know for a fact I always attempt to draw funny noses because I kind of thin they are one of the most important parts of our face ,
anyway ive never heard of that movie rock & roll and instantly fall in love with its colors and characters design.

all hail traditional animation....

Mike Magnan said...

Coming from Ottawa and growing up a little sooner than John.....Canadian Animation is certainly different.
John....one of my teachers was Ed Monaghan.....just like you.
I'm amazed that two boys..(well more than that) survived in this industry this long.
Crawley films I think it was called back then...I remember my first job at 16 was opaquing the cells..... on Racoons.,,,talk about boring work.
All the best.
Mike Magnan

houstonhorses@gmail.com said...

Oh my, just happened to find this blog by accident. I actually worked on "Rock and Rule". The nose thing I think came from some of the designers that worked on "Raccoons". It always bothered me. Not a big fan of the nose thing. Frank Nissan also seemed to have a love of freckles on characters at Nelvana. I worked there from 1979 then off and on when CORUS ENT. bought the company. All told about 30yrs.