Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Disney Principles 4 - Appeal 1 -

I agree with almost everything Frank and Ollie say about appeal - in theory. Appeal is really important to all art. The combination of skill and attractiveness or pleasure to the senses is what makes art. For cartoons, that's the combination of "solid drawing" and what F and O are calling "appeal". Solid drawing is very easy to judge, because it is objective. It's either right or wrong. That doesn't make it easy to do, of course, but without it, you lack control over anything else, including "appeal".
It's much harder to define "appeal" than to define "Solid Drawing" because it is subjective; in Disney's case, "appeal" is judged very narrowly - very very narrowly. I find a much wider array of cartoon art styles appealing than the Disney animators do and find much of what they do unappealing-including the very generic Italian characters above, both of whom are the exact same stock design, varying only in their girth. These designs have been recycled endlessly throughout Disney's films - they even use the same designs for the animal characters. I think the very fact that Disney has such a limited repetitive amount of character designs is evidence of how hard it is to achieve appeal in the first place. Disney discovered a few stock traits that Walt found appealing and they just kept using them, for fear of trying something new that might be deemed "ugly".

By "ugly" Frank and Ollie mean just about anything that doesn't look like 40s Disney style. I agree that overly detailed characters or overly graphic characters are hard to turn into enduring animated characters, but it's not that simple.

"a drawing that is complicated or hard to read lacks appeal"

Many of Warner Bros. characters aren't as "cute" or appealing in design as the best Disney characters, yet as characters they have have endured. Bob McKimson's personal style is generally regarded as unappealing, even though it's obvious he has great solid drawings. Clampett was able to get him to do very appealing stuff in a few cartoons - Coal Black, Falling Hare, An Itch In Time, What's Cookin' Doc - and on the famous 1943 Bugs Bunny Model sheet.

The sad truths about "appeal" is very few people have it in the first place and the whole concept of it seems to be lost.

If you grew up in the 70s or afterwards, you've probably come to accept ugliness and lack of sensory pleasure in all the arts: music without melodies, sloppy illustration, icky fine art, ugly cartoons both on TV and in feature films. A small handful of today's cartoonists look back to the 1930s to the 50s and see that obviously everything was more appealing to the senses back then, but most people today just accept ugliness in art matter-of-factly. Anything obviously appealing, like an old time melody is automatically written off as corny and unhip.

At one time, the "look" of a cartoon was its main factor. It drew you in to find out what it was about just by being so much fun to look at. Now watching cartoons is an acquired taste. It has to be learned (like eating broccoli) because cartoons aren't attractive anymore. They actually hurt your eyes and you have to train from youth to ignore the physical pain before you can accept cartoons for some other reason than that they are cartoons.

There are more executives in charge of animation today at each studio than there ever were, and they equate "appeal" with "too cartoony". They all want to be taken seriously as filmmakers, so to them the uglier, blander, more detailed and less fun to look at their characters are, the more "realistic" they are. "Realistic" equals "quality" to the sensory deprived.



I'm not sure, but I will try to analyze it, starting with how Disney found appeal in their style. It'll take a few more posts though.

Here are some "ingredients" of appeal, but knowing them doesn't guarantee that you can capture the subtleties and balance them to just the right degree to make your drawings look fun.

Pleasing construction:

Disney Appeal: Based on infant, baby animal and feminine traits.
Big heads, big eyes, soft flesh - but wrapped around good construction and perspective.

Proportions: cartoonists magnify the things we find interesting and shrink the things we find ugly or boring.

Big heads, small bodies, big hands sometimes etc.

A good cartoonist draws emotions rather than precise accuracy or realism.

Personal style: Some artists just have naturally appealing styles. Rod Scribner and Chuck Jones can take Bob McKimson's basic structures and make them prettier. Fred Moore can take a character designed from generic circles and draw him with flair and appeal.

Animators who draw well but don't have strong appealing individual styles benefit from having good designs to work from. Design and appeal are not 100% the exact same concepts but they overlap.

Freddie Moore is the basic Disney master of appeal, and lots of people have copied him superficially yet still find appeal an elusive concept.Cal Arts animators love the flow and rhythm in his loose sketches (I do too) and figure that if they draw loose with flowing lines and never commit to a finished drawing, then they will be as appealing as Moore himself.

Moore can draw solid finished drawings as well, but that's harder to copy.There is a lot more to Moore than just flowing lines. He understands construction, anatomy, balance and just happens to put it all together in a very unique and pleasing way that invites hordes of copycats who draw vague flowing blobs.


Control of variety of shapes: This is what good designers do. It's slightly less intuitive than personal style because you have to to intellectually create new shapes and combinations, rather than just rely on a gifted hand that makes every character look good.

You can be too intellectual though and have clever combinations of odd shapes that are intellectually stimulating but not very fun to look at.

Surface details: Disney has more surface details on their characters than Warner's.

Disney designers deduced that the fur pattern of a squirrel's face is the most pleasing of all and designed a squirrel face mask that they stretched over countless characters to make them automatically cute.

Disney imitators for decades have thought this was the secret and they stretched their squirrel-masks over their badly constructed characters and we ended up with "All Dogs Go To Heaven", "Balto" and many other unappealing Disney copies.
Hmmm, the squirrel mask trick didn't work this time.

Balance of shapes: The spaces between your design elements have to be just right in order to have a pleasing balance. The Disney animators pursued this goal to an almost mathematical perfection. Bambi evolved from earlier Disney deer that had less pleasing proportions, balance and surface details. Once they nailed that balance, they used it on scores of characters for the next decade and feared trying anything new, until UPA and Ward Kimball purposely broke this mold and did ugly on purpose just to teach Frank and Ollie a lesson.
Even though this is supposed to be cold and uninviting, it still retains many Disney design principles: balance, construction (2d construction), clear staging, variety of shapes and more.


trevor thompson said...

Isn't there an inherent contradiction with this, though?

If, as you pointed out, the word is subjective, and as 'appeal' is defined by Websters as 'to be especially attractive, pleasing, interesting, or enjoyable', couldn't someone argue that, with the standards in quality having dropped so low that even '12 Oz. Mouse' or 'Family Guy' are considered, by someone at least, to be appealing?

Granted, those shows aren't appealing to many who read this blog ( myself included ) but I guess what I'm asking is, isn't it wrong to have a fundamental rule of drawing based on something which is so subjective?

I understand the lessons and the points you made, John, I just don't see how something as apparently flimsy as appeal applies to good drawing principles.

- trevor.

PS: I know what this sounds like, but before anyone belittles me, I should admit that I'm not doing the best job of asking this question.

WIL said...

Great post, again.

Thanks & keep going!

FerGil said...

Great post. I specially have a problem with appeal. I can construct a solid character, but appeal is sooooo hard to make that it makes me want to break things...

There are a few guys that, a la Fred Moore, can just grab any design and make an appealing version of it... and I wish there was a simple set of rules to follow and do such a thing, but alas! there is none!

All we have to do is draw a lot, read a lot in blogs like yours (thank you very much for doing it) and draw yet again...

Zoran Taylor said...

I have always felt that so much of this nonsense could be settled if only we took a hard look at what we ASSUME is telling us on an intellectual level that ugly = artistic. I know I speak for myself here, but I find appeal in Picasso, Dada, Lenny Bruce, Naked Lunch, The Velvet Underground, even some rap and industrial music - all very "serious" and "challenging" stuff. I cannot, however, watch "The Backyardigans" (look it up if you dare) without getting a severe headache and sulking for hours. I highly doubt that anyone involved in that show had either of the above quotated adjectives in mind when they chose THAT colour scheme, THAT pitch at which the theme song is howled through the credits, echh-cetera. Any fan of Ren and Stimpy knows about balancing deliberate "ugliness" with appeal, even making a goddamn statement in the process. Here's the rub - it's hard to do. So all these people who want to be noticed and want to shake things up have turned ugliness with nothing to balance it into an inherent virtue. So no, we can't blame "Nude Descending A Staircase" for our sins. We can only blame ourselves. And then FIX THE MESS!!! BEFORE MY EYES FALL OUT!!!! PLEASE!!!!!!

Elana Pritchard said...

First you learn to build the house, then you paint it green and gold and pink and fill it full of squirrels.

Weirdo said...

Great post. Freddy Moore was just a master of appeal. I think he could even explain how he drew the way he drew. I figure you can analyze how he does things, but ultmately, it's up to fate for how appealing your drawings are.

Rudy Tenebre said...

Just because something adheres to a specific criteria (solid drawing) doesn't make it 'objective'- that is, independent of the qualitative ascriptions applied by the mind.

Principles themselves are inherently an arbitrary set of navigables as to how to proceed, there is no objective truth to them.

When you nail down art to aesthetic beauty, you speak in total platitude.

Sagelights said...

do you think appeal has to do with how well you convey what emotion the character is experiencing? Cause the first thing I look at is the face. Then the rest of the body language comes second to determine how pleasant of a pic it is.

Corey said...


Still wrapping my head around solid construction though. If I concentrate on just a solid face (a bunny head for example) I can't seem to make the face appealing as it just ends up looking like a statue with no life. If I try to put some appealing looking pupil shapes for example, my construction seems off.

Must be a really delicate balance to get the two working together.

I keep at it though.

David Germain said...

I guess because appeal is so subjective, when critiquing drawings (both of others and your own) we shouldn't say "this has no appeal" but moreso "this has no appeal for me".

Aaron said...

So appeal pretty much means accesibility to the general public?

Raff said...

I love this topic to pieces. This is indeed the very next thing to nail once you reaaaally know how to draw. I've got a while yet.

To me, it's the artist's personal charm coming through once the drawing ability is at a level that you can see what's going on in the artist's head.

Many artists who seem creepy and cold as people tend to make creepy and cold drawings - anybody else notice that? Or they're weird and obsessive and their drawings are weird and obsessive. Giggly girls make really girly drawings, goofy guys make goofy drawings...it's the way that they talk with their pencils.

Earlier, more disciplined and authoritative generations made more disciplined and authoritative drawings, and today's awkward, confused and immature fakers make awkward, confused, immature and fake drawings. I think some people just need to get laid or go to a shrink.

jesus chambrot said...

I remember getting my first crush when I was five years old. I watched that "Casey at Bat Again" and got a mad crush on all of Casey's daughters-all based on a Freddy Moore design.


pappy d said...

I think, in the latter part of this post you're actually confusing 'appeal' with "cuddly bunnies & soft kittens". Dick Williams had the same problem. Fred Moore used to have a sign over his desk that read, "Appeal". The young Dick had a sign over his that said, "Appall".

Cruella deVil, Ren & Stimpy, Mme. Medusa or any number of Chuck Jones lummoxes are all both appealing yet ugly characters.


Good design & good drawing are both valid concepts. It's just unusual today to find these qualities in the same artist or even the same studio.

Quantity (how much?, how many?, %-age of market share) is a quality too. It's just the crudest form a quality can take. Put it in a bar graph or a pie chart & any fool can understand it. That's why, in a society that's capitalist & coincidentally, democratic it seems like the only quality.

I don't have any figures to back up my contention, but appeal is vitally important too. If your parents weren't mutally appealing, would there be a trevor? Aesthetics involve complex genetic structures in the brain, the whole of our sensual experience & our present context in a continuous feedback loop. Too much data, especially for a half-hour meeting with a busy network exec. It's no wonder there's no American culture outside of commercial culture.

If this argument wasn't restrained by the pedestrian imprecision of words, i.e. if we were physically present with access to a pen & paper napkins, appeal wouldn't seem like a flimsy quality at all.

Caleb said...

Great info John, thank you. I like when ugly and gross are mixed with appeal like Chuck Jones' Witch Hazel. That black lamb picture is my ideal of visual appeal.

Niki said...

can appeal also be extracted from a character's movement? maybe doing something one way instead of another? and is there a possibility for change? Because for some reason everyone I know likes things the have to figure out, a good bunch of folks bought "The Prestige" for that reason. I seems pretty crazy, maybe practice of old art courses they practiced could redeem this quality?

X180 said...

John, I've been trying to find a way to e-mail you, because I'd love to get your take on something.

Specifically, this series of character sketches by the artists of The Lion King, included as lithographs in one of the laserdisc releases:


Some great lessons in appeal and design in there, I would think—both pro and con. For years now I've used this series of drawings to teach myself what drawing characteristics I like in the top-level pros and which ones I don't; Mike Surrey's Timon, for example, is right at the top of my list, whereas Ellen Woodbury's Zazu, while nicely on-model, has some weird construction issues (the wing, the feet), and it's hard to see that much appeal in the design. Jim Baxter's Rafiki is great, as is Tony Fucile's Mufasa, but Ruben Aquino's drawings have the characters not just off-model but weirdly balanced. Worst of all is Andreas Deja: his Scar looks like he threw it together in five minutes without taking any time for proper construction. Which is weird, knowing what a skilled animator he is and how much easier on the eyes his finished drawings are than his sketches.

I'd love to know if you can work this into your series on appeal, because I have some of my own ideas as to why the Timon and Mufasa drawings are so appealing to me, whereas some of the others totally aren't. And it would be a nice segue into any thoughts you might have on what the "modern" generation of classically trained (but CalArts-grown) Disney artists bring to the table. (Whenever you've talked about the value of specific acting, for example, and mentioned it in the context of Golden Age artists, I've always found myself thinking of Dave Kuhn's performance animating the James Woods Hades in Hercules and wondering if it isn't that we're completely underestimating just how intensely today's artists focus on that kind of animation acting, at least on the feature level. "I KNOW! I know... I get the con-cept." You know?)

Aaron said...

a peal can be slippery

trevor thompson said...

I agree that overly detailed characters or overly graphic characters are hard to turn into enduring animated characters, but it's not that simple.

John, are you citing Richard Williams as a good or bad example of this?

- trevor.

Anonymous said...

In this post you have talked about appeal in character design. But, Frank and Ollie seem to be talking about appeal in the drawing and pose itself. For example, in the Richard Williams drawing the man leans back with his arm up. The pose is stiff and very unappealing. Compare it to the top right centaur girl who has a very similar pose. She is leaning back with arms raised too, but it is done in an appealing way. It looks very natural ,flowing and suggests something more about the character than just that she is simply leaning back with arms raised. While I agree that the character designs you have shown are bland and boring. A badly designed character can be drawn in an appealing way.

John A said...

Disney's sense of what was appealing was locked in a perpetual infantile state. His most appealing stuff copies the energy of small children, all wide eyed and full of smiles.(like Dumbo, or Dopey) Even his so called adult characters behave like overgrown babies. There's nothing wrong with this- Disney keyed into the fact that almost everyone responds positively to babies, and since everyone watching a cartoon has been a baby at one time in their lives, there's a relatability factor at work here.(Capra discovered this too when he started out in films making "Our Gang" shorts- his primary audience was kids and grandparents- and so was Disney's.)

The problem is, if you want to call it a problem, because it was extremely profitible for old Walt,is that it has its limits-not everyone in the audience wants to think like a four year old. He brought his artists to the highest level of draftsmanship and color design, but the subject matter remained stubbornly infantile.(which again I state, is not necessarily a bad thing, I'll take carefree Disney innocence over the present studio's occasional lapses into bad taste, poor judgement and sexually ambiguity)You'll notice that the Disney principles really started showing up in other studio cartoons once a few defectors Like Tashlin, Culhane, Lundy, Natwick and Moore started sharing their knowlege with the competition. But unlike Disney, these other studios were not locked into an infantile mindset, so we start seeing more mature personalities, drawn with a sophistication previously unseen in the rival studios.(cartoons DID behave in a more adult manner in the early '30s, but the Hays office forced everybody to copy Disney until a few artists rebeled in the late '30s)

Freddie Moore and Gim Natwick really raised the bar for Lantz' Woody Woodpecker cartoons,and Woody's redesign in the early '40s is probably THE MOST appealling character design EVER.(perfect combination of colors, extremely versitile body construction,near perfect balance between beak and head plummage,AND he's a fun character to draw.)

PCUnfunny said...

I think appealing character design has to have some indication of what the character's personality is. Even just one trait needs to be emphasized on so the audience can manage to indentify what the character is like.

Ukulele Moon said...

John, you nail it every time!

It's one of those things ... you GET IT. Plain and simple. Anyone who disagrees with this post isn't talking about the same subject matter. When it comes to appealing character design in golden age influenced animation - it either is or it isn't. You shouldn't have to convince people that your stuff looks good! The broccoli comment was perfection.

All of those who insist you should make the word appealing a personal opinion are confusing the issue completely. And, let's face it ... it's probably because they can't tell the difference.

That being said. I watch a lot of unappealing character design because I find the shows entertaining. Appealing and entertaining are two different things. But those talented individuals or studios who can combine the two? MAGIC.

Jon, Garaizar. superstar said...

those lion king drawings are ugly as sin.

pappy d said...

but not appealing like sinmail.com

pappy d said...


...like sin.

pappy d said...

but not appealing like sin

perspex said...

yeah but Disney stuff to me is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO boring!

Lel said...

hmmm, I get what you saying, but I disagree with the comment about Disney having a lot of the same character design... I actually found that most Disney feature films have a unique style I mean Lilo and stitch was Chris Saunders, Hercules was Hirschfeld, Mulan Chen-yi Chan etc... but I agree about modern film makers wanted to make things more realistic and "serious" lets see if Princess and the Frog changes some things ^_^

septemberslater23 said...

I think people take "appeal" to mean the direct appearance of the character, which seems to be missing the point. Sylvain Chomet and Satoshi Kon have no problem portraying unattractive characters in an appealing way. You know that the characters are ugly, but you're still compelled to look at them.

The problem with shows such as Family Guy and Total Drama Island--aside from most characters looking the same--is that there are no physical traits that reflect the character's personality. "Well, Peter's fat, Joe's in a wheelchair, Quagmire has a funny-shaped head..." "Well, there's the hot chick, who's blonde, and the ugly chick, who's brunette..."

Also, appeal has more to do with emotional impact than it does technical style. Take, for instance, "Phil" from Hercules or "Flip" from Nemo in Slumberland--both physically unappealing, and yet there is a general niceness to their appearance. There's a sympathy for the character brought out by an exaggeration of their unattractive traits, as well as a genuine portrayal of emotion.

SparkyMK3 said...

(Freddie Moore and Grim Natwick really raised the bar for Lantz' Woody Woodpecker cartoons,and Woody's redesign in the early '40s is probably THE MOST appealling character design EVER.(perfect combination of colors, extremely versitile body construction,near perfect balance between beak and head plummage,AND he's a fun character to draw.))

Well...i'm going to say yes and no on this.

Yes, the Woody redesign (especially Fred Moore's handsomely drawn take on the design from the late 40's) is very appealing and well balanced, but it's mostly built of principles, while the design itself is pretty generic, albiet well balanced.

In contrast, the original Woody Woodpecker design is by all accounts a gruesome, crude design in contrast--but it WORKED. It relies on sardonic appeal, not unlike the design of say, the original Popeye. It's ugly, but the proportions are much funnier and off balance, which not only makes that design feel more "alive" (in spite of not being as well constructed as the redesign) but was also perfectly suited to Woody's character.

Now if you want a Woody design that is non-ironically ugly, look no further than his later design from the 50s, which sterilized Woody into a bland, crudely drawn imitation of his former self, having neither the sardonic appeal of the original design, nor the skill and balance of the second design.

But by all accounts, if i ever want to draw Woody, i will ALWAYS use the original design, or at least a more skilled take on it that finds the best of both worlds--ugly appeal combined with skilled drawing, an interesting combo (as Mr. Kricfalusi has demonstrated with his many fine cartoons).

vijil said...

I'm a designer on the lookout for some tips on how to make characters appealing - my bosses keep saying "it needs more appeal" while I scratch my head and wonder what kind of appeal they're talking about.

I'm assuming they're talking about Disney style appeal, since they're mostly animators who grew up on Disney films.

This blog (and others) have taught me a few things however. The first is that "appeal" is entirely subjective and generational. My problem is that I don't find the classic 9 old men Disney style appealing - never have, even as a child. Bland and uninteresting. I was more interested in Dexter's Lab or Angry Beavers. Warner Bros was better.

That said, in my personal opinion Wall-E is one of the most appealing character designs in history. But will five year olds think the same in 50 years? Maybe. Likely not.