Monday, December 15, 2008

Eyes 3: Eyes and how versatile they can be (if you let them)

There are different cliques of animators and cartoonists, each of who have learned a handful of eye shapes and expressions. There are Disney eyes, Cal Arts eyes, Prime Time eyes, Anime eyes, Deviant-Art eyes etc. There are imitation-Spumco eyes.

Thanks to Paul B for this Disney eye-sheet!

Each of these sets of eye expressions is extremely limiting. They don't allow for spontaneous invention. Artists memorize their handful of expressions from the style they like and for the rest of their careers can only express symbols of the simplest emotions - using the same symbols and flat emotions that have been beaten to death for years. What fun or creativity is there in that?

As Frank and Ollie say, cartoon acting can't compete on the same level as live action acting:

this last sentence seems like a big contradiction to me. "we must concentrate on acting" - after admitting that cartoons lacks "the subtle shadow patterns...."

Disney took 30 years or so to create a few approved Disney expressions, always weighing them against whether they are appealing (their type of appealing) or not. This severely restricted the range of their acting - in my opinion.

While I agree with Frank and Ollie that we can't compete directly with realistic subtle live action acting, we can more than make up for it with cartoon license if we think liberally.
Having to do limited animation for most of my career, while really wanting to do lush full animation, has made me make practical choices in what to focus on.

In this series of layout poses from "Stimpy's First Fart", a lot of the body poses are held so I could concentrate on the facial expressions. If I was stuck with a handful of eye expressions off a model sheet to work from, I would be completely handicapped in trying to get any specific subtle emotions out of my characters. Because I admire lots of different drawing styles and I absorb techniques and shapes from many different schools of thought, I can draw from a larger pallette of expressions than you will find in most cartoons. I am not afraid to make up shapes on the spot as needed - and then never use them again.
I don't actually memorize a thousand expressions and then summon them up for the appropriate emotions taking place in the stories. I don't think about what eye and mouth shapes to use at all - for the most part. Instead, I act out the scene as I go and draw what I'm feeling. The shapes of the eyes change and bend almost without my conscious control. Somehow my pencil just knows the shapes that will convey the emotions I'm feeling. It isn't random weirdness just to be weird - it's all in context of the story.

The eyes and pupils will grow, shrink, change shape - whatever it takes to tell the ever changing emotions of the characters. The poses that come easiest are the ones generally with the most appeal. Now and then there is a particularly hard subtle emotion to capture, and I have to analyze what my own facial muscles are doing - and those poses tend to come out less appealing - even ugly. I would rather they all be appealing but worry more about the whole scene in its continuity.

Ren is actually a lot cuter in these scenes than Stimpy. Stimpy is experiencing ugly emotions and he is not used to them. He is usually happy. On the few occasions that he doesn't feel blissfully and idiotically happy, he has a hard time releasing his new unfamiliar emotions. They hurt him and I feel him struggling them to contain themselves, but they burst through against his will.

In general I want the overall effect of a scene - even if it is intense and theoretically ugly - to be cute - to be making fun of ugliness. This is different than just being ugly for the sake of it. There are many actually unappealing drawings in Ren and Stimpy and I cringe whenever I see them - but it's never my intention. To me, even gross can be appealing - as in Basil Wolverton's drawings.

Some of Stimpy's uglier expressions on these sheets appear in countless cartoons on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network and have become stock expressions just like the ones I rebel against that come from other house styles.

The important thing to me is not to memorize stock shapes and expressions, but to be able to summon up any shape imaginable that suits the emotional idea I need to convey. This means I have to be a fan of many many styles and many other mediums, so that I am not bound by a small handful of animation shortcuts and visual cliches.

The other trick is to able to wrap unfamiliar shapes around your characters' constructions so that the expressions don't just float on a 2 dimensional plane in front of the head shape. Not always easy! That's why "solid Drawing" is the most important fundamental tool we have.


Gudrød said...

Every time you mention animators must work from a stock model sheet for expressions for every future script, instead of relying on the animator to interpret the emotions in the character, I am flabbergasted. My knowledge, based on 'common-sense based' hypothesis, was 'Model Sheets' conveyed the character's design and proportions, not as blueprint for the character's emotions the animator dare not stray! (!!!!)
When you state, '...the eyes and pupils will grow, shrink, change shape', it seems like common sense to me.
I ask rhetorically: how did animation practices evolve to a point where a sense of emotion on the character is distilled to only a handful, effectively discouraging diverse, new emotions based on any future scene or storyline new scripts may deliver?
Am I interpreting this incorrectly?

Lluis Sanchez said...

Yeah!! I showed "Stimpys First Fart" to a painter friend of mine who's older and pretty pompous and he freaked out!!! he's a big fan of classical music, he was blown away, I think because he thought cartoons are just dumb and useless.
I think this episode has a quality I have never seen anywher else ever again, the emotions of Stimpy are awsome!

Paul B said...

this are the pages?

Adam T said...

Don't animators keep a small vanity mirror nearby to make faces in?

David Germain said...

In shows made with symbol-flash, this type of thing is even worse. No model chart for eyes or any other body part is necessary. They're all there within the symbol. Some studios do encourage animators to draw new symbols when they need to but for the most part they settle for the symbols that are already there so that someone in a suit won't shout the dreaded words "off model".
Complex facial expressions is the most hampered by this medium. I've managed to do what I could, but none of it is nearly as expressive as I'd like it to be.

PCUnfunny said...

Don't animators keep a small vanity mirror nearby to make faces in?"

They do. Disney animators referenced live action alot but they ultimately drew the "Disney POV", everything lacking a sign of personality and sticking to ridgid principles.

Ryan Cole said...

Huh. I didn't know Disney eyes were different from Cal arts eyes.

John A said...

I always loved the acting in this cartoon, it really pushed the envelope as far as emotional range and acting ability waas concerned. Those Stimpy's look like they were inspired by Kurtzman and Davis' MAD stuff, the kind of thing that NO ONE else ever EVEN TRIES to animate.

Tanya said...

Heh, deviantART eyes...I've probably seen tons of those and not even realized it.

I really appreciate this post...I think departing from the memorization of typical stock expressions is the way to go. I can feel so much more emotion in those layout poses (and in the actual episode from what I can remember) than in many other cartoons.

On another note, I haven't been able to remember the title of that episode, so thanks for including "Stimpy's First Fart." It was one of my very favorite episodes as a little kid. :)

Caleb said...

Ren & Stimpy (the ones you worked on) never feels like limited animation because of all of the fresh (not recycled) drawings. There's always some nuance of emotion or just good drawings to keep it interesting. It works great for the story when a character's eyes can go from beady to puppy dog in an instant. Even the backgrounds in "Stimpy's First Fart" are amazing compared to Scooby or another limited show. I hate it when a modern show does an R & S cut to gross close-up shot, but the drawing isn't that great so they rely on the sound effect to be funny.

HemlockMan said...

Some years ago I was reading a graphic novel that wasn't particularly good, but it wasn't bad, either. And this specific graphic novel allowed me to understand that there are things in literature that only a graphic novel can do. The things I was seeing and reading just couldn't be done effectively with merely prose.

Similarly, there are things that a cartoon can do that just can't be done with live action. I mean, besides the wacky obvious.

An aside to the whole big-eyes theory: One thing that floored me years ago was something that I saw Ren do in an early episode of Ren & Stimpy. He puckered up his mouth and did a condescending parody of pity. It was hilarious. I'd never seen a cartoon character do that. And the animator certainly didn't need big eyes to accomplish this pretty darned funny snippet.

Elana Pritchard said...

Good post. Draw like a taoist...

Putty CAD said...

My daughter loved this episode, she was glued to her seat! Even without the glue I'm sure she would have stayed there! ;) It was doubly funny for me watching her face as she saw Stimpy going through his emotional scenes. :D

Jonathan Harris said...

God yes, I loved this scene so much, I instantly felt it had a different flavour to everything else I'd seen, even in Ren and Stimpy itself. I love it when you post your model sheets, John, it's always interesting to see these things broken down and in their rawest forms.

PCUnfunny said...

Notice on Deviant Art you'll find pretty much perfect copies of all sorts of anime characters but search Bugs or Daffy and it's never even remotely close.

Mitch K said...

That scene is my favorite R&S scene.

Pete Emslie said...

Hi John,

First of all, I want to state for the record that I think the flurry of posts you've made in the last few weeks regarding drawing principles are just great. The practical information you've been presenting here recently on your blog will be of huge benefit to students of cartooning and animation, assuming they make an honest attempt to apply this newfound knowledge of solid drawing, their own art.

However, I must admit that I do take some exception to your denigration of the way these principles have, in your opinion, not been properly applied to Disney's own animation and character design. For example, you seem to imply that the compilation of eye expressions presented in the image reproduced here from "Disney Animation - The Illusion of Life" are accepted by the Disney animators to be the final word in expressions to be shown in the eyes of Disney characters. Frankly I don't agree with that assessment, as I believe that the treatment shown in this image is simply meant to indicate how the eyes are affected by all of the forces acting upon them from all sides by the surrounding flesh and muscles, resulting in a wide variety of "shapes" determined by the ratio of exposed white space to pupil, etc. The best of the Disney animators are quite capable of creating an infinite variety of eye expressions based on this sound principle and do so on a regular basis in their animation. I really don't buy your claim that they do not.

Are these Disney character eye "shapes" as unique as those that you create in your animation of Ren and Stimpy, like the examples presented here? No they are not, but that's because your intent is to abstract completely in your interpretation of reality, whereas the Disney approach has always been to caricature that reality, yet without resorting to the type of extreme abstraction of design that you yourself favour.

I say this not to criticize your approach, John, but merely to point out that different artists will have deliberately different intentions in their approach to analysis and application of their observations from life. (Just take the differing approaches to caricature that you and I take, for instance).The Disney approach is completely valid and is right for them, whereas to believe that they should adopt your own artistic approach or that of anybody else is just unfair. Whether you like what they do or not is certainly your privilege, but to accuse them of never straying from a set of formulaic expressions is being overly dismissive of them I think. The Disney artists understand well how the flesh and muscles of the face impact the shape and movement of the features themselves. So do you, but you choose to portray it in a far more abstract way, that's all.

Alain-Christian said...

Stimpy's Son / Stimpy's First Fart is actually my favorite episode. It looked pretty high budget to me at the time I watched it. I probably have it on R&S DVD somewhere. Now would probably be the time to watch it again.

Jon, I've been meaning to ask, what do you have against cartoons that are more story driven like Akira or Futurama?

The impression I get when I read your blog is that nobody should make a cartoon unless it's funny. That's like telling Picasso he's painting the wrong way.

And when I read the comments I feel like I'm surrounded by your Yes Men and everybody's just agreeing with you for the sake of agreeing with you.

Of course I could be getting the wrong impression here so please help me out with this.

Anonymous said...

Woo, thanks for the reminder to watch "Stimpy's First Fart" this Christmas season! I showed it to a class of Japanese Highschoolers a couple years ago -- their minds were blown!

El Chongo said...

Thats one of my favorite R&S scenes. It was shocking when i first saw it cause it had such real emotion for a cartoon especially cause Stimpy actully gets angry. The Ren drawing in the first sheet where hes nudging stimpy is the the most appealing by itself i dont know the design and expression just instantly makes you happy for some reason

Isaac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deniseletter said...

"Stimpy's First Fart" is a good parody-satire of motherhood .It was beautifully made in everything, colors,environment,intensity,appealing that's why is one of my favorite R and S episodes.Many thanks John again for this lessons!!This is an open book so I'll continue the reading...

JohnK said...

Hi Pete,

I always enjoy your detailed comments. I partly agree with you and partly disagree, for example:

"but that's because your intent is to abstract completely in your interpretation of reality, whereas the Disney approach has always been to caricature that reality,"

I would say the complete opposite. Disney's acting is completely unrealistic and abstract; mine moves in and out of reality but expresses a much wider and more subtle range of emotions - but not as wide s real life or good live action actors.

I've done numerous posts showing examples of Disney expressions, which to me are merely squashing one side of the face while stretching the other. This shows an basic understanding of facial mechanics, but no understanding of a human's soul. All the characters make the same expressions. Prove me wrong and do a post on your blog that shows some unique one of a kind expressions that express an actual individual emotion tailored to an individual character. Put that damned doorknob up.

The only one I can think of is Medusa in The Rescuers. Kahl invented a bunch of new mouth shapes and a couple of eye shapes for this character. This was long after Walt was gone, so maybe he figured he was finally allowed to experiment a bit. The character still moved like many Disney characters before - flailing her arms all over the place like Ludwig Von Drake and a million other characters, but yes there was some invention for once in a Disney character's acting.I'd like to say Sher Khan has a bit of invention, but it is full of formula as well. It's just drawn amazingly solid.

Unfortunately Medusa's triangular mouth shapes and ragged teeth have now become standard Cal Arts property and you see them on tons of characters that they aren't suited for.

I understand why die-hard fans of Disney love Disney - it moves beautifully, has pretty colors is designed with appealing balance etc. but these elements don't automatically make everything they do perfect. Pretty and detailed and careful has nothing whatsoever to do with acting. Zero.

I can put tons of visual evidence up on a hundred blog posts that show that fact, but trying to convince Disney disciples is like trying to use evidence against Jehovah's Witnesses that come knocking at your door who believe the lion will lay down with the lamb. No amount of evidence will change their beliefs.

Seriously, put up a bunch of expressions from Disney cartoons on your blog and explain the mechanics of them, and what complex individual emotions they convey.

Then I'll have something visual to answer you with.

PCUnfunny said...

"is like trying to use evidence against Jehovah's Witnesses that come knocking at your door who believe the lion will lay down with the lamb."

As a former JW, that made me laugh. xD

Pete Emslie said...

Hi John,

Unfortunately I don't have whatever software is required to obtain screen grabs from the films, but I suspect that whatever examples I would point out would not convince you regardless. Interestingly, I was going to mention Medusa specifically, as well as some really nice moments from "101 Dalmatians" featuring Roger and Anita that I feel contain expressions that really communicate specific ideas. I'd also direct your attention to Edgar the butler in "The Aristocats" listening in to Madame making out her will with her lawyer. But I doubt you'll be convinced by any of these examples.

Something that occurs to me, however, that may explain what it is that you feel is lacking in Disney animation is the different approach to acting in general. If one goes back to the early shorts from both Disney and Warners, it seems to me that each studio was influenced by the popular screen comedians of the day, only very different ones. It is common knowledge that Walt himself loved Chaplin, and you can see how several of the 30's Mickey cartoons were even pretty direct satires of Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton films. Like the early silent comedies, Disney's shorts were comprised of purely visual gags and often portrayed Mickey, Donald or Goofy in conflict with nature and inanimate objects imbued with anthropomorphic human traits. The overall approach was one of sheer visual whimsy, sometimes trying to create pathos in a typical Chaplin manner. To fully appreciate these cartoons, I guess one has to buy into that basic concept, which I'm not sure that you do.

I can understand and appreciate why you prefer the Warners cartoons, John, but there is a completely different comedic sensibility behind them. Again, I feel that the Warners guys were highly influenced by the comedians of the day, only their tastes ran more towards The Marx Brothers, not Chaplin. The Marx comedies were short on pathos and big on madcap, anarchic visual and verbal humour. One can see how Bugs Bunny was to Groucho what Mickey was to Chaplin. It's interesting to note that in the Warners cartoons, verbal wisecracks and puns are just as much a part of the formula as are the wild and wacky visual gags. In contrast, the humour in the Disney shorts was purely visual, not verbal. While Mickey, Donald and Goofy had distinct amusing voices, they never said anything funny. The dialogue in the shorts was only there to help flesh out their characters through Mickey's nervous stammering or Donald's bouts of quacking rage. They never cracked jokes or indulged in wordplay, as did the Looney Tunes gang.

Another approach to acting that is found in the Warners cartoons, I suspect is a further influence by the studio's own live action product. I know that you love what you call "specific" acting, and the actors you cite as your favourites tend to be such Warners' stalwarts as Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet, all highly individual actors with rich, nuanced character traits. Again, in contrast, what you probably are rebelling against in the features of Disney are the perceived lack of such traits in their characters. But Disney was not influenced by those same types of gritty films or actors that you prefer.

If you look at the canon of animated features made during Walt's lifetime, all but one of them are full-fledged musicals. The one exception would be "101 Dalmatians", which has 3 songs but is really not a musical per se, as two of those songs are compositions sung by Roger the songwriter in his course of developing them as any composer would, while the third is a short jingle heard in a TV commercial. There are no musical production numbers in this film. Interestingly, I feel that "101 Dalmatians" is as close to emulating conventional live action acting as Disney ever got. In fact, I find it refreshing that the two humans and their dogs meet and marry in the first sequence of the film, allowing the animators a chance to explore the domestic married life for once, instead of just the dewy romance that leads up to it as in their fairy tales. Personally, I find the acting in this film very satisfying and realistic.

Going back to the other Disney features, though, the fact that they are all musicals has great bearing on the type of acting found within. For the record, I am a big fan of screen musicals and I feel about Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron etc. the same way you do about Bogie, Bacall, Lorre, Kirk, et al. But the type of acting in musicals is inherently very stagey and theatrical compared to that found in gritty crime dramas. It has to be, as there is an overall air of artifice that surrounds the movie musical, which is an absolute necessity in my opinion. (Sadly, this is why so many of today's jaded young moviegoers can't understand their appeal, as they can't come to terms with characters suddenly breaking into song.) Again, one has to buy into that more theatrical style of acting found in the Disney features in order to fully appreciate them. I suspect that your own stated preference for actors found in film noir dramas is what prevents you from appreciating the delights to be found in the more stagey Disney films. As for me, I like both Disney and Warners cartoons - I just accept and appreciate their distinct differences, that's all.

chrisallison said...

AWESOME! Thanks John! I've been watching for an eye post for a while. These Ren and Stimpy sheets are inspirational!

Mr. Semaj said...

I'm more in agreement with Pete's analysis.

John, I try to make a case for outsiders who disagree with you that you're not as anti-Disney as many of your pre-blog interviews suggest. However, some of your critiques are on the border of undermining the many accomplishments Disney has already made for animation, and by trying to discredit their legacy is doing more harm than help to animation in general.

JohnK said...

Hi Pete

that's an awful long explanation to agree with me that Disney's acting is generic. (The men in 101 Dalmations act exactly like the dogs do - they even have the exact same construction)

As far as musicals go, I love the same ones you do. When you say young people don't understand when the actors break into song, I would respond with I don't understand why the singers and dancers break into acting, which for the most part (just like animators) they aren't very good at. Judy Garland is an exception.

The worst thing about old musicals is the filler - the cheesy stories and bad acting - just like Disney cartoons.

Never have I said Warner Bros. is the be all and end all of cartoon acting. They are better than Disney for sure, but they just scratched the surface. There is a lot more work to do - especially if we want to compare ourselves to professional actors or comedians.

JohnK said...

Mr. Semaj:

"by trying to discredit their legacy is doing more harm than help to animation in general."

I'm not trying to discredit their legacy, just trying to analyze it. What they do well I compliment, what someone else does better I point it out.

I invite you (as I did Pete) to make your point with pictures, not just theories and vague knee-jerk reactions.

What is really harming animation is that there is no new generation that cares about learning to draw with discipline and fundamentals at all.

Bill said...

What are Devianart eyes? Are they cheap attempts at anime eyes?

Annie-Mae said...

John, Love the storyboard of that Ren and Stimpy ep. That is possibly the thing that clicked in my head about great expressions. There is true acting in that whole scene and it makes me excited every time I see it. It's a real treat to see the rough sketches of the full thing. Thanks alot.

PCUnfunny said...

"However, some of your critiques are on the border of undermining the many accomplishments Disney has already made for animation, and by trying to discredit their legacy is doing more harm than help to animation in general."

From my POV, John is one of the few people that prasies Disney for the right thing, technical achievements. The humanity is another story, Disney never really had it all, especially not in the feature films.

Hans Flagon said...


re: model sheets

You are confusing theoretical idealism, with a much less idealistic reality.

Model sheets used to be used for proportion mainly, but as animation became more limited, and shipped out of the country, there became less variation from the model sheet. This was the sixties through eighties.

In the seventies through 90s, as more controlling and managing forces in the production of animation came from outside of animation, those with more of an eye on trademark and licensing than expression, it started to become enforced law, that one should not veer from the trademark design model sheet.

And hiring the rote work out of the country away from the creative only made this worse. If a scene did not look like the licensed happy meal toy, cereal and vitamin plugging spokes cartoon, the work was went back or thrown away, that is, practically not paid for. So commercial animation increasingly became a job of tracing the approved drawings over and over, rather than introducing life and expression.

There are exceptions, but it is somewhat true that model sheets became more of a bind than an aid for several reasons. Getting to that nadir included many overlapping factors, that had positive and negative points, but the negative won out in the long run generally, until pools of revolt bubbled up here and there as an attempt to improve things.

Xerox saved labor AND made the work a bit more lively in some cases by being closer to an animators pencils, but it was mainly a production short cut that led to other short cuts. You make the model sheet complicated enough to look good on a notebook or lunchbox, it becomes more difficult to animate, in a situation where continuously fewer drawings are being used.

Anonymous said...

Great post, again!

If you're interested I just partially scanned in some 1970 Bugs Bunny comic books. I'm sure you've seen them before, but in case you want some more examples of terrible comics:

Pete Emslie said...

John said: "The men in 101 Dalmations act exactly like the dogs do - they even have the exact same construction"

That's quite clearly the intent - to draw a direct parallel between the dogs and their human pets. Remember, that's what is set up specifically in the opening sequence of Pongo observing all of the females out walking their dogs, in that they are really one and the same in their physical design. Pongo and Roger are each other's counterparts.

This is carried on in a similar fashion through the Twilight Bark sequence, where the old farm hound who delivers the message to the Colonel is obviously a doggie stand-in for his unseen farmer owner, and of course you know that the Colonel has to be the sheepdog equivalent of the old retired military gent who lives in that country manor. C'mon, John, it's a clever and delightful concept! Fact is, I actually use that clip of the Colonel, the horse Captain, and Sgt. Tibbs the cat in my lessons on anthropomorphism, as it's a terrific example of how Disney does not merely create cartoon animals, but creates animal versions of distinctive human "types" that are familiar to us either through personal experience or movie archetypes.

JohnK said...

"That's quite clearly the intent - to draw a direct parallel between the dogs and their human pets."

Well they had the same intent for the previous 20 years. Maybe they finally figured they needed a written excuse for reusing the same designs for everybody.

MasterK said...

Interesting to see Ben 10 Alien Force up there (not especially appealing but not particularly objectionable either) I was hoping you would say more about modern cartoons since I watch CN a lot and they have some good shows a lot. One of them is called The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, and although you may not like everything, they go off model a LOT. watch an episode like "Lead 'Em And Weap" (theres a site where you can find it: and you will see some very off model poses and animation. what you think of the characters may be another thing, but I urge you to give it a chance, especially that episode, just for the animation

Pete Emslie said...

You know, John, just like Ren and Stimpy's pal, Mr. Horse is obviously the lookalike equine counterpart to a certain cantankerous ol' cartoonist! :)

JohnK said...

You're probably right, Pete but notice that the rest of the characters don't have the same design and the same expressions.

The lion is not going to lie down with the lamb, no matter how much you wish it would.

Pete Emslie said...

"The lion is not going to lie down with the lamb, no matter how much you wish it would."

I would hope that he wouldn't, as I'm afraid that their offspring might resemble the manimals pics that you just posted at the tail end of your latest entry on appeal!

But seriously, John, I know that you and I will never be in agreement on the topic of classic Disney features character design. But hopefully our debating the issue will at least give the usual suspects on here something to chew on and come to their own considered opinions on the matter. I'm sure you'd agree with me on the benefit of that at least, ya' rascal! :)

Mr. Semaj said...

From my POV, John is one of the few people that praises Disney for the right thing, technical achievements. The humanity is another story, Disney never really had it all, especially not in the feature films.

So you're just saying "Disney lacks humanity" because John said it first.

I invite you (as I did Pete) to make your point with pictures, not just theories and vague knee-jerk reactions.

I would, because I have screencap equipment, except my current schedule won't allow it.

What I will say for now is check out any Donald Duck or Goofy cartoon. Specifically, "No Sail" has an actual interaction between Donald and Goofy, and Donald himself has a lot of great reactions that doesn't have to do with annoying vermin. "Donald's Tire Trouble" has a hilarious ending, if you can survive the first five minutes. "Motor Mania" involves Goofy's split persona as a pedestrian and a motorist. "Donald's Diary" has a lot of crazy stuff going on, too.

Just so you know, I didn't bring this up to be mean. There's nothing seriously wrong with Disney having their own "house" style if they made GOOD films and had the skills to back themselves up (as you've emphasized more than once).

JohnK said...

Yeah I agree Pete, but I thought we were arguing about the acting, not the character design.

I've said all along that Disney at its best has pleasing character design. It's just very limited because they re-use the same ones over and over again and don't let them make expressions.

Pete Emslie said...

Frankly, John, I believe that the Disney approach to character design is tied in directly to the resulting acting and expressions. Like I said before, it's a different style of acting than you like, as it's very theatrical like what you would observe in actors performing on stage. If you believe otherwise, then I'm going to extend to you this challenge. How about taking a Disney character that is personally appealing to you and drawing a medium close-up of that character with an example of what you refer to as a "specific" expression, with the character reacting to something in a distinctive way. I doubt that you'd be able to do it, but I'd love to see you prove me wrong.

In the meantime, here is a link to a Youtube clip of Edgar from "The Aristocats" that I have always found hugely entertaining, with an incredibly pliable, expressive face and body language. I'll bet a lot of other people have enjoyed this too, and when it comes right down to it, isn't that really all that matters? I think so.

JohnK said...

Thanks Pete, that clip just solidifies my point.

That's from the ugliest period of Disney animation where every character design looks old - even the kittens.

All the "acting" is just a recycling of stock actions the animators have drawn a million times. They aren't even thinking about it anymore, just doing it by rote.

I can't believe even you would think the Aristocats is remotely appealing!

It's like spending a weekend at an old folks' home.

Deniseletter said...

Relating the vid Edgar from "The Aristocats" I like it when you get into the drama is entertaining despite you know is a repetitive Disney style (think I understand the meaning)so I assume as one of many ways to do a scene like that.

But I recognize in classical Disney films including this vid I have the sensation the characters move like in slow camera,like if they were under the water,maybe because the overlapping action and how the did the timing I dunno and this could affect the acting.The funny old man with the stick reminds me the other old man in Atlantis.

PCUnfunny said...

"So you're just saying "Disney lacks humanity" because John said it first."

I am going restrain my anger right now and calmly say just look at any Disney feature, which I have seen most of them, and read the ILLUSION OF LIFE. The latter I suggest even more. Look at all the drawings that were taken from the cartoons, there is no acting in a single drawing. All you see is the character being squashed and streched. Also look at the pictures of live action actors used for their feature films and how bland the drawings are by comparison. This isn't some secret, Disney just never understood humanity and generally failed to translate to animated film.

PCUnfunny said...

Those kitties all look like miny shere khans ! Yuck !

Iritscen said...

It's like spending a weekend at an old folks' home.

I think that with "old folks" as appealing as that man with the cane, I would enjoy spending some time at their "home"! Old folks don't get enough love in films for kids (here's hoping that "Up" does something for the good fight).

PCUnfunny said...

"(here's hoping that "Up" does something for the good fight)."

UP looks like WALL-E 2, a student film that should be 8 minutes but ends up being 90. I could be wrong but I doubt it.

PCUnfunny said...

"I think that with "old folks" as appealing as that man with the cane, I would enjoy spending some time at their "home"!"

I have talked to many old folks at Wal-Mart, employee or customer. They are alot more interesting then that pure stock acting old guy.

John A said...

There's a lot of entertaining business to be found in Disney's features, but I'd be really hard pressed to find any in the Aristocats. The old people's scene that Peter linked is a great example of everything that I hate about Bluth's movies: he confuses action with acting and he seems to guage the success of a scene with the amount of things moving around in it. Scenes like these just leave me feeling anxious,like I'm being filibustered with a flurry of drawings. Nice drawings? Sure, but I can't watch a scene like this without a voice in the back of my head saying "can we get on with it already?" None of this stuff really advances the plot in any significant way and once it's over it's quickly forgotten.

Pete Emslie said...

I offer up my reasoned (if wordy) arguments not with the hopes of converting any of you over to my love of classic Disney, but merely to present a counter-point to John's own rather dismissive views of Disney animation as it relates to his theories on acting. I would hope that some of the regular readers would at least give these debates some genuine thought and come up with a considered opinion of their own instead of continuing to blindly and unquestioningly follow their leader. Yeah, I'm looking at you, PC, and if you were to put as much effort into working to improve your own drawing skills as you do parroting John's words, maybe you might actually get good someday.

I still believe that these posts that John has written on construction and appeal are a very worthy read, but his own approach to design and handling of the features of the characters work well for him, but they'd be a poor fit for something like the Disney house style. That just has to be understood to be appreciated. Anyway, that's my last word on the subject. Thanks for listening...

JohnK said...

That's the first time I ever heard anyone refer to the Aristocrats as classic Disney, but other than that I agree with you Pete. - Wholeheartedly.

The people who have such strong opinions ought to back them up with some skills of their own. As you do, but so many others have not even tried.

Even though there are so many blogs by professional animators giving away free tips and lessons.

I'm waiting for the youngsters to take advantage of all this gold that guys like you and me would have killed for when we were trying to learn to draw.

Mr. Semaj said...

I am going restrain my anger right now and calmly say just look at any Disney feature, which I have seen most of them, and read the ILLUSION OF LIFE. The latter I suggest even more. Look at all the drawings that were taken from the cartoons, there is no acting in a single drawing. All you see is the character being squashed and streched. Also look at the pictures of live action actors used for their feature films and how bland the drawings are by comparison. This isn't some secret, Disney just never understood humanity and generally failed to translate to animated film.

I have read The Illusion of Life twice, and have seen every Disney film made up to the time of the book's publication.

The fact that you insist Disney's films never had humanity, and that they had no acting beyond squash and stretch shows not only have you yourself never read the book, or even seen a fair number of Disney films, let-alone more than once to make any such statements, but that you are still not speaking on your own terms.

Stephen Worth said...

When I was production manager on Cool World, our assisting department was as green as the grass and needed some coaching. I brought in Dale Oliver, Frank Thomas's assistant to speak to them, hoping he would encourage them to flip their inbetweens and give them solid advice on how to follow through on the animator's intent for a scene.

The first thing he said was, "Here's the way you draw a hand..." For the next hour and a half, he recited most of the Disney formulas on how to draw various parts of the body. It was very disappointing. Dale was a great guy, but I don't think he ever worked outside of Disney. I guess it's hard to think outside the box when you are so firmly planted inside it.

Guy said...

Mr. Semaj: Oh, sure, Disney had "humanity". Cave paintings had humanity. Vastly more so, in fact: they're completely pure. Whereas with Disney your type is thrilled by a character who's angry. In a way that's vaguely like real people who're angry! Your bunch seems to be enthralled by any character that doesn't seem like it came from Mars.

Likewise, Disney had "acting". A completely primitive form of acting that we should have left in the dust decades ago. It's only because almost everything made since then is a cruder version of their work that Disney's films look any more advanced to you than live action films of the time do.

Though, I suppose I'm just another person to be thrown onto the pile of people who just parrot what John K. says. And like he said, there's no way to win against what is basically religious dogma.

fandumb said...

I loved that scene, John, and the way you animated it was very expressive and emotional, but I've got to owe it to Billy West's performance. I could really hear the hurt and desperation when Stimpy said 'Gosh darn it, Ren! IS THAT ALL YOU CAN THINK OFF? Stinky's out there! Lost! Alone!' The animation in the episode is really good, and I thought that in this particular scene, Billy gave an emotionally powerful performance you wouldn't normally find in a cartoon.