Monday, December 29, 2008

Staging - Bambi Hierarchy Broken Down - staging becomes art

There were a lot of good comments yesterday. Nate Bear especially made the points that I was focusing on.The main difference to me between that Flintstone staging and the Bambi staging is that one is merely functional and the other is planned artistically. In the Bambi picture, the whole layout is not only clear and easy to read, but the staging tself has been turned into part of the visual pleasure. It's so well thought out and artistically managed. It's logical and creative at the same time. The artist worked from the outside in to make an overall compositional statement where every level of sub forms and details agree with the big picture and follow its plan and physics..
Bambi and Thumper are each clearly framed by the BG elements, and those elements flow around the whole composition. The sub forms in the background are being pulled along and held together by opposing forces. The whole layout design is one force. Gravity is pulling the trees and snow down. The structure of the tree branches holds together the radiating pine needles and the clumps of snow.
Each clump of needles or snow all are following the same basic forces.
When you finally get down to the tiniest details, they too follow the physics of the larger forms. You could take any part of this image and break it down. You'll find the same logic everywhere.

This artist (the book credits Mel Shaw) is a real thinker and takes his work seriously.

The Flintstone picture on the other hand, while it's still very appealing looks like there was no thought put into it at all, except to cram all the elements into it and line them up next to each other where they at least don't bump into each other.

The appeal in the picture comes mainly from 2 places - the original Ed Benedict character designs - that even if drawn a bit sloppy, still look fun, and from the clean painting by Al White. The layout itself does nothing to add any artistic statement of its own. It looks like Pratt drew Fred first and then just filled the remaining space with the other characters.

If you look at all the details in the painting, they don't follow any overall statement. Each brushtroke is deft and clean, but the individual elements just go every which way at random without following any internal logic or form. They just fill up space.

Knowing this doesn't make it an easier to draw good compositions. I envy the people who have the knack for it - Jim Smith, Frazetta, a lot of the Disney layout artists. I don't seem to have this talent. I admire it though and wish it came naturally to me. I'm always looking for layout artists that can make this kind of picture magic.

I love how Shaw takes no detail for granted. Even the smallest elements -like the blades of grass above are each actually drawn with the brush, not just scribbled in. They are drawn and follow a larger form. The whole picture is a beautiful design, not merely an illustration of an event.

I always tell my artists to draw everything - even the smallest details. Never just sketch some scribbly lines in. Make each detail have a direction and shape and follow the physics of the larger form it is subject to.


Anonymous said...

These from the Little Golden Books, John?

These beat the sh#!t out of the Golden Books (or, should I say attempted Golden Books) they sold back in the 90's.

Look up the ones for Tarzan or Lion King and see what I'm talkin' about.

Toncho said...

Amazing way to break it down... You just gotta learn your principles as well as eat your veggies.

PS. Happy Devil Worshippers!!

Caleb said...

Great info. I like how the first Bambi pic makes the text part of the composition.

trevor thompson said...



- trevor.

The Butcher said...

Hooray! I kinda, sorta got it right!

Anonymous said...

Now I feel like a jackass-- but at least I learned something!

Also, I like the last Bambi pictures more than yesterday's. Is that a Golden Book?

JohnK said...

Yeah it's a Golden book. And your comment yesterday was probably right for most people.

Anonymous said...

I will keep an eye out for that one. I need more Disney in my collection.

Speaking of Golden Books, I'll start posting all my Hanna Barberas later this week, if you need more reference material.

Christine Gerardi said...

Well, I was kind of right...only not at all.

Craig Harris said...


I am responding to one of your posts on my blog that you had left in May. I had mentioned that I would love to do some work for you, and you had said you were interested on your post.

Unfortunately I havent checked that blog until today. I have only kept it to be able to leave comments on certaing blogs that I enjoy.

At any rate, I am still interested if you are. I wouldn't require much of anything in the pay department, it would just be fun to work on one of your projects.

If you do write back. My email is

The blog I do check daily is

Happy New Year!! (Great holiday cartoon by the way)

Horganovski said...

Very interesting analysis and clearly explained. At least I can say I learned one thing today!

I'm teaching myself 3D animation (yeah, I know..) but I'm keen to try and bring as many good fundamentals from 2D as I can. I'm also learning to draw so I can storyboard stuff on paper first.

Your videos on construction for drawing characters were invaluable.

Many thanks,

Papageiena said...

John, I can't thank you enough for how helpful this is. I'm learning loads from your blog!

Thomas said...

I was afraid John would turn out to prefer the Flintstones one, on account of it being less Walt-pleasingly safe or something, but I was wrong. Very good analysis.

You can really tell that these crafty visual tricks work because while anyone can see that these illustrations have *something* brilliant about them, virtually no one would be able to point out that it's because of the way the needles flow.

And by the way, this alone is more helpful to an aspiring illustrator/animator than anything they teach you in three months of art school.

HemlockMan said...

Ah-ha. Graphic structure. I thought you were talking about pure storytelling, which the Disney image lacked, but with which the HB image was packed.

And there is some basic structure going on with the Flintstones picture. Not perfect, and not as polished as in the Disney illustration, but present.

For instance, the whole is basically a big circle with Fred's prone form making up the bottom half of the shape and with Barney, Wilma, Betty roughly forming the top of the circle (albeit imperfectly).

For pure storytelling, I pick the HB image. For artistic merit and structural perfection, the Disney painting is by far the superior. But that's what Walt was paying for, wasn't it?

Niki said...

I used to try drawing the details of the grass and flowers too! But eventually I just started scribbling it. crappy me. But now I've started the Famous Cartoonist's course all over from start to finish now! I've gonna do this man! then I'll practice the ASIFA animation course, after I'm done. They should make a way to practice doing this too, in fact I think we should start building up the learning experience here even more to get people at their best!

Kali Fontecchio said...


I like it when you labeled Bambi as "Bambi" and Thumper as "Thumper," that cracked me up!

Good times.

Disposable Ninja said...

I think I'm starting to get the idea of staging. In the previous post's comments, I kept reading that "The Flinstones picture told more story". And it occurred to me: why? Why did that one picture need to tell so much story? If you broke the Flinstones picture into three smaller pictures, you wouldn't have lost any of the story whatsoever -- Fred would still be taking a nap, the girls would still be gabbing, and Barney would still gaze longingly at the subject of his forbidden love (Fred).

The Bambi picture, on the other, while not as action-packed, can't be broken up at all. It's Bambi and Thumper, and they're interacting with one another. If you need more story, just add another picture.

Oscar Baechler said...

This was good to see first thing going into work today. I normally operate in a mindset geared towards Andrew Loomis' organic composition staging, but I generally find it doesn't give an immediate sense of flow or focal point. Good to approach my current project with this in mind.

Keep it up!

Gudrød said...

Two things.

1. Looks like I need to start collecting Golden Book.s
2. On the subject of layout and process: I've been toying with the idea of starting with simple shapes for my layout to establish a composition, hierarchy, and flow, to add detailed elements later. The trouble is what wins, clear staging or artistic layout? Are there examples of when artistic layout detract from clear staging?

Brendan M said...

Man, I got schooled.. Very good points, looks like I gotsa lot to learn