Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Big House Blues - Carbunkle Animation 1

The best animation studio I ever worked with was Carbunkle in Vancouver Canada. BHB was the first thing we did together. At the time the studio consisted basically of Bob Jaques and Kelly Armstrong. (They can correct me if I'm wrong)

I think I probably gave Bob just 2 layouts for this scene. It looks like it was drawn partly by Jim Smith and partly by me. Each character that moved - basically just did the same thing left and right in the layouts, and Bob added overlap and smooth timing and something else that made the scene really come to life.

I liked it so much in fact, that when I saw it I added cuts of close ups of the animation so that the audience could really appreciate it.
I won't presume to try to explain just what he did to smooth it all out and give it such a swingin' feel, because I really don't know. I'm just a big fan of it. He's obviously using classic animation principles, but he's placing the details in beautiful designy motions. They don't just "work". They move gracefully. He combines design principles and motion principles in a unique way. Maybe this comes from Bob's stylish caricatures.
Stimpy has toes!
Somewhere in there I added this shot from a later David Feiss scene just to add a musical accent.

It was all just supposed to be one scene happening on the long shot, but when I saw how well Bob animated the dancing to "Der Screamin' Lederhosen's" "Dog Pound Hop", I dragged the sequence out to enjoy more of the music and animation. When those 2 elements work together, I feel you should milk it. If the animation was crappy and had no punch, I would have cut away as fast as possible to the story.

For hi-rez clip:



Here's a couple layouts I did for a scene that Kelly animated. She has a style all her own, as if she just reinvented the wheel to suit her own purposes.

Yes, I stole Jasper the Pup from Milt Gross back when I was trying to promote him to all my animators and cartoonists - many of whom hated him! I also wanted to animate his mouths all crazy, sort of like Jim Tyer, so I drew a couple mouth positions off to the side of his head, making no sense. Here's one.

Kelly took this idea much further and really exaggerated the heck out it, even adding a "shrink take" - also inspired by Jim Tyer.
My layout for Ren stretching to yawn looked something like this, and again...
...Kelly kept going, taking it further. This was something I just never expected from anybody. I was so used to everyone toning down the drawings that they got from the previous department, that it was really a shock to see someone take my poses and go way further.
She did another amazing thing that you would never expect from a studio that is animating from your layouts. She listened really carefully to the voice track and added her own custom-made poses to match exactly all the subtleties in the track. Usually you would get fired for that. "If it isn't written on the ex-sheets, don't do it."
I probably drew one yawn pose, but when I recorded the yawn, I broke it up into 3 or 4 pieces, without thinking about the animation. "Ahh...ah...ah...ah...
So Kelly made up different faces in sequence that really added a lot of realism to the scene.
Even though a lot of the cartoon is theoretically "limited animation", Carbunkle's additions and nuances made the characters really come to life in a way that people just weren't used to seeing in cartoons from the 1980s.

Ren and Stimpy would not have looked or felt anything like it did had I not completely overturned the whole TV animation system for it to happen. Had I just sent these layouts to Asia - like I was advised to do, they would have come back basically evenly inbetweened and traced horribly. The effect of this is to make the characters just float through the scenes. You never focus on anything important, because all the poses have equal time on the screen. There are no accents. I've had this happen to my cartoons many times, and end up begging for retakes and explaining what "animation" is as opposed to "inbetweening".

What Bob and Kelly did on the Ren and Stimpy pilot (and the later cartoons) was to treat each scene as if it were unique and happening right now, caused by various factors - the story, the personalities, the emotion, etc. There was no obvious formula timing. Everything was accented hierarchically and added drama and punctuation to the cartoon. They added their own poses to punch it up even further.

I'm gonna put up a bunch of scenes from Big House Blues, relatively in order. Another thing that happens naturally among talented artists (if you let it happen) is - they evolve. They get better with each scene and with each cartoon. In Big House Blues, all the animators got better by the end of this very short cartoon, just because there was no one standing in their way feeding them arbitrary rules to hold their development back. No Ranger Smiths!

Carbunkle animated part of this cartoon and we did the other part at Spumco. It was a healthy way to work and we spurred each other on to see who could do the wildest stuff. - but there is a lot of subtlety too; it just gets lost among the wackiness.


See lots of Carbunkle animation on these two box sets.