Wednesday, September 30, 2009


some great design and cartooning ...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hipster 'Toon 'Tude Retreat

This is my new show I'm gonna pitch to Teletoon.
It's about a bunch of hipster 'toonists and concept artists who live together in a magical coffee house on a tiki island paradise. All day they they talk how about cool they are, strike 'tudenal poses and design 'toons about tweenagers that everyone wants to beat up in real life.
The cool 'toonists rebel against the man and refuse to do anything old school - unless it is a 15th generation descendant of something that Ward Kimball did in the 1950s. They take a vow to ignore the audience and especially the kids. Humor and fun and magic is old fashioned and very unhip.
Each character only has 2 views which will save lots of money, so we can give more to the middle aged soccer-mom writers who will fill their stock mouths with thousands of catch phrases and outdated valley-girl talk from the 1980s.

It's all gonna be animated in India for 50 cents per episode which will give us more time to play with our circle templates and vector tools.

Then in a year or so, a computer programmer will figure out how to eliminate us completely by creating a program that can instantly design flat hip perspective-free characters and animate all the stock cool actions. The executives and soccer-moms will be really happy then because they will finally be completely free of us pesky artists and will be able to make the cartoons by themselves. And they will be the cool ones.

And there will be no reason for cartoons or cartoonists to exist anymore.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Character Design as a job VS Character Design for Animated Cartoon Stories

I've done both.

In the mid 8os, after working from horribly bland designs for Saturday Morning cartoon shows, I got a job that was much more fun (for me) - designing characters.

First for Dic's Heathcliff and then for presentation departments at Hanna Barbera and TMS.

Designing characters in the abstract for pay, and not having any responsibility for any of the other departments in a cartoon studio is a fun job.

You don't have to worry if your designs actually work and what problems they might cause for the other artists. This is a selfish profession, and if I wasn't able to sell my own cartoons, I was glad to have it. I hated drawing the boring characters in Saturday Morning cartoons doing the boring things the boring writers would come up with - or not come up with, but just steal from the last 30 scripts they plagiarized.

At least now I could personally have abstract fun creating visuals that might fool an executive or impress my artist friends. The kinds of designs I usually came up with for "development" while sometimes superficially interesting to look at, were in reality usually pretty shallow. They weren't really characters, because no one had bothered to work out entertaining personalities for them - and that wasn't my job as I was told many times.

When I designed my own characters though, I was using a whole different set of rules. These designs couldn't just look superficially interesting; they had to be characters. Real ones with souls, personalities and humor. That made them harder to coordinate the poses and the design. It shocks you to reality when you have to come up with poses that tel a story with your own awkward designs.

I had the lucky break to do layouts on the Jetsons after serving a stint as a "designer" for Iwao at Hanna Barbera on bullshit pitches designed to trick Network executives - shows with catchy names like "Rock Wars".

Having to draw an expert character designer's characters (Ed Benedict) and make them move and act and perform tricky things forced me to look at everything about cartoons in a more mature way.

I discovered that no job at a studio should be completely isolated from another. Each specialism had its role in making the overall cartoon better.

To me, the most important job in a cartoon is animation - the guy who actually has to bring the characters to life on screen. Even a director's job is to create the optimum situations and framework to display animated characters doing things that only animated characters can do.

Unfortunately, no one in America (on TV) did animation anymore, so I used the layouts on the Jetsons to create the poses and acting and life as a substitute for animation.

I came back from Taiwan a much wiser and abler cartoonist, because I now knew the results of good or bad stories, storyboards and designs and how they affected the potential life (or lack of) the characters.

From then on, I never believed in model sheets again, except as a starting point. The people who have to pose and move the characters are the ones who have to come up with the myriads of new expressions, poses and shadings of personality that a mere character designer - abstracted from the visual telling of the stories can't ever do.

That's why many of the best character model sheets are made by animators and directors. They make them functional because they have to use them themselves.

Modern design is completely abstracted from the process of animation today. TV animation is mostly done in flash - and even when a show theoretically does "traditional" drawn animation, the animators are rigidly forced to trace the model sheets.

Why does everyone today want to be a character designer? Because it's the only potentially creative job left. Unfortunately even that is not very creative anymore because everyone just copies the same designs over and over again and each year they get more primitive. How many times has DeeDee been completely ripped off?

But the design has never been animated as well as when Genndy animated her.

It's now at the point where anybody can be a character designer - as long as you can fool the executive in charge into thinking you're the hip new thing that's already been around for 25 years.

It doesn't matter if the designs are actually animated characters anymore.

More Of My Flat Period Crap

I kinda wavered in and out of flatness, depending on the project. My own characters had to be a combination of flat and curved (organic, not geometric curves) to give me leeway to make poses and expressions that wouldn't look totally dead.

If someone else brought me a show concept that they wanted to be "hip", I would go as stylized and flat as possible, because I knew nothing else about the show would have any interest. No story, humor or personality.I found that some characters just couldn't be made perfectly 100% flat.

If I wanted to come up with a specific gag, the drawing couldn't be restricted by strict geometric rules so I found a middle ground between constructed characters and some stylization - angles in sensible places that wouldn't distract from the overall image or gag - character. These things are supposed to be alive, drawn comedians.

This is actually Lynne Naylor's design of my characters above for a storybible that hid Ren and Stimpy inside. Slightly designy, but not so much as to erase the life from the characters.
This is a model sheet of Mildman, The World's Most Powerful Homosexual. I actually thought I'd be able to sell this concept in the 80s. I probably could now.

There's lots more of this kind of stuff. Maybe I'll put some more up later so you can make fun of it, since I made fun of its modern descendants.

i think a lot of young cartoonists go through their "I wanna be hip" period. I had one, but I kept getting distracted by my natural instincts to want to be funny and entertaining and pure flatness wouldn't allow it.

What I'm amazed by today is that the super flat stuff has lasted almost 20 years - way beyond a normal allowance for what should be a passing trend. And that makes it no longer the least bit rebellious because everyone and his dog does it. It's become so simple that now anybody could draw it. It's now the purist form of conservatism.

Pete Emslie, Design-Master at Sheridan college weighs in. He says it better than me.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Does Everybody Want To Be A Character Designer?

A young cartoonist asked me to critique her work:

Hello Mr. Kricfalusi,

now after reading recently your posts from your blog (specially the parts where you comment about how old cartoons turned to what they are now, conservative, bland, etc.) they really called my attention-- it's something I usually don't hear. Therefore, that's why you're perfect for criticisms that I usually won't hear- for my drawings.

So far people are saying to me "Great drawing!" or, when I ask for advice to professionals, they basically tell me "Just draw every day". One example of why I doubt is, that Kristen McCabe added a comment on my blog: "Nice drawings!". Kristen is someone I highly admire. I love her looseness and control. So I couldn't stop myself from being "proud and happy" but.... What did she really mean? She actually liked my drawings because it contained originality and creativity? She had a personal tendency when she saw my stuff? Or am I thinking too much?

What I want is to hear at once is a different opinion, a new perspective about my drawings. If you think they're crap, I want to know why and which techniques/media I shouldn't be using. If you think they are good, I want to know why and which techniques I should keep.
I'd be really grateful if you could take your time to answer this message.

Thank you very much for reading,


(These aren't her drawings, but they illustrate a point I tried to make to her)

So I responded:

I think that you are obviously very talented.

My only criticism is that you are through no fault of your own concentrating more on design and style, than on functionality.

It's the same criticism I have of many young talented cartoonists.
Because there is an overall modern "style", young cartoonists absorb it unwittingly and each thinks they invented it, but to old codgers like me, it all looks the same.

I equate the modern western style with that Canadian TV show (Total Drama Island) where everything is flat, angular and cold. Whatever curves there are look like they were traced from circle templates.

Everything is trying so hard to be a simple flat abstract graphic statement, that the artists who have to move the characters can't custom make an emotion or pose. Instead, they have to force every idea into this restricted set of modern design habits or unconscious rules and never break out into drawing either funny or human. You are forced to be extremely unnatural. With this kind of design sensibility, you are chained to unemotional insincerity.

There is some website that's called "Character Design" or something like that and it's full of what I'm talking about. Very cold, repetitive inbred modern cartoon designs, that aren't meant to be used as living characters that can move and emote and be individuals.

A character design is not a work of art in itself. It's a functional starting point for animators to use to make real personality with - not just more of the same that's all around us. If this makes any sense or not, ask me more questions

Your pal,

John K.
Here's the same flat modern coldness, mixed with Don Bluth and lumpiness.
None of these characters look like they have any life or personality of their own. They are stock symbols with tons of built in restrictions.

I can say this because I drew kind of like this in the 80s, and had a real tough time drawing poses that fit my own story demands.
my embarrassing 80s flat period
I had to learn to draw better and stop thinking about being cool, before I was able to actually create continuity poses that told the stories and expressed the unique personalities of the characters. Drawing layouts for the Jetsons, forced me to learn posing and acting and continuity because I had to put designs into functional practice. Then Mighty Mouse and Ren and Stimpy. With each show I and my fellow cartoonists became more functional - because we had to. We were telling stories with our own drawings, not just designing characters in the abstract and leaving them up to Flash animators to move the pieces around on a flat plane.

I did however make some fake commercials in a flat style as a nostalgic nod to 50s commercials but I never would have guessed it would lead to almost 20 years of stuff getting more and more flat and functionless:

Believe it or not, these images are not all from the same show.