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.