Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Line-of-Action on Solid Objects

Sorry I've been a while since I posted but I went on a bender in Tijuana and woke up buried under a landfill and handcuffed to a dead hooker.

Okay, that's not funny, I know. And it's not actually true but I wanted to see if anyone actually reads these. Plus, it's better than the truth: you know, the usual blogger litany; work is busy, crazy stuff in personal life, wah wah blah blah who cares?

Plus, I've been working and working to get this post refined and ready to publish, because it's a weird topic and I want it to sound just right. A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to see the movie "Cars" (and a couple of pieces of art as well) that made some odd thoughts in my brain percolate.

One of my obsessive topics for discussion is, of course, the whole "line of action" thing. As we talk about "line of action" and "gesture line" it's worth taking a minute to talk about how to handle more solid objects and how this might apply to them.

When we are drawing an object that's solid like a car, we know it's a big solid object that doesn't squash and stretch in real life, right? But if you wanted to draw a car and show that it was going really fast could you s-t-r-e-t-c-h out the car to show it was going fast? Could you draw it curving as it takes a corner?

When drawing and animating solid objects - like vehicles - everything is realtive. Mickey Mouse's car can take on much more of a gesture than Mr. Incredible's car. If Mr. Incredible's car started to bend around corners and act cartoony you would start to question the integrity of that world. You would start to wonder if a bullet fired from a gun would actually hurt Mr. Incredible or bounce off of him? Is the bullet rubbery, like his car appears to be?

And what if you are drawing a character that happens to be a solid object? You want him to feel like a solid object at all times, right? But why rob yourself of the tools you have, like gesture, that show expression?

The objects in "Beauty and the Beast" show a good compromise to these points. Of course the most famous example is the Doorknob in "Alice in Wonderland". His mouth shapes stay as close as possible to the shape of a keyhole. And his "nose" is a doorknob that doesn't squash and stretch, it just stays solid.

I recently started looking at the art of Floyd Gottfredson (he's the topic of another post, for sure) and I was struck by these drawings. Here, Mickey is trying to fly a plane into a canyon but the plane keeps getting stopped by an invisible force field (man, those comics had some wacky plot lines). I was struck by how much "gesture" Floyd got into the body of the plane. It's such a tough thing to sell - that the plane is revving at full speed but coming up against an invisible impediment. Sheesh, tough to put over!

My first instinct when I saw these was that Floyd went too far. The plane loses it's "integrity" to me. The plane looks like it's turning to putty or melting, and that's not the idea Floyd is drawing here. The plane has crumpled and wrinkled so much that it loses the effect of a metal airplane. And that's more acceptable in Mickey's world than Mr. Incredibles....but I think it goes too far. That's just my opinion.

I can't help but love these drawings though. What a great simple airplane design. Really appealing. And I do love the way he bends and crinkles that airplane, don't get me wrong. I just think it's a good example of losing a shape's "identity" a little bit. There could be a story line where the plane turns to putty or gets melted by a heat ray or something, and you wouldn't want the view\er to think that was happening here.

But I must say that I love Floyd's stuff in general. His great proportions on Mickey and other characters makes them super appealing. He draws great gestures too...more on him later! When I posted those Daan Jippes comics of Mickey a while back someone pointed out how much Daan seemed to be inspired by Floyd. It certainly looks that way. And speaking of Mr. Jippes...

In his new comic strip "Havank", Daan does something that a lot of European Comic Artists seem to do (Franquin did this all the time): he makes it appear that this car has a bit of a "gesture" to it without deforming the solid structure of the car. By drawing it from this angle and drawing the tires the way he does, he creates a great curve on the right hand side of the car. The car appears to be in motion and has a great "line of action" but retains it's identity as a solid form.

Anyway, when you see the movie "Cars" check out that the cars, even though they are characters with personality, don't have a lot of "gesture" to them. They retain their solid form at all times. As a filmmaker, your first impulse might be to give them a lot of flexibility in their bodies for expression. But if they had a lot of bend and flex in their bodies they would start to lose their identity as automobiles and start to look like people in car suits. In the old Disney short "Susie the Blue Coupe", Susie the titular coupe had a lot more flexibility than the autos in "Cars" and it works fine for Susie, but I'm guessing that the guys at Pixar figured out that their characters would start to look odd if they had that much flexibility and yet were rendered so realistically. Susie is pretty cartoony. The vehicles in "Cars" are rendered very much to look like real cars in a real world. If they start to bend like rubber, that would fight the visual cues that they are real. It would look very strange, I imagine. So different cases call for different treatments.


OV! said...

good post. as far as the CARS issue goes with them not squashing and stretching in the film, i think it might not have made that much of a difference. in fact maybe it might have helped the film. since there are no humans in that film it might not have been a stretch (no pun intended) to see cars bend and stretch just a little to push the characters a bit.
who knows, i havent seen the film yet but so far that's the most jarring thing for me when i watch the trailers. no humans but yet there are human structures with cars in them acting as humans.

ps, great blog. thanks!


Scott LeMien said...


great post! back to drawing fundamental(s) problems and solutions. Thanks, Mark!

Steve said...

Great post Mark =]

Marmax said...

How could you make MIckey's plane collision actually work? Would it help to sharpen the folds/bends (instead of having them all rounded off) more like an accordian than putty? Or have just a quick ricochet so you only feel the collision then to see it?

I haven't seen Cars yet either but I am imagining the race track scenes. If they crash, their rigidness makes the crashes more severe. Dunno if that's a big deal in the story.

...and it seems there's a lot of give in their axels and tires so they don't really NEED to stretch the body of the car to push gesture.

fredland said...

I just bought the children's book, Smokey by Bill Peet - whom you so graciously brought to my attention - for my 3 year old son who is a train fanatic. The characters are mostly trains but they retain their basic structure as well; however, Peet manages to anthropomorphize them just enough to make them look proud, worried, scared, content. It's pretty amazing. I wonder if it was part of Pixar's research for Cars.

mark kennedy said...

Thanks for the comments everyone!

ov!-I've heard a lot of people say they're put off by that stuff in the ads for "Cars". Anyway, see it and I'll be curious to hear what you think.
Scott and Steve-thanks for the appreciation!

Hey Marmax- you know, the thing I find works against the airplanes the most is the wings. The "icon" or quick read for an airplane is that the wings are exactly perpindicular to the body of the plane. In the drawings where the wings are warping and bent, I think I would have kept them rigid and straight. That might have helped (for me). I agree with your other thoughts, it would be interesting to draw over them and try. Actually the richochet off idea is a very good one.
You are right too about the car bodies - you would feel more severe impact in the crash, I never thought about that. See the movie and see what you think.

Fredland-you better believe they looked at Peet! I would be surprised if they didn't.
vance Gerry once said that Bill could never draw anything -car, house, boat, etc. - without putting a face on it.

OV! said...

yeah i mean, im not saying the film wont be good but maybe just a little strange w/out humans. and yes they DID look at Peet. actually Jorgen Klubien (the guy who came up with the idea for the film and now a director up here at LAIKA) is a huge Bill Peet fan. his original pitch boards can be seen in the "art of CARS" book. you can see the influence.

i still think CARS will be their biggest hit yet and i hear the story is good. keeping my fingers crossed.