Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Sports and Our Need for Drama

Well, the Mighty Ducks got bumped out a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals on Saturday by the Edmonton Oilers.

Why is it about people and sports? Why do some people feel the need to connect themselves with a team by becoming fans? Why do some people seem to act like the fact that they are fans means they had something to do with the accomplishments of their team? And why will these same diehards "turn" on their team when the team doesn't do well? People are funny.

In David Mamet's book "Three Uses of the Knife" he talks about how we need drama in our lives. When we don't get enough of it from movies and books we create it in our lives. We look at the world around us and have a natural tendency to see it as a drama that revolves around us.

I can't find my copy of the book (if you have mine please let me know!) but I remember a great passage where he talked about how we view sporting events. It's natural to assume that when we watch our favorite team, we just want them to come out and dominate, completely steamrolling and humiliating their opponents. But we don't. What we really want is to see a three act drama, just like we expect to see in a movie. I'll try to paraphrase what I remember from the book:

Here's the perfect game, for a fan: in the first "act" of the drama, your team comes out and does well. Things seem great. But all of a sudden disaster strikes! A player from the opposing team makes an underhanded move and injures our star player, who has to leave the game on a stretcher. The evil opposing team surges forward!

In the second act we have what the call in our business "Progressive complications". Everything goes wrong for our team. We get all the unfair calls. Are the crooked refs throwing the game? Our players get hurt at every turn by the opposing team, who refuses to play fair. Even our promising rookie is held scoreless. Our team falls further and further behind. At the end of Act 2 (like in most movies) it seems that all hope is lost.

Now Act 3 begins. Our star player returns after a miraculous recovery! He closes the gap between our team and theirs. Suddenly our team is firing on all cylinders again! They are coming on strong but the clock is ticking. Can they catch up?

As the final seconds tick down (in slow motion, at least to us) our star player makes a fancy move that ensures we will win...but his scoring chance is blocked illegally as the final seconds wind down...and suddenly the rookie comes out from nowhere and pulls off an unbelievably amazing move that wins the game by one point just as the buzzer sounds! We win!

So that's what you really want to see, right? Even if my team is winning in a lopsided game I start wishing the other team would surge back just to keep it interesting. Especially if you're there in person. When you're watching from home you can turn off the TV if the game stinks. But if you're sitting in the stadium in an expensive seat you always wish you got a good show for your money, and agood show means great drama.

All of David Mamet's books on Film and Acting are fascinating reading. I don't always agree with him but he always has a really interesting take on things. I highly recommend "On Directing Film", "Three Uses of the Knife" and "True and False."

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Line-of-Action on Solid Objects Part 2

I almost forgot that part of my original inspiration to tackle this subject was the illustrations in a book called "Teamwork in Tonka Town". I have always tried to avoid posting examples of work and saying "don't do it like this" because I think that's disrespectful and mean. My opinion is only my opinion and obviously everybody thinks differently. The illustrator is not credited on these books, and I would suspect that some of the choices made weren't left to the artist - I'm sure Tonka and/or the book publisher were more thatn "helpful" to the artist by telling him how to do the job.

Anyway, we were discussing how to add a line of action to a solid object, like a vehicle or appliance or something like that. I think a big key to doing it right is to do it without losing the identity of the object you are drawing. This book is full of cars and buildings that are alive, and I think these cars lose their identity in a big way. Take a look at this first one.

This car is supposed to be hurrying out of his garage and I swear it looks like he's up on two "legs" running instead of down on all fours. That's an easy way to make a car not read as a car - get it off all four wheels. In fact I don't think it reads as a car very well at all - you have to stare at it for a few seconds before you realize it's even a car - not a good thing. One of the thingss the designers of "Cars" (the movie) seemed to have done is minimize the area between the mouth and eyes because anything inbetween those areas reads as a nose (or a mustache, in the case of the green race car Chick Hicks) and cars don't need noses, and it gets distracting from the important areas of mouth and eyes, the "agents of expression" on the face. The nose doesn't help expression much. But with these Tonka drawings, everything is drawn with a lot of detail - instead of approaching it by making areas of detail contrasted with areas of simplicity. So the "grill" gets a lot of detail and starts to look like a pig nose or something.

I really don't know why they went to such lengths to try and get them up on "2 legs" and make them gesture with their tires like hands...going in the opposite direstion of what makes a car a car. The silhouettes of these drawings are tough to make out. Squint at the drawing on the left and the pose of both cars gets lost against the building. If the building were left as a line drawing or kocked back in value so it recedes away from the cars that would have helped.

The building and flagpole lose their identity to me because they sag so much. The artist is trying to put over a certain attitude but I think with buildings you can do a lot with the face. The "face" on this building is very distracting and not well integrated into the structure of the building. Those glasses on the buiding are a weird choice. Typical "Disney" animated buildings use shapes inherent in the structure to make a face - windows for eyes, door for a nose, etc.

The Library in the Tonka illustration looks like a face pasted onto a building. Again, so much detail evenly distributed - like the little "shavings" all over the building - are distracting and confusing. Put detail where you want the viewer to look. It draws the eye and is a very powerful tool for communication.

The artist responsible for the Tonka book seems to be a good draftsman. The illustration is very "slick" but to me the underlying thinking is distasteful. I think if you're going to draw a car or a building or anything else, for that matter, draw what you are drawing - don't change it into something else. Embrace what makes it identifiable and use that to create something original and surprising and well-observed.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Amazing Find!!!

Holy Mackerel, I just stumbled onto the website of the Chris Beetles Gallery which has a ton of original art for sale by great artists including Quentin Blake (above) and Ronald Searle! Be forewarned that the prices are pretty steep. I can't afford them myself, but you know, my birthday is coming (hint, hint).

UPDATE: Oh and they have E.H. Shepard originals too. You can own this beauty for only $135,000.00. C'mon, look under those couch cushions, people!

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.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Hunt Is On

My way-too-generous pal mrdalybred has started a blog where he is conducting a scavenger hunt to give away some of his legendary Blackwing pencils. Like all great drawing materials they have ceased production and you can't get them anymore except on ebay for ridiculous prices. If you live in Southern California join in the hunt!

Many people get really worked up about drawing materials (myself included). I got hooked on the old Berol brand China Markers and Prismacolors and when Sanford bought out Berol they ruined the china markers and pencils somehow. They became scratchy and nowhere near as smooth. I complained to the Sanford company several times but they totally blew me off. So I went on a search for all of the old Berol brand supplies I could find. Now I have a trove of them myself, but like mrdalybred points out it becomes hard to use them once you have a limited supply! It's too intimidating.

I switched over to the Dixon china markers but they're too waxy. Some people here at Disney got into using black Crayola crayons but they are too light for me. Hard to get a solid black.

But it's worth pointing out that knowledge makes you a great artist, not your drawing supplies! Don't get too hung up on one material or method of working. Experiment with new materials and methods all the time - otherwise you'll get into a rut. Keep challenging yourself and always try something new!

See Jenny Lerew's blog for more info on the legendary Blackwing.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Last of the Glen Keane jpegs

Okay, here are the last of the Glen Keane handouts translated from .png to .jpeg. Lesson learned - my Photoshop at work was set to save them as png's and when I scanned this stuff late at night and in a hurry I didn't realize it. Nobody tell my bosses that I did this on company time!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Glen Keane jpegs

So for those of you who had trouble downloading the png's of the eagles, here's the same thing. Now in convenient jpeg form!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Glen Keane on Eagles

So I'm betting none of you have ever seen this before...unless you worked on "The Rescuers Down Under". Anyone?

Both Ward Kimball and Milt Kahl are credited with saying things like "If I know how to take something apart and put it back together again, then I can draw it." I totally agree with that and this is Glen's attempt to "take apart" an Eagle so everyone on the crew would understand the giant eagle character in the movie. Most of this stuff applies to birds in general.

Be aware that many of these eagle drawings have TINY heads. Look at this first page...that head is wee! That's becasue Glen was trying to draw this bird as a GIANT eagle. That's how you put over the idea of a giant....draw a regular man, then shrink his head down. Viola! Instant giant. Proportions are a magical thing. Watch them carefully!

Just don't study this and start learning to draw only birds with teeny tiny heads. People will think you're weird.

Okay, that's about all the Glen Keane stuff I have. Anyway, this isn't supposed to be a Glen fansite! Something totally different to come soon.

***UPDATE***I scanned these quickly and even though I scanned them at high res I think I accidentally saved them at a smaller size. Please leave feedback about if these scans I've been doing lately are too small or what. Also, the top of page 6 got cut off. It says "Primaries span off of hand". If these scans are inadequate I will redo when I can!

Monday, May 15, 2006

More Glen Keane notes

Hmmmm.....call me psychic but I picked up a subtle feeling that people would like more Glen Keane handouts. Okay, okay, here you go!

Now most of these are already available on the web. If you go to this page of Animation Meat and click on "Glen Keane notes" you will find most of these. They are retyped and formatted into a handy pdf format for you. And if you click on "Drawing and Animating 4 Legged Animals" you will find another amazing CalArts handout from Glen.

So all I can offer you that's different is that these are the originals. They are written in Glen's own hand. I don't know, to me their meaning is a little bit clearer this way and these are easier to print and hang on your wall than the pdf files, I guess. I don't want to scan my version of the 4-legged one because the Animation Meat one is pretty good. It's a ton of pages and it's all on 11 x 17 so it would take me days to scan it in pieces and re-assemble it in my computer.

However, I do have one thing that I haven't seen posted yet. Glen wrote and drew this interesting sheet about "fishing for your audience." If you go back and read my Legacy Panel posts (which were about animators at Disney who recently sat down and talked about what they learned from Disney's "Nine Old Men") this seems to be Glen's attempt to distill all that he learned from them about how to treat your audience. It's a hard thing to explain to others and Glen did a great job of trying to find concrete metaphors to put it across.

Now when I first laid eyes on it I was eighteen years old, just starting out at CalArts and struggling to animate a walk cycle that didn't look like the character was handicapped. So although I wheedled the upperclassmen into giving me a copy of this, I didn't know what to make of it. It just seemed to be a bunch of empty platitudes to me. I thought the world of Glen and I wanted more than anything to understand what he was trying to say but I just couldn't connect with it.

Just like his handout on "The Dynamics of Animation Drawing" I understand what he was trying to say a lot better now. Now when I look at these I am amazed by his ability to get to the point and put great truths about storytelling and animating in a simple way. But like many things in life seeing it written down is helpful, but ultimately you must struggle and experiment and fail to ultimately understand this stuff. Not to sound too overly-dramatic, but I don't think any of this can be taught. It can only be learned.

Reader Mailbag!

Okay, so reader k jensen posted this question:

I have a question for you. I have animated for many years and teach animation from time to time. A student asked me one day if I could define the diffrence between the princeples of: Follow through, secondary action and overlapping action?

I have always used those terms to mean the same thing which just proves what a meathead I am! Check out "The Illusion of Life" for a detailed description of these terms. Here's a simplified overview:

Follow through and Overlapping action, according to the book, are two names for the same knid of thing. Basically, it covers all the stuff that prevents a character from looking like it snaps from place to place. For example, the clothes and hair "Catch up" after the body has stopped running. In a fleshy character, their fleshy cheeks might take a moment to catch up to the skull in a fast head turn. Or it could even apply to appendages. As you stop running and your feet get planted, your arms and head might continue to move for a bit until they settle.
Also in this category are things called "follow through" in real life. Like when you swing a baseball bat at a ball - after the bat connects you still continue to swing the bat until it comes to a rest.

Secondary action is "extra business that supports the main action...and is always kept subordinate to the main action". Like a flustered person who puts on his glasses as he regains his composure. The Illusion of Life continues: "If it conflicts or becomes more interesting or dominating in any way, it is either the wrong choice or is staged improperly".

Make sense? If not, please see the "illusion of Life" for a better explanation and some examples! Hope that helps, k!

Friday, May 12, 2006

"Dynamics of Animated Drawing" by Glen Keane

Speaking of drawing three-dimensionally, here is an old handout by Glen Keane on the topic.

When I was a freshman at CalArts (1987-88) Glen taught the upperclassmen. He did several handouts for them, all of which I finagled a copy of. Most of those handouts have made their way to the web, but I don't think this one has made it to cyberspace yet. I couldn't find it, anyway.

"Think around the form" is a great way to put it - your drawings have another side to them. The "unseen" side that is turned away from the viewer is still three-dimensional and exists in depth. On page 5 where Glen talks about making a decisive change in direction he is talking about thinking of drawings in planes. Thinking of objects of having definite planes (or definite changes in direction on their surface) makes them easier to turn Tin space and animate. Actually, I wouldn't know how else to draw things in space other than thinking of them as being made up of planes (by which I mean flat surfaces). even whith Mickey Mouse or other characters without angular planes on them, you have to always be aware of what is the front side of his body, the side, etc. How can you show him twisting his body if you're not aware of where the front, side and back of his body are in space?

Anyway I hope that's clear (but somehow I doubt it). I will post more on this later. Just out of curiosity, let me know if this is out there and you've already seen it. I scanned them in at a good resolution so you can get a good look at them.

The Greatest Secret of Drawing

I've been prepping for a massive pitch at work today. Sorry to slack off on the posting. I will make up for it next week. I have some other stuff that helps explain this point below to post later.

The greatest key to drawing well is to learn to stop thinking of your drawings as lines on paper.

Instead you should be thinking of your drawings as forms in space.

This is, obviously, hard to do. And of course many of the helpful tips on this blog deal with issues about lines, like Vance's tips about avoiding tangents in your drawings. As you draw you need to shift between thinking of the lines in your drawing from a design point of view and thinking about the forms and space in your drawing to give it a solid, three-dimensional feel.

Obviously, this doesn't apply to all types of drawing. Flat design-oriented drawings are more about lines, but the good ones are always based on abstractions of real life, so they have some relation to forms in space. And I always say that you should learn to draw the real thing before you draw the cartoon version. All the best cartoon drawings are based on knowledge of real anatomy and observation of real life.

I can't tell you how to reach this state - thinking of real forms in space instead of lines - but I think all artists reach different levels of this state as they learn and grow. I doubt many ever put that much thought into it - it just happens naturally. I just mention it to keep in mind as you work. Think about it as you draw and paint and look at the work of others to see how you can see this in their work.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Lazy Lines

Hopefully, all of you are familiar with Animation Meat. It's got lots of great animation handouts including several of Walt Stanchfield's notes. Walt was a gesture drawing teacher at Disney for many years. He started as a clean-up artist and animator way back in the old days. He died a few years ago but left an amazing collection of notes about gesture drawing. Most of the stuff I've learned from his handouts I've never seen written down anywhere else.

His notes are everywhere on the web so hopefully you've read them. But perhaps they are so common that you haven't seen them. When you find a hundred of them on a website, it probably seems overwhelming and you don't know where to start. Well, let me suggest one.

This is my favorite handout of all time: Walt's discussion of "lazy lines". Click over here and scroll down for the handout called "Lazy Lines". Click on it and it will downlaod a pdf file for you.

I loved Walt's talks about gesture but I loved it when he would talk about animation drawing - tricks and tips for improving your animation drawings in ways other than better gestures. Nobody talks about that stuff! But in this great handout he spills the beans on some great tips for improving your drawings by making every line pull it's weight and not be "lazy". It's invaluable stuff!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

More Help from Vance

A sheet concerning basic drawing and staging problems from Vance. These are more of those basic things that seem simple and obvious but always bear repeating.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Words of Encouragement

That last post is a bit of a weird concept to grasp, I know, and as expressed in the comments section, we all have times where we feel like we're just not "getting it". In my opinion, there are two types of artists: artists who aren't "getting it" but know they will someday, and artists who aren't "getting it" and are convinced they never will.

The greatest of artists always feel like they have more to learn and that there is something out there they don't understand yet. Trust me, I can honestly say I have had the luck to work with some amazing artists at Disney. I'm pretty sure that the way 90% of they became great was because they felt from the beginning that they didn't "get it" and they worked hard to get better. That thing you don't quite understand is what keeps you driving harder and harder and makes you get better and better.

Dan Hansen, the great Disney layout artist, once quipped to me that there are two kinds of artists: those that hear it once and know it, and those that have to hear it over and over again. I started this web site for the second kind of artist. I am trying to repeat that stuff over and over again so we can all keep hearing it.

Which leads me to reveal a dirty little secret: I started this blog for selfish reasons. That's the same reason I give lectures and write handouts. Writing this stuff over and over again helps it get cemented in my brain. And forcing myself to write about it helps me put it into words and conceptualize it better. After all, I'm definitely that second kind of artist.

The other reason I started this blog is because of the old saying: the only point of having knowledge is to share it. I truly believe that.

Sometimes I see the work of artists who draw well but you can tell they are relying on the same tricks over and over. They're comfortable with what they've drawn before and don't feel the need to try to find a better way. Me, I struggle with every drawing I do. I never ever settle for the first version of a drawing. If I do, how will I know if that's the best solution? I need to try different ones to find the best way. I want to do a better drawing than I was able to do yesterday; I want to discover something new.

How can you even call yourself an "artist" if you're not always reaching for something you can't quite grasp yet?

That's why being an artist is so frustrating and so exhilarating at the same time. It sucks to struggle with trying to find a better way, but it's so great when you finally find something that works! The only certainty is that there will be another struggle in your future. So you just have to embrace that part of the process. Sometimes it's great. Sometimes it's a drag.

When I was a kid there were always "coffee table books" on our coffee table. Go figure! I don't know who bought them (must have been my Mom) or how she picked the ones she picked. For some reason, one day the "Smithsonian Guide to Newspaper Comics" showed up. Comic books weren't part of my life growing up and when I saw this book it blew my mind. I just think it's funny that such a "lowbrow" topic made it into our house wrapped up in a book published by a fancy museum. Anyway, E.C. Segar, who drew the original "Popeye" strips, used to have a little panel on his Sunday pages where he would talk about drawing and offer encouragement to young artists. I read these way before I ever started to draw and for some reason they stuck with me. When I was at CalArts I suddenly found myself surrounded by amazing artists who dashed off works of genius with no effort. I thought of these little strips many times throughout that peiod of my life - the idea that someone with less talent can go really far if they work hard to compensate for what they lack in natural ability. That message got me through some times where I really wanted to give up.

Anyway, corny as it is that message remains true. Here are those same strips scanned from that same book that I inherited from my family! Sorry the scans aren't too great - It's a huge book and hard to scan without some shadow of the binding.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Some drawing help from Vance...I think

I finally downloaded Firefox for my computer so I can type sentences with words that are bold or italic. Call me a goober but I'm excited. Anything that helps me be more clear.

I can also embed liks that work. Here is a tribute to Vance Gerry written by John Musker.

Here are some great simple drawing instructions from Vance himself...I think. Some of my current or former workmates might be able to tell us for sure. The cursive writing and drawing style lead me to believe it might be Joe Grant instead. In any case, this one is on "scale", a concept I never even thought about until I saw this handout. It's a hard thing to explain. If it's not clear to you, ask questions and I will try to clarify!

These last two are copies of R. Crumb's work to show his use of scale. Whoever copied them wrote "ugly but has great scale" on them. That's an amazing way to look at them. I think Crumb is an example of a great draftsman who's drawings aren't very appealing to me. Obviously, that's a personal opinion, it's a very subjective call. Someday I want to post a lot of drawings from artists that I think draw well but are unappealing. It would be great to start a discussion and see what everyone else thinks! It will be very controversial though, I am sure.