Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Another Tribute

Things are very busy right now and I don't have much time to write posts. Also, I sprained my thumb badly and it hurts to draw...or type! So here's a post of few words.

Since everybody seemed to like the tributes to Joe Ranft that everyone has posted, I thought I would post this: the Disney press release that was written for Bill Peet when he died. I scanned it pretty high res; click to read.

Here is some more of Bill's work that I doubt anyone has seen before; Vance Gerry owned them and let me copy them. I scanned these high res too; click to get a good look.

Did you know that Bill's given name was actually Bill Peed? In his earliest credits he used that name, before changing his last name to "Peet". According to the interview he gave to "Hogan's Alley" a few years ago, he changed it so that his children wouldn't suffer the same lifelong ridicule that he had to put up with.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Joe's Room

My good friend took this picture for me today. thanks man! He will remain anonymous because technically we're not supposed to take pictures at work. Not that anyone would really care though.

I am so glad that Joe got his due. He deserved this honor so much. Now we have a "Joe Grant Story Room" (formerly Story Room 1) and a "Joe Ranft Story Room" (Formerly known as Story Room 2).

Not to be ungrateful but now we need a Vance Gerry Story Room, a Joe Rinaldi Story Room, a Don Dagradi Story Room and a Bill Peet Story Room. I'm going on a hunger strike until we get them! Who's with me?

Pete Young probably deserves a room too but I don't know much about him. Once we get all the other rooms we will work on one for Pete.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Remembering Joe, More Odds and Ends...

First off let me say that I was trying to sort my links into categories and I messed up my template. So I figured I would try a different one for a while. Did anyone else think the black one was kind of hard to read? Also the black one is kinda overused. Anyway if anyone hates this one or misses black for the nostalgia let me know.

Today at work (Disney, that is) they renamed one of our story rooms "The Joe Ranft Story Room" to replace the previously unimaginatively named Story Room 2. I wish I could have taken a picture with my camera phone of the new name but it's full and won't let me delete photos. So if anyone else at work can take a photo of the sign and post it, tell me and I will link to it and I'll take the heat (we are not supposed to use cameras at work).

I went to CalArts with Jenny Lerew (and many other talented people) and so I was lucky enough to have Joe Ranft for a story teacher. Joe was everything everybody says he was - a totally amazing human being.

He died a year ago and Jenny recently wrote a great bit about him on her blog. Skribbl over at Story Boredom posted some great video of Joe from long ago. I've been wanting to write something about Joe but I haven't for the same reason I couldn't go to his memorial; it's just way too painful to think about the fact that he's gone. He was always amazingly nice to me and everybody else for that matter.

Most of the time, Joe finished teaching his class early and I realized at some point that if you hung around he would ask you if you wanted to go down to the Tatum Lounge and have a hot dog (Tatum Lounge is a little place where they served drinks and food down the hall from Character Animation. Is it still there?). So a group of us would go down there with him and talk to him and listen to his stories about work and stuff. I learned a lot from just listening to him. I can't say I learned any great story secrets from him (if you read this blog regularly you will remember that I was too young and stupid back then to absorb anything) but the most important thing I gleaned from him was his attitude. He had a very positive outlook towards his work and he was always striving to get better. He knew that if you just keep working on a story and doing your best it cannot help but get better.

There's an interview with him on the web - I think the one on the Pixar home page - that has this quote from him: "just keep walking through the maze" (or something like that). Many times when you're working in story you have lost the enthusiasm you had at the beginning of the process and the end isn't in sight yet. You feel lost and confused and you start to think the film will never be any good. But if you keep going you will always find the light at the end of the tunnel.

In the end sometimes that is all a good story person needs: the ability to keep going when everyone else has given up on something.

Just like Jenny, I fondly remember him doing magic tricks for us students. I also remember that he did a great impression of one of the pirates on the "pirates of the Carribean" ride. He would squint his eyes and flap his mouth and move in a jerky way and he looked exactly like a certain pirate on the ride! Only Joe would have thought to do that.

Joe also introduced us to Improv. He had been in the Groudlings troupe here in L.A. and he had gotten a lot out of the improv sessions he had done there. He had us do some of these in class.

Joe was that rare thing: someone who seemed happy doing what he was doing. Most people in the film business have one goal: to direct. Some people in our business are just waiting and biding their time doing "lesser" jobs until they can direct. They don't enjoy their jobs and don't put everything they have into their work.

Joe was the shining opposite of that attitude!

Joe brought a lot of dignity and respect to storyboarding. He brought a lot of recognition to the job as well. Everyone knew who he was even though he wasn't a director or directing animator. How many other story artists can you name? Pixar is a classy place and they really respected Joe and gave him the credit he deserved. A rare thing. He certainly deserved it.

Thanks to Amid over at Cartoon Brew for mentioning my site. I apologize to new readers for not having anything new and brilliant to say but I will soon (as soon as I figure out how to become brilliant). I will get back to writing about design and drawing soon. It is a lot of hard work to write about that stuff and suffice to say I have a lot going on right now. More to come.

Okay enough rambling. How about some work from the other story Joe? No, not the great Joe Grant. Joe Rinaldi!

Joe Rinaldi was an amazing Disney story artist who has been largely forgotten. I think if Bill Peet hadn't left the studio to write his own books his name would have been lost to history just like Joe. Someday hopefully he will get his due. Sometimes they show exhibits of his work at Disney and it's dynamite stuff.

This is from the "Art of Animation" by Bob Thomas (the original edition). These panels are the whole reason I bought the book. They are super cool, huh? Click to get a good look.

All three Joes left an indelible mark on the world and left it a better place than it was when they got here. Thanks for that guys, rest in peace.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Wally Wood's 22 Panels

A friend at Pixar sent me this: Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work on this site.

This is a really indispensible reference for comic book and storyboard artists. I'm glad it ended up in the hands of someone who is commited to sharing it with the world!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Design&Drawing5: Variety of Shape

So if you've been following along you are probably way ahead of me on this one. If variety and contrast are part of what makes design work...wouldn't it be a good idea to use a variety of types of shapes?

Obviously a character who is all one type of shape - like made up of all circles, and nothing else - is going to be pretty boring. No contrast, no variety, a real wasted opportunity.

Take a look at this drawing by Milt Kahl (is everyone sick of this drawing yet?). I created a diagram to show how many different kinds of shapes there are in his construction.

So it creates more visual interest to have a variety of shapes at work in any drawing.

The hard part about this is making it all feel unified. When all of the shapes are different, a drawing may start to look like a bunch of mismatched parts. The key is to make all the shapes pass into one another and lock together in a natural way. All I can say about Milt's Rhino is to take a look at the outside line around the figure. The outside contour has a wonderful rhythm - it passes over each shape and flows from one shape to another. Sometimes the shapes flow from one to the next and sometimes they overlap a little and sometimes they tuck into each other - in any case all of the shapes feel connected and unified.

A big part of making any drawing hang together is to give it an overall rhythm - the rhino has a great rhythm from the top of his head to his toes. Giving your drawings an overall unifying rhythm and making all the shapes fit into that rhythm helps make it feel like all of the "parts" are flowing along the same line. So rhythm helps make them feel unified (I know that probably sounds nebulous, but I will attempt to talk some more about "rhythm" soon).

In the beginning Disney design seemed to be based on all bean (or pear, if you like) and circle shapes (think the Seven Dwarves). But over time their designs got more variety of shape and became more sophisticated and interesting (in my opinion anyway).

I think Ariel is a more interesting design than your usual Disney princess because she has round shapes for hair, an angular face, torso and arms, rounded hips and triangular fins down below - a nice assortment of different shapes.

Don't ask me why I include Wart as a bird as an example, other than I just did some screengrabs for a friend who needed reference. He's nice and appealing and an interesting mix of kinds of shapes. I particularly like how his legs and feet aren't really "shapes" per se - they're just lines. Very sophisticated for a Disney design. And I like how that puts all his bulk up high on thin legs - his bulk "floats" up in the air like a bird in flight. And his beak is just simple triangles - very bold.

Just to prove that I use stuff other than Disney as examples, some Provensen stuff with an awesome variety of shape. But mostly what I own is Disney stuff so that's mostly what you get here.

Please remember that the point of all these posts is that these design elements will improve any drawing. These concepts are not just for character designs and visual development - these are the elements that make a good drawing, period.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Drawing for Martha, and Odds, and Ends...

I make my living by drawing what other people want me to draw. Now don't get me wrong, it's a good way to make a living. But I'm not the kind of artist who goes home and works on my own stuff. If I'm not working on stuff I brought home from work, I'm studying to get better at what I do.

So when I thought about what to contribute to the Martha Baxton Benefit Auction, I figured I would donate some unused story panels from "Home on the Range" and/or "Chicken Little". But I asked for permission from Disney and I was surprised that they said no. They told me I could do an original drawing of those characters but NOT unused production art.

Which put me in a spot. I'm not the kind of artist that can sit down and bang out a "finished piece" that people will actually want to buy. My strength is doing story sketches - bold and direct drawings that put over ideas. Not fancy paintings!

So now I had to generate something original! I had to sit down and ask myself...what did I want to draw, if it could be anything that I want? What would I draw for fun? The answer turned out to be.......a warthog on a tricycle, of course! Wearing a scarf.

Don't ask why, I have no idea.

I did several versions of this. The first one was a really cleaned up version that I xeroxed onto card stock and did an elaborate watercolor to add color. The problem was that it totally sucked. It was so precious and labored that it was totally dead. So my wife talked me into doing in a way that I actually know how to draw and play to my strengths (it's always good to experiment, but for this auction, it would be best to actually donate something somebody might want). So I used a china marker to draw a quick version of the warthog and colored it using those twist-up crayons that they sell at Staples. I never thought about putting my signature on it until after it was done, and then it didn't seem like I had left enough negative space so I didn't think I could sign it without detracting from it.

It took me about 10 minutes and of course I had spent several hours on the previous version, but that's usually how it works for me.

My favorite fable about being an artist is this one, and it comes from long-ago Japan (as far as I know):

A man goes to see a Japanese brush artist. He tells the artist he wants a drawing of some geese in fight for his wall. Okay, the artist says, come back in a week.

So the man comes back a week later. The artist says, okay I'm ready to paint your picture now. So the artist quickly draws a perfect drawing of two geese flying and hands it over.

The man is peeved. He says to the artist, why the heck didn't you do that last week? If it was going to be so easy why did you make me wait and come back?

So the artist opens his closet and hundreds of drawings of geese fall out: all the bad ones he had to do before he could do one good one.

And that's pretty much how I have to work too. I have to do a lot of crummy versions before I figure out the one that will work. I've got to figure out what won't work before I can figure out what will work.

And the answer always comes back to Design, of course (yes, I am a broken record).

I will post more on Design and Drawing soon. Things are busy at work and these posts are really difficult to write and find artwork to illustrate. But more to come soon.

And please donate anything you can to help out Martha, truly a wonderful person who has helped countless people in our business. My very talented wife is going to donate one of her original, unique and much-sought-after handmade sock monkeys as well. If I had a picture of it I would post that too!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

D&D4: Small, Medium and Large

Again, this one is all about contrasts. A drawing that is full of all one kind of shape (meaning all big, all medium-sized or all small shapes) is much less interesting than a drawing that has a nice variety of sized shapes. A contrast of different shapes creates visual interest.

Remember that areas of detail draw the eye. What this means is that, if there is a part of your drawing that has a lot of small shapes on it, people will tend to focus on that area of the drawing. I'm not sure why the human eye works that way. But you know what? This leads to an interesting result in drawing characters. The face is the part of the human body with the most small shapes clustered around in a group - meaning the eyes, nose and mouth. Which works out well because in real life people always look at the face first when encountering people. Why is this, you ask? Well...

When we look at people in real life, we look at their eyes and mouth before anything else. The eyes and mouth are the most expressive (and telling) part of the body. So we look at faces to see if people mean us harm or have good intentions towards us. If you see someone who looks angry or crazy we know immediately to be cautious and/or avoid that person. So we evolved to study faces as a survival mechanism (that's one theory anyway).

So what I'm trying to say is that many great drawings will have a lot of small shapes on the face - not just the features but stubble, detailed hair, lots of wrinkles, etc. So then the drawing plays into our natural tendency and we look at the face on the drawing first, especially if the areas around the face are free of detail and don't compete with the face.

Another weird thing that nature has done that helps us: there are a lot of small areas of detail on the hands and feet, which, after the face, are the most expressiive parts of the body. Hands have knuckles, wrinkles, little digits and fingernails - all small shapes that can serve as detail and help draw the eye to a naturally expressive part of your drawing. Feet have the same things. In general the other parts of the body are made up of large and medium shapes that don't draw the eye so much.

Of course clothing and jewelry can have small details that draw the eye. So be careful as you design those elements that they are doing what you want them to do. Don't put a really detailed bracelet on your character unless you want the audience to focus on that. It might detract from the face or other important parts of the character or scene.

The same things that make a good composition or layout are the same things that make a good character design or good character drawing. After all, good design is good design. In general, a good drawing usually has: large empty spaces for the eye to rest, balanced with areas of small spaces to draw the eye. Medium sized shapes fill in the inbetween spaces.

How perfect is this drawing? Small shapes on the face to draw the eye, little ears with little hairs as well. Nice big belly, with little rivets on it. Medium sized stripes on the pants so that the pants don't become big shapes as well. Little wrinkles and toes on the feet to balance out the body and it's far enough away from the face to not compete with it. And nice little bits of texture on the arm to balance out the other areas of small shapes but not too much. Click to see bigger.

Obviously there's a lot more good stuff going on here but we'll talk about that another time. One topic at a time.

Small Med and Large can bring order to something that is unweildy or difficult to organize as a drawing - like clouds or waves or bubbles, or hair, like the mane of a horse.

An unweildy "non-shape"

More rhythm and design sense by dividing the mane into a small section, a medium section and a large section (just a quck doodle and not overly impressive but I don't feel like doing a better one, and anyway you can begin to see the possibilities).

I was never an effects animator but my impression is that they use this concept a lot. To even approach animating something like waves or lava I would think you would first design the frame to break that unweildy mass into S, M and L shapes. It creates order out of chaos and can lead to a pleasing composition if done right.

Ronald Searle creates interest by good variety of small medium and large.

A nice variety of small, med and large shapes is essential to any successful character lineup. All the characters must be harmonious and work together so that all of the characters seem to come from the same world. And all of their shapes need to work with every other character so that, no matter which ones are in a scene together, they will compliment each other and not duplicate one another. Ken Anderson's "Robin Hood" lineup from "The Art of Walt Disney" book.

"Trees and Roman Ruins" by Claude. Nice balance of small leaf shapes, balanced by large section of empty sky to let the eye rest. Imagine how the effect would be ruined if the sky were full of medium or small clouds. Nice medium shapes below in the landscape.

It's worth pointing out that for layout composition, you will usually put all of your small shapes in the area of the foreground, because obviously we see lots of detail in things that are close to us. Atmospheric perspective (you know, smoke, dust, moisture in the air) blurs out detail on things that are far away from us. So we will see texture on a leaf that is right in fron of us but a tree a mile away is just an overall shape with no detail.

No duh, right?

Contrast and variety are going to be a recurring theme as we continue to talk about good design. Obviously using three different sizes of shapes will make any design better.

For more examples of good small, med and large take another look at the Milt Kahl stuff I scanned before (check out the June Archives button on the right).

Monday, August 07, 2006

D&D3: Offset Curves

When you don't want to use straight against curves, it is entirely possible, of course, to construct a great drawing out of just curves. But you have to be a little careful with them and use them right.

Curves that are parallel or even would either look like a vase or a macaroni noodle.

Both are lifeless. The basic key to drawing with curves is to avoid parallel curves or even curves. Use offset curves to create a drawing that has all the flow of nice curves without being lifeless. This section from "The Illusion of Life" pretty much sums it up:

As Frank and Ollie point out, nature already designed living forms in offset curves, making our jobs easier (I blurred out the racy parts for those of you who don't want to see that kind of stuff. Isn't Photoshop cool?)

For some reason this is one of those things that can be hard for our brains to comprehend easily. If I'm not careful, I find that in life drawing I tend to draw figures with the exact same curve on both sides of the body and it always looks mushy. I guess our brains have a natural tendency to even things out and make them balanced and static. So try to keep this in mind and train yourself to always avoid parallels in your drawing. Straight parallel lines in your drawing should be avoided as well - again, it tends to be lifeless. Even in the simplest of drawings, removing the parallel lines immediately improves the drawing.

This touches on yet another big secret of design - avoid symmetry. The human eye doesn't like symmetry. It's lifeless and boring. We'll talk about that more in a future post.

Fred Moore was a master of the offset curve and I think that's a big part of what gives his drawings their flow and rhythm. They're made of curves that flow into and oppose each other but they are never ever symmetrical.

Check out this one (recently brought to my attention by The Blackwing Diaries, of course). There's not a single straight line in the drawing (except, okay, maybe the one under her right arm). But nowhere are there any symmetrical curves in the drawing (other than the back of the chair). Every part of her body has a different curve on the left side of her body than it has on the right side. No shape of her body is symmetrical.

I never thought about it much before but it occurs to me that Walt Kelly never used straights much in his drawing either. He gets pretty good results with some offset curves and some nice thick and thin lines.

I'm going to make yet another rather rash and uneducated statement that just occurred to me and say that I think most Disney drawing is based on offset curves. I don't think there are too many Disney animators that use straights against curves very often - it's hard to animate with straight lines and keep the appearance of living forms. Straights are pretty rare in living forms (and even in man-made forms, if you think about it). So I would say most Disney drawing is based on offset curves, but I haven't ever thought about that before or done any research so I could be wrong!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

D&D2: Straights Against Curves

I don't know why, but it seems to me that the human eye is interested in contrasts. Somewhere along the way our brains just evolved that way, probably to help us survive better. In any case, the end result is that a big part of what makes any design work is giving it contrasts - contrast in shapes, sizes of shapes, textures, etc.

Contrast in line is one of the most basic design elements - straight lines against curved lines. A drawing that is all straight lines will be stiff. A drawing that is all curved lines will probably look mushy. A drawing with a good balance of curved and straight lines is usually the best solution.

The challenge is how to use straight lines when trying to portray living forms in space. There aren't many real straights in nature. Walt Stanchfield had some good advice about that.

As Walt points out, fleshy forms will turn into straight lines when they come into contact with a flat surface. Also, when two fleshy forms are pressed together (like a woman lowering her arm until it presses into her breast) it creates a straight line where the two forms meet.

Look no further than this Milt drawing to see how straights are played against curves to create a great drawing.

Bruce Timm is a good example of someone who can suggest form and a real figure while using straights vs. curves to get an appealing design.

The more stylized the drawing, of course, the easier it is to exploit the magic of straights and curves.