Friday, April 09, 2010

A Kick in the Head, Part Two

A few years ago a bunch of us were looking at portfolios for possible trainees at work and it struck me that we were rejecting all of them because their drawings all lacked one thing: appeal. It didn't matter how great the staging was, or the acting, or the drawing; if the applicant's work didn't have some amount of appeal to it, they were passed over.

I realized that all of the people that work in Story at Disney have a lot of appeal in their drawings. We don't really talk about it much, but it's very important. When we screen our work for the studio we are basically screening the whole movie in storyboard form to see if the story and characters are working. The whole studio is invited, and they all have to sit through an hour and a half of just storyboards cut together with music borrowed from other movies and voice acting done by people in the studio instead of the final voices. There's no color and no movement - just our static drawings - so the whole thing is very rough around the edges. Anything we can do to make the experience more pleasant for the viewers help them have a more positive reaction to our work and to the movie in general.

I include this along with "Silhouette" as a "Kick in the Head" because it can be easy to find excuses to let appeal drop from your work. It's too easy to let deadlines and time pressure convince you that you shouldn't take that extra five minutes and go over your drawing one more time and try and make it more appealing. It's easy to say to yourself, "it's only the story that matters, and clarity, and I just don't have time to draw appealingly, it's not important".

But here's why it is important: unappealing drawings can kill an otherwise good idea. I have seen this over and over: a really good idea gets storyboarded with unappealing drawings and the idea just dies. People can't put their finger on why it doesn't work but they know it's not quite clicking, and it's only because the drawings are not very appealing. And so a new idea is brainstormed, and it gets rewritten and reboarded all over again, when the old idea was good, it just didn't get presented right. Everyone responds to good design and appeal on a deep level and they aren't always able to articulate the fact that they're being turned off by unappealing drawing and it's affecting the way they react to the ideas. But it definitely happens.

Ideas can be unappealing or appealing as well. As you storyboard and make choices about how to present the characters and situations, you should always strive to find the charm and entertainment in every idea in the most appealing way.

I don't exactly know how to tell anyone to improve the appeal in their drawings. We all respond to it on a deep level and I think we should all make sure to listen to that voice that tells us when our drawing could be more appealing. Make appeal a priority in your work and study the work of artists that you find appealing.

Vance Gerry once said that he felt Robert Crumb drew well but that his drawings were unappealing. I think that's a great observation.

Being able to draw well and being able to draw appealingly are two totally different things.

I once drew a lot of flak for saying that this Jack Davis drawing was unappealing to me.

I think a big part of what makes this drawing unappealing to me is the level of detail. The Robert Crumb drawings are like that too. When Jack Davis draws with less detail I find his appeal goes way up. But that's just me.

Proportions are very important to appeal. The proportions in the Crumb and Davis drawings are part of what makes them unappealing to me.

In general I would say that it's more appealing to emphasize the more expressive parts of the figure: like heads, eyes, mouths and hands.

Also you should de-emphasize the parts that are unexpressive, like noses. This doesn't mean leave them off, or make them small, means just don't give them as much emphasis as the more expressive parts. What do I mean by this?

In the movie "The Prince of Egypt" there was a conscious design choice to elongate the area of the nose on the faces. This has the side effect of pushing the eyes and mouth far away from each other.

I think in general it's better to put the eyes and mouth as close to each other as possible. What the mouth does affects the eyes by pushing up or pulling down on the lower eyelids, and when the eyes and mouth get too far apart it can be hard to maintain that effect between the two. That's why drawing certain animals with long faces - like goats and horses - can be challenging and you have to work extra hard to make them appealing. Also the nose isn't an expressive feature - it doesn't add much to expressions, or change from expression to expression like the eyes and mouth do - so I think it shouldn't get the same kind of "real estate" as the mouth and the eyes do.

Some clues to appeal can be seen when you look at an appealing drawing of a character that's supposed to be ugly.

Check out more Ariel and Ursula development here.

Preston Blair talks about Rhythm as an aid to appeal in his books.

Appeal is a deep, personal thing that means something different to everyone. All I can say is, make it a priority in your work and it will come through. Some artists that I find appealing are:

Quentin Blake

Richard Scarry

Earl Oliver Hurst

Freddy Moore

Mary Blair

Bill Peet

Chuck Jones

I don't know what else to say regarding appeal, just be aware of it and feed yourself a good visual diet of appealing images to inspire you and give you something to aim for.


Aaron Ludwig said...

Thanks so much for the insight on such a crucial topic.

Ed Choy Moorman said...

I think Crumb picks times when he wants to draw appealingly - Mr. Natural is appealing to me. I believe people are unappealing to him and he wants to depict them as he sees them: violent, crude, stupid, and ugly.
Though I hear what you're saying, and it certainly would account for his small but devoted readership.
I second Ludwig's comment.

Stephen Worth said...

Milt Gross can be terrifically appealing without being cloying or generic. Check out the dog in the carnival story in the Milt Gross Funnies comic I posted today at the ASIFA Archive.

The stuff where he rolls around on the ground to say I'm sorry is priceless.


de aap said...

Awesome post. I am now gonna focus on appeal, because of this post. I had the feeling I needed to improve something in my work and now, thanks to this post I know what that something is!

Thanks for sharing!

Haylee said...

Thank-you for clarifying these differences, it has been so long that I have wrestled with drawings while thinking of appeal. Now I don't feel so guilty, since I've chosen the latter route of slowing down and redrawing if it doesn't feel up to par.

Also, I feel the same with Robert Crumb. Yet, Jack Davis will always remain as a favorite, since he's such a master of silhouette and drawing hands.

Tom Lyle said...

Nice post. Great topic.

When I was breaking into comics, John Romita (the dad) was art director at Marvel Comics. During one critique of my work, John commented that some of my characters were unappealing or just plain ugly.

He told me that, "even ugly people have a beauty to them." That remark has stayed with me my entire career.

It goes along with your appeal comment hand-in-hand.

I have a very hard time conveying that concept to my students when teaching Drawing. It's just a matter of observation and dedication.

I must add, though, that all of my students seem to have a generational appeal to "overly pretty" or even androgynous males and very ugly and disgusting villains.

It's a tough sell to them, but I will work on this more.

Btw, your blog is required reading for all of my classes, especially the Visual Storytelling ones.



SKS said...

I'm surprised so many applicants were rejected because their drawings were unappealing. I guess all the technical savvy in the world (staging, camera positions, etc.) can't make up for a drawing you just can't connect to. The observation about the nose versus the eyes and mouth is very interesting too, I never would have thought of that. I'll definitely be paying attention to that when I watch movies and cartoons now. Thanks for the post, and the list of artists too! I'll have to check them out.

Clay Christman said...

Great post. It's true, with so many other things to think about in a drawing, it's easy to forget about appeal.
Thank you.

Abraham said...

I think appeal in a drawing comes easier when you sketch a lot from real life and learn to draw that way (instead of for instance copying other artists you find appealing).
Thanks for your insights!


Chris Boyd said...

I've been a long time lurker here. But I don't know if I've ever commented.

But I just had to say thanks for these last two posts.

tiffannysketchbook said...

appeal does go a long way!! When i was in school, i was in a group project, and we would pick boards we liked as a group. (Without malice I think), my ex says to me that the reason people pick my storyboards is because i put better drawings on them, not because my ideas are actually any better. Maybe he was right, I dunno. Anyway, I try to make my drawings look appealing, but I worry i may just not have the "eye" to see if it isn't. Otherwise, do you think artists like Crumb would purposely leave their drawings unappealing?

if a teacher in school told me to fix a drawing that is "off", i would think, "well if I KNEW what was off about it, i WOULD fix it" That is the tricky part of appeal. There needs to be scientific research for it so I can ensure every drawing I do has it

Sam Nielson said...

Great post! I've always thought that audience and appeal are necessarily interconnected, as in, who do I want this appeal to? I imagine there are people who Crumb's character appeals to, but those people are most likely not reviewing portfolios for storyboard artists at Disney.

Chris Boyd said...

I've always thought the word appeal as used in this context means something a little different than how the word is generally used.

Crumb's characters may appeal to some people, but I think it's probably because of the very fact they aren't "appealing" in the sense that is being discussed here.

Does that make any sense at all?

Contrarianzombie said...

Dear Mr. Kennedy,

Love your blog sir.I have learned more from your posts than from my professors way back in art college. Please keep it up.

Any way here’s my ten cents worth on this subject. As you have said and it’s a fact that “appeal” is very subjective. As they say “ Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

I was just surprised that portfolios of artists that has a good combination of elements of great of staging, acting and technical proficiency are still being passed over there at Disney because of the lack of “appeal”.

Wouldn’t it be much better for Disney to hire at least one of these artists – these diamonds in the rough - ( who lacks “appeal” in their work ) and train them and polish them to the point that they will eventually find the soul and the voice in their craft and ultimately show “appeal” in their work?

If their work shows rock solid staging, acting and technical prowess- don’t you think that the battle is already half won for these guys? Training and honing these artists who exhibits excellent potential to achieve “appeal” in their work would be a walk in the park for you guys especially in a very creatively conducive environment such as Disney.

Aren’t you afraid that potential excellent story artists , animators, visual development artists etc… that would eventually be assets to Disney are falling through the wide cracks of your selection sieve just because they got passed over for lack of that one single element – appeal.

Robert said...

When I first saw Crumb's comics I thought "wow, this does not look like a typical comic, this will be unlike a typical comic, I should try this."

yeah they are "ugly", but I think there was a time 30 or 40 years ago when that anti-cute thing had an appeal on that merit. And still does.

Just by being technically proficient and yet intentionally creating "ugly", he's made us think a bit more about The Comic.

I concur a bit with what ContrarianZombie said... you're looking for "trainees" and yet the requirement seems to be that they arrive not needing training? You can't teach appeal? You can blog about it but can't teach it?

mark kennedy said...

Zombie and Robert- my intention was not to suggest that they were amazing in all other areas other than appeal. That was certainly not the case at all. All the portfolios were from very raw students just starting out and I realized that appeal was the ONE thing people were looking for to say "Hey I think we can teach this person staging, drawing and all that". Not the other way around.

Contrarianzombie said...

Ah-- point taken. Thanks.

Zach Franzen said...

This is a great analysis. I've been interested to distill the distinctives of visual appeal. You've give much food for thought. Thanks very much.

David Clemons said...

I can't see how an artist can target "appeal" without trying to please everyone at once, which is bound to fail. Some of the examples you've shown as appealing to you are less so to me, and I think that's at the core of the problem - what keeps getting rejected is art that doesn't appeal to whomever's judging it. Unfortunately, the artist doesn't know them. They have to just go with their own instincts. If you get several rejections it may be time to reconsider.

Mark said...

Not to be offensive or anything like that at all, but I feel some kind of Disney-snobbery in the comments and a bit in the post.
Even if you mentioned that the topic is subjective I haven't seen any example of unappealing Disney characters here. The 90's Disney wave had the most unappealing of all time, from Gaston and Tarzan to Milo, with few exceptions like (and it's subjective too) the Genie, how come we don't get much feedbacks from the artists working at Disney ?
This question is coming from a Disney fan, just for the love of the medium, I'm sometimes confused by the people (fortunately you're one of the most balanced in the blogosphere) from this Industry that I look up to for their talent and passion and so rarely question the weird choices made in the past. Again, it's still subjective, thanks for keeping up the great work.


Rosie said...

Delighted to have found your blog.

mr. bender said...

please, correct me if it sounds a bit nonsense now, but maybe what's hard to explain about appeal is somehow related to one of scott mccloud's essays in his book "understanding comics": that it's probably easier to find most stylized and cartoonish pieces more appealing because it's easier to connect to them, since there are so few particular details and they represent mostly simple and direct concepts.

(sorry, my english is pretty amateurish. but i think you got the idea.)

Jack G. said...

Do you find Basil Wolverton's grotesque drawings unappealing?

To me they are very appealing with all that detail.

Jesse Hamm said...

The difficulty with a word like "appeal" is that it could mean so many contrary things. I find zombie movies appealing, but not in the way that I find Freddie Moore drawings appealing.

The impression I get from the way "appeal" was described in The Illusion Of Life is that it has to do with cuteness, or warmth -- a sort of friendly approachability. So an excellent but cold drawing by Franklin Booth, or an excellent but morose drawing by Egon Schiele, may appeal to us for being excellent, but they lack that ingredient which The Illusion Of Life calls "appeal." This is no shortcoming in works that are meant to be cold or morose, but it is unwelcome in works that are meant to be kid-friendly. (Interestingly, Schiele's most oft-uploaded drawing is also perhaps his warmest.)

I think the swoopy curves in Moore's drawings, and in most Disney art, have a lot to do with their appeal, because curves are considered friendlier than angles. Large, expressive, wide-set eyes, small noses, big heads, and close groupings of facial features are also appealing, because they resemble the characteristics of babies' faces, which we naturally find approachable and endearing.

The plump anatomy of a Crumb woman has more "appeal" (as defined by TIOL) than the angular anatomy of, say, a Robert McGinnis woman, but Crumb's women often lack "appeal" because they have small heads and beady eyes, and are rough-textured, and their body language is more strident; less demure than that of Moore's girls. In other words, they're more clearly adult than Moore's girls, and therefore appear less approachable. (This is probably Crumb's intent -- but it won't sell much Disney Princess gear!)

Anonymous said...

Crumb has a "small but devoted readership"?
The man's an icon, known well outside the "comix" or animation fields, unlike some of the artists you often speak of. The appeal of Crumb comes from his viewpoint AND his art. He's huge. You need to get out of your animation world bubble.

Max said...

I think the difference is that Crumb is expresely trying not to be appealing, by being "cute".
That´s what the appealing examples here are.

But Crumb is communicating a lot through the unappealing drawing (which I agree he has)

Remember Crumb is an artis and not an entretainer.

Matías Soto López said...

Very interesting topic, as all the "Kick in the head" series, that I'm reading trough when I can. I couldn't agree more on that final statement on the visual diet.
On the subject of "appealing images" I can only add something I read on a Andrew Loomis book: the more complex message gets the less powerfull the final image gets. I think it can relate that idea to the appeal of an image, bu t of course I think is a more more complex subject.

kra0la said...

First; great topic on the appeal situation.
I was reading some of the comments on this and WOW!!! People are seriously ridiculous when it comes to arguing about appeal. People need to realize that detail and color are only the lip stick on a corpse. If someone has to add a bunch of detail to awe.... people, they are really just hiding behind what they think they can do. Perfect examples of appeal with resolving to a bunch of detail.... Peter De Seve, Glen Keane, and Heinrich Kley.

kra0la said...

First; great topic on the appeal situation.
I was reading some of the comments on this and WOW!!! People are seriously ridiculous when it comes to arguing about appeal. People need to realize that detail and color are only the lip stick on a corpse. If someone has to add a bunch of detail to awe.... people, they are really just hiding behind what they think they can do. Perfect examples of appeal with resolving to a bunch of detail.... Peter De Seve, Glen Keane, and Heinrich Kley.

Hobo Divine said...

Thank you for sharing, you made my day!
(actually it's nighttime but to say you made my night sounds too weird)