Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mentioning Some Friends

Taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming to mention some worthwhile endeavors:

The comic book put out by Disney artists last year called "What is Torch Tiger?" was nominated for an Eisner award this year and Disney artist Nathan Greno was nominated for an individual Eisner for his story. This year there won't be an installment from the Disney Story Artists but luckily the Visual Development department has picked up the slack. Coming in July is their anthology called "PecknPaw and the Black Mirror". Click here to visit their group blog. Can't wait to see it!

Also worth mentioning is the Suspended Animation Gallery, started by former Disney staffer Tenny Chonin. She sells the personal artwork of several Disney artists, including Disney legend Walt Peregoy. Check it out here.

Disney animator Pres Romanillos has suffered a relapse of leukemia. There is a site here where you can view artwork that is to be auctioned off to help raise money for his care. Check it out!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Kick in the Head, Part Four

Will Finn did a great post recently about tangents. Great stuff.

These are some great handouts from Glen Keane that he handed out while I was at CalArts about drawing three dimensionally. These are high-res scans of my original copies; they can be printed on 8 1/2 x 11 or 11 x 17 paper if you're so inclined.

These say it all way better than I ever could. Again, this is an easy thing to get undisciplined about and let go. Nobody ever confronts you and says "hey, you stopped drawing three dimensionally, cut it out with all the flat drawing". Like a lot of things in life, if we can get away with something, we will. People won't usually go on a diet until their pants get too tight.

I think that drawing digitally (like in Photoshop) has made this problem more prevalent. The reason I don't like drawing in Photoshop is that I have to do a rough of each pose and then keep drawing over it with a new piece of paper each time, trying different things, and then finally I place one last piece of paper over my rough and do a more finished version. My roughs are too rough for actual storyboards, but that's okay, I like the roughing out part because I can experiment and it's easier to draw three dimensionally when I know I can just be drawing rough.

But that's not as easy with Photoshop. It's hard to look through more than one or two layers at a time in Photoshop (for me). I think it's hard for everyone else too, because it looks like most people go right to the cleaned up finished drawing in Photoshop because the roughing out and drawing over stage is very hard to do. I really think the drawings I see these days are cleaner and more polished but also more stiff and definitely not as three dimensional as they should be.

Why is this important?

Well, a drawing that works three dimensionally is always more solid and will always be a stronger drawing, for one. Obviously, if you're animating in 2D it's extremely important because as you animate your character needs to feel like its sitting in real space and if you can't draw your character from every angle then you'll never be able to turn them around as they move. But as more and more people animate in 3D this is becoming a lost discipline, I fear.

You could storyboard your whole career and never actually do a fully dimensional drawing. But I think there's a subtle effect that drawing solidly can have that makes your drawings feel more compelling and real to the viewer and really helps the audience buy the conceit that a drawing is thinking, feeling and having emotions. So I think drawing three dimensionally can make storyboards work better and connect more successfully with the audience.

I'm a bit of a crazy old crank though. I hate to blame Photoshop for everything but I think it's having a negative effect on drawing in general. Also I think I saw it buying cigarettes for minors once.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Kick in the Head, Part Three

Ollie Johnston said "Draw clear, not clean". When a drawing isn't working it's always tempting to clean it up in an attempt to "fix it" when, really, you know that the drawing is flawed and you should just start over.

If a drawing is rough but the pose and expression reads clearly, then it's a successful drawing. A clean drawing that doesn't read isn't worth all that much, like a car that looks great on the outside but has no engine or working parts.

A lot of people will probably argue with me, but I think Photoshop and the Cintiq has made this problem even more prevalent. The temptation is too great to add another layer to your drawing and draw it cleaner, or just start adding color and tones in an effort to try to "save" the drawing. But usually the basic pose is not pushed as far as it should be, or silhouetted enough, or has some other problem and needs to be re-thought and re-conceived. But that's a lot of work so instead we try to save the drawing that doesn't work.

I'm convinced that we use a different part of our brains to draw a rough drawing than we do to clean it up. It's much easier to be bold, draw through the forms and think "big picture" when you're drawing rough. Something about the cleaning up mode makes you get tentative and fussy if you're not careful (at least for me).

Part of the problem is that we don't get to see a lot of roughs. Almost all of the artwork we see in illustrations and comic books and animation is completely cleaned up and we never get to see the original roughs. So we don't get reminded very often that rough drawings are a viable way to work.

A lot of this "Kick in the Head" stuff bears repeating because it's tricky: it's the kind of stuff that we learn as students and we're very conscious of as we try to prepare a portfolio and try to get a job, right? But once you've gotten the job and you're in a professional environment, it's not really the kind of stuff that your co-workers talk about so there's never anything to remind you about it. And as human beings, we all tend to conserve energy as much as possible and cut corners when we can, so it's very easy to fall into the habit of being lazy and forgetting all this deceptively simple stuff. But then our work suffers, and over time we forget how to even do this stuff, and it can seriously undermine your work in the long run.

Obviously not every type of work can be rough. Most work needs to be cleaned up before it can really be finished (although I'd buy more comic books if they kept the drawings rough). But it's still important to go through the roughing out stage because so much great, loose thinking and discovery can happen in that stage. It always seems tempting to save time by just drawing your first pass cleanly but I think it can hamper your freedom and creativity as well as lead to stiff and restrained drawings.

I'm a big fan of Herge's Tintin books. A few years ago his final, unfinished album "Tintin and Alph-Art" was published. It contains several pages of his rough sketches...some fleshed out and some just a bare indication of what the final drawing would look like.

I wish we could see more rough work from great artists to serve as reminders of the value of drawing rough.

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, necessarily...it 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.

Friday, April 02, 2010

A Kick in the Head, Part One

A couple of weeks ago I gave a lecture at CalArts. While trying to think of interesting things to talk about, I decided part of the lecture should be about the simple things that people seem to forget about when they leave school and get out into the professional world. I think that when you start working at a studio and have to start dealing with the issues of collaborating with other artists, deadlines, meetings and all the other new variables that come with that change, many artists find it hard to remember the simple basic things that can make the difference between a good drawing and a poor one. Especially with the hectic pace that artists have to work at these days it's always easy to tell yourself that there's not enough time to fix that one drawing that doesn't work, or push that one expression just a bit further....and then after a while every drawing is just a "placeholder" that's just blocked in and no drawing is very good or descriptive or helpful to the artists that have to come after you and use your work to actually make the movie.

Drawing is made up of a few rules that are deceptively simple, and it's very easy to just let one or two fall by the wayside, particularly when you can blame the schedule. But once you drop one or two of those basic drawing rules, your drawing never has even a remote chance of being good. I would say that a hectic production schedule actually makes it more imperative that we do the best drawing that we can and solve as many problems as we can for the people (layout and animators in particular) who have to follow us up because they are going to be pressed for time too. Any "leg up" we can give them - whether it's the environment and staging for layout, or the acting, the expression and the pose for the animators - will help them do the best job they can within the limited time they have.

Anyway, "Silhouette Value" is the most basic of concepts and suffers the most from being so basic that most people don't give it much thought once they're not a student anymore.

If you're not familiar with the concept, here's a quick review:

It's simple, it's obvious, and it's so basic that we learn it right away in art school and then we forget it. It's so simple and basic that I think we de-value it...we think to ourselves, "that can't be that important, it's too basic and obvious...forget that, I want to learn the complicated (and therefore better) drawing tricks!"

But the truth is that there aren't really any special drawing tricks...it's just the same basic things, repeated over and over again, used with increasing sophistication and subtlety that makes a drawing great.

I also think that 3D animators don't tend to remember silhouette value as much as 2D animators because they're not dealing with drawings as much as they animate.

I think if you took one day to walk the halls of any studio and just take stock of the artwork on the walls, the visual development, the storyboards and the animation the animators are doing, you'd be surprised how little of it actually has good silhouette value. Don't get me wrong, it would all be extremely well done and inspiring, I'm sure, but almost nobody gives this concept the respect it deserves in their everyday work. The reason silhouette value is important is because it's a great aid to "foolproofing" the clarity in your drawings - it helps make sure that everyone can tell exactly what your character is doing at all times.

Chuck Jones

Milt Caniff

This one is pretty interesting. Never seen a better drawing of a guy hitting a dragon on the head and seeing it barf treasure into a lady's skirt before.

I do have one small quibble, however...

More Silhouette goodness...

More kicks to come...

Dan Harmon on "Monster House"

I've never seen "Monster House", but it was apparently written by Dan Harmon, creator of the NBC show "Community". When a friend of his wrote to him because her daughter was having nightmares after seeing "Monster House", Mr. Harmon wrote a letter to her daughter explaining that a scary movie should be scary but also empowering, giving you the message that you can confront and overcome your fears (like "Jaws"). Most scary movies are worthless and a complete waste of time because they have no message and all they try to do is scare the bejesus out of you by having things leap out at you constantly.

Anyway, I'm interpreting what he said, you should read the original letter and his full response here. It's short and great and very inspiring.

I don't know if he ever meant for the letter to become public because he calls Spielberg a "moron".

To me, Dan Harmon is a genius because "Community" is my favorite show these days, I think it's amazing, and I can't figure out why nobody else is watching it, especially because "The Office" and "30 Rock" seem to have lost their sense of humor this season, but maybe that's just me.