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John Kricfalusi, Mike Van Eaton, Rita Street, Jorge Garrido, Andreas Deja, John Canemaker, Jerry Beck, Leonard Maltin, June Foray, Paul and John Vinci, B. Paul Husband, Nancy Cartwright, Mike Fontanelli, Tom & Jill Kenny, Will Finn, Ralph Bakshi, Sherm Cohen, Marc Deckter, Dan diPaola, Kara Vallow
Janet Blatter, Keith Lango Animation, Thorsten Bruemmel, David Soto, Paul Dini, Rik Maki, Ray Pointer, James Tucker, Rogelio Toledo, Nicolas Martinez, Joyce Murray Sullivan, David Wilson, David Apatoff, San Jose State Shrunkenheadman Club, Matthew DeCoster, Dino's Pizza, Chappell Ellison, Brian Homan, Barbara Miller, Wes Archer, Kevin Dooley, Caroline Melinger
Gemma Ross, Milton Knight, Claudio Riba, Eric Graf, Michael Fallik, Gary Francis, Joseph Baptista, Kelsey Sorge-Toomey, Alexander Camarillo, Alex Vassilev, Ernest Kim, Danny Young, Glenn Han, Sarah Worth, Chris Paluszek, Michael Woodside, Giancarlo Cassia, Ross Kolde, Amy Rogers
John Kricfalusi posted a blistering post this morning about popular culture and the upside down meaning of the words "liberal" and "conservative" today. If you haven’t read it yet, check it out. Here is my own take on a similar theme…
The other day, a student at Woodbury volunteered to help build out our database. His name is Jo-Jo. He told me how much this blog, along with Eddie Fitzgerald’s and John K’s, has opened his eyes to how great cartoons were in the 30s, 40s and 50s. He had a sketchbook full of Preston Blair drawings and enthusiasm for Fleischer, MGM and Warner Bros cartoons. So I asked him what kinds of music he listens to…
“David Bowie mostly.”
My jaw hit the floor. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I gave Jo-Jo the best tip he’ll ever get…
Cartoons aren’t the only things that were better back in the first half of the 20th century.
Mike Fontanelli stopped by later and pointed out that somebody should write a book titled "The Golden Age of Everything". Sure, there are things today that are incredibly great… computers, the internet, iPods, frost-free refrigerators, etc… but music, dance, illustration, writing, movies and cartoons were all better back then. Cartoonists should be aware of this, and they should absorb all of the greatness of the past. It will make them better cartoonists.
Today, I’m going to talk about music…
I know that someone out there is going to post a comment saying that there’s still great music being made, it just isn’t mainstream. I’m fully aware of the fact that there are talented musicians working today. But in the 30s through the 50s, incredible talent was a given. Performers, from the top of the heap to the bottom- from most popular to least- were all capable of making you do a double take and say “wow!”.
When I ask kids what kinds of music they listen to, I usually get the response, “All kinds.” But “all kinds” usually turns out to mean a million shades of the same color… current rock music. There are so many names today for the same kind of music. For the life of me, I can’t tell the difference between rave, techno and electronica. In the past, there really were a million kinds of music… pop vocals, hot jazz, country western, big band swing, folk, rhythm & blues, bluegrass, mambo, dixieland, rock n’ roll, sweet orchestral, be bop…
I could talk for hours about this subject, but the best proof is seeing what I’m talking about…
If you are a student planning to be a professional cartoonist, listen to music that relates to your work- read books that inspire cartoony ideas- watch movies to learn cinematic techniques that can be applied to cartooning- LIVE THE FABULOUS LIFESTYLE OF A FAMOUS HOLLYWOOD CARTOONIST!
By the way… Jo-Jo is a big Fats Waller fan now! And that’s not all… He graduated from college, trained with John K. and is a professional in the animation business working full time on Bravest Warriors now. Way to go, Jo-Jo!
Ralph Bakshi is one of my best friends. Ralph has retired to New Mexico to paint, but he is still very much in touch with the animation scene today. After a bit of cajoling, I’ve persuaded him to speak to the animation community on Animation Resources. In this article, Ralph gives his viewpoint on the history of animation and points the direction that he thinks animation should take in the future. Whether you draw animation with a pencil or use a computer, I think you’ll find his comments to be important and inspiring. -Stephen Worth
BAKSHI SPEAKS TO CGI ANIMATORS
Frame to frame animation eventually came to a grinding end. I’m not sure which generation of young animators were at Disney redoing and relearning the tradition of making boring films and recreating cliched motion when it expired. Except for Jim Tyer, “Modern Animation” and Ralph Bakshi, animation was dying- while doing the same old thing. Big money and animators never really followed Bakshi, “Modern Animation” or Jim Tyer. They just rehashed its past.
UPA failed because it was nothing more than elitist designers trying to animate on museum walls. Content was unimportant to them, really. Matisse or Picasso were more important. Bakshi was hounded out of the business by controversy. And you’d be surprised how many animation directors at Terrytoons disliked Jim Tyer’s work because it didn’t look like Disney- or anything else for that matter. Terry kept him on because his weekly footage output was so large.
Lord of the Rings was done in rotoscope animation because rotoscope made it physically possible to do it. You couldn’t do Lord of the Rings in less than 25 years using traditional animation. Thirty years later- Wow! Along comes the computer… “We can do Disney story animation with another look and sell it back to audiences.” Of course, I would have used computers and motion capture if they had been around during my day. But I turned to Tolkien to try to change the kinds of stories animation told. My city films were being thrown out of theaters.
So, what’s the argument here? Unless hand-drawn animation finds new creative story approaches and new creative drawn motion exaggerations, it will look as it always looked at the end- faded and drawn. There’ll be no great interest for it either. Computer animation has the exact same problem. Computer animation will eventually grow old, just like hand-drawn animation, unless something new happens. It will fall into manneristic boredom if it continues to endlessly redo what’s already been done before. The success and the money will always follow the creative artists who take either of these two mediums and do something different with it.
A lot of people remember and love Jim Tyer’s animation today because he really did something different with hand-drawn animation. He didn’t follow the crowd.
BAKSHI ON 2D vs 3D
First of all, when it comes to controversy over 2D vs. 3D, I’m in no particular camp. I think computer animation is amazing. Some of the Japanese hand drawn animation I’ve seen is great too. John K. was a breath of fresh air for animation. But the discussion always comes down to the same one I always have with the young kids in the industry- the starving ones with mortgages to pay. When I see the end credits on big studio animated films, I’m floored by the amount of people it takes to finish a film. The cost to make the first 20 minutes of your modern animated feature would comprise the entire budgets of all of my first six films put together. Hard to believe but true!
It’s probably inconceivable to you guys, but I made my feature films with no pencil tests, no storyboards, no retakes, no color keys, no character designers, no special effects department, nothing, zip, nada- because we had to. (How I did that is another discussion altogether.) I was my own animation director- everything came to me. I flipped the drawings and gave the OK. God bless the professionalism of Irv Spence, John Sparey, Ambi Paliwoda, Virgil Ross, Manny Perez… all those guys who animated for me, because they’re the ones that made it all come alive.
I’ll tell you a secret… Not having pencil tests was liberating for the animators who worked for me. They knew I was expecting creativity, not perfection. I wasn’t gonna be standing over the moviola looking at their tests saying, “raise that pinkie finger a little higher” or “fix that lip flap”. There was no room for retakes. Knowing that made them unafraid. No one was going to look over their shoulder and second guess them. They puzzled out the scene, expressed themselves through the character, and moved on to the next scene. You better believe- they loved it!
When I was young, I had a dream- and a rage over Disney’s insistence that nothing worked on the big screen unless it was perfect- redone and reworked until it was flawless. I always thought the difference between my films and the Disney ones was the difference between rock n’ roll and a symphony. I love them both if the music is right. But a lot of spoiled animators claimed that I was ruining every young kid’s life with my rough animation- and that Terry-Toons and I were nothing. I didn’t listen to them, because I always felt that honesty, leaving the pack, telling stories that were part of the director’s personal life and not some merchandiser’s idea- all those things were more important than Disney’s insistence on perfect animation.
OK. Let’s talk animation. First of all, I want to talk to you drawing type animators…
When I hear 2D animators today talking about acting in hand-drawn cartoons, I ask, what kind of acting? Are you talking about the old fashioned acting that animators have always done? You know… the hand on the hip, finger-pointing, broad action, lots of overlapping action, screeching to a halt- all that turn-of-the-century old fashioned mime stuff. Is that what you’re talking about? Well, forget about it. If you’re gonna compete with computer animation, you better go all out and do something that’s totally different. Call it “new acting”. Blow the computer out of the water. Sure, Milt Kahl, Irv Spence, Bill Tytla and all those guys were great. Leave them alone. They’ve done their job. It would just seem old to do the exact same thing today. Find something new to call your own- something exciting as hell.
To you computer guys…
I’m supposed to scold you computer animators and tell you to think more like the hand drawn guys. Well, there’s no question hand drawn animation is different than CGI, motion capture or rotoscope, or even limited animation. Yes, computer animators CAN learn a lot from hand drawn if they know where to look. Maybe… maybe… maybe…
Some history- Early on, hand drawn was great- Fleischer’s Popeye, Jim Tyer, Freddie Moore, Rod Scribner, Bill Tytla, Johnny Gent… the direct, fresh stuff. But then suddenly, along came “real good animation” with all its complication, and the long painful looks, big shrugs and sighs, batting eyelashes, cutesy pie phony crap until you want to vomit… Overnight, all the old greats were forced to either kill themselves, stay drunk all the time, or quickly fade away. Animation got saddled with a bunch of boring, repetitive, old fashioned, dumb cliches. I am NOT going to tell computer animation to follow that road. Sure, computer animators should look at hand drawn animation to learn. But don’t get down on your knees. Don’t make the same mistakes hand drawn animation made at the end. Study the right stuff. There’s a hell of a lot more to learn from a Fleischer Popeye than there is from some “epic fantasy” like Prince of Egypt.
So I’m sitting in the theater watching a rat trying to cook some food. Now he’s trying to get out the window… I blink with amazement at the brilliance of your computer, but wait a minute… This is nothing more than a Disney film made with a computer! Your bosses must have MADE you do this. Where do you guys think you’re headed? Do you really think copying Disney films over and over isn’t going to get just as boring as the boring Disney films you’re copying? You’ve got all these great computers… show me something I haven’t seen a million times already. I have things in my head that the computer could do that would stun you. (But don’t worry. I got turned down by every studio in town.)
Listen. I’m talking to that bunch of you computer guys out there who want to crawl into a basement with a big stack of machines and kick ass- the guys who want to do something NEW and DIFFERENT. Don’t worry about the money. You’re not getting paid that much anyway. If your characters shake and spit the colors off in some scenes- great. It doesn’t matter. And if some of the textures jiggle a little, who cares? Back in the day, I heard animators critique the animation in my films as being “too ruff”. Well, we didn’t like it all either- but we LOVED what we were making- Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, Coonskin, Hey Good Lookin’, Wizards- thirty years later and they’re still playing worldwide, because they were honest and rugged. The animation didn’t take away from the movie like the slick stuff I see in hand drawn animation at the end. Something REAL is always better than something realistic.
OK. Now I’m talking to ALL animators- with a computer or with a pencil…
Here’s a guy you could all learn a trick or two from… John Kricfalusi. Why is John Kricfalusi so great? Why do people copy John’s stuff but never seem to really get it? Great draftsmen have tried and failed to imitate him. How the hell does he do it?
Well, when I first let John direct, it was an amazing thing to watch. It wasn’t the way he combed his hair and it wasn’t the way he tried to hustle me. John was a one-of-a-kind. When one of John’s characters pointed a finger, it REALLY pointed. It pointed like no other finger in no other cartoon ever pointed before. When John drew the curve of an ankle on a girl character, it was like no ankle curve I ever saw before. Everybody thinks John’s style is what sets him apart. It isn’t about his style… it’s not about the color… it’s not about the jokes… it’s not about the expressions… it’s not the voices… Don’t imitate that stuff. If I hear another fake John K cartoon voice I think I’m gonna scream!
The thing that put John so far ahead of the pack was his originality. His poses were fresh and they jumped off the sheet at you. They lived and breathed and acted in a way that wasn’t like anything that came before. Every drawing was brand new for him. He thought things out for himself, expressed his own ideas, and didn’t keep rehashing someone else’s tired old cheats. John’s brilliant posing took animation to another level, and animators would be smart if they followed his lead. BUT HEAR THIS… Don’t imitate his creations. Imitate his creativity.
There are no sides here, only techniques. The important thing is to do something more than just sell dolls and hamburgers, or get the best table at some bullshit restaurant. Stop crying. Go out and do something. Starve to death if you have to. It’s honorable.
Go buy my book. Read more. Learn more. Get mad at me again.
Several years ago at the San Diego Comic-Con, I had the honor of hosting an interview with Ralph Bakshi. He had some important things to say to the animators in the crowd. Watch Ralph take my question and hit it out of the park…
Many thanks to the Bakshi family for their helpfulness and generosity, and to our fantastic videographer, JD Mata.
Feel free to embed the YouTube on your own website. Spread the word! Educators may download a higher resolution copy of this video to burn to DVD for viewing in their classroom.
UNFILTERED: The Complete Ralph Bakshi isn’t one of those "art books" with postage stamp sized pictures floating in oceans of tasteful white space and huge text blocks of scholarly blather that crowds out the images. It’s just pictures, pictures and more pictures… along with just enough text to put them in context. The book is organized to show Ralph’s career from his earliest days at Terry-Toons, to his groundbreaking features, to his revolutionary TV work, to his most recent fine art paintings. Even if you think you know all there is to know about Bakshi, this book will grab you by the lapels and shake you and show you things you’ve never seen the likes of before. Click through the link to pick up the Bakshi book at Amazon.
In yesterday’s post on music, I told you about our Assistant Archivist, JoJo Baptista and his epiphany regarding the difference between the quality of popular culture today compared to popular culture of the past. That post was written nearly two years ago, and now JoJo is in his final year at Woodbury University working on his senior film project. In his film, JoJo will be animating a rhythmic walk for a child character. He asked me if I had any suggestions for reference to study. I immediately thought of Shirley Temple.
In the comments to yesterday’s post, a few people misunderstood what I was referring to when I said that music, movies, dance, illustration and writing were all better in the first half of the 20th century than they are today. I wasn’t talking about "personal taste". Today’s post will prove that without a doubt. I’m going to give you a peek at the discussions that went on at the Archive today regarding this film… Captain January.
When Shirley Temple made this film in 1936, she was in the first grade. If you take a moment to view the clip below, I think you’ll agree that even at that young age, she was already a talented and skilled performer. She acts, sings, and especially dances on a level that rivals or surpasses the skills of most current pop divas, even ones with a couple of decades of experience under their belts. If you tried to think of a current seven year old who compares to her, you would have to think pretty hard.
That said, I have to admit that I don’t personally care for Shirley Temple movies. They follow a rigid formula- a lonely curmudgeon adopts an adorable orphan who melts his heart. The moppet and the old fart are separated, which creates oceans of tears, only to be joyfully reunited at the end… Although they are cute, her films really have very little to say about anything real. Perhaps some people might enjoy them as an escape, but they aren’t to my taste.
There is another aspect to these films that makes me uncomfortable. Graham Greene, writing in the magazine Night and Day wrote of Shirley Temple, "Her admirers – middle-aged men and clergymen – respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire." I don’t think I need to add anything to that quote.
Maybe I’m a crusty old curmudgeon myself, but these films just don’t do it for me… Have I made it clear that I don’t care for this particular movie yet? All right.
JoJo and I sat down with this DVD today to analyze Temple’s performance to see if there are characteristics that he can use in his film. We chose a clip where Shirley dances and sings "At The Codfish Ball" with Buddy Ebsen. Here is a video clip of the sequence…
Here is the storyboard of the scene cuts for your reference…
Watch the video a couple of times and refer to the scenes as you read our notes below…
STAGING: Ebsen and Temple are surrounded in the sequence by incidental characters. Temple begins her song in a close up that isolates her from the group. As the sequence progresses, the incidental characters recede into the background, placing the focus on the dance routine. The crowd is dressed in dark colors, while Temple wears white, making her stand out. Ebsen wears a dark shirt with light pants, directing the attention to his legs, which makes sense since he is dancing. One scene at 4:02 uses Ebson’s legs to frame Temple as they dance on the wooden cask.
CUTTING: The four minute sequence is broken into 11 cuts, many of which are quite long. Temple is able to sustain long takes with high energy and accuracy in her performance. The sequence is bookended by an entrance and exit through a doorway. The first half of the sequence moves from left to right. After a 180 degree jump cut at 2:16 (which works perfectly in this context) the action moves from right to left. The cuts are dictated by the staging of the dance routine, never to cut around errors in performance. Only one scene at 4:02 seems to have been performed out of continuity and inserted. The reason for this is to allow Temple to push her performance over the top for the big finish.
ACTING: Temple’s ability to put across the lyrics to the song through her movements and expressions is remarkable. The scene that begins at 0:19 is packed with contrasting expressions reflecting her attitude clearly. Her gestures are always specific to the meaning of the lyrics ("from the herring to the whale") and her facial expressions never seem to be "pose to pose". If you still frame through them, they evolve through dozens of different attitudes in the space of a few short seconds.
Temple’s pantomime is clear and expressive. At 2:33, she throws the lead to Ebsen, studies his dance steps skeptically, does a small take of disgust and petulantly cheats by scraping her foot on the shingled wall behind her. She is always aware of the camera, and keeps her face in view, even when she is walking away from the camera (2:08) or being whisked around and around (3:41). Temple’s hair is a perfect of example of "secondary action" and her dancing exhibits other principles like "follow through" and "overlapping action" as well.
There are a couple of portions of the routine where Temple’s guard falls for a few frames, or we can see her preparing for a difficult move. At 2:08 she misses her lipsync as she navigates dancing down stairs. At 3:17, she scowls and looks down to Ebsen’s feet to coordinate with him as he scoops her up and trots her up the gangplank. At 3:36, she takes a beat to recover and gain her footing after a few spins. But on the next main beat, she is right back in the groove again with a glowing smile. She never falters more than an instant. Most audiences would never even notice it.
DANCING: The rhythm and synchronization between Temple and Ebsen is amazing. At 0:42, Temple struts back and forth setting her heel down on the main beat, and her toes on the back beat. She performs several different types of dance steps, including a cakewalk, a shuffle, a can-can and a truck.
Right before the scene cut at 1:29, Ebsen hitches his pants up in the background, anticipating his entrance. Even though the two dance in perfect sync, their steps are subtly different. At 1:43, Ebsen dances only below the knee. Since Temple’s legs were so much shorter than his, he had to govern his movement precisely to maintain a consistent distance between them.
Ebsen’s gestures throughout the routine are very original and funny, particularly in spots like "to the bottom of the sea" where they flash their fingers and mimic a dive (1:42) and as they exit the scene at 4:12, where his arms flail like rubber. Ebsen is probably one of the most remarkable and under-appreciated dancers of his time. Today, most people think of him as Jed Clampett, and don’t even realize the spectacular talent he posessed.
JoJo found a lot to think about and study in this film. It exhibits a level of skill and craftsmanship that today’s movies just can’t touch. Do I say that because of my personal taste? No. I don’t even like this movie. I say that because I took the time to define the criteria I judge films by and sat down and analyzed what I was looking at.
If you read my previous post about music and thought I was just talking about what I like, go back and look again at those example videos I posted. Study them the way JoJo and I studied this Shirley Temple sequence. See if you can figure out why I chose those particular clips, and try to think of current performances that compare to them.
There are two ways to look at a movie or cartoon… one can look at it as a member of the audience… or as a filmmaker. One of the sacrifices one makes when one chooses a career as an artist is to lose the ability to passively "experience" art. Once your mindset shifts to the analytical way a filmmaker thinks about his medium, you can never go back to the innocence of just sitting in the dark and "experiencing" a film the way ordinary people do.
Oscar Wilde once wrote, "Bad artists always admire each other’s work. They call it being large-minded and free from prejudice. But a truly great artist cannot conceive of life being shown, or beauty fashioned, under any conditions other than those he has selected."
The moral to this story is… The worst thing you can do is to tell old fashioned, hackneyed stories using the reduced skill levels and slack techniques of today. It’s much better to use the powerful techniques of the past to recapture a classic level of skill, and use that skill to tell honest stories that are relevant to modern audiences.
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Animation Resources is a 501(c)(3) California non-profit corporation. We are providing self-study resources and training material to animation professionals, cartoonists, designers, Illustrators, students and researchers. Animation Resource's Director, Stephen Worth can be reached at... email@example.com.
I would like to thank the membership of The International Animated Film Society: ASIFA-Hollywood for sponsoring my efforts to get this project off the ground during its first few years. In particular, I owe a debt of gratitude to ASIFA-Hollywood's president, Antran Manoogian. Without his unwavering support and valuable guidance this project would not exist. -Stephen Worth