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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
Today, Ralph Bakshi called me and paid me a great complement. He said that he has been working hard on his film, “Last Days of Coney Island” and he’s very tired. He said, “It’s hard, Stevie. I’m 70 years old. Whenever I’m down on my film and I’m tired and want to set it aside and rest, I go to Animation Resources and look through the stuff you’ve compiled there. I see wonderful things. Things I could never do myself. I’m just an animator from Terry-Toons. I’m still just an old animator from Terry-Toons. I look at this stuff from the giants of cartooning and it charges me up and gives me ideas. I go back to the film refreshed and ready to go again.”
Ralph said, “I know what I see when I look at this stuff, but I’m an old man… The world is different now. What do the kids see?” I’m not going to tell you what I answered right now. You kids tell me.
My friend Joseph “JoJo” Baptista worked with Ralph Bakshi making an animated commercial for his Kickstarter campaign. JoJo produced an excellent bit of animation for Ralph, so I asked him to share his process with you. I’ve uploaded the videos to YouTube in HD, so click through the link below each video to go to its page and select HiDef. -Stephen Worth
Over the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to work for Ralph Bakshi. I’ve been a fan of Ralph’s films since I first saw them when I was in college. The fact that I was able to test and receive direction from him was an absolutely amazing experience. I’ve done some design jobs and even a little bit of storyboard too, but I had never animated before, so I was very fortunate that Ralph took this chance on me because it was the first scene I had ever done. Ralph was very encouraging. He and I communicated over phone and e-mail. He would come up with ideas and tell me how to improve the performance by adding more frames to certain actions. He also explained to me the importance of anticipations.
I drew the animation on a Cintiq using Toon Boom Animate Pro. Toon Boom has been a tremendous help to me. No more shooting your animation with a camera. It’s been so easy to delete the drawings you’re unsatisfied with and start over. I even get to be my own ink and paint lady!
Bakshi Character Design
Here is the doodle Ralph sent me. Ralph explained that the characters think they’re total hot shots, but they’re really not. He wanted them smoking, scratching, spitting, yak yak yak! So before I did any animation I decided to pose them first, just to get a feeling of how to draw them and hopefully get a better sense of their personality, as well as a feel for Ralph’s unique proportions and design sense.
JoJo’s Character Studies
I felt the relationship between these two characters was natural: The short bossy little guy and the big dumb oaf. The little guy, or “Nifty” as we ended up calling him, really doesn’t care about the oaf, unless he’s got something he wants.
JoJo’s Tight Drawing
So I began to do some rough layouts of situations the characters could enter. I sent these to Ralph, but he thought they were way too tight. He was right, they were. In fact, it wasn’t until I started animating where I really started to loosen up. So I jumped into it.
The oaf has had his fill, and complies with Nifty’s request. I originally came up with this fountain pose for the pour. Ralph didn’t like it. Looking back I think it looks too flamboyant and doesn’t display how drunk he is. Instead he suggested leaning the oaf back as he pours, he said he didn’t care how long his arm got! I came up with the head wobble before the lean. I think this helps give a clear sense that he’s tanked.
One of the things I learned on this scene through Ralph was the importance of anticipations and breathing spaces between actions. Anticipations are crucial when you want to jump into one action from the next. For example, many of the broad actions done by Nifty have anticipations before they’re executed. Pay close attention to the way Nifty goes into a squashed pose before shouting, “HEY!!” It’s very short, but it’s there. This is what helps give the following extreme pose some oomph. If it wasn’t there it just wouldn’t read well. Putting spaces between actions is also essential when you want certain actions to read against another character who may be in a moving hold or doing a much more subtle gesture. Otherwise, with so many actions happening at once you won’t know where your eyes are supposed to look. It’s all about the control of motions.
Once the animation was done it was time to add color. Steve provided me with color cards, and I made color models in Photoshop. Kent Butterworth had been experimenting with colors earlier on some of my sketches (above) so I went with those. As soon as that was figured out I began painting the characters. This part was very time consuming. Because the drawings are very rough, I had to create another layer in Animate Pro and paint each frame of animation and in several passes too. One for the main color, another for open mouths, hats, shading, etc. It took forever!
Next, it was time for music and sound. Steve was a great help here; he knew the perfect piece of music for this sequence, Naftule Brandwein’s, “Nifty’s Froelich”. It’s also where we got the name for the little guy. With the music in we added sound effects. We not only added sound to actions but also where an accent was hit in the music. Just like anticipations add the space to the action clearly, the placement and choice of sound effects make the sound clear.
I hope you enjoyed this and found it helpful. Since this article was published originally, Ralph’s kickstarter achieved its goal and then some! As we speak, Ralph is hard at work in New Mexico animating “Last Days of Coney Island”. I’m really proud to have helped him get the chance to make a personal film. Ralph’s work is totally unique to everyone else in animation, and his films are still very relevant today. The Last Days of Coney Island short is sure to be another incredible experience.
Ralph regularly posts updates on his progress to Facebook. Like his page and cheer him on!
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.
Animation Resources depends on your contributions to support its services to the worldwide animation community. Please contribute using PayPal.
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