Archive for the ‘illustration’ Category

Monday, April 13th, 2015

Instruction: Wash Painting- In Praise Of Happy Accidents

Wash Painting

Animation Resources supporter, Mike Fontanelli brought by a stack of mid-1930s Colliers magazines for us to digitize. Colliers was the "Rolls Royce" of weekly magazines for many years, employing some of the greatest illustrators in the business. In browsing through page after page of beautiful wash paintings, I was struck by how rare it is to see illustrations like this any more. That’s just plain wrong.

Wash Painting

In our digital age, programs like Photoshop have replaced brush and pen. But Photoshop doesn’t come close to the flexibility and variety of natural textures that water painting can provide. And in the hands of an experienced artist, a brush can knock out a finished painting much faster than with a computer. It just takes advance planning, concentration and an experienced hand.

Wash Painting

Look at the beautiful compositions in these examples. The artists were working from a carefully constructed drawing, and they worked out every detail before paint touched paper. The light source and the value scale are precisely controlled to make the image "mesh" in your eye. There’s no wasted effort or extraneous detail. The paintings themselves were executed very quickly.

Wash Painting

That’s the exact opposite of the way that a digital image is created. Instead of making all the creative decisions up front, the digital artist makes those decisions as he paints. In Photoshop, it’s typical to build up the illustration in layers, stacking up planes that can be shifted around as needed. The composition evolves, created in sections and joined with blurred seams to connect them. This evolutionary process may result in an image that is acceptably complex, but it doesn’t lend itself to creating a strong or unified statement.

Wash PaintingWash PaintingRecently, I saw a cityscape background from an animated feature that had been created by cutting and pasting pieces of images together. The light came from six different directions. The perspective changed from one part of the image to another. If you looked at any one small section, it looked OK, but the whole didn’t work together. The overall impression was cacophony. Worse yet, the image looked terrible if it was reduced in size or resolution. The scale of the overall composition and the degree of detail was uniform across the entire image. When you resized or reduced the resolution, it all turned to mush.

Contrast that with these beautiful wash paintings… The overall composition reads no matter how small you make it, and there’s a lot of variety between sharp details (in the faces and hands) and loose brushwork (in the fabric and backgrounds). This keeps your eye focused on the important part of the composition. But there’s an even bigger difference… Even when enlarged many times, these paintings still look good because of what watercolor painters refer to as the "happy accidents". Any digital anomaly or seam between layers in a Photoshop image will stand out like a sore thumb, but a loose brush stroke, a bit of paper peeking through the dry brush, or a bleeding bit of pigment can look beautiful. The accidents are natural looking.

Wash Painting
Wash Painting
Wash Painting
Wash Painting

All of the images you see here come from two issues of Colliers from 1934. Every week, the staff artists had to quickly produce striking images to accompany the articles. Speed was of the essence. Wash painting was a quick and beautiful solution.

Wash Painting

One week, an artist might be illustrating a romance…

Wash Painting

The next week a Western adventure…

Wash Painting

The technique lent itself to both realistic depiction and cartoony stylization.

Wash Painting

If you haven’t checked them out yet, make sure to take a look at our previous posts on 30s & 40s Colliers illustrations and Wartime Colliers. There’s a wealth of great images in old magazines like this.

Wash Painting

Many thanks to Mike Fontanelli for sharing these with us. He has a stack of Colliers with Earl Oliver Hurst covers that he will be bringing by soon. I can’t wait to see those.

Wash Painting
Wash Painting

If these amazing images have inspired you, and you’d like a project to sharpen your art skills, here’s a lesson from the fabulous Famous Artists Course. Pull out your brushes and some lamp black and give it a try. Have fun!

FAMOUS ARTISTS ON WASH PAINTING PART ONE: The Fundamentals Of Wash Painting

Wash Painting
Wash Painting
Wash Painting
Wash Painting
Wash Painting
Wash Painting

FAMOUS ARTISTS ON WASH PAINTING PART TWO: Step By Step Through Paintings By Dohanos and Whitcomb

Wash Painting
Wash Painting
Wash Painting
Wash Painting
Wash Painting
Wash Painting
Wash Painting
Wash Painting

Let me see what you come up with.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

INSTRUCTIONINSTRUCTION

This posting is part of an online series of articles dealing with Instruction.

IllustrationIllustration

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit spotlighting Illustration.

Friday, April 10th, 2015

Illustration: 30s & 40s Colliers Illustrations

Kent and Colliers

Yesterday, we had a wonderful surprise. Animation Resources supporter Kent Butterworth stopped by lugging eight huge bound volumes under his arm. They were library copies of Colliers magazine from the late 1940s and early 1950s. He allowed us to digitize them so everyone can browse the amazing illustrations and cartoons. Thanks, Kent!

Here are a few images from the June 5th, 1948 issue… Check out the amazing illustrations for mundane products like outboard motors and golf balls! Magazines today can’t compare.

Colliers Magazine Illstration
Colliers Magazine Illstration
Colliers Magazine Illstration
Colliers Magazine Illstration
Colliers Magazine Illstration
Colliers Magazine Illstration
Colliers Magazine Illstration
Colliers Magazine Illstration
Colliers Magazine Illstration
Colliers Magazine Illstration

Here’s a batch of advertisements from the mid-1930s Colliers magazines loaned to us for digitization by archive supporter Mike Fontinelli. I don’t know about you, but after looking over these great magazines, I have the urge to go out and buy a 1936 Terraplane!

1930s Colliers Ad
1930s Colliers Ad
1930s Colliers Ad
1930s Colliers Ad
1930s Colliers Ad
1930s Colliers Ad
1930s Colliers Ad
1930s Colliers Ad
1930s Colliers Ad
1930s Colliers Ad
1930s Colliers Ad
1930s Colliers Ad
1930s Colliers Ad
1930s Colliers Ad

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

IllustrationIllustration

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit spotlighting Illustration.

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

Theory: CGI Animators Should Think Like ARTISTS

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

You probably have never heard of William Lee Hankey, but he was a pioneer in the field of illustrated books at the turn of the century. Hankey was one of the first illustrators to paint to suit the newly invented four color offset printing process. He would paint loose and wet, and would press fabrics into the washes to create textures. This book, "The Deserted Village" was one of the first big successes using these techniques. It led to a boom in illustrated books during the teens and twenties, which we have documented in our posts on Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and Gustaf Tenggren. (See the link to the Illustration Exhibit at the bottom of this post for examples of their work.) Hankey was an expert in printing technology. But that wasn’t all. He was first and foremost, an artist.

As I was scanning this book, something came up that I need to address. I hope you’ll bear with me as I take a little time out to rattle your cage and remind you of something very important.

LISTEN UP!

W. Lee Hankey Deserted VillageW. Lee Hankey Deserted VillageThe other day, I happened across a thread in an internet forum for CGI animators. The thread was titled, "Why aren’t animators artists?" The title made me do a double take. I was surprised to find people debating a question that to me seems patently ridiculous. I take it for granted that people realize that animation is an artform with close ties to the traditional arts of drawing, painting and sculpture. It’s always a shock to find that there are people working in the field who don’t see the link.

I started to wonder whether the readers of this blog understand the intent behind the material that we post here. We’re not just presenting "pretty pictures" to inspire in some sort of vague manner. We intend for this material to be used and applied to everyday work. We don’t get a lot of feedback from this website. Other animation blogs get hundreds of comments on each post, but we rarely get any comments at all. I don’t know why that is. But I certainly hope it isn’t because people are taking a passive attitude to the resources all of us at Animation Resources are working so hard to provide.

Normally, I let the artwork create its own context, but today, I specifically want to address CGI animators to remind them that this site is NOT strictly for 2D animators. CGI animators can learn as much from this stuff as the guys with the pencils. I’m going to pick a few examples and show you what I mean. It’s time to start thinking like an artist!

WHAT CAN AN ILLUSTRATED BOOK THAT IS OVER A CENTURY OLD TEACH SOMEONE WORKING IN COMPUTER ANIMATION?

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

In 1909, this book was a technological marvel. It used brand new printing processes to bring color and life to the text blocks that had dominated book design for centuries. It can show us how to do the same today using modern storytelling technology if we look closely. For instance…

AVOID EXCESSIVE DETAIL

Too often, artists and animators mistake detail for quality. Rendering out every leaf on every tree, every pore on every inch of skin, every single blade of grass or shock of fur may be an entertaining exercise for retentive types, but all that detail is nothing more than gilding the lilly- distracting from the main point of the design.

Notice how Hankey focuses your attention on the important parts of the composition by rendering those out, while leaving unimportant background information very loose. The choice of colors clearly defines light and shadow, and the carefully balanced values hold the background together as a frame for the subject of the image. Click on these to see them larger and you’ll be surprised to see just how loose the rendering is on the girl’s dress and the background foliage.

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

COMPOSE SHOTS ON A HUMAN SCALE

Too many CGI features are set in environments that are completely out of scale to the characters. Rooms are the size of convention halls and gardens are as big as football fields. Everything is wide open, with very little variety to the depth or contrasting perspectives of the structures. Camera angles on wide shots are staged from 20 feet in the air, much higher than a real human perspective. This makes everything look like model railroad sets instead of like real environments.

The way to lay out a background is through skillful composition and a range of different sizes of forms. Look at how Hankey creates a zig-zag perspective on the first image, layers of contrasting shapes and textures on the second, and divides the last example to frame three separate simultaneous actions beautifully.

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

COMPOSE GROUPS OF PEOPLE CAREFULLY

Check out these amazingly expressive tableaux by Hankey. Each one defines the personality and situation of each individual character in relation to all the other characters, while directing the eye cleverly through the image from one main focal point to the next. Notice how the characters are grouped to reflect their relationships to each other.

Just try to find a grouping like this in current animation! Characters are almost always staged obliquely, lined up like a chorus line or in perfect half circles in front of the camera- sitcom style. If you search through the films of great directors like Chaplin, Hitchcock or Welles, you’ll never find flat setups. The dynamics of group relationships are never revealed in what the characters say- it’s always in how they are arranged visually.

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

CREATE MOOD THROUGH UNIQUE COMBINATIONS OF COLORS

John Kricfalusi recently discussed how important unique color harmonies are to animation in his blog, All Kinds Of Stuff. He makes the point that colors "straight out of the tube"- lime green, purple, orange, etc.- are not nearly effective as hues with non-mathematical mixes of colors… colors that don’t have names.

For instance, what color would you call the street in this first example? Pure colors are best used in small areas to create interest and direct the eye, like with the sea green door on the house in the second one. Sometimes the best color harmonies involve muted colors to create a mood, as in the third example here. The colors tell you exactly what is going on in the scene. In fact, each of the three characters is surrounded by an unique set of colors that reflects his or her attitude.

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

USE THE CHANGING LIGHTING OF THE TIME OF DAY FOR EMOTIONAL IMPACT

Life doesn’t always happen at high noon on a Summer day. Neither should the action of an animated film. Disney knew this. Check out "Lady and the Tramp". The dramatic scenes with the rat approaching the baby’s crib are heightened by the deep shadows of night. The "Bella Note" sequence depicts an entirely different kind of night. The climactic action at the end takes place on a stormy night. Think about how the changing light of the times of day can add impact to your scenes, just like the light depicted in these illustrations by Hankey.

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

CREATE CHARACTERS BY OBSERVING LIFE

The most obvious power of animation to entertain is its ability to caricature life, yet amazingly, observation is exactly what is lacking in character design in current CGI movies. Every day, a million great personalities are all around you who have never been seen in animation- just go to your local coffee shop or shopping mall with your sketchbook. You won’t be able to get all the great characters down on paper fast enough.

So why do we get the same old stereotypical cool dude, smartass sidekick, long-suffering parents, goofy fat kid, and "independent minded pretty girl who doesn’t know how pretty she really is" in every doggone movie? I keep hearing people say that story is the most important thing in animation. Well, that’s a lie. Personality is at the core of all great animation. Don’t plug and play with iconic characters and architypes. OPEN YOUR EYES AND OBSERVE! SHOW THE AUDIENCE SOMETHING REAL!

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

POSE CHARACTERS EXPRESSIVELY

This is CGI animation’s cardinal sin. Gestures and body positions NEVER reflect a character’s unique personality. Every character scrunches their mouth to one side and looks upwards when they think- they all lower their eyebrows and narrow their eyes the exact same way when they’re angry- they all throw their hip to one side and lean their head when they’re petulant…

This is "formula acting". If we were talking about the performance of a human actor instead of a grizzly bear or raccoon, it would be called "BAD acting". Formulas don’t tell you anything about the character, yet entire movies are performed by rote. Don’t believe me? Take any of the recent CGI movies, whether they involve animals invading backyards or escaping zoos, rodents in European restaurants, superhero terrapins or prehistoric sloths- and count the number of times the characters deliver dialogue with that meaningless, stock- hands out to the side, palms up, up and down movement on every accent- sort of gesture. What the heck does that gesture mean? It’s just water treading because the animator is too lazy to think of a gesture that actually expresses something.

Now look at the last image in this group- the one with the fella sitting next to the girl. Even his feet tell you what he’s thinking! Every pose in an animated film should be that expressive. There’s no excuse for stock poses or actions.

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

An animator isn’t just moving a complex polygon through space- an animator creates a performance from a succession of still poses. That’s the job of an artist and anyone doing that sort of work needs to THINK like an artist. As you browse through this the rest of the images in this post, if you just "look at the pretty pictures" without thinking about what makes them work, you might as well be off shopping or playing video games. This website is a tremendous resource, but it won’t help you if you expect it to work passively by osmosis.

Print the stuff in this blog out. Put it in binders. Analyze it. Categorize the concepts. Make notes. Talk about your ideas with your fellow artists. Apply these ideas to your work.

Here are a few more illustrations from this great book. Can you see the principles we discussed above in these images? What other ideas do they give you?

W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village
W. Lee Hankey Deserted Village

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryTheory

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit entitled Theory.

IllustrationIllustration

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit spotlighting Illustration.