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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 not long ago 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.
The average person who looks at a drawing doesn’t see the thought process that goes into creating it. He just sees the image. If you don’t understand the principles that go into organizing a piece of art, the act of drawing appears to be magic. That’s why moronic displays like this continue to amaze non-artists…
Any artist knows what’s going on here. The performer has simply memorized a formula that he’s playing back along with plenty of empty flourishes and simulated drama. No thought process is going on. It’s just spitting out a predetermined image in a way that impresses people who have no clue about how real paintings are created. It’s just a simple magic trick, and it’s only amazing if you don’t know how the trick is done.
Stage magic is an art form, not unlike drawing and painting in some ways. The difference between mediocre magicians and great ones isn’t the cleverness of their “tricks”… it’s the quality of their application of the fundamental techniques of magic. These principles are organized to create a convincing illusion. Here is a wonderful example of that concept in action, by the brilliant magician, Teller…
Teller’s partner, Penn Jilette narrates the fundamental principles of magic that Teller is employing to create a magical illusion of normalcy. The average person viewing these actions on the street might not see anything out of the ordinary; but when we know what’s going on, it becomes amazing. Knowing how the trick works makes the magic more amazing, not less. That’s REAL magic.
The audience is as much responsible for the effectiveness of the illusion as the performer. A skilled magician leads the viewer through a series of actions which set up a certain expectation. When something completely different happens, it seems like magic. But without the expectation, the magic would dissolve into simple random occurrences. In this next clip, Penn & Teller reveal all their secrets and still manage to create a mystifying illusion. We can see how it’s being done with our own eyes, but Penn & Teller’s compelling direction of the action and our own expectations are so strong, we’re still surprised.
It isn’t the trick… it’s the skill with which the fundamental principles are applied to create an illusion. Truly great drawing is like that.
I’m going to introduce you to one of the most magical cartoonists who ever lived. Odds are, you’ve never heard of him. His name was Olaf Gulbransson, and he was a cartoonist for the German satirical magazine Simplicissimus between the early years of the 20th century and the second World War. I’ll have more biographical information on him in a later post. But today, I want to get straight to showing you his amazing drawings.
Gulbransson’s sketches are simple line drawings… but they are deceptively simple. The images have been refined down to a few quick lines, but their simplicity and directness masks a depth of thought and planning that is almost superhuman. Here are a few sketches from Gulbransson’s Spruche und Wahrheiten (Sayings and Truisms) from 1939.
In art, he who is not the best is nothing.
In the cartoon above, notice how a single line defines the right cuff, elbow, arm, shoulderblade and fabric tension. It is very difficult to depict a strong pose from the rear- especially when draped in a long heavy coat. But Gulbransson pulls it off dramatically in a few sweeping lines.
The full belly does not recognize the empty belly.
He is a master of exaggeration and caricature.
More die in the bottle than the war.
Notice how he depicts the weight of the bodies lying on the ground, along with the pull and drape of the clothing covering them. The characters are grouped into a visual hierarchy, directing the eye from the foreground up to the drunks inside the stein at the top. Even though the shapes are open and plain, the volumetric structure is clearly defined. Some artists would render an image like this out with hatching, shading and lots of detail, but Gulbransson pulls it off with a remarkable economy of line.
There’s no fool like an old fool.
A single line defines a silhouette, frames a character and leads the eye through the composition. The specific attitude of the characters and the stark contrast between their sizes enhances the irony of the caption.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Look at all those appealing organic shapes! Again, the contrast in scale puts across the humor in the caption.
In the home, usually the chicken crows and the rooster clucks.
Complementary lines of action, solid drawing, specific attitudes, strong poses, beautiful negative spaces, clear silhouettes…
The lazy and the idle are like brothers.
…rhythmic line, texture, personality…
A man is judged by his actions.
…clear staging, line of action, flowing shapes…
When we bathe, we’re all equal.
…keen observation of real life, contrasts…
The bloom must fade in time, but in the mind, the fruit never withers.
…and sophisticated interaction defining the relationship between characters. Gulbransson could do it all- sometimes he did it all in a single brilliant drawing like this one!
Man thinks. God leads.
His compositions are powerful and unique…
All’s well that ends well.
…and he has a clear point of view. Who else would depict life’s end with an angel lifting a baby off a chamber pot?!
The average person loves detail and complexity. It makes them feel like they’re getting their “money’s worth” from a drawing. But to me, putting everything across with simplicity is even more amazing. The artist can’t hide behind details piled upon details, shading and cross hatching. His idea is presented naked and clear for the world to see. It’s like Penn & Teller doing the cups and balls with transparent cups. Real magic.
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