Archive for the ‘theory’ Category

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Learning To Animate: Simplicity vs Complexity

simplicity vs complexity

We had a question from a Facebook follower today… It was in reference to the motion studies Nicholas John Pozega has been posting every day… “What kind of relevance do the the motion and principles of cartoons like Popeye and Mickey Mouse hold to contemporary cartoons or cartoons with more realistic designs with anatomy and different styles of motion?”

That is an excellent question, and it goes to the heart of how we as human beings learn.

When you start out to master any difficult skill, you should learn it in a progression from simple to more complex. If you try to juggle too many complexities when you are just starting out, you end up making a high splat on the wall and you end up learning nothing.

The great jazz pianist Bill Evans discusses this idea in relation to musical improvisation in this video. Please watch this video before reading further. Don’t just skip by this video. It’s very important to what I am trying to explain here, and it gives an astoundingly clear demonstration of this particular principle in practice…


Bill Evans: The Creative Process and Self Teaching
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MSCReTIeH8

When you begin to play a musical instrument, you start with scales. You don’t start out playing Bach or Liszt. Animation is no different. Drawing volumetrically and solidly is difficult. Drawing a complex realistic human form volumetrically and solidly is extremely difficult. Animating a realistic human form volumetrically and solidly is completely impossible for someone just beginning to develop their animation skills.

The animators who created Snow White and Pinocchio all started animating in the rubber hose style. Using simple forms allowed them to focus on learning how to convey the spirit of a walk cycle or express personality through rhythms, gestures and expressions. The simplicity of the model allowed them to refine and perfect their basic principles… line of action, clear silhouettes, control of volumes in space, appealing proportions… without having to add the compounding difficulty of complex planes, anatomy, musculature and turning highly organic shapes in three dimensions.

When you have learned the principles one by one through experimentation and practice using simple forms, you can begin to add complexity a little at a time, and over a period of years, perhaps you will have the experience and understanding to attempt to animate a realistic human form. Milt Kahl and Mark Davis weren’t born with the experience and draftsmanship to be able to animate realistic human characters the way they animated them in Sleeping Beauty… They worked their way up to it by animating characters with more basic shapes and built their chops. They animated rubber hose characters. And the rubber hose animation in the early 30s Mickey Mouse and Popeye cartoons is drop dead brilliant. If you can’t see the genius in the Popeye walk cycles Nicholas has been posting, go back and look at them again and analyze them for the principles of motion, posing and staging they embody. I bet you’ll find that you were looking at the surface level- the model of the character- and not even considering the way it’s posed and animated.

Students are always impatient and they want everything now. That’s only natural But if you allow your impatience to prevent you from learning in a logical, orderly progression, your impatience can cripple you. Keep your eye on the ultimate goal, but keep putting just one foot in front of the other until you get there.

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

Theory: Guts Vs Polish

Polish

I was talking about something with a friend this morning that I thought I might mention here…

There are two ways to approach a scene. The most direct way is to go straight for the guts of the idea- to think in the most direct and vital way possible to put the emotion and action of the scene across. The audience sees it, recognizes it and instinctually identifies with it. The ultimate proponents of this kind of animation are Rod Scribner and Irv Spence. (If you don’t know who they are, look them up!) Everything is super clear and grabs you by the collar so you can’t look away. It’s a straight line from the animator’s intent to the audience’s experience of it… like an idea wrapped in a laser beam.

The other way to approach a scene is to “finesse” it. You start with a solid basic framework of blocking and you start adding little details. Small hand gestures, secondary action like a hat sliding down over one eye as the character talks, overlapping action on clothing and hair like dingle balls swinging back and forth against the main accent. You stack up layer after layer. As the scene progresses, it becomes more fluid and smoother… glossy. The action seems more “real” because so much is going on at once and it is all so controlled and smooth and beautiful. Disney was the best at doing this sort of approach. Each scene Marc Davis and Frank Thomas animated was carefully wrapped up and tied with ribbons like a birthday present by a team of specialized craftsmen.

If you’re an independent animator, then working in “finesse mode” is a recipe for failure. The way Disney was able to pull that off required very low weekly footage counts for the animators and lots and lots of assistants tracking and following through on the layers and layers of overlap… incredibly time consuming and labor intensive. An individual animator making films by himself would never be able to compete with that. Getting directly to the guts is something that requires a great deal of experience and skill and judgement, but if you are really good, you can spit it out like a lightning bolt with no one helping you. The Disney animators were certainly able to do that if they wanted to, but the every department in the studio, from animation to ink & paint, was geared towards conforming each scene to the “Disney way of doing things”. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It produced a lot of very high quality animation. But for today’s animators building pyramids stone by stone isn’t a very good model to follow.

A lot of people look at animation and judge quality by how smooth it turns, or how polished the overlaps are. But audiences don’t care how much time it took you to animate a scene. They are looking at the performance of the character. They want to see something they recognize in the personality- something real. It’s easy in the frame by frame trenches to focus on details, but if you want to connect in the most efficient way, you should always be looking at your animation from a wider view… and trying to get the guts of the idea you are putting across. Anything else is just gilding the lilly.

If you become a *really* good direct animator, you will be so successful with audiences that you can afford to hire assistants to polish up your stuff for you. There’s no reason to focus on that while you are still growing and learning. Go for the guts.

Stephen Worth
Animation Resources

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

Theory: Olaf Gulbransson And The Magic of Drawing

Magic Poster

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.

Olaf Gulbransson

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.

Olaf Gulbransson

Olaf Gulbransson

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.

Olaf Gulbransson

The full belly does not recognize the empty belly.

He is a master of exaggeration and caricature.

Olaf Gulbransson

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.

Olaf Gulbransson

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.

Olaf Gulbransson

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.

Olaf Gulbransson

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…

Olaf Gulbransson

The lazy and the idle are like brothers.

…rhythmic line, texture, personality…

Olaf Gulbransson

A man is judged by his actions.

…clear staging, line of action, flowing shapes…

Olaf Gulbransson

When we bathe, we’re all equal.

…keen observation of real life, contrasts…

Olaf Gulbransson

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!

Olaf Gulbransson

Man thinks. God leads.

His compositions are powerful and unique…

Olaf Gulbransson

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?!

mess of characters

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.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryTheory

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

This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Magazine Cartoons.