Archive for the ‘theory’ Category

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021

Curation and Creativity: Work In Progress

I’m going to chat for a minute about some of our work in progress at Animation Resources…


The other day, I was talking with a friend about what was important about what we do at the Animation Archive, and he said that the collection was the most important thing. We’ve amassed a huge archive of digitized films and scanned artwork. But I disagreed. Google search has a massive collection too, as does The thing that sets us apart is CURATION.

You can have all the treasures in the world, but if you aren’t putting them into context, they’re just specimens in jars of formaldehyde sitting on a dusty shelf. Great objects exist all over. Museums and warehouses are full of them. The trick is to put them to use for a purpose. That takes a deeper understanding. With every Reference Pack and article we share with our followers, Animation Resources is encouraging and supporting our members to engage in that sort of self study and application of principles.

Creative Process

The job of Animation Resources is to bring “the good stuff” to working artists, so they can analyze it, process it, and apply the fundamentals they uncover to their own work. Learning to be creative is a process like any other constructive process, but a lot of artists have never stopped to think of how they go about it. I was chatting with a great artist about this once, and he swore up and down that creativity couldn’t be learned, either you have it or you don’t. I started listing off the ways that you foster and develop creativity. As I listed them, he replied, “I do that.” “I do that.” “I do that.” He thought he had been born creative, but he was actually born doing the things that make a person creative. He was working to become more creative without even knowing it.

Curation is a similar process. Part of it is straightforward research. That’s the easy part. There are lots of librarians and historians who can catalog and document. It’s easy to look at the surface and say, “Disney made ‘Brave Little Tailor’ in 1938.” but that is just a statement of fact, not real understanding. The more difficult and intuitive part of research is discerning the connections between things that reveal the universal truth beneath. Yeah, I know… that sounds “hippy-dippy” and I apologize for that. But it’s the easiest way to describe it. The products of human creativity have cultural differences, and technique is dependent on technology. This makes them all look different. However once you dig beneath the surface, you start to see the invisible connections that make up the way humanity thinks, feels and creates. There are patterns that we all follow. If you want to be an artist, you may express those patterns and choices without even knowing it.

Tenggren and Dulac
Tenggren and Dulac
Connections: Tenggren, Dulac and Japanese Woodcut

Lately, with COVID rapidly shrinking in the distance behind us, I’ve dived into several projects that are all linked, but the connections weren’t initially obvious. I’ve got a long list of projects on my “to-do list” that I haven’t gotten around to developing yet. One of those was investigating international animation. I read the Bendazzi book from cover to cover and it excited me about these films, but I had no way of accessing them. When a batch of Russian DVDs turned up on the greatest archive known to man— eBay— I jumped on it. It was a collection of over 75 DVDs of rare Russian animation. I started digitizing them and I was blown away at the diversity and quality of the work. Their approach to the art form is unique and pure. There’s so much to learn from these films! I’ve begun sharing the riches of the Eastern block in the Reference Packs.

Russian Animation

Russian animation led me to thinking about the other great culture for animation— anime. I’m familiar with the usual suspects… “Akira”, “Kimba the White Lion”, the feature films by Miyazaki and others. But I never felt that Animation Resources needed to focus on that. It’s all readily available, and most animation students today know all about those films. But Animation Resources’ treasurer, JoJo Baptista showed me that there’s a lot more to Japanese animation than just the films we all know. Together, we started researching early Japanese animation. I discovered that before animation became standardized and institutionalized in Japan, there was a wide range of styles and ideas. I traced the history of animated features in Japan from the WWII propaganda film, “Momotaro’s Sea Eagles” through the 1960s, while JoJo focused on early television animation. He discovered some rarely seen series that are models of expressive economy. These TV programs addressed and solved the problem of how to keep limited animation lively- the same problem that independent internet animators face. We’ll be sharing that in upcoming Reference Packs as well.

Early Anime

My research into the early history of Japanese animation led me down a rabbit hole similar to one I explored early on in the Animation Archive Project. Back in the mid 2000s I started tracing the lineage of Western cartooning backwards step by step, from the golden age cartoon films to newspaper comics to the earliest sequential cartoons to caricature magazines to British printmakers to woodblock carvers and ultimately all the way back to Leonardo daVinci’s grotesque caricatures. I learned that animation was just a part of the story. The history of Western cartooning is a continuum that extends back far beyond Winsor McCay. I discovered that on the other side of the globe, in near complete isolation, the same thing was happening in Japan. I’m now in the process of tracing anime back to manga to ukiyo-e and perhaps its earliest origins in Chinese painting. That research is just getting started.

Hans Holbein Dance of Death

Those who have read my article on “Dances of Death” (included in the ebooks in our sample reference pack: know the similarities I’ve found between late 15th century woodblock artists like Holbein and Durer and modern commercial cartooning. The EXACT same aspects are shared by Japanese woodcuts known as ukiyo-e or “The Floating World”. And the Japanese woodcuts led to manga, just as woodcuts led to comics. And you already know where comics and manga led!

This has been a very long post, and perhaps only a few have read this far. But Animation Resources has never been aimed at the typical followers of social media. 99% of the people who see and share our posts are just reacting to a pretty picture. That’s fine, but that isn’t why Animation Resources exists. Our real target audience is the small specialized number of creative artists who are actively analyzing and making the connections in their head to develop and hone their own creativity. If that describes you, I want to let you know that I’ll be sharing more about these projects in the near future. Keep your eyes peeled and your mind open. Come along on the journey with us.


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Wednesday, March 3rd, 2021

Three Steps to Greater Creativity


Recently on Facebook, I was asked why I thought originality in animation was such a rare thing today. I pointed out that originality and creativity are closely connected, and they aren’t just magical gifts that you are either born with or you aren’t. They come from a body of knowledge and a set of skills that can be learned. Originality and creativity are both fed by the same things… observation of life, the ability to think like an artist, and a wide range of creative influences.

Three Steps The primary source of inspiration for all artists is the observation of real life.

Too many animated films employ character “archetypes”… generic mom and dad characters, typical wimpy kid, his goofy dog and clever cat, bratty little sister… I don’t know about you but those sorts of characters bore me stiff. The best actors will tell you that they don’t create characters by looking at what other actors do or employing stereotypes. They look at real people and try to capture the gestures, walk and attitudes that express that person’s unique personality. It works exactly the same in animation.

When you’re riding the bus, drinking your coffee at Starbucks or standing in line at the DMV, pay attention to the people around you. Look for unique personalities and try to capture them in your sketchbook. Exaggerate and caricature them to see how you might put those personalities across in an animated character. You’ll find that the characters you see on the street are a lot more interesting than the characters you see in most animated films.

Three Steps In an earlier post on Facebook, I pointed out one of the primary creative skills, *ideation*, the ability to think outside the box and come up with a million different solutions to a problem. Another skill that is invaluable is *analysis*. Analysis is at the core of what it means to think like an artist.

When the average person sits down to watch an animated film, they are carried away into the fantasy and let the film direct their imagination and entertain them. A film maker thinks differently. Once your mind is trained to understand the process of film making, you will never sit in the theater as just another member of the audience again. You definitely lose that innocence. But it is replaced by something even more important.

When a film maker watches a film, he is looking at the application of technique. How does the film establish its characters and environment? How does it set up the conflict? What rhythms and pacing are being used to carry the film forward… contrasts in moods… staging… color… music… sound effects… acting… dialogue… All these things and more are revealed through analysis. Turn on your brain and your creativity will follow.

Three Steps Lastly, it’s important to expose yourself to a broad spectrum of artistic creativity… not just the few things you already know about and like.

When you as a filmmaker are watching movies, TV shows and animation, you shouldn’t just limit yourself to what you personally *like*. Focus instead on what you can learn from. The principle of garbage in- garbage out applies here. If you watch nothing but lousy animation and stupid movies, what sorts of animation do you expect to produce yourself?

In fact, animation should be just a small portion of what you study and expose yourself to. In order to be a creative artist in animation, you need to understand and appreciate ALL of the arts. This means studying the history of all forms of music- from classical music and opera to country music and jazz. It’s the same with the history of painting, and sculpture, and dance, and most of all- film making.

If you want to train yourself to think analytically about film, choose really good examples from the past to study. Classic films are packed with cinematic techniques that animation hasn’t even touched on yet, and they will open your mind to new genres to explore. In the entire history of animation, there have been thousands of cats chasing mice and dogs chasing cats, but how many gothic horror movies have their been? How many noir thrillers? Westerns? War pictures? People love to say, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” but in animation, that isn’t true. There are a LOT more stories to be told.

Another advantage to using older films as reference is that you are more likely to pull out pure technique and less likely to simply imitate. If you are looking at a WWII movie, you can’t just copy situations and dialogue because it is from a different time and place. Instead, you are forced to focus on the acting, the staging or the cutting technique. Stealing technique isn’t stealing. It requires adaptation to your own context. Copying specific gags, situations or dialogue from modern movies similar to the one you are making is definitely stealing.

Three Steps The keys to creativity in animated film making are to… 1) Open your eyes to the world around you, 2) Think about what you see- analyze how it works, and 3) Expose yourself to a wider range of creative influences.

When your frame of reference is limited to anime, video games and superhero movies, it shouldn’t be surprising that everything you create is derivative. That kind of background may seem to be a good foundation to build a career in animation on first glance, but look at the animators of the past… Milt Kahl had classical art training from Chouinard, Carlo Vinci won a scholarship to the prestigious National Academy of Design, and Grim Natwick studied painting in Vienna under Gustav Klimt. Animators back then were artists first and animators second. If you want to imitate someone’s approach to creativity, imitate the best! Become an artist.

Members Appreciation Month

It’s Members Appreciation Time at Animation Resources, and for the next 30 days we will be sharing reasons why you should be a member of our important project. It’s easy to join. Just click on the link and you can sign up right now online…

CLICK To Join Today!
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Learn About The Benefits Of Membership

Not A Member Yet? Want A Free Sample?

Check out this SAMPLE REFERENCE PACK! It will give you a taste of what Animation Resources members get to download every other month!

Sample RefPack

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Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

Theory: Live The Fabulous Lifestyle Of A Hollywood Cartoonist

Cartoonist Party

Wrap party for “Toot Whistle Plunk & Boom”

BingBingA few years ago, a student at Woodbury volunteered to help build out our database. He told me how much this blog, along with Eddie Fitzgerald’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 him this advice…

Cartoons aren’t the only things that were better back in the first half of the 20th century.

Roy SmeckRoy SmeckA friend of mine once 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, iPhones, frost-free refrigerators, etc… but music, dance, illustration, writing, movies and cartoons were all going through a golden age back then. Cartoonists should be aware of this, and they should absorb all of the greatness of the past. It will give them a solid foundation to build upon and make them better cartoonists.

Today, I’m going to talk about music…

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys

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!”.

Fats WallerFats WallerWhen 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…


Lucky Millinder

Lucky Millinder & Sister Rosetta Tharpe
"Four Or Five Times" (Soundie/1941)
(Quicktime 7 / 5.5 megs)


Collins And Maphis

Larry Collins & Joe Maphis
"Under The Double Eagle" (Tex Ritter’s Ranch Party/1959)
(Quicktime 7 / 5 megs)


Collins And Maphis

"Gray Goose" "Pick A Bale Of Cotton"(1950s)
(Quicktime 7 / 10 megs)


Les Paul

Les Paul & Mary Ford
"The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise" "Amuka Riki" (Grand Old Opry/1959)
(Quicktime 7 / 12 megs)

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… That animation student is a big Fats Waller fan now! And that’s not all… He’s a professional in the animation business working as a storyboard artist at Cartoon Network.

Stephen Worth
Animation Resources


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

Members Appreciation Month

It’s Members Appreciation Time at Animation Resources, and for the next 30 days we will be sharing reasons why you should be a member of our important project. It’s easy to join. Just click on the link and you can sign up right now online…

CLICK To Join Today!
Join Animation Resources
Learn About The Benefits Of Membership

Not A Member Yet? Want A Free Sample?

Check out this SAMPLE REFERENCE PACK! It will give you a taste of what Animation Resources members get to download every other month!

Sample RefPack

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