Archive for the ‘theory’ Category

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2021

Three Steps to Greater Creativity

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.

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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…

JAZZ

Lucky Millinder

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

COUNTRY MUSIC

Collins And Maphis

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

THE BLUES

Collins And Maphis

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

POPULAR MUSIC

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
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryTheory

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

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Monday, October 26th, 2020

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


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