Archive for the ‘theory’ Category

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021

Art Education: The Dreyfus Model

Hello everyone I’m Taber, Vice President of Animation Resources. I’m going to be making a series of posts focused on the more academic side of artistic instruction and learning in general. This sort of information can be helpful to both teachers and students as you push yourself to improve and practice your discipline.

Preston Blair instruction

As a beginning artist it can often be difficult to objectively judge your own progress or the quality of your own work. Being able to place yourself in an accurate position of skillfulness can help you to recognize your past growth and current deficiencies so you can better target areas for improvement. But what if you can’t tell exactly what the differences are between your work and the work of more highly skilled artists?

The Dreyfus model focuses on work practices and approaches as a measure of skill acquisition. This can be helpful to both students and instructors as it tends to be entirely non-judgmental and easy to identify objectively. The model uses four qualities to determine work habits:

  • Recollection (non-situational or situational)
  • Recognition (decomposed or holistic)
  • Decision (analytical or intuitive)
  • Awareness (monitoring or absorbed)

These attributes stack one at a time to provide a framework for evaluation:

dreyfus_chart

(click image to enlarge)

For an accurate measurement, ask yourself these questions regarding the above attributes. Because some of these attributes can flip between a more advanced and a less advanced state, I recommend relying on the lower state. For an example if you were trying to decide if you are an intuitive decision maker, or a rational decision maker but you do both part of the time, put yourself down as rational as a rule of thumb.

  1. When you recall knowledge about the subject, is it always in a related context with other information, or is it sometimes rote memorization?
  2. While thinking about an aspect of the subject, can you clearly distinguish between relevant and irrelevant aspects of the work, or is it sometimes difficult to tell what’s important?
  3. When planning your own work, do you need to carefully and analytically lay out the steps beforehand or can you see the entire project as a whole task?
  4. When making decisions in your work, do you have to do any problem solving, or do the answers come to you intuitively, without effort most of the time?

Once you’ve answered these four questions, find the lowest tier which corresponds to your answers, even if you choose an attribute from a higher tier. Read the Needs column from the above chart and try to focus your learning on the types of practice listed in that section. Don’t cheat yourself by practicing projects which are too complex or unstructured! That sort of practice is really only for very highly skillful artists.

This system is similar to the surface to core concept illustrated by Scott McCloud in his book Understanding Comics which I highly recommend! In the book, McCloud describes how a person who is initially drawn to be a fan of an art-form must undertake a journey to the core of that medium before being able to master and thus give back to that medium.mccloud_understanding_comics

Additionally, this same artist’s journey from surface to core is echoed in much of the advice and instructional material given to artists throughout time, from Zim to Richard Williams. In essence, this is what an “old masters” approach is. This struggle is ultimately the best way to gain skill in an artistic medium, however it is difficult and it does take time.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” -Ira Glass

I have some personal theories about the types of artistic practice activities which benefit artists the most when trying to improve aspects of their work, and I’ll be talking about that next time!


Right now, it’s Back To School time at Animation Resources, and for the next two weeks we will be sharing reasons why students and educators should be a member of our important project. There is no better way to feed your creativity than to be a member of Animation Resources. Every other month, we share a Reference Pack that is chock full of downloadable e-books and still framable videos designed to expand your horizons and blow your mind. It’s easy to join. Just click on this link and you can sign up right now online…


JOIN TODAY!
https://animationresources.org/membership/levels/

FREE SAMPLES!
https://animationresources.org/join-us-sample-reference-pack/

Not Convinced Yet? 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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Monday, October 18th, 2021

Feed the Library of Your Mind

Library

If you read no other article today, read the one at this link…

Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You’ll Ever Have Time to Read

A lot of young animators seem to think that as long as they have Google, they have all the reference they need. But that isn’t true. POTENTIAL reference is no better than having no reference at all. You have to know exactly what it is that you don’t know to grow.

This article is about books and reading, but the same argument for the value of books could be made for a library of music, movies and artwork. A shelf full of music of all types, or classic movies, or art books about the old masters are directly relevant to your growth as an artist. It’s not enough to just create. You have to absorb your culture so you can reflect it in your own unique way.

A library is a constant reminder of how much there is to learn about and incorporate into your life and work. Life is short. Surround yourself with knowledge. Organize it and set aside time to browse. Once in a while select a specific subject that you should really should know more about and dive in. Analyze. Process. Learn.

Recently a book was published showing great artists in their studios. Their workspaces were all different, but there was one common denominator. They all had bookshelves packed with reference. If you want to be a great artist too, follow their lead and push your boundaries and expand your frame of reference by building your own library. It can be walls of books or hard drives full of images, movies and music. The format doesn’t matter. What matters is the impetus to know more than you already do.

It’s easy to build up a valuable reference library on cartooning and animation, and you don’t even need a shelf on the wall. Every other month, Animation Resources shares an e-book and still framable videos of rare animation with its members. If you had joined when we started producing Reference Packs five years ago, you would now have over 30 books and 15 hours of rare animation. Our Board and Advisory Board curate this material so you can have one of the world’s best libraries on the subject right on your hard drive.


Right now, it’s Back To School time at Animation Resources, and for the next two weeks we will be sharing reasons why students and educators should be a member of our important project. There is no better way to feed your creativity than to be a member of Animation Resources. Every other month, we share a Reference Pack that is chock full of downloadable e-books and still framable videos designed to expand your horizons and blow your mind. It’s easy to join. Just click on this link and you can sign up right now online…


JOIN TODAY!
https://animationresources.org/membership/levels/

FREE SAMPLES!
https://animationresources.org/join-us-sample-reference-pack/

Not Convinced Yet? 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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Friday, October 8th, 2021

Story: Writing Cartoons Part Four- The Rough Board

Cartoon Story The Rough Board

Woolie Reitherman, Bill Peet, Ken Andersen and
Ham Luske tussle during a story meeting for
"101 Dalmatians" (via Michael Sporn’s Splog.)

When we left off last time in our series on cartoon writing, the gag sessions had led to the establishment of an overall structure and continuity. The random threads of ideas had meshed into the framework of a story with a beginning, middle and end. Today, we are going to look at how that bare skeleton outline was fleshed out for the first time in rough storyboard form. But first, a little bit about the relationship between the story men and the rest of the animation staff…

In the photo above, you see story man Bill Peet rough-housing with designer Ken Anderson and directors Woolie Reitherman and Ham Luske. Unlike today, when a cartoon scriptwriter rarely if ever ventures into the artists’ domain, golden age cartoon writers interfaced with a large chunk of the animation staff on a daily basis. As we discussed in the first couple of articles in this series, animators were on hand at all story meetings to suggest sequences of action that would lend themselves to funny animation. But at Disney, the influence of the animation staff on the story went even further than that…

INSPIRATIONAL ART

Cartoon Story The Rough Board

Disney employed a special crew of artists whose sole duty was to visualize the ideas being tossed out for consideration during the story meetings. They established the key setups in the film. The drawing above is a very early inspiration sketch from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was drawn by one of Disney’s greatest concept artists, Albert Hurter. At the time this sketch was created, the character designs hadn’t yet been finalized, however Hurter was called upon to determine the best way to stage the scene. If you compare this sketch to the scene as it appears in the film, you’ll see how closely Hurter’s background details were followed by the layout department.

Hurter’s drawings acted as “setups” for many of the scenes in Snow White. They established the space the characters inhabited clearly, so the storyboard artists didn’t create the space randomly one scene at a time. For example, compare the Dwarfs’ cottage or Roger and Anita’s living room in 101 Dalmatians to the house in Tom & Jerry cartoons. The individual shots in the Disney cartoons all fit within a specific space, while in many of the Tom & Jerry cartoons, the house is just a random assemblage of baseboards, potted plants and pictures hanging on the walls. Nailing down the setups before the storyboard is done helps the artist envision the space from different angles.

Cartoon Story The Rough Board

Concept artists would also experiment with the overall design approach. In the "Dance of the Hours" sequence from Fantasia, it was decided to contrast different design motifs for each of the various times of day… the morning section consisted of static horizontal and vertical lines, the afternoon was made up of ellipses, the evening was represented by S curves, and in the example above by James Bodrero from the night sequence, zig zags predominated.

Cartoon Story The Rough Board

As the story progressed, the cast of characters would come into focus. Artists would be assigned to establish and refine the way each of the characters looked. This example is a design by Grim Natwick for an unmade Silly Symphony based on the Aesop’s Fable, "The Three Musicians of Bremen". Joe Grant was charged with the task of creating a character design department at Disney. His crew would establish the design of the characters and provide the artists with model sheets of the characters in various attitudes and from various angles.

All of the designs from the conceptual artists would filter back to the story department, where they were pinned up on the boards and incorporated into the story sketches as the project progressed. I’ll have more on that in the next article in this series.

THE ROUGH STORYBOARD

The technique of drawing out stories in sketches goes back to the earliest days of animation. It probably evolved out of newspaper comics. Here we have a thumbnail storyboard from around 1927 by Grim Natwick from Bill Nolan’s Krazy Kat studio. Unlike most storyboards, this one reads top to bottom instead of left to right.

Cartoon Story The Rough BoardCartoon Story The Rough Board
Cartoon Story The Rough BoardCartoon Story The Rough Board
Cartoon Story The Rough BoardCartoon Story The Rough Board

The basic story of this board is as follows…

Krazy Kat is spending a quiet evening at home with his wife, who is listening to the radio. Krazy sneaks away to call his girlfriend and crawls into the phone and through the wires to meet her at the "Flaming Youth" nightclub. They dance to the music of the hot jazz band, and as the tempo speeds up, the whole room joins in a wild dancing frenzy. Krazy begins swinging his girlfriend around the dance floor. It is revealed that the music is being broadcast on the radio and Krazy’s wife is listening in. The station announcer mentions that Krazy Kat is on the dance floor, and the wife stomps down to the nightclub to confront him. Just as the song reaches its climax, the wife enters and bops Krazy over the head with a bass fiddle.

Grim told me that the earliest form of storyboard he ever saw was at Hearst’s International Film Service studio. The director, Gregory LaCava would doodle out the story in rough thumbnail form straight ahead as a comic strip. Then he would mark the scene cuts, assign an approximate length to each scene, and take a pair of scissors and cut the panels up into sequences to hand out to the animators. This technique probably had its origins even earlier at the Raoul Barre studio, where LaCava trained to animate. The interesting thing about the Krazy Kat storyboard pictured above is that by 1927, the technique was well enough established that stock storyboard paper was printed up with the boxes ready to be filled in.

Writing Cartoons

In the early 30s at Disney, the technique was perfected by Webb Smith, who suggested drawing the panels on individual sheets of paper and pinning them up on cork boards. This made it simple to insert or delete panels, and allowed the storyboard artist to see the visual flow of an entire sequence at once.

At Disney, the boards evolved as the sequences developed, but at Warner Bros, there were two iterations of storyboards for each cartoon- the first draft thumbnail board and the final director’s board. The thumbnail board was the storyboard artist’s first pass at the story. He was free to work out the basic gags, staging and cutting, without having to deal with drawing the poses “on model” or putting a lot of detail into the backgrounds. At this stage, dialogue was just a general suggestion- it wasn’t locked down until the director had input on the board. That way the dialogue would be a natural outgrowth of the action, instead of the action being driven by the dialogue.

Here is an example of a thumbnail board by John Dunn from the Bugs Bunny Show (1960)…

Cartoon Story The Rough Board
Cartoon Story The Rough Board
Cartoon Story The Rough Board
Cartoon Story The Rough Board

There are a couple of interesting things we can deduce from this board. It appears that the panels with the glue stains were boarded first. They probably represent Dunn’s first thoughts on gags for the story. He then went back and expanded the introductions to the sequences and the transitions in and out of the commercials. Dialogue for some sections is indicated by placeholders. (ie: "Foghorn introduces commercial.", "Foghorn cons hawk.") These lines would be written once the action of the cartoon was all approved. At this stage, only the dialogue needed to sell the gag was necessary, and even that could change as the board developed. The end of this board is quite choppy. It’s likely that more development was done on the final gags before the board was ready to go into production. At this early stage, the scene numbering for production tracking had not yet been established. Scene cuts might still be moved or eliminated as the board evolved. So the numbering on the panels is simply a page number to keep the drawings in order.

Here is an example of a thumbnail board from Format Films’ The Alvin Show…

Bob Kurtz was a story man at Format, and he tells me that this board was most likely drawn by one of the directors as a quick reference to help him organize the scenes. Notice how he juggles different sorts of shots to create a visual rhythm. The animation on this show was extremely limited, so contrasts in design were needed to make up for it…

Cartoon Story The Rough Board
Cartoon Story The Rough Board
Cartoon Story The Rough Board
Cartoon Story The Rough Board
Cartoon Story The Rough Board
Cartoon Story The Rough Board
Cartoon Story The Rough Board
Cartoon Story The Rough Board
Cartoon Story The Rough Board

It appears that page five required some revision, but the pre-printed paper made it difficult to juggle the order and number of panels. The artist was forced to completely redraw every panel on the page, wasting time and losing some of the spark of life in his thumbnails in the process. Also note the pasteover at the bottom of page seven and the numerous erasures throughout the board.

Cartoon Story The Rough Board

This particular board has an interesting last page. The Director planned out the shots very carefully to allow background paintings to be reused in multiple shots. This saved money and allowed the background painters more time to paint the establishing shots. Very clever!

Sometime in the early 1960s, the technique of storyboarding took a huge step backwards. Instead of using Webb Smith’s more flexible cork board and push pin system, story artists went back to drawing out the action on stock printed paper with three to six boxes printed on it. This made it difficult to insert or delete panels. Why did they abandon a system that worked well for one that didn’t?

The next article in this series will deal with the pitch…

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

INSTRUCTIONINSTRUCTION

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

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