Archive for the ‘theory’ Category

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Theory: 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.

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.

In an earlier post on Facebook, I pointed out one of the primary creative skills, *ideation*. 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.

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 I produced the “I Miss You” rock video for Bjork, the director John K was describing for the CGI animator how he wanted the rubber nipples on Bjork’s chest to move. He told him to reference a Harman-Ising cartoon called “The Milky Way”. John described the action of the nipples squirting milk in that cartoon very carefully, and even was able to chart out the timing of the movement to the frame.

Now, anyone who knows John K knows that Harman-Ising cartoons are about as far away from his personal taste as a cartoon can get. Yet he had studied “The Milky Way” carefully and had found a technique in it that he could use. He filed it away in his head and was able to retrieve it when a time came that he could use it. Classic cartoons are a gold mine of information on technique.

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.

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.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Advice: Business of Art

SONY DSC

I see a lot of people starting out in animation focusing on the business aspects… creating lots of “product”, pitching show ideas to studios, worrying about people who might ask them to work for free on a personal project, posting ads to groups like this to try to get viewers… I’ve seen people who do all these sorts of things for almost a decade, and still aren’t any further along to success as an animated filmmaker than the day they started.

You don’t become successful in animation by having the “right package”. You become successful because you have the “right stuff”. You can sit down and really animate, do layout, design backgrounds… you have skills in constructive drawing, compositional principles, perspective, anatomy and life drawing, color theory, painting techniques…

Specialization aimed at a specific job title is the absolute WORST thing you can do in school. I went to design school to study graphic design. They taught me type speccing, paste up, how to use a linotype machine… A couple of years later the Macintosh came out and everything I learned was obsolete. The only classes that I still use today are the basic ones… Design 101, Color 101, Drawing 101. Going to a trade school to learn art or filmmaking is a good way to be replaced by outsourcing.

If you want to be an artist, LEARN TO BE AN ARTIST FIRST. With a solid foundation in the fundamentals, you can learn any trade quickly on your own time or on the job. You don’t have to pay a school thousands of dollars to make you an unemployable specialist in a field that is now being done in India or China.

Instead of putting sweat equity into a business opportunity, it’s a lot better to put that effort into investing into yourself and your skills. But that takes hard work, humility, experimentation, and a solid plan for self education. Make personal films, but CHALLENGE YOURSELF. Don’t just fill time quotas. That’s the hard way to become successful for sure, but it’s a sure road for advancement. “Playing the game” and “doing business” can go in circles forever and get you nowhere.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Theory: Live The Fabulous Lifestyle Of A Hollywood Cartoonist

Cartoonist Party

Wrap party for “Toot Whistle Plunk & Boom”

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…

BingBingThe 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.

Roy SmeckRoy SmeckMike 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…

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… 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!

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryTheory

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

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather