This is my caricature of Jessica Borutski, a supremely talented young cartoonist whose work I have admired for several years now. Coincidentally, Jessica resides in Ottawa, Ontario, which also happens to be my old hometown. I first discovered Jessica's work on a cute animated film she created called I Like Pandas. In fact, I have shown samples of Jessica's art in my class on Character Design as examples of great visual appeal, like this one:
Recently however, poor Jessica has found herself caught in the crossfire amid the latest controversy over at Cartoon Brew, this time regarding this image from a new incarnation of the Looney Tunes characters set to debut on TV. Predictably, there were numerous claims that it was "bad design" or "terrible drawing", etc. by all of the usual suspects. Animation fans are a cranky and critical lot to be sure, and I include myself in that description by the way, yet in this case I believe a distinction has to be made. So I'm going to offer up some thoughts from my perspective on the situation.
First of all, even before it came out in the comments, I was pretty certain that I recognized these new designs of Bugs and Daffy as being by Jessica, as the image of Bugs put me in mind of her own cartoons of rabbits and other toothy creatures. Sure enough, it turns out that Jessica was the freelance designer selected by the powers-that-be at Cartoon Network to redesign the classic Looney Tunes characters to meet more contemporary sensibilities. Thus, she has given them a more angular design over all, obviously dictated by her client to be more in keeping with that less rounded, more graphic style that is so prevalent in today's TV cartoons. This approach is also due to the practicality of how these characters are now animated with computer software such as Flash or, in this case I believe, ToonBoom. Instead of full hand drawn animation like that in the classic cartoons, shortcuts are now employed today with characters being created as essentially "cutouts" with replaceable parts to create the animated movement. As I've stated before, I'm personally not an admirer of this approach, yet I'll admit that I have seen some better work created lately through ToonBoom which seems to be a hybrid of both "cutout" (or "symbol") style combined with more traditional inbetweening as is desirable for a somewhat more fluid end result. I'm assuming that this is the approach that is being taken on these new TV cartoons.
Regarding these new designs by Jessica, I'm admittedly of two minds about them. If these designs were of brand new characters with no previous history in cartoons, I believe that these images would be embraced by the majority of animation fans and recognized for how appealing they are in terms of graphic design and feeling of inner life and personality. The problem of course is that these are the Looney Tunes characters, with a long illustrious past in fully animated theatrical shorts that are beloved by all of us who have grown up with them through the many decades since their creation. Most of us would rather that they not be messed with, even though it has to be acknowledged that these characters have all evolved through various permutations before achieving that look from the 1950's that many recognize as the "official" versions. As for this latest artistic makeover to their design, it wouldn't matter who was responsible for it, nor how talented they may be, as longtime Looney Tunes fans are dead set against any changes. And yes, I must include myself in that camp too. Here is a news item that appeared on CBC today that sums up the situation quite well. (Click on the link on the right side of the page to watch the video). Of course, it doesn't help that the reporter starts out by describing the original cartoons as "so 1950's".
So Jessica Borutski just happened to get caught in the critical crossfire, being the one who was commissioned to involve herself and her formidable talent in this no-win situation. Personally, my feeling is this: If it was inevitable that these characters were to be revised to some extent for this new TV show, then I would rather that a terrific cartoonist like Jessica be the one to do it, as the results could have been disastrous in less capable hands, as the ill-fated Loonatics cartoon from several years ago proved. As it is, the new designs are appealing enough on their own merit, and may even succeed in acting as a stepping stone to introduce a new generation of kids to the classic theatrical shorts, many of which are available today on DVD in those great boxed sets that many of us have added to our home video library.
One last point I'd like to make. I wish that the same people who selected Jessica Borutski to redesign Bugs and Friends would now hire her to create original new properties wholly of her own design. For example, here is a very charming series concept that was created and pitched by Jessica and her colleague Chris Dainty called The Constellations. I continue to be amazed by the huge visual appeal of Jessica's work, yet I am frustrated by the entertainment industry's aversion to take a chance on anything new. As an instructor in the Sheridan Animation program, I see so much great talent pass through our doors that will likely never be given the opportunity to reach its full potential. Young, enthusiastic talents like Jessica should be encouraged to create work like this. Enjoy!