Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"Bland" Be Banned!

John Kricfalusi has another provocative topic regarding "bland" character designs that can be found in this recent post. For the record, though I admire John's knowledge of Hollywood cartoons greatly, I often respectfully disagree with his stance on the characters and stories in the Disney features, as I find he's too dismissive of a lot of wonderful art. However, I do see his point this time around in regards to the way kids are often designed in the Disney films. I'll admit there is a generic template that Disney has adhered to in many of their kid characters, with only minor variations in the facial types.

John has posted a bunch of photos of famous Hollywood kids from live-action films of that bygone era, which he rightly acknowledges as having more personality traits and physical variation than their animated film counterparts. Just for fun, I've decided to draw some quick caricatures of 6 of his photo examples in an attempt to show how these particular kids could be adapted as animatible cartoon characters, with an eye to exploring different head shapes and facial features to show distinction of character "types", as well as unique and interesting silhouettes. The likenesses are only so-so, by the way. What I'm really trying to do here is show how a character designer could start with photo reference of a specific "type" as a jumping off point to creating a design that communicates that particular personality to the audience. So here they are:

1) Beaver Cleaver - The All-American Boy: I've also added a baseball cap to this likeness to exaggerate his distinction as the cleancut kid that would make his Mom proud, despite his propensity to get into typical boyhood dilemmas. Physically, the Beav has downward sloping eyes, buck teeth, and a square face. His facial features suggest a trusting look that communicates his naivete and basic goodness.

2) Bobby Driscoll - The Mischievous Imp: Bobby has pixie-like features in his slanted up twinkling eyes, small pug nose, and devilish grin. His face shape and placement of features are a series of 'V' shapes. You just know this kid is up to some youthful prank, but you can't help but like him. In his teenage years, Bobby of course was the voice and model for Disney's "Peter Pan". Here then is where I would disagree with John's assessment in a previous post of Pan as being "generic" in design. Pan was a deliberate caricature of Bobby Driscoll and is therefore quite a "specific" type in my opinion.

3) Will Robinson - The Inquisitive Whiz Kid: His long face, vertically stretched facial design, and slight build suggest a kid that would rather read books and build model kits than go out and play sports. He is the typical "Brainiac", quite fluent in math and handy on the computer.

4) Alfalfa - The Gangly Casanova: He of course was the oddball, awkward looking stringbean among "The Little Rascals", with his stretched out, skinny physical build, big expressive eyes, and that cowlick that shot straight up like an antenna. Yet despite his physical ungainliness, he fancied himself a "Lady's Man", always ready to serenade some young cutie with his off-key singing. I'd suggest that Disney's "Ichabod Crane" is the adult equivalent of this character type.

5) Opie Taylor - The Bumpkin: With his goofy gap-toothed smile, tussled "Sheep Dog" red hair, and a generous helping of freckles, Opie is the kid that's just made for running barefoot through a pasture, climbing trees, and gnawing on a big slice of watermelon. No big city living for this small town boy.

6) Danny Partridge - The Conniving Schemer - (I had to find a different photo to work from to draw this guy) His face is wider horizontally than the others and his narrow, shifty eyes also follow across that side to side facial pattern. His mod, uncombed 70's era long hair communicates that "Rock Star" self-assured sleaziness. You know by looking at him that he's up to no good, trying to make a fast buck by hustling some poor unsuspecting schlemiel.

These drawings are by no means the only ways to portray these distinctively different kid "types". There are so many varied approaches one could take to accomplish the same goal. The key, though, is making a concerted effort to study real faces of kids in order to come up with more "specific" characters as John K is always trying to encourage. Otherwise, by just designing something out of your head with no research, you're likely to end up with the same "bland" or "generic" character designs that we've seen in countless animated features and TV shows. As my Sheridan Character Design students soon become aware of each year, I insist on them keeping a sketchpad and using it to record all of the wonderful array of character types they see all around them. Also, I prefer that they take a more "caricatured" approach to drawing people, as this is the best way to develop unique and interesting personality types through humourous exaggeration and visual shorthand. Again, I'd like to thank John Kricfalusi for this interesting topic as a springboard for me to expand on the theme here on my blog.


Amir Avni said...

This warms my heart, its so great to see expert cartoonist conversations go global, inspiring one another, sharing knowledge worldwide . Go Pete, Go John and GO BLOGS!

Alfalfa is hilarious!

JohnK said...


Hey Pete

this is great!

I'm gonna do a post about your post if you don't mind!

Maybe I'll be fortunate enough to work with you some day and we can develop this concept further.

You oughta make this an exercise in class and then make the animators animate the characters, and study their unique mannerisms too.

My suggestion: work from the actual films or videos-study the characters frame by frame....instead of just from publicity photos.

I think this blog stuff back and forth may just start a revolution.

Tapan Gandhi said...

i love alfalfa!!!

Pete Emslie said...

John - I'm glad you like this idea of some crossover on the topics. I think it's a good way to work off of each other's creative ideas and theories. Interestingly, your suggestion regarding working from video recordings, studying the acting and expressions through both moving images and frame by frame progressions, is the way I actually do my showbiz caricatures. I find I get a better feel for visual design and inner personality by seeing the subject in action. I only use still photos when video is not available to me.

Amir - Thanks for the encouragement. Though John and I may disagree on some Disney animation, I ultimately share his passion for maintaining the "cartoon" part of the equation when it comes to the "animated cartoon". John presents a lot of good food for thought on his blog and it should inspire young artists to observe and analyze things themselves as they develop their own skills. Hopefully, we can get other members of the cartoon community into the loop too with this exchange of ideas!

Sean Worsham said...

Great charicatures Pete! Good ideas as well!

Clinton said...

great caricatures, Pete! I work as a computer tech at schools so I see children of all ages everyday. While they might have similar tastes for trends, they are unique in their own way. I try to remember that myself when I practice drawing them. Here's a thought I have about blandness. I think "bland" characters have a lot of holes in their personalities so they aren't specifically a certain type of kid. Real children will watch a cartoon character and fill those holes with their own traits. That way children can relate to their favorite character better and like them more.

CJ Grebb said...


I'm really enjoying the beautiful likenesses here - I've always had a frustratingly wonderful time when I've been asked to draw charicatures (mostly for friend's birthday cards). I always feel I'm only halfway successful in "solving" my subject's face.

The small peaks into your thought process ("downward-sloping eyes, square-shaped head"" are wonderful to read. More of this, please, in your future posts! I'm trying to get into your head as much as possible and start drawing likenesses that are as dead-on as the ones you do!



CJ Grebb said...

Did I really just type "peaks" when I clearly meant "peeks?" Ugh. So much for first impressions.


Gabriel said...

Number 5 is the best by far, to my humble eyes.

Pete Emslie said...

Caricature has been a longtime interest of mine, as I've been doing them since I was about 12 years old back in the days I was heavily into MAD Magazine and really enjoyed Mort Drucker and Jack Davis. A few years later I discovered Al Hirschfeld, whose feel for abstraction of form admittedly has been a big influence on my own approach, mixed in with an inherent Disney style that I refuse to apologize for. In my opinion, we are all a product of our major influences - our own art style an amalgamation of the various styles that we enjoy.

I will be posting my personal theories about caricature and describing my approach to getting the likeness in many ongoing posts to come. I find it a fascinating art in that there can be an almost infinite number of ways to draw the same subject by different artists, all the while maintaining the likeness of the individual. There is something magical about that to me.

Jim Rockford said...

These are very nice!,I like the Opie and Danny patridge characters most because they look more "wild"
and less "disney" than the others.

the clownninja said...

lovely drawing man. I too would love to hear more about what kind of internal dialog or process manifests those likenesses.

pappy d said...

Great post!
Gorgeous drawing!
Astute analysis!
Perfect spelling!

Jenny Lerew said...

These are excellent! A pleasure to look at.

Jason Barnes said...

Pete, you couldn't have drawn those kids any better. they are utterly perfect. (Opie and Alfalfa are my fav. Will robinson is hilarious too) and John couldn't have said it better: "I think this blog stuff back and forth may just start a revolution."

no doubt in my mind the world of animation is going to change with the introduction of the Blog, or rather social networking via Internet. The ideas being exchanged between Professionals like yourselves and amateurs worldwide are astounding.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: "Every revolution was first a thought in one man's mind." Animation is on the brink of something huge, it just needs that spark to send it over.

Bill Field said...

Pete- There isn't much that I can add to the sterling comments of my peers--- but, I'm going to try...

I've loved caricatures most of my life, and at an early age got one of myself at the International Marketplace, while living, as an Air Force Brat in Hawaii. I remember at age 7 studying it and redrawing it, over and over again- and upon finding a book on the subject in my elementary library, began drawing my friends, teachers,and relatives. The same time I was bit by the acting bug by way of impressions of stars, politicians, and cartoon characters. Those two things seemed to go well together.
I read the books by actor/cartoonist, Dick Gautier on caricature, and strangely enough many of his theories on the art are similar to John K.'s-- especially when it comes to originality. I received my B.A. in R-TV-F/Advertising Art at UNT about 30 miles from Dallas. Learning from Vernon Fisher, whose most famous work is at the MOMA- it depicts Bushmiller's Nancy opening her door to a phallic looking ghost... I graduated with Ron English, known for his Modern Pop Style and evil-twin version of Ronald McDonald on canvas. After college, I went from being SeaWorld Texas' Media Liason, to Kids TV host- to research analyst at Southwest Research Institute, to Creative Dir. for a Video Game Company, to my own studio where I've conceived animated ads and packaging for Quaker, Kellogg's, and the like.
In 2001 my folks, my wife and our close friend, Daphne were back in Hawaii on vacation, where we went to see Don Ho's show (I'd seen him 4 or 5 times as a kid and 3 as an adult) mentioning I was a cartoonist during his meet in greet, I was called up on stage to caricature Don during his finale.
He was thrilled with it and he and his manager came to me after the show and I pitched an idea that I thought of on the fly- How about a Don Ho Cartoon Show- featuring the 30yr younger version of Don that I'd drawn, but with the 70 yr old singer's voice, but extending his brand to the MTV generation. They loved it, and promised to call me in Texas, to develop the idea-- I never got that call, but 2 years later, Jerry Beck's website posted an article about MTV's "DON HO CARTOON SHOW"-- complete with my rendition of Don, from that darn caricature. They made 6 episodes, that never aired. But I guess that goes to show what can evolve from just one decent caricature! Thanks for your terrific post and your fantastic Caricatures!- Bill Field

Stacey Chomiak said...

Oh man, these rule! I especially LOVE Alfalfa! Expression is so great, and his hair is just begging to be drawn :)

Awesome as always, Pete!

Good idea though... there are so many great character types to draw from in the earlier films and sitcoms. Ya just can't find a Beave kinda kid anymore!

Kevy Metal said...

All of those are great! It actually makes me want to drop this internet stuff and go do some drawing... Wowie-wow-wow!

CJ Grebb said...

Ahem - It seems I also spelled "caricature" with an "h."

No excuses there - clearly I am unable to spell.


Anim8Ed Stuff said...

Why aren't these characters being animated?!??!They are fantastic!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I know I'm pretty late to this, but I had a curious question:

Would the kids from Malcolm in the Middle be considered bland?


David said...

The golden age of animation blogging ... sigh ... miss it.