Tuesday, November 6, 2007

What's My Line?

Again I am going to use John Kricfalusi's blog as a springboard to my topic today. John has been posting art notes that he'd written to hopefully ensure that the studios he was working with overseas would adhere to the correct design style of his show. You can read his post here. I believe what he is talking about in regard to linework relates to what I had also talked about in a Character Design class I gave just a couple of weeks ago to my Sheridan students. Since we rely on lines to a huge extent in cartoon art, the types of lines employed should actually mean something. To illustrate what I am getting at, here are the visual notes I drew for my class:

There really aren't many perfectly straight lines in nature - as they are mostly of human invention, found in machinery, architecture, etc. However, straight lines help to convey rigidity and firmness of form, whether something is absolutely solid or not. Straight lines also denote tension, such as the tautness of a rope pulled tightly, flesh stretched tight over the bone, or the creases in a freshly pressed suit and pants.

The 'C' curve travels in one direction and is mostly employed to show fullness of form. It can portray soft, pudgy flesh and the puffiness of fur. Anything that is inflated with air or bloated with liquid tends to round out into 'C' curves. The effect you can create when using them on humans or animals can also result in personality types that are friendly or comical. (Think of all of the rounded puffy forms on a circus clown, for example.)

The 'S' Curve is a curve that starts out in one direction then changes and curves in the other direction. This type of line is very prevalent in nature and is used to show rhythmic gracefulness of form. Animals that we consider very elegant in their structure, like cats and many types of birds, have flowing forms full of 'S' Curves. And of course an attractive female figure is loaded with them too! Many things in nature also move in 'S' Curve patterns, such as seaweed undulating with the current, a figure skater or ballet dancer, or a squirrel bounding up and down through the grass. A snake has to travel in 'S' Curves, its body pushing off from side to side through complex muscular contractions in order to propel itself forward.

From the examples above, I hope you can get a sense of what type of line will best suggest the desired form. Though I have deliberately used a preponderance of each individual type of line in the respective examples to exaggerate my point, a good drawing should ideally comprise a variety of linework stressing all three types of line. This not only helps to convey the correct form, but also creates visual variety, which is more pleasing to the viewer's eye, ultimately helping to engage their interest. This still of Shere Khan the tiger, from Disney's "The Jungle Book", has a nice variety of straight lines and curves that suggest exactly what the form is.

Here's an example from TV animation that still illustrates the principle of well-chosen lines to convey form. There are a few straight lines on Fred and Barney to show more of their ruggedness relative to their softer wives and round, chubby babies.

Unfortunately, many of today's cartoon shows fail to recognize the importance of line and tend to design everything with too many straight lines and sharp corners. Yes, I share John K's extreme distaste for this supposedly "stylistic" approach, as there really isn't anything clever or appealing about it in my view. Here's an example of what I mean:

This character has been created almost entirely from straight lines. Even his tongue! The result is that the character looks like he's been chiseled out of stone rather than made up of flesh, muscle and hair. The image ultimately has no sense of weight or volume and is merely a flat graphic design, and not a very good one either, considering the directionless arrangement of the lines in the hair for example. It certainly has not been designed for anything more than stiff, mechanical movement either, and this self limitation makes me long for the days when characters were designed specifically to work well in flowing, organic animation. Visually, it has all of the wit and appeal of a connect-the-dots puzzle in a kids' activity book! Sadly, we're seeing more and more witless design in today's TV animation. The tragedy is that it doesn't have to be this way, as there are countless individuals toiling away within the industry (and outside of it too) who are capable of far better design themselves. Why are they not being given a chance to shine? Why this rampant trend toward mediocrity?


Mitchel Kennedy said...

Odd Job Jack..... What can I say about it? It's garbage.

Great post, Pete!

Rich Dannys said...

I completely agree, re: today's horrible-looking Flash cartoons.. They're less Designs, than elaborate equations of odd shapes & lines, juxtapozed against each other.. A lot of the younger artists working on these shows, have convinced themselves that they're actually "drawing", when really they aren't.

For someone whose 'Style' sense is so highly-regarded.. I've always found it surprising, that John K. spends so little time talking about the importance of 'Design' as an actual department, in the pipeline of any Production process..

Yes, there is certainly a limited amount of PreProd Art cooked up, before any of his projects. But once a pitch is greenlit, most of the actual 'Design' problems that need surmounting, seem to end up dumped in the laps of his Storyboard and Layout artists..
who already have enough on their plate, to keep them busy..

"Designing-on-the-fly" always puts production crews between a rock & a hard place, when deadlines loom! The Director never really gets what he wants. And the Producer is always screaming about how SLOW things are going.

Mitch Leeuwe said...

Wow great post! I like posts like this.

Thanks :)

JohnK said...

>>For someone whose 'Style' sense is so highly-regarded.. I've always found it surprising, that John K. spends so little time talking about the importance of 'Design' as an actual department,<<

The post that Pete is referring to is not about "design". It has to do with being organic and looking alive...and not toning down drawings we send you.

Service studios and clean up artists need to know enough about this just so they don't kill the drawings that are sent them.

Some service studios won't even use our drawings at all. They'll just sort of glance at them, then redraw the poses from scratch in a completely different and bland style.

No line of action, no expression, no construction, no life.

Why, I've had service studios even throw out Jim Smith's layouts and tell me they had to because they were "off-model"!

We don't do huge model packs. Instead we do tons of the poses ... all custom, and then all we ask is that the service studios actually use them and when they do to not turn everything mathematical and tone them down.

That's what my post was about.

Hey Pete, thanks for doing a follow up with prettier drawings than mine!

Rich Dannys said...

Actually, John.. My comments were directed solely at Pete's treatise on the currently lame state of 'Design' in most Modern cartoons..
If I was going to comment on the referred-to Post in your own Blog,-- I would've tried to do so, over there.
Then you would've been able to "moderate" them into Oblivion, as you did with my recent "ADT Ad" comments..

Re: working with service studios..

I'm sorry to hear that you've had such a dissatisfying experience with them.. If you had artists tossing out drawings that you'd sent them.. Then I think it should've warranted talking to them about it directly, face-to-face. And if they continued to do so, then removing them from the actual Production, may have been the wiser choice?

For myself,-- I never got to do any Character Posing on RF. Or, what you refer to as: "Animation Layout".. So I don't really have any insights to if/how/when those things may have occurred..

Getting back to the original Discussion:
I guess that I see real value into pre-preparing for a cartoon's production, with a thorough set of Design sheets. If not "locking" the Style, at least giving Crews some insights into where the Director intends things to go?

I would agree that they don't necessarily have to be the "End-All-Be-All", re: 'On Model'. Particularly so, with Character sheets..
But with a 'Design'-heavy show that requires a lot of different BG Locations & Props.. I think it behooves a studio, to provide those kinds of details in some kind of 'Style Bible', at the outset..

It allows a crew to familiarize themselves with the overall Style idiosyncracies/foibles. And with a few nailed-down Cel Setups,-- also allows them to preview the intent of what the Final Artwork is meant to "look" like?..

Sadly, my own most-recent working experiences, have been that Modern cartoon series are now thrown into Production, with ZERO benefit from even the barest essentials of any identifiable "Development Art". Producers, would much rather coddle their Client (usually non-creatives). Even allowing them to interject with their own ideas/concepts for the show.. Forcing crews to negotiate their way thru constant 'Style' changes, whilst trying to still manage their way thru the day-to-day stresses of producing the actual Episodes..

Speaking personally,-- it can be pretty exasperating, making a Modern cartoon series!

SteveLambe said...

Wow...that's a pretty harsh image to use as an example of modern cartoons. What if someone was to use THIS as an example of past cartoons?

Yes..it's true,today's cartoons have too many straight lines. It's also true that the cartoons of the past overused curves. Look at Tiny Toons. So soft and squishy that nothing had form or solidity.

A good design isn't just about a slick line and rounded forms. A good design is about contrasts. Straights vs curves, big vs small, simple vs complex, symmetry and assymmetry, varied proportions, etc. That's what makes Ed Benedict's Flintsones designs you've been posting so appealing.

If you're teaching the kids in your design class that the Disney/Bluth formula is the only way to make appealing characters, then they unfortunately are getting a limited education.

Pete Emslie said...

Steve, please read my post more thoroughly. I'm quite clearly stating that very point here:

"Though I have deliberately used a preponderance of each individual type of line in the respective examples to exaggerate my point, a good drawing should ideally comprise a variety of linework stressing all three types of line. This not only helps to convey the correct form, but also creates visual variety, which is more pleasing to the viewer's eye, ultimately helping to engage their interest."

I agree with your list of the factors that contribute to appealing design. Rest assured, I teach all of that over the two semesters that comprise my course. So take it easy, mister! :)

JohnK said...

This is the first time I ever heard of someone referring to Tiny Toons as a "cartoon of the past"!

boob said...

"Why this rampant trend toward mediocrity?"

Jeez that's a good question. When Disney shut down and studio close and talented people get laid off ya hafta ask why potato-headed Rugrats are still on TV.

I chalk it up to business. Something I don't completely understand and usually get angry over when explained to me.

Art and business were never meant to mix. It's amazing there's ANY good shows out there at all.

I love making Flash cartoons and think there's some really good ones that really utilize the software for some great looking stuff, but I still long for the day when we can see some Tom and Jerry and Popeye-esque cartoons back on the tube.

Dave Stephens said...

Don't forget a HUGE reason cartoons suck so loudly - they shave all that prep time and all those salaries and just poop out episode after episode.

When you throw planning in the crapper, crap is what happens...

Skid Knee said...

I really enjoy your posts about design. Keep them coming, I want to eat up all the knowledge and oogle and the drawings.

Braden said...

Thankfully, oddjob jack as far as I know has been taken OFF the air. They couldnt even give away that show for FREE. To me atleast, i was offered a season of it on dvd, and promptly threw it in the garbage. As far as your posts go Pete, very insightful and incredibly informative knowledge being passed on. Unfortunately, I dont think we will see good designs in modern tv cartoons anytime soon.
Networks are money hungry (as we all know), and dont take any chances on shows that are worth watching, because they cost them too much. Case in point, Korgoth of Barbaria. A brilliant pilot was made, aired, and was very well recieved by its target audience. Unfortunately production cost was ultimately too high for the networks, and the show was promptly canned. I'm not sure if the style is to your liking Pete, but it is far, far more fleshed out than 95% of the crap I see on tv, in my opinion.

Jules said...

Hi Pete!
I love your blog and this is a really excellent post. I think we've all thought similar things.
One of the hopes I hold is that 2D digital is still a medium in it's infancy and (again, hopefully) will grow into it's own Pixar days soon.
One example of the hard dot-to-dot lines (love that metaphor) working in a better design aesthetic was Grossology. (pardon my bias.) The director had a pretty good understanding of the program limitations and went with a Saul Bass influence to complement the medium.
With up and coming directors thinking along such progressive lines, and new equipment like cintiques becoming more readily available, I'm almost positive those golden design days are on the horizon.
(fingers crossed)

Hodges said...

I love these conversations, but I think its sad to use only the WORST examples then say that thats all there is.

"Unfortunately, I dont think we will see good designs in modern tv cartoons anytime soon."

-Kim possible - Stephen Silver
-Class of 3000 - David Coleman (took home an emmy for that one)
-anything Mike Kunkle does
-Fosters (you may not like the animation, but i find the layout and colour concepts are top notch)
-Samurai Jack
-Clone wars
-Batman (Jose Lopez work on the series)
-Venture Brothers (Terrible animation, but phenominal series, features work from the great Bill Pressing, who loved working on the series but was tired of tv so made the move to Pixar [thats what you do when youve got the chops, you dont complain you just do what you love])
-Futurama (who doesnt love Hedonism Bot)

With time I could find more, but truth is I dont obsessivly watch daytime cartoons. And the fact still remains that you all are still looking at the CHEAPEST section of the industry, childrens cartoons, and expecting feature quality designs, which seems silly to me. If you want to see great design work, just look at the artists personal work, its a lot more inspiring.
When talking about line quality so much, what about simplicity in design too? Shows like the riping friends seem so overly done that they look terrible, stiff, and weird, and in the end dont animate for poop. When you compare the big muscled characters from Warner bros you dont see 600 muscle definitions in each arm, just a simple large shape, but when animated we feel the strength. the same applies for the completely genius designs from the Jungle book.
In terms of complaining about design, I think things like "Bee movie" are more embarrassing. The final result was not very interesting, but the artwork and concept that went into it was outstanding, and the artbook is one of the best, featuring massive amounts of design from the insanely talented Nicolas Marlet, whose drawings reduce me to a comatose state, yet thats all they come up with in the end? (example of perfect pre planning with bad execution) It looks like there heading on a better direction now though with the upcoming Kung-Fu Panda.
end of rant

Hodges said...

I want to add, everytime I pass the Oddjob jack building I want to chuck a brick through the window

Matty3000 said...

Perhaps Braden and Hodges should get together and throw an Odd Job Jack DVD through the front window?
That would be inspiring.