Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Some Rough Stuff

Oftentimes I will sketch personalities from TV with the intention of refining and inking them up later, maybe even doing them in full colour. Here are a couple of recently rediscovered caricatures still in their embryonic rough pencil stage. I was combing through a file drawer full of rough sketches and came across these that I'd sketched a couple years ago, so I thought I'd post them up here just for the heck of it.

The one of Jon Stewart I believe I had sketched from when he hosted the Academy Awards the first time. I was planning to try drawing him again a couple times from "The Daily Show" before committing him to final inking, just to be sure I had the likeness to my satisfaction. That's actually something I often do, waiting for a few days at least before taking a look at a caricature anew with a fresh eye, just in case it then strikes me as falling short of being a good likeness. If I hurry to finish it up immediately after sketching it, I have sometimes been horrified to see that it just isn't the person I thought I had drawn when I look at it later!

In his book, "The World of Hirschfeld", legendary showbiz caricaturist Al Hirschfeld describes this very same dilemma back when he'd been commissioned  in 1967 to do a caricature of TV star Garry Moore for a network ad campaign. After tossing off a sketch of Garry Moore, one of Hirschfeld's neighbours, Mildred Jones, who was visiting with his wife Dolly passed his drawing table and exclaimed, "That's him all right - I'd know him anywhere. Buster Keaton!" Flabbergasted, Hirschfeld ran to his wife to ask her who it was. Without hesitation, she replied, "Buster Keaton". It took him many more furious attempts at sketching Garry Moore before Hirschfeld got a positive identification from wife Dolly, whom he claimed was his most honest critic.

This caricature of Uma Thurman has been languishing in my file drawer for two years as well, although I'm pretty sure it's her, as I had run it by several of my students at Sheridan that year when I was covering the art of caricature, and they all recognized it as lovely Uma. This is one that I really must finish up in colour someday.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"My Friend Rabbit"

I was checking out some of my bookmarked blogs that I hadn't been to in awhile and decided to take a look at Jason Groh's Blammo site. I was quite taken with the publicity image that greeted me in one of his most recent posts, pictured at left, from a new show called "My Friend Rabbit", airing on NBC and also Treehouse here in Canada. Jason, a first-rate cartoonist by the way, is apparently directing this show at Nelvana, so I thought that I should make a point to catch it and see how it looks. 

I caught it on Treehouse today at 1:00 and was quite delighted with it. To be honest, I'm not much of a fan of today's digitally animated TV shows, but this one manages to do the best job I've ever seen with the software it utilizes. (ToonBoom, from what I gather). Yes, there is still some of the computer cutout look that I don't care for, but there is also a lot of real drawing integrated into the animation as well. For instance, when characters walk, their legs and arms are fully animated in the classic style. When they speak, their head shapes may remain static but the mouths are fully articulating the dialogue in a very pleasing manner. There are many original poses created for each scene rather than an over-reliance on "symbols".  But the thing that strikes one initially are the very appealing character and background designs - all rounded, flowing shapes in the more classic studio cartoon approach.

I noticed in the credits that it said that the series was based on the books by Eric Rohmann, so I wanted to see what the original look was that they'd adapted. Interestingly, the animated series put me in mind of Disney's "Winnie-the-Pooh", and seeing the source material from which it is derived makes the comparison seem that much more apt, as the original book illustrations share some similarities to the E.H. Shepard drawings in the Pooh books. Both the Pooh and My Friend Rabbit book illustrations feature designs that are quite charming but perhaps a bit too simplistic to make the transition to animated characters which, in my opinion, need fleshing out in the design to allow for more personality and animated expression. As such, I think that the design team on "My Friend Rabbit" has done a marvelous job at embellishing the designs to make them more appealing and more conducive to the medium of animation.

Though I may not be in the target audience for this show, I know that I would have enjoyed it and been attracted to the design style back when I was of pre-school age. Congratulations to all who are involved in this show - I wish you much success with it! 

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mouse Doodles

Sometimes it seems I'm happiest when drawing "throwaway art" - that is, cartoons for non-commercial, usually trivial reasons. These sketches of a mouse were done on the spur of the moment as a way to brighten up and add a bit of humour to an otherwise rather dry looking assignment sheet for the Character Design class I teach at Sheridan. There was some spare room on the sheet and I decided to fill it creatively. My only regret is not filling the available area more ideally, having left a lot of open air space around each pose. Maybe I'll juggle the elements a bit for more visual appeal before assigning this one next year.

This particular assignment has to do with "Performance", and involves the students choosing any two of the characters they've designed for me previously this year and having them act out two little scenarios I provide in a total of six poses apiece. The three pose example of the mouse is my way of showing them what I expect of their efforts in regards to drawings that communicate a story visually, showing distinct expressions and body language to indicate what the character is thinking and feeling at each stage of the scenario. I know my students have been overwhelmed with the cumulative amount of work involved in the assignments from all of their various animation classes. Despite this daunting workload, my hope is always that they have some fun in my character assignments, as that sense of fun usually can be seen in the final work, resulting in real entertainment value for the viewer.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Solution: Elect a Bachelor Playboy!

This current controversy over New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer getting caught in a prostitution sting really makes me shake my head in wonder. To be honest, I'm not particularly troubled by Gov. Spitzer being caught in an extramarital tryst with a prostitute - that's a matter that should be solely between he and his wife, and I don't think it's fair for we the public to pass judgment. The only relevant aspect to this situation, as far as I'm concerned, is that Gov. Spitzer had set himself up as a crusader against corruption, which included trying to wipe out prostitution from the state of New York. But in a way, who can blame the guy for hypocritically creating this image of himself as a staunch defender of "Family Values" by fighting that which is perceived to threaten those values? I believe that the root of this problem really is the overriding conservative and puritanical mindset that still has a stronghold on the majority of Americans, and that they must shoulder some of the blame for this whole sad downfall of Eliot Spitzer.

You see, it occurs to me that Americans have always insisted that their elected officials at both the state and federal level must meet such silly conditions of electability as being both married and having children. This is especially true of the office of President of the United States. Perhaps there have been one or more single Presidents throughout history, but in my lifetime this pre-set condition of married men with families has been a rule without exception. It seems to me that you Americans would never allow a single man (or woman) to attain that office, though perhaps you should. Because, by insisting that Presidents and Governors always be good, loyal family men, you hold them to such high moral standards that you are often blind to the legitimate work they do in running their governments.

Which brings me to our much different situation here in Canada. Back in 1968 we elected Liberal leader, Pierre Trudeau as our Prime Minister. I think most Canadians, whether they loved him or hated him, would agree that he was our most famous and perhaps most notable Prime Minister. I can say from having lived through those years of "Trudeaumania", that it was indeed an exciting time to be a Canadian, as Trudeau, more than any other PM before or since, really put us on the world map. Pierre Trudeau was a unique man: He was a single and swinging bachelor when first elected, who would date the likes of Barbra Streisand in his first several years as PM. With his fashion sense, wearing mod ascots and with an often present rose in his suit lapel, he was a stylish and dashing fellow who also was very much his own man politically, never kowtowing to other political leaders. Nixon hated him apparently, and when Trudeau was informed that Nixon had referred to him as "That asshole", Trudeau merely shrugged and replied, "I've been called worse things by better people".

Though Trudeau did marry eventually, it was to Margaret Sinclair, a 22 year old "Flower child" who was thirty years younger than him. The marriage produced three sons, two of whom were born on successive Christmas Days no less. The marriage didn't last, however, and the two separated and divorced after Margaret went off to famously party with The Rolling Stones in New York! So we once again had a single Prime Minister, but I guess we liked the job he was doing for Canada because we kept him in office from 1968 to 1984, with just a brief retirement in 1979, having been voted out then re-elected after a disappointing Conservative Government under Joe Clark that lasted only nine months. In the years following his divorce, our Trudeau was seen on the town with the likes of classical guitarist Liona Boyd, Margot Kidder, and even a then twentysomething Kim Cattrall. So you see, we Canadians rather liked the rakish, swinging playboy we'd elected, and were not going to hold him to some impossibly high moral standard. As Trudeau himself famously said as Justice Minister before being elected PM, in regard to Canada's wise decision to decriminalize homosexuality in the mid-60's, "We take the position that there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation."

And so it should be in America too. So long as you maintain that puritanical mindset and obsession with all your elected officials remaining icons of "Family Values", then you are going to continue to see these tragic downfalls of otherwise competent political leaders. As for Canadian politics, I'd gladly take another swinging single playboy Prime Minister like Trudeau anyday!