Thursday, January 29, 2009


John Kricfalusi has just posted an interesting piece on the use of dog-nosed faces on otherwise very human cartoon characters. This is a phenomenon mostly found in Disney's "Uncle Scrooge" and Donald Duck" comics illustrated by Carl Barks, although it's been seen in animation as well, like Nelvana's "Rock and Rule", for example. I agree with John that this type of character is rather off-putting, as it is neither distinctly human nor typical of the "Funny Animal" type of cartoons so prevalent in animation and comics. Though the Carl Barks dog-nosed characters are rather benign, this trend also begat the "Furry" movement, which usually also seems to have a sexual bent to it in the art of its many practitioners.

At this very point in time, I am coincidentally covering the topic of "Anthropomorphism" in my Character Design course at Sheridan College, so I'd like to take this opportunity to address the distinction between "Funny Animals" and "Furries". Some time ago, I'd posted this piece on "Four Degrees of Anthropomorphism" that covers most of the main approaches to creating animals with human traits and personalities in various animated shorts and features. By breaking it down into these four common approaches, I hope to teach my students how to create a set of rules to apply to the way they handle animal characters in their film stories, so that there's a certain logic and plausibility that is maintained in what they're trying to communicate to their audience. And from a purely visual standpoint, I'm also trying to impress upon them where to draw the line between an anthropomorphic animal that possesses human traits, before crossing that line and instead ending up with a "Furry", being essentially an animal's head stuck on top of a fur covered human body.

Ideally, an anthropomorphic animal should maintain something of the actual animal's physique, even when walking around on two legs and wearing clothes. If you look at this still from Disney's "Robin Hood", you will note that Robin himself is still very much a fox on two legs, and that if placed back down on all fours without his costume, he would be very much at home in a film like "Lady and the Tramp" as a caricature of a real fox but with a human personality. Same thing with Little John the bear. When done really well, an anthropomorphic animal character should be initially visualized as a "Human Type", then translating those human physical traits and reinterpreting them in the animal design. I discussed this topic here.

For those of you familiar with "The Country Bear Jamboree" at Walt Disney World, the Disney artists were very successful in creating a cast of bear characters that looked like caricatures of the type of performers one would see on the stage at Nashville's "Grand Ol' Opry". Here is a picture of "Big Al", as an example of what I'm talking about. The facial design and physical body type are very much based on the character's human equivalent, yet never losing sight of the physical design of the actual animal either. For many students, this seems to be rather confusing and a challenge to pull off, while for others it seems to be a very natural, intuitive process.

For the uninitiated, just so you have a clear idea of the distinction between what I'm describing here and the aforementioned, dreaded "Furries", here is a link to some Google images of the latter. As you can see, they are more mutant than animal. As a general rule of thumb: If it is embarrassing to look at your animal character when he or she is naked, chances are you've drawn a "Furry"!!

Just to solidify the distinction, here is a clip from Disney's "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" that shows how to successfully translate animals into two-legged anthropomorphic characters while still maintaining the animal's physique. I really love this clip, as all of the gags are based on the traits of the actual animals, yet every one of them also conjures up a "Human Type" equivalent as well. Wouldn't you agree that the big ugly rhino puts one in mind of some thuggish, skinhead footballer? Of course, the sleek and agile cheetah is more of the David Beckham type.


Jack G. said...
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Gustavo said...
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Gustavo said...
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Gustavo said...

Nice post, Pete! I'm an animation student from Brazil. Honestly, I regard "furry art" a freaking weirdness, meanwhile I have some friends who loves this kinda stuff and most of them getting comissions drawing this crap(gosh!).
Nonetheless, I have a doubt...
A famous french illustrator called Jano is famous by anthropomorphizations. He came to Rio about 6 or 7 years ago and did several illustrations about the day-by-day of brazilian citizens (from several social classes). His work generated an illustrated book and a documentary called "Rio de Jano".
I "googled" 2 pictures of his work.

Here's my question: Can I REALLY consider these drawings an "Anthropomorphism" ? What do you think about?

Pete Emslie said...

Hi Gustavo,

Saludos amigo- I'm glad to know my blog is being enjoyed in Brazil! I'd say Jano is drawing in a similar approach to Carl Barks, with animal faces on otherwise very human characters. Technically "Furries" in my opinion, yet definitely drawn in a more appealing cartoony style.

Julian said...

Have you heard of Jaunjo Guarnido, he's a Spanish comic book artist who was trained at the French Disney studios in Montreuil.In his Anthropomorphic work his lead characters are more furry in style but done with great skill, However his supporting and comic characters are I think excellent examples of the anthropomorphism your encouraging.

Pete Emslie said...

Hi Julian,

I have seen his "Blacksad" work and, although I admire his technical skill, I must confess I don't care for that type of character art. It's very well drawn, but it is definitely of the "furry" variety. In fact, I've been specifically trying to steer my students away from that approach in their current assignments, as I really want them to understand more of the traditional anthropomorphic or "Funny Animal" approach. It confounds me that some of them just can't seem to get it or perhaps are fighting me on it, as I've had to discourage some of them from doing musclebound animals with distinctly human anatomy. (Why don't they understand that I'm looking for animal characters as personality types?) I maintain that it's a skill that they should definitely know before they embark on their animation careers.

Gustavo said...

Thank you so much for answering, Pete! It’s a pleasure read your blog!

Speaking of “Saludo Amigos”, I’d like to comment about some stuff while reading some Joe Carioca’s comic books. Since Disney produced his first comics in Brazil (almost 70 years ago), our cartoonists had a great liberty creating a crew and fictional town for Joe’s (A mix of Rio and Duckburg), and the result was a wonderful identification of brazilian public.
Reading some classical Joe’s comics I realized a curious thing: there weren’t many dog-nosed faces in his stories, quite the contrary. We can observe many anthropomorphized characters (funny animals), like birds and typical brazilian mammals yet Joe Carioca still interacts with some dog-nosed buddies. In fact I quite appreciate Carl Barks dog-nosed style even they aren’t such funny or appealing as another Disney characters, in my opinion.
However, in the 2000’s Joe Carioca’s comics suffered some radical transformations, including a “modern” visual despite the classical 40’s carioca’s appearance and, unfortunately, these transformations opened the doors to a gradual “furry” presence in his comics.
I can understand Jano’s purpose although being a technically “furry”, and watching his pictures and I can see some appealing cartoony style, as you said.
But honestly, I asking myself many times, how some guys can get excited watching foxes, chickens or whatever animal like that? Where’s the appeal? Where’s the true art? Well I suppose this question won’t be answered so soon…
As I said before, I have talented friends who draw this kind of stuff thinking their characters are appealing, and it's been very hard for me (and I believe for other fellas too) to find good references for studying funny animals nowadays

Anyway, I scanned some examples for observation, and I hope collaborate with your great topic. Here’s the links: (flickr) (slideshow)

Once again, thanks a lot for answering me, Pete!

Até mais amigo! (See you later, pal)

PS: sorry for my english.

Kelly Toon said...

Thanks for your interesting post on this subject! From a young age I was fascinated with talking animal stories and cartoons. Funny Animals are a subject near to my heart! When I was about 14 I was introduced to the Furry scene. Needless to say, I was hooked :) My preference is definitely towards the cartoony, less "mutant" side of anthropomorphism, though the more human characters and all the crazy things they get up to hold a certain appeal. Who knows why? I know that I just drool over the Blacksad comics!

just for fun, here are a few of my anthropomorphic/funny animal drawings:

Marlo the Squirrel
A Cute Raccoon
Jackalope Dragons
Poodle Lady

What do you think? Do these cross the line from cool to creepy? How the heck do you handle female characters in the "4" level of anthro without them looking like "freaks"? Thanks, Pete!

Kelly Toon said...

I forgot to ask . . . what specific assignments do you give your students in this category? Do you just say "design some animal characters" or is it much more specific? If you share, I would love to take a crack at it :)

Simon W-H said...

Fabulous post, and interesting to read after John K's.

I didn't mind the Duckburg characters as a child after the initial curiosity as to why these pink creatures should have dog noses; but I do prefer my anthropomorphisms to be more along the lines of the Marc Davis bears and Milt's/Ken Anderson's Robin Hood.
Thanks and keep up the great work!

Thad said...

Oh yeesh, Robin Hood. That alone is the film that inspired the furry movement.

Pete Emslie said...

And yet the characters in "Robin Hood" really are not furries themselves, Thad. Their bodies are still very much animals up on two legs, just like the ones in the "Bedkobs and Broomsticks" soccer game. Whether you like the film or not is another matter, of course, as I can certainly understand the criticism of the film as a whole. I love it myself, but then I appreciate it strictly for the high degree of personality animation and am willing to forgive its shortcomings in terms of story and layout.

Thad said...

Yes, technically they aren't, but based on web searches, it seems most of "Robin Hood"'s fans are of the 'like to draw naked foxes' variety, very much in the furry vein.

As for the film itself, I only got partway through the opening credits, and I was reminded WHY I hadn't watched it in so long. As for high quality animation, isn't this the one that reused the Snow White dance point for point? ;)

Simon W-H said...

Yes Thad...they traced off Snow White and bits of the Jungle Book and other stuff, no doubt. When I complained of this I was told that was Woolie Reitherman saving the animation department by cutting costs.

Still, against that there is the nice stuff with Robin and Little John, where Robin confesses his love for Maid Marion, and some other sc's stand out as isolated gems...but there is an awful lot of filler stuff, granted, and the film is heavily flawed and deserving of criticism. The basic design is sound though.

I always think of furries as like Fritz the cat, which I don't mind, as they are clearly being used as human substitutes in a more obvious way than the characters from Robin Hood, Song of the South, etc... a bone of contention which will be split open and examined, I'm sure; but, I feel that once you take it out of the 'fable' context and introduce sex, drugs and rock and roll it seems to have a far more human dynamic to it. That, and the ostriches and other 'animals' with human breasts and such.

Unknown said...

Hey Peter,

I have a question, what specifically differs Jaunjo Guarnido's designs from that of Disney's Robin Hood??

The pig bartender is very much a pig, the orangutan blues player, the ox and the black cat character also come to mind.

Now I reckon there are more "traditional anthros" as background characters in Robin Hood but the lead characters Robin and Maid Marian seem to have more in common with Juanjo's art then what an antrho should be.

I'm sorry if this has been covered but I'm just not clear on this difference. thanks


Juanma said...

long time no visit
How u doin Pete
like your Disney card cover a lot

Jack G. said...

Mr Emslie-

Not related to this post.

I like what your doing here-
especially your caricatures!

I haven't been able to do caricatures worth squat, myself.

If you can post any more insights on your process that would be much appreciated.

I've linked to your blog on mine.

Amanda said...

This post made me laugh quite a bit, Pete.
I've drawn my share of furries back in the day, as people commissioned me to do them. But they were always PG :p

What do you think of me now, PETE!?

A.M.Bush said...

great post, I really like cartoon animals. i'm always impressed with stuff that makes me say "omg that looks just like a koala! and a guy!"

Anonymous said...

After reading this post (which I believe is great!) I wonder what you think about the animated version of Mighty Ducks. First time I laid eyes on the designs they made me shudder...there's somehow something very wrong with sticking duck heads on *very* human-looking bodies, in my opinion.

Which makes me think back to the designs of Donald Duck and co.; physically they're still very duck-like, and much more appealing.

Pete Emslie said...

Hi Adriana,

I personally HATED the design of "The Mighty Ducks", as they were exactly as you described them. The only thing that sort of lets them off the hook is the fact that they were aliens from another planet, which puts them on par with "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", I suppose, in that they're not regular animals to begin with. I hate those damn Turtles too, by the way. :)

greybrother said...

As a furry, and a fan of anthropomorphism in general, I found this a fun and interesting read. Though, I think I'd have to disagree a bit with drawing a line between what you describe as a specifically "furry" designs, and anthropomorphism in general.

I've always found it the most useful to look at it as a complete gradient from completely human, to completely animal. The possibilities for character design and expression are endless when approached in this way, though of course it does make it more difficult fitting things into a category, and perhaps this fluid approach would complicate basic learning of anthropomorphic styles.

I just find it very freeing. In fact I really enjoy experimenting with the aesthetic, playing with just how much human, and how much animal to use to create the desired feel to the character. It can become very complex as one delves into the area of musculature, and how to translate human and animal anatomy into a fictitious creature on a very detailed level.

As I study more into human and animal anatomy, I begin to feel a general technique taking shape, of approaching any degree of anthropomorphism, from a detailed anatomical standpoint, which can then be simplified as needed. It might make for an interesting reference book.

Nebbie said...

Great post! I really like how you describe the differences between "funny animals" and "furries."

Here is my blog post showing the different levels of anthropomorphism ranging from a normal animal all the way to a human with animal ears and/or tail.

Blog post:

Chris Sobieniak said...

Interesting post that Nebbie pointed out on the many levels of anthropomorphism out there. I suppose my interests would be between Levels 3, 4 and 5 myself. That seems more my speed ans I tend to not favor the later levels with their simply animal heads on human body types. I feel they should still remain animals standing upright as if it was an evolutionary next step (if one was possible of course).

Hearing someone mention "Fritz The Cat" reminded me of why I don't quite feel like a "furry" fan myself when much of it is essentially giving animals too many human qualities and losing what I felt was the strengths they had in telling powerful stories or giving us a window to an imaginative world we might like to visit than to be bogged down by a cynical, adulterated view of life that often gets put on paper (or even off the paper). The escape into "funny animal" territory was a matter of removing that human element out of the picture, yet how much limitations could one imposed on these characters is left to their own interpretations.

It's certain that anthropomorphism does not have an equal balance as we see here, I feel the balance should be equal myself than to swing to either side, though some stories it may work to do so if called for (such as with "The Mighty Ducks" being aliens, which more recently we had gotten fans of the Ninja Turtles getting upset over hearing of a movie script being penned with them being referred to as "aliens" as well).

I see someone else had a post relating to anthropomorphism and it's use in Disney's Robin Hood that may interest a few here.

I see someone at FurAffinity made a neat little drawing explaining this concept.