Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Here's To Jessica Borutski!

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!


Pencils and coffee said...
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Eric Scales said...

I love these designs. I think these designs capture the essence of each character very well as well as making them much more animatable. Sure it's a bit modern looking but it's still a style that's grounded in classic animation principles. Jessica's got a great sense of proportion and appeal. The Constellations looks well designed as well, but the name, logo, and voice over make it sound like an 80's show. The look is fabulous though.

RiaMH said...

I can definitely see my nephews and younger cousins going for Jessica's designs. After all, they meant these designs for the young, untainted eyes and hearts. Not grown-ups - me included, who are uber fastidious in what we've gotten used to.

Alex. G said...

Bugs' body is a bit to short in contrast to his limbs and Sylvester could need some actual legs for his feet but apart from that I think they look okay.
I'll keep an open mind when some actual animation of them is shown. Maybe I'll get used to it eventually.

Bill Peschel said...

I've only seen that one frame, but, really, I was expecting something horrible from your description.

You know, if they can draw Batman a hundred different ways, they could Bugs and Daffy a shot at being reimagined. (And I'm not a "35 to 40 year old" who remembers the old shows; I'm (mumble, mumble) older, so I'm even more ossified than that).

But I have to agree it would be nice to see what worlds the new artists can come up with.

murrayb said...

I liken it to Jess got a "Unit" in the termite terrace. Tex' bugs was waaaay different than bob or chucks...speaking of appeal I love the Jessica caricature, man oh man Pete!! thumbs waaay up.

Peter said...

I'm one of the old guard who hate the stubby redesigning of the Looney Tunes characters - particularly Bugs, whose long, lean body suits his nonchalant attitude and makes a strong contrast to his stumpy adversaries Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam - but I'm sorry that Jessica has had to take all the flak.

She's a fine designer and she was only doing what she was asked to do.

The giveaway is in her last quote in the article:

"Yeah, I'm with you on that. Why change it? It's perfect. But it's 2010, it's not 1945, and kids know Bugs Bunny and they love him but I think this is a way they can sort of, you know, create a whole new property — an exciting new property — still using these great characters."

It's about WB's eternal quest to create a whole new property based on their existing one.

Tiny Toons worked because it mixed Looney Tunes style madcap animation and stumpy characters with a good angle: young relatives of the old characters = new characters. But only the backing of a heavyweight Hollywood producer/director got it made the way it was.

I never saw Loonatics - perhaps it tried too hard to milk the Looney Tunes connection, instead of creating its own strengths?

The problem with this show would seem to be a desire have your cake but remove all the ingredients... without a certain abrasive irreverence the Looney Tunes lose their point, which was always to milk a situation for the sort of laughs the Marx Brothers went for.

Not meant for pre-school kids!

(Reminds me of what happened to Tom & Jerry!)

Better to try to create a new show with new characters - or maybe all the "cute" characters that never lasted in the cinema shorts - Sniffles, for example, or all the kids from "I Haven't Got A Hat"... now THERE'S an idea! redevelop THEM into a kiddie show.

Todd Oman said...

The designs are fine, I have seen some of the animation and it is not flash or toonboom it is hand drawn 2D and the characters looked good animated. Why do people care about what the current look of bugs bunny is anyways. WB sold out on those guys long long ago this is probably a major improvement over what they have done with them the last 15 years.

Amir Avni said...

I know I'm putting myself at risk by publicly admitting my honest opinion…but hey, this isn't a communist regime and I'm gonna stand by my friends.

Jess- I love your new designs!
They are super appealing and cartoony, with great form, expression and solidity.
I don't see any logical course for a negative approach to your design, childish emotions put aside. you are my favorite cartoonist of the present generation by far!

There have been plenty of truly disastrous ,new "reinventions" characters, that weren't scorned (some were nominated for an oscar). and you obviously are not in this category.

Pete- have I told you what a gentleman you are recently? Great drawing!
I agree that Jessica should be contracted to produce her own cartoons!
I just wish they WOULD take a chance on something new...

Eric Noble said...

I'm going to be honest. I don't like the Bugs design. It doesn't suit me. However, I like the Sylvester and Pete Puma designs. They're very appealing to me. Nice post Pete.

Pete Emslie said...

Some very valid comments being made here.

Alexander: I agree that Sylvester could use more length to his almost nonexistent legs. While it may look neat in a single pose, the practicality of movement should always be of paramount importance in animation design. There may be a similar impracticality in Bugs' big feet if he were walking. I always caution my students about such extreme big or small proportions on their character designs too, as the movement and balance of a character must be considered.

Peter: I agree completely with your viewpoint. I'd rather that Warners not mess with the characters too, but if a redesign is demanded from on high, I'm just thankful that Jessica was the one hired to carry it out, as it's obvious to me that she loves and respects these characters while trying to adapt them to today's more graphic design aesthetic. I just wonder why everybody in Hollywood keeps on going back to the same well, trying to update beloved characters for new generations instead of creating original new characters.

Amir: I'm not always a "gentleman", I'm afraid, despite you viewing me as such. I can certainly rant and rave and wallow around in the muck like the rest of the animation community. But in this case I felt strongly that a distinction had to be made, as I do not agree at all with any of the Brew commenters who suggested that these are "bad" designs. It doesn't matter how talented whomever was contracted to do these new designs, Looney Tunes purists (myself included), would not want to see new versions of these time-honoured characters, regardless of how appealing the resulting images might be. For the record, I didn't agree with the reimagining of Yogi and Boo-Boo by John K either, yet this is in no way a criticism of either John or Jessica, both of whom I consider top talents working today. No matter who was given the job of revising the Looney Tunes characters, it was inherently a no-win situation, regardless of the talent behind the changes.

Eric: Bugs is definitely the one who has been more heavily revised, and is thus at the heart of this firestorm of discontent. Yet, I maintain that if this were a brand new character that we'd never seen before, then I'd consider this mauve rabbit every bit as appealing and fun as the rest of Jess's original little critters I've enjoyed seeing on her blog these last several years. That's why I'm frustrated with the overly nasty reactions I've read on both The Brew and in the comments section on Jessica's own blog, as I don't think the distinction is being made.

Amir Avni said...

I have to agree on the "Situation Based" issue and I think you have made an important distinction and good judgment...Psychologist also call the mistake people made in this case as "The fundamental attribution error"

Anonymous said...

I was sadly harsh (especially with the new character design for Bugs) when I first saw the redesigns because I'm one of those people who believe that the Looney Tunes should be left alone and have the actual cartoons be shown on TV once again. Now that I look at these, I find most of the designs to be very appealing and filled with interesting proportions and contrasts. I've even gotten used to the way that Bugs looks. I still don't really like Sylvester too much for some reason. It just doesn't really look like him to me. Whenever I think of Sylvester, I always think of what Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett did with the character and how he looked in those cartoons.

Jessica Borutski, nonetheless, is a quite a talent, and she is definitely going places. Who knows? Maybe she'll have her own studio one day, making real cartoons.

Eric Noble said...

"Yet, I maintain that if this were a brand new character that we'd never seen before, then I'd consider this mauve rabbit every bit as appealing and fun as the rest of Jess's original little critters I've enjoyed seeing on her blog these last several years."

Possibly. I will give Jessica credit. She has a very appealing sense of design, certainly much more than any of the previous artists who have worked on them. However, I will say that there seems to be more structure in Bugs' head than the previous reimaginings.

Ricardo Cantoral said...
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Ricardo Cantoral said...

Like I said on Jessica's Blog, I don't think there should be any revivals, period. It's like bringing back James Cagney in CGI,IMO. The Looney Tunes are not old costumes to be repainted or redesigned, they are as dead as Humphrey Bogart.

Now strictly speaking out designs. Sylvester looks cute, so does Pentunia but I still hate what has been done to Bugs and Daffy; Who would look a lot better by simply removing the sharp angles on his design.

Steve said...

The message I get from these redesigns is that Warners is clearly aiming the new cartoons at a younger and female audience. My wife says little girls love the Looney Tunes characters. Even Sam appeals to girls who fancy themselves country girls. Note the absence of Taz. Also note that Bugs is now a nice metrosexual shade of lavender. I can hear John K. screaming from here. Anyway, WB is making the characters more appealing to the target audience.

The Petunia Pig design is particularly interesting, even through the bad flash reflection. I'd like to see what direction they take with that character.

Anonymous said...

"I can hear John K. screaming from here."

I highly doubt John K. would do that, especially with these drawings. Remember that Jessica Borutski animated for John on Ren and Stimpy APC. I've even read about some of the good things John has said about Borutski, so I think he probably likes these designs.

Ricardo Cantoral said...

John dosen't bad-mouth the people who worked for him; He can't afford to.

Thad said...

They look what I'd expect a CN remake of the Warner characters to look like. It doesn't offend me to the core like a lot of older art from the 70s and 80s does... You know, like this, this, this, or this.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

"They look what I'd expect a CN remake of the Warner characters to look like. It doesn't offend me to the core like a lot of older art from the 70s and 80s does... You know, like this, this, this, or this."

Wow. Even the DePatie-Freleng and the Klynn-Hendricks produced Looney Tunes look like a work of art compared to the amateurism displayed in those hackworks. I still don't get why people are getting angry over these redesigns when we obviously could have had something far worse. Heck, these redesigns are probably some of the best I've seen from any modern cartoon as of recently. Definitely a lot better than say Fanboy and Chum Chum. Cough...cough (nothing against the talented artists who work on the show though).

"John dosen't bad-mouth the people who worked for him; He can't afford to."

That would definitely be common sense, but I'm pretty sure that John has been receiving plenty of revenue via the Paypal service on his blog, and with his new cartooning class coming under way, he's going to receive a lot more in the future.

Ricardo Cantoral said...

BTW, I do like this Children's show of Jessica's; It will influence little girls to study Astronomy.

Ian MacDonald said...

Hey Pete- My hometown is Ottawa too! I live in Manotick haha.

That said, I really do believe her designs are super-appealing, and give a nice modern twist on the cast of characters. She definitely doesn't deserve the flack she's getting, like she's treading on some sacred ground or something.

Also, the caricature is awesome btw

Chris Signore said...

Wows...and I thought I was the only one still aware of Jessica's "Constellations" pitch. Orsum stuff =)

Although I do feel sorry for the poor gal with the backlash her LT designs have taken recently. Then again, as you yourself said, previous attempts to revive Bugs, Daffy and the rest have been disastrous in the wrong hands - Larry Doyle is another name that springs to mind...

Personally, I'm another soul who is actually interested and keen on these redesigns - at least, from recent posts, they're finally getting the likes of Speedy Gonzales, Lola and Petunia into the TV spotlight. They do have a nice hint of the old school charm anyhow, particularly in Daffy's designs.

Not too hip on hearing the characters being "tween-animated" from what you've mentioned here...however I always believe that if you want to know how a book will turn out, try reading its contents rather than judge its cover design ;)

In short: fingers cross that the writing is actually FUNNY.

Fair points made, Sir. Fair points indeed =)

Martin Juneau said...

I just hope this cartoon will be a success because i find out very interesting and much appealing than any Canadians shits as Total Drama, Johnny Test or the Maxwell Athoms rip-off. There's are real unprofessionnal cartoons done by peoples who know nothing on art and taste.

Jessica Boutowski in comparaison is a true artist, even as a Canadian. And she does a find job at my opinion. But probably off-topic, but you should look at everyone to a very good painter artist locally named Chantal Lajoie. I still wondered why they can't applicated this to a animated feature anymore?