Sunday, December 20, 2009

Character Design 1: The Character Design Fallacy



character designs made by group effort of functional artists, John Dunn, Ward Kimball, and whoever did the layout

I've noticed that character design is a popular subject here; whenever I write about it I get a lot of comments.I don't think many people agree with what I have to say about it.

I do understand why people are so obsessed with jumping on the character design bandwagon. It's the only creative job left in the business. Or at least it's the only fun job. We don't do the important jobs anymore: animation, layout, or real storyboards, so all that's left is designing characters. And executives in the last few years have seemed to take to designers. They confuse them with "creators", whatever vague concept that is in their minds. They think every cartoon has to have a brand new unique look, which is not only naive and pointless, but impossible. Each character oughta have a new look-not a whole new style, but unique visual characteristics that define him or her. That probably is possible - but we'd have to break away from all our inbreeding and re-use of existing generic designs.
Cartoon Writers
Execs know that writers are interchangeable, so they desperately hunt for the latest new trendy visual style to sell the show to the unwitting public. They also can't tell the difference between a truly new look and just plain amateurish drawing. So now they encourage shifty used-car salesmen types to design the shows.

The irony is the public could care less about style and design.
"Oh PLEEEEASE give us some hip stylized cartooooons!"
"Whoa, Dude! Cut those finger tips off man! That's some funny s**t!"

Here's a kid being forced to watch designer cartoons.
The general public wants funny unique characters doing entertaining impossible things that can't happen in real life. The look is just extra dressing. Too much designiness probably turns the average Joe away. So who is it for?

Character design is attractive to young artists because it's a lot easier to do than storyboarding, layout or animation. Especially today's character design. It might even be easier than being a cartoon writer, which a monkey could be. I know this from my own experience being an exclusive character designer for a while. It takes more talent to be a designer than a writer, but it may take less time and effort in pure man-hours. (Or woman hours).

I made a lot more money faster doing character designs than drawing layouts because there are so many more drawings to do in layout for the same amount of money - and layouts have to follow rigid rules. They need to function and have something to do with the actual production.

Yes, I had selfish fun designing characters, but I couldn't watch the finished cartoons that used my designs. Not until I actually got to direct my own cartoons - and then "character design" became a completely different job, and not so important.

_________________________________________

REAL CHARACTER DESIGNERS VS FAKE ONES

First of all, character design should never have been separated from the rest of the animation process.

The handful of artists from classic cartoons that are renowned for their character designs, were not really character designers at all. They were layout artists. Layout artists who who were also animators. When they finally got around to designing characters, they knew the functional needs of the job - and they usually layed out the cartoons. They didn't just design characters in the abstract who existed only to float on white paper and look neat. They didn't pass them on to another artist to work out the problems in the designs. They themselves had to make them come to life in the scenes and would have to make changes as they went.

Here is a very stylish cartoon "designed" by Ed Benedict in the 50s modern style. Is the cartoon great because of the style? I don't think so. It's great because it's really funny. I do think Ed's extreme stylization of the cartoon adds novelty to it, because Tex had already done this same story many times and it needed to be refreshed. But what really makes it work is the combination of Tex and Ed's terrific poses and acting - and of course Tex's timing. The great animation doesn't hurt either. It's all the functional drawings in the cartoon that make it work, not the design in the abstract. Ed was a functional designer and Tex was a functional storyteller, who drew all his stories, poses and acting on storyboards. These artists were not theoreticians like some of today's character designers. They had to put their ideas to the test every day. Deputy Droopy would have worked just as well if it was animated in this style:
Or in Mike Lah's drawing style:
http://inspiration-grab-bag.blogspot.com/2006/03/deputy-droopy-1955-mgm.html

DESIGN IS THE WHOLE PICTURE AND STORY, NOT JUST THE CHARACTERS
Ed Benedict, Tom Oreb, Gene Hazelton, Ward Kimball, John Hubley, Fred Crippen, Bob Kurtz, Bill Hurtz designed their characters only as part of the overall designs of the cartoons. They designed them in context of the backgrounds and stories. They bent and twisted and sculpted them within each scene. They didn't just cut and paste stiff model sheet poses and slide them around in 2 dimensions.They had to be able to pose the characters functionally and fit them aesthetically into their environments. How many character designers today can do that?

Now with most TV animation done in Flash, we just cut and paste stiff unbalanced flat rigid cutouts and line them up next to each other with no attention to actual function or composition or balance against each other. They sure don't make any expressions - except screaming. I see a lot of "Games-style" screaming poses in the comedy style cartoons.
The Character Designer Plague

So today we are overrun with character designers. Everyone and his rat wants to be one, and honestly I can't blame them with the situation being what it is now. People write me all the time and ask me how to break in at the top the business and skip all the steps of learning how things work in cartoons. They want quick answers to the secrets of getting a unique style and a top salary. When I disappoint them by recommending they learn the trade first, many roll their eyes and just go off and copy what the last 30 years of visual plagiarists have done and each year there is a whole new crop of individual stylists who are exactly like the last batch, only with more broken gene sequences in their DNA.

I see the same character designs in hundreds of cartoons, only they seem to get drawn worse with each new generation. Some character designs I'd swear are in every cartoon. I see Dee Dee from Dexter's lab in every cartoon, sometimes with gender reassignment, only with the top of her head or the bottom of her feet chopped off. Chopping off finger tips is also a good way to convince an executive you're hip. (It's much easier to draw hands that way too). There is some kind of one-eyed blob that's in a thousand cartoons. Cartoons get sold that are so primitive that their "design" consists only of the fact that the designers never learned to draw at all.

To me, the most fun in cartoons is actually bringing the characters to life. Whether you do it through storyboards, or layouts or animation doesn't matter. Challenging yourself to tell the story that's written by giving your characters the most unique specific poses and expressions and having a studio system that allows the drawings to make it to the screen - now that is rewarding. Watching people laugh, or groan, or sigh as they watch the finished cartoon play itself out as if it's really happening. Maybe I'm crazy, but that's why I think cartoonists want to make cartoons. Not to just do their own assembly line bit in the abstract, divorced from the rest of the production and then complaining when it doesn't somehow come to life in the finished product.

Do We Even Need Character Designers?

What is a character anyway? This thing that needs to be designed? The word denotes a personality first, not a design. Back when we animated personalities, the designs usually evolved out of the stories and events that the characters themselves helped create. All the artists contributed to the evolution of the characters, and this process created the most entertaining successful characters in history. Really, the animator (or in the case of TV, the layout artist) should be bringing 3/4 of the design to the screen in his poses and expressions.


The greatest character in history never was designed - or even created. He evolved out of looney protoplasm through the natural process of grouping extremely talented cartoonists together under brilliant directors and letting them do their thing.You might look at some modern animated features that are so sinfully gruesome or bland in appearance and deduce that "Yes, we DO need some character designers", but I would say we just need people who don't design positively ugly, and a common sense production system that allows nature to take its course. We'd have well designed features if animators and layout artists and modelers just were skilled artists who happened to have appeal as one of their natural talents. Chuck Jones was less of a "designer" than a "redesigner". He merely applied his sense of shapes to classic principles and existing characters.

In the rare cases where we need character designers as specialists, they oughta be culled from the best draftsmen among the layout artists and animators. Good solid draftsmen, who also have the rare gift of appeal. Demanding all those attributes in one artist really narrows down the pool of potential designers.

"Cool Design" is anti-character


This kind of character design, which is popular among modern cartoons and misunderstood is intended to look cool for its own sake. It's great for commercials and instructional films where the characters are just symbols of types, but it isn't very effective at making characters seem alive or have individual personalities.

Even so, the originators of stylish character design were all schooled in functional character animation. They used skilled techniques they learned sweating it out doing things the "classic" way. Today we just imitate this stuff superficially and trick executives into thinking we are are the hip new thing, even though the hip new thing actually took tons of skill and a good measure of self-controlled conservatism 60 years ago.

What I think we need much more than teeming masses of character designers, are actual functional artists who can pose characters, keep them alive, solid and believable. We could use more animators, layout artists and real story artists. And directors who encourage everyone to bring ideas to the films, and then to have the balls and tenacity to follow them through and not keep saying "Gee, I dunno, it's not really within our style boundaries."

Animation is about magical characters more than anything else and magical characters have to be able to do things. That takes a lot more than just some abstract design floating around the screen.

_____________________________
This is all great stuff and it sure has its place, but it doesn't lend itself to storytelling character-driven animation.
The designs are purposely of stereotypical characters, because they were made for very short spots and need to get another message across, besides telling a character-driven story.
I absolutely love this stuff, but I'm an artist too and I can see all the thought behind the staging, posing, lines of action, negative shapes - all the real things that go into design, not just some superficial simple imbecility that you see on TV today in the guise of being cool.
These are all marvels of clarity, appeal and classic animation principles.
Except this one below. This is a mess of clutter.
I stole these all from Amid's great site. Buy his book too. I have it and it's wonderful. Just don't steal from it.

http://cartoonmodern.tumblr.com/

FOR ACTUAL PRACTICAL TIPS ON CHARACTER DESIGN AMONG THE RANTS

49 comments:

Allen Spetnagel said...

Very sharp observations, John. I love the examples and the hilarious photographs. I was always taught to treat the background as just another character, but this lesson has yet to sink into my natural work mode. I understand from your post that a designer should build characters that are necessary for the background in which they live. Can you offer any tips on background design, or, for those of us who tend to draw characters only, advice on how to incorporate our work into an appropriate setting?
Thanks for your post!

Cristian AvendaƱo said...

John, I love posts like this. As I've said before, I would love to become an animator, and I'm really glad that this blog is able to drive me trough the right path.
Otherwise I would be already designing terrible cartoons, hehehehe...

Yeah, I've noticed sometimes when I watch TV that many shows have characters that seem ripped from my phone doodles or my old sketches, and I'm not even that good of an artist (I still think my stuff is quite bland, and I suck at composing). It's almost as if they aren't trying anymore.

John, if someday I become a successful animator, or comic book artist, or artist of any kind, I'll owe it all to you. Thanks for this kind of info!

From Chile,
Cristian.


P.D. Hey, I just read the book Modern Masters: Bruce Timm. Is basically a huge interview to the guy. I had no idea he worked under you! He thinks of you as a great master of cartooning, and he tells a lot of stories about his early days working on Mighty Mouse. Man, that studio sounded like heaven on earth.

Trevor Thompson said...

As much of a fan I am of R&S's design in BHB, I now understand why they needed to be re-designed for the series.

callie! said...

I'm inclined to agree with most of the things you said in here. I myself tend to focus too much on individual characters so I could probably learn a lot from trying to do layouts and the like. i'm hoping everyone else will come away with that rather than march away with their pet rat and become a character designer.

Niki said...

I'll be fine between choosing layouts to do instead because I barely every find any styles that I like anyway, it's always "The inking" or the other thing. I do like the three man band. can I know who made it?

JohnK said...

"As much of a fan I am of R&S's design in BHB, I now understand why they needed to be re-designed for the series."

They were redesigned? Not that I remember. They just changed naturally as we went.

gabriel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amanda H. said...

I did this about a month ago but I got busy with other stuff (plus finals) so let me know how it is so I can try to find the other sheets I did and fix those.
http://voodoochild9.blogspot.com/2009/11/okay.html

Trevor Thompson said...

That's what I meant.

She-Thing said...

Yeah I also want to know who drew the three men band. Treasury pics.

Andrew Mortlock said...

John how about turning this rant post into a "picture book" version. with some real incredible simple to understand layouts of characters who are functional and suited to they're environment compared with the wrong "character designing" way.

In a way so cartoon executives could understand, and twisted in a way to make it look all hip or whatever like you said.

and just make up some crap about your resources like "see the way i've deconstructed the acronym symmetry in the positive space gauge?? Yeah that's right! It's the same technique they used on shrek." etc..

JohnK said...

"Yeah I also want to know who drew the three men band."

Looks like Gene Hazelton to me. See tomorrow's post.

RooniMan said...

I totally agree with everything.

Kaiser Fate said...

This reminds me a lot of something a lecturor of mine was once telling me. He was lamenting that he made the mistake of showing the class a piece of animation that he found very impressive - extremely simplistic and stylised in its design, but nonetheless solid and powerful - and the class took it as an excuse to do that kind of thing themselves for the animation assignment.
It backfired because none of them actually understood the solidity or design sensibilities that went into these drawings - they just drew 'crappy', and that's what it looked like.
But then you get this in every creative field, not just animation - a new book comes out and everyone copies the theme, but not the superb writing. A hit movie comes out, and the bigwigs start demanding films with similar plots or settings, ignoring that what made it so watchable was the fact that it was an expertly constructed film. And the industry encourages it, because it makes money, or so they say.
What are you to do?

SoleilSmile said...

One of my pet peeves in laying out male characters designed by other people is the absence of the pelvis.
I thought it was wholly my ingenue drawing skills all this time. However, once I started incorporated more guys in my work if my own design, I noticed that I have a much easier time drawing them! Not only do they have waists--they have behinds BECAUSE they have a pelvis! There is actually a place to connect their damn legs! You need an ILIA to attach the legs to! People have no problem drawing every single inch and crevice on a woman, but guys--no.
No wonder animation on so many male characters is so darn stiff. I'd be stiff too, if was missing one my floating girdles!
There is a character I know you hate John, but was the inspiration for the way I drew guys when I was a teenager: Doyle Cleverlobe of Galaxy High. Did you design him John? I know you designed Beef Bonk, but all the thought in Doyle seems to show your influence.
I know Galaxy High was a dark period in your career, but I still loved the cartoon. Do you have any pointers for designing mobile teenage-20's guys? I would love your wisdom on the subject.

Niki said...

Johnk, have you ever heard of a Jumpstarter? it's a website were you can set up a charity to a purpose your trying to achieve.

I wanted you to know because I thought if you made one, then you could get your art school started.

Or you could at least raise some cash for a something or other, which I would hope would be some kind of film.

And thank you for telling me about the three man band!

mckay said...

Pretty deep stuff, I like the way you think! Especially when you take in depth in character design. :D

T' said...

For what it's worth, the Character Design section over at the "Curriculum" blog is your teaching at its best. Not only do you describe in detail exactly what you mean and illustrate what you say with specific examples, you shy away for the most part from insults and ranting. Sets of posts like these really carry a point and instruct. Thanks.

Whit said...

Some may think this post a rant but it contains more solid analysis and common sense than any four year animation college could muster at any tuition cost.

Hannad said...

Great post, John. The whole time I was reading this, I agreed with EVERYTHING, especially when you said something about the "Games-style" screaming poses... I see those a lot.

"There's only 5 more days 'til Yak Shaving Day!" (I'm sorry, I just had to reference that)

Bob said...

I think this post also relates to all those posts, which you speak about "What makes a cartoon." Anyways, I was researching this question because I find it to be very intriguing.

My conclusion is that there needs to be an amount of playfulness in each cartoon. Playfulness is not just based on imagination, there is other elements that make something have this quality. Everything in nature has an essence of playfulness and if it didn't we as human-beings would be able to justify everything through reason and understanding.

Playfulness in a cartoon or nature functions best when constrained by rules. Without them there would be total chaos. I have read many books by both disney and warner bros. who say they make up their own rules and bring something new to the table. This may be true in some circumstances, but I'm glad you have these posts to show every traditional cartoon used the same principles and they are prevalent through the images you show.

On a side note the pabst bear is awesome and reminds me of John Hubley's animation he did of Baltimore's mascot National Bohemian Beer, or the one- eyed guy with a mustache.

Gary Wintle said...

Just what I needed. I had to read really slowly just to savour this wicked post a little longer. These are without question my favourite kinds of posts of yours.

I'm combing through your blog again and really dig those "evolution of Bugs" posts too. Any chance of a Ren and Stimpy one similar to that?

Thanks!

Gad said...

i always like to read your views about character Design... it is so refreshing to read your blog...

here is a blog that might interest you (if you don't know about him yet) http://animationbackgrounds.blogspot.com/

this is a subject in animation that really disappeared complicity

you would be very disappointed to hear that newer generations like real cartoon less and less.
i hear it again and again from kids..." i don't want to watch a cartoon with a talking dog who do impossible things, i want to see "real" (animated) people doing cool (boring) things" that's why anime as lots of followers today...

you can't really win...

Luis said...

I am actually working on the Art section of a short stop motion film. And yes, I am in charge of the Character Design.
First thing the producer told was "I want something new!", WRONG. My reply was a lot of information, estetic references (Burton, Miyasaki, Little Lulu, Madeleine, Snoopy) and a whole overall setting design (transforming london's Battersea park in a reduct for an inocent 8yr old girl to do wrong and learn).

First, it was al shouting and discussing, but when the director saw the concepts (made in 5 minutes with a ballpen) their faces lighted up. There is still hope in this buisness.


Cheers from latinamerica, a place to suffer well.

Peter Bernard said...

That was brilliant.

And those photos on top are some of the funniest pictures I ever saw in my life.

It's true, I've pitched shows using drawings, story ideas and pre-recorded theme songs to try to get the whole idea across of what the show might be like, then I got told to go home and do model sheets of the characters instead.

You really fill in the blanks in terms of animation practice, theory and history. I wish this blog or something like it had existed when I was 19 or 20, my life would have been completely different.

JohnK said...

"Doyle Cleverlobe of Galaxy High. Did you design him John? "

Yes, unfortunately I did, Ashanti. It's my version of the stock bland male teenage lead. I saw him in that Frog picture a couple weeks ago as the main love interest.

He's in everything. And you're right about the hips.

The formless legs on male designs drive me nuts too.


Semi-Realistic humans just can't be animated because they have no solid distinct shapes to move around, so they tend to float and shift shape constantly.

Why does everyone keep doing it? The characters are always completely boring. I guess the gay execs like it.

Corey said...

Wonderful post. What hits home for me personally is your idea of never seeing your work in the finished product. I animate for a living, but what I really do for money is tween flat puppets around.
I find myself trying really hard to make my scenes appealing, but it doesn't seem worth it, because in the final product I can't even recognize my scenes anymore.

mike f. said...

Totally off-topic, but the memorable character actor caricatured as the blustering detective in Avery's Who Killed Who? is named Fred Kelsey. Before the Internet, it literally took me years to identify him, since he rarely got screen credit, even though he appeared in more than 400 films. Kelsey was almost always cast as a cop or a hotel dick (in his trademark black derby). He looks exactly like the character in the Tex Avery cartoon in real life, eyebrows and all!

Here's a clip in which Kelsey appears - although he's more sedate than usual - at roughly the 2:50 mark, (if you can stomach Clark & McCullough up til that point, that is.) Also appearing are two other veteran comedy foils - both brilliant: Vernon Dent and James Finlayson. The 1930s sure was a great decade for iconic character actors, pure candy for animators and cartoonists...

SoleilSmile said...

Mystery solved in regards to Doyle. Thank you John.
I still liked Doyle's character arc, though. The lesson that those on the top can fall and fall HARD and have an even more difficult experience rising to the top again was appealing. Doyle had to earn his friends at Galaxy High. That's not bland to me. However, I noticed that audiences don't like this theme in the Western world. The failure of Surf's Up which has the same theme is a good example.
Ah well, there's always anime for such story arcs.
Thanks again:)

Michael said...

Seriously, you and Joe Frank could collaborate. Your both brilliant and in the same boat. You both have a fan base. Combine that base with some synergy and something could blow up.

tobor68 said...

amen, brother, amen.

from the front lines,
sean

ZenQued [MasterK] said...

http://wwwstatic.megavideo.com/mv_player.swf?image=http://img3.megavideo.com///.jpg&v=A3M0606N

Examples of new facial expressions/drawings in a modern cartoon.
Please note that that is not the best episode, but it was the best one I could link. To watch more, check out the show page on cartoonnetwork.com/video.

Give it a try, its not perfect but it has a lot going for it.

chardday said...

A lot of what you are saying boils down to the degree to which modern character designs succeed or fail as 3D models. I personally share your likes and dislikes, which probably has as much to do with us being around the same age as anything.

But kids these days have CG cartoons, which simulate 3D spaces better than even the best classic-era 2D animation. So there's an argument to be made that if you are going to do a 2D cartoon these days, you should embrace its 2D-ness.

To make this insufferably pretentious: Photography superceding representative painting gave us impressionism, abstract expressionism, etc., as painters were forced to lean into paint's paintiness. Could some of the new artists do an oil portrait in the old style? Does it matter?

Guy said...

Photography superceding representative painting gave us impressionism, abstract expressionism, etc., as painters were forced to lean into paint's paintiness.

No, it didn't.

Did anyone before photography not have access to bowls of fruit? Then why were still lives great art?

...Because they are great art?

And why are cartoons that "simulate 3D spaces" (and real fine art) considered so vastly better than today's garbage?

Because they are so vastly better than today's garbage?

Why do you mangle questions preschoolers should know the answers to?

I don't know, maybe you can tell me?

Ganapathy Subramaniam said...

John, This is a very essential article set. The character design concept must first happen in the abstract, in the head, and by the behaviour, reactions and the personality of the character.

Then the character's external appearance has to be derived. Styling is ..well something that can be optional.

For instance the universal imagery of Sherlock Holmes is definitely due to the strong personality, and the fact that Conan Doyle approved of Sydney Paget's visualization of Holmes means it has true representaion. Now we do have numerous variations/styles of Holmes by variouos artists, but the core still is Paget's.

chardday said...

Guy --

Let's have this conversation when you're a bit older.

vu said...

sad times when shit shows like many of the ones out today get to set trends; one thing is still the same functional classical animation/drawing requires imaginative draftsman, something hard to find or train.

Isaac said...

chardday, a lot of people don't know what "2D-ness" is. They think it's geometrical shapes. They think it's viewing angles that can't exist in 3D space.

You look at construction and think it's about emulating 3D space. No, it's not. 3D computer graphics that emulate 3D space perfectly, still look terrible.

Construction is about creating characters that can move properly, believably. Characters that can be drawn from different angles.

You fall into the category of people who believe a drawing is "an abstraction comprised of 2D visual symbols." Once you draw a smile as "a symbol of a smile", it loses all uniqueness, believability, and liveliness.

"Embracing 2D-ness" creates cookie-cutter characters, melting motion, floating details, and expressions that are merely "a symbol of an expression."

There's plenty of that in 3D CGI, too. The only thing 3D is immune to is shapes that can't exist in space, but that is a very small part of things.

chardday said...

Isaac –

Actually I ultimately fall into John K’s and your camp here on the level of personal taste, as I mentioned in my post.

Still, when trying to understand why something is the way it is, I find the answer is almost never “because the people behind it are idiots.” (executives and/or artists, in this case) Even if that is sometimes partially true, it tends not to be the most illuminating part. In fact, most often it’s the opposite: “These kids/execs today are punks and idiots, I remain a genius, next topic.” What have we learned? Nothing.

So we have 2D animation proliferating in this form. Why?

Some more possibilities:

Traditional cell animation for all its virtues is undeniably pitched at children. Exaggerated expressions; cute rounded forms, etc. A “graphic” look can evoke more sophisticated forms (magazine layouts, etc.)

If the project in question is going to be executed cheaply with limited animation, its creators might put a premium on how a given shot looks as a still, since it will all but be one if you discount the moving lips.

Why do it at all if it is going to be done so cheaply? Well, many of the examples cited are not crossover shows – they are pitched, for instance, solely at four to six year old girls on a channel no one else will have occasion to watch. We have all seen such children watching cartoons, slack-jawed, uncritical, easily satisfied and oblivious to artistry. Any more than the bare minimum could be deemed (correctly?) wasted effort.

But as I said, these shows are not for me either. Then again, as I have said now, they aren’t exactly aimed at any of us.

Isaac said...

There's a lot of blaming going around. I don't condone any of it and I think it's counter-productive.

Back to misconceptions:

* 'Graphic' doesn't have to lack construction. Construction isn't about rounded shapes and cute animals. This misconception is very widespread, since it's easier not to learn construction and think you have style, than to understand how to draw well.

* Don't confuse limited animation with lack of construction. Ruby Rocket faced the same problem, and opted to animate on fours, with construction. The result is unbelievably good. The look is very graphic, and it was done for scale.

Good flat examples: South Park and Superjail are good flat shows which exploit their flatness, each differently, without tripping all over themselves.

Non-cute, graphic, solid examples: Ruby Rocket - film noire, graphic, not flat. Venture Bros - sometimes flat, sometimes uses construction and principles. Watch the character design evolve from flat in season one, to constructed in season four. Season one almost looks like South Park.

There's no single "good style," but there are certain bad drawings that are mistakenly classified as a style.

chardday said...

More good points. Again, I personally agree.

You place a premium on construction. Not surprising since construction is of course the subject at hand. I can picture these artists shrugging off the criticism, though; and it's possible to see how "construction" can be limiting through a post-modern prism.

Mainly, though -- another insufferable comparison:

Hal Prince said on Charlie Rose that the reason new Broadway musicals have such forgettable songs is that once rock and pop hit big, radio stopped turning to the stage for hits. Consequently all the best up-and-coming songwriters went where the action was: rock and pop, and Broadway was left with second-raters and hobbyists.

In animation these days, the action is all in the CG world -- Pixar/Dreamworks films, and to a degree video games. That is where I bet our most talented would-be 2D animators have mostly gone, and we are left with who's left.

Even my defenses here of some current 2D guiding principles are mostly devil's-advocate stuff, and there really is no defending a lot of contemporary execution.

Isaac said...

chardday, modernism is about self-awareness, and post-modernism is about deconstruction, so obviously it would lack construction, yuk yuk. People are impressed with deconstructionism at first, because they think "it takes an artist to use only geometric shapes and make a character." It doesn't. The end result is something they've seen hundreds of times, without any personality of its own.

As for all the good artists being in CGI - you must not know the industry. There are great artists in CGI, and there are great artists in traditional animation, and both groups use the same traditional animation training. The difference between 2D and 3D is much much smaller than you believe.

I haven't seen any good videogame animation, so I don't know where you're coming from with that.

chardday said...

Isaac --

I just figured out that you want to have an argument. I can't help you there, since 1. We basically agree, and 2. the opposite of everything doesn't make for a particularly coherent viewpoint (either?)

On us agreeing -- deconstruction-as-movement can work as a 2D ethos, but too often doesn't due to poor execution. I believe we both made that same point; I am sure there is a niggling way in which I can be seen as wrong there too; have at it.

It's hard though to see where the 2D genius animators are keeping up with their 3D genius brothers and sisters at Pixar, again going simply on actual output.

As for video games, really? I would say play some, but it's hard to recommend as a pastime in the same way it's hard to remain enough in touch with one's inner six year-old to get at the excellent work either always or never being done in 2D animation, depending upon whom you are disagreeing with. Still, cut scenes and even increasingly lifelike (or strikingly stylized) in-game stuff is often downright artyish, Borderlands being a fun recent example.

This will be my last post on our thread, so I leave you with one final big fat thought I truly believe to tear to ribbons:

You seem like a very bright guy.

Bwanasonic said...

I spend a lot of time watching Turner Classic Movies, and pondering The Studio System, and it seems you are proposing something like the classic studio system. Is there a way that could work for the artists involved in a modern context? Wait, are you saying we should embrace CARTOON SOCIALISM?!

Isaac said...

chardday, I thought we were having a conversation, not an argument. Anyawy, we don't agree, you just say "I agree" a lot.

c: construction is for simulating 3D spaces
I: no

c: flatness is the way to embrace the 2D medium
I: no

c: construction is about cute rounded forms, it can't be graphic
I: no

c: our most talented would-be 2D animators have mostly gone to CGI
I: no

The first three are misconceptions. The fourth is a strange claim that talented artists don't want to do traditional animation. Each of my "no"s was followed with a very short, probably too short, explanation.

I looked at Borderlands, and I saw mostly this. Then I remembered Team Fortress 2 has real character design. This is a great example of CGI using traditional principles:

* clear silhouettes
* distinct proportions
* negative spaces (a bit lacking)
* interesting shapes

Viljatie 3 said...

How i see this is that there should be as many character styles in this world than there is people who draws them.

I really like these posts! thanks.

Robin Hall said...

I just wanted to say that I agree full heartedly with your post, but I wanted to add that in today's animation industry, the tv world is plagued by Flash and ToonBoom shows, which garner a quick turn around for a small budget.

This kind of medium tends to bring out flat and very limited character designs. As animators, we attempt to push the designs as far as we can, and sometimes we succeed with great shots, but for the most part, deadlines just don't allow for us to get out the scenes we potentially could.

Loved your post, John, I just think that there's the added problem with tv animation being produced in Flash and ToonBoom today with such incredibly tight deadlines.

BluBoy Comics by Ryan Spencer said...

A brilliant read! Thanks!

Hjalmar Snoep said...

Very insightfull.
I agree mostly. In 3D animation there is a need to do characterdesign, because that's how the programs work. There were some other programs, that didn't force your hand, but they have all but dissapeared. They'll be back eventually and considered very modern then.