Monday, March 31, 2008

Coming soon to a small room near you

My disc drive runneth over

Several belated thanks to small room visitors who were generous enough to send along some material related to recent posts:

Jerry Beck sent a slew of Columbia short cartoons after I posted about a compilation Thad K sent me back around Christmas, which included Professor Small and Mr. Tall. Columbia seems to have been in constant turmoil with a never-ending change of staff, but some of the entries are really well done, including some of John Hubley's early experiments with stylization and Milt Gross' Hitler satire HE CAN'T MAKE IT STICK! Jerry has an incredible list of cartoons he makes available at his website, I couldn't resist making a contribution. I also recently picked up the Harvey Comics HOT STUFF volume Jerry was involved in, an entertaining read with some keen artwork by Howie Post and others. Thanks Jerry!

Thad K sent me a disc of Floyd Gottfredson's MICKEY MOUSE daily comic strips, from their inception up to the mid-1950's. This is a real boon because although the comic strip still ran when I was a kid, it wasn't in my local paper and when I did see contemporary excerpts (from the 1970's) it was stiff and awful. The early rubber hose strips from the 30's are rich and wonderful but I particularly like the decade of the 1940's pretty much all through. The characters are fluid and expressive and the design is generally crisp. By 1950, though the strip is showing signs of wear and by 1955 (the last strips on the disc) it's pretty bland. I will post scans in the near future. Thanks Thad!

Bob Logan is a multi-talented artist whose storyboards, designs and caricatures are among the most impressive and imaginative I have seen recently. Bob joined the storyboard crew I am currently working on for ASTROBOY, and he is an all-around nice guy to boot. His website is rich with awesome illustrations and there you can obtain a kid's book he has done called ROCKET TOWN. This is not only a beautiful book that seems to animate while you read it, but it has been in almost constant demand by our three year old son ever since Bob passed along a copy to our household. Thanks Bob!

Friday, March 21, 2008

John Manders

John Manders went to Art Institute of Pittsburgh during the same time Mike Gillett and I did and his recent visit to the small room prompts me to encourage anyone who loves cartoon illustration to visit his home site www. These rabbits from one of his children's books appear to be having a lousy Easter. 

Back in school, John was the kind of guy who fostered awe, inspiration and envy all at once. His cartoons and color sense were light-years ahead of the rest of us, (well me for sure anyway) and he worked both quickly and from all appearances effortlessly. He is also a top quick sketch caricaturist, (one of the best I ever saw) and I even still have one he drew of me back in the day. Always fun to hang around, and a great sense of humor. Nothing much has changed from the look of his prolific current work. Hop on over and check it out.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A very classy guy

(This one is dedicated to Larry Levine, who has been reminding me to blog about Chuck Jones)

I recently called Chuck Jones a "classy guy" when discussing the pros and cons of his later artwork, a view I have always held and one that was confirmed the very fist time I saw him speak in person.

Chuck Jones came to USC campus early in 1979, when I was living nearby in an apartment with some friends who were students there. I was working in a book and stationery store near campus and saw the flyer for his appearance and made sure to attend. (Fortunately it was both free of charge and also open to non-students). Like a great deal of aspiring animators, I had grown up seeking out Chuck's literal and figurative signature on old Looney Tunes that ran on TV and also new specials and films like THE GRINCH and PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. John Canemaker published a wonderfully written appraisal of him for TIME magazine that raised general awareness of his work just a few years prior to the event I attended and Chuck was already an established racconteur by that time. For the USC show he brought along about a dozen of his best WB shorts, including DUCK DOGERS, the Hunting Season sign ones and perhaps my personal favorite, BULLY FOR BUGS.

Between reels he told anecdotes, (many of which wound up in his books) and he was already quoting Mark Twain quite a bit. At one point he referred to Fred Quimby, (the MGM shorts executive bean-counter) as a man who Metro had kicked downstairs to the cartoon division, where "the failure went to his head." He also referred to Eddie Selzer, (Quimby's counterpart at WB) as a man "who went through life like an un-tipped waiter." Despite this, he noted that there was a value to such people, grinding against the creative gears to be more creative. Selzer for instance one day burst into Jones' office and forbid Jones and Michael Maltese from ever doing a cartoon about bullfighting, because there was nothing funny about it. That gauntlet led them to immediately start working on the aforementioned BULLY FOR BUGS short, one of their most inspired of many. He suggested that had they been given total freedom, they probably wouldn't have been so inspired.

At one point he mentioned that he finally realized that not even a camera was necessary for something to be called animation--you could flip a Ken Harris scene of Pepe LePew for instance and there it was, animating in real time, as it were.

After the last short, the floor was opened up for questions, including one tactless person who criticized Chuck's TOM & JERRY shorts. The usually unflappable Jones was thrown a bit by this, but he recouped by commenting that such are the fortunes of cartoon characters who get passed from one studio or director to another. He mused that Hanna and Barbera were probably not too thrilled with his own T & J shorts, but by the same token he was less than crazy about the ROAD RUNNER shorts Rudy Larriva directed in the waning days of Looney Tunes.

I finally got up the gumption to ask "who designed the characters, like the bull in BULLY FOR BUGS?" Chuck said he did himself but he was hasty to point out that I was correct to separate character design from the function of the character animators, who he esteemed quite highly. "I did the designs but the animators brought them to life. That's an important distinction because I was never an animator, except very early on and not a very good one."

This comment continued to impress me as I later learned the extent to which Chuck scrupulously posed out his cartoons himself. In addition, he timed all this out to the frame and did not allow much for wiggle room there either. For all intents and purposes, his character poses practically animate themselves but Chuck remained adamantly modest about that and valued the animators' skill in rendering the scenes from his poses. It represents the ideal in what we are always calling a "collaborative" medium, because as restrictive as it sounds, I loved getting to animate to Chuck's poses, as I did many years later on CHARIOTS OF FUR, his last ROAD RUNNER short. I certainly did my best to bring everything I could to it, making sure that anywhere the poses left something up to my interpetation to make that interpetation as entertaining and well-designed as possible.

Chuck's modesty on this count only gets more admirable in an age when mo-cap directors want to feel that no single pixel in their film got by without their scrutiny and choice, reducing the contributions of artists, animators, actors and technical people to the chore of generating a slew of options for the director to edit ad nauseum until that director can feel himself the ultimate author of everything on the screen. For the record, I admit I have no experience with mo-cap and have even seen limited uses of it done well (the fight scenes in APPLESEED for instance). I am sure that the people involved in creating total mo-cap films are talented individuals, but the results still leave me puzzled as to the motives behind the whole enterprise.

Chuck Jones lived long enough to continue producing, inspiring and even directing a bit here and there, throughout his busy "golden years." I was glad to get to see him, meet him and work with him during those decades, and I will always remember his generous remarks about his crew and colleagues, who he genuinely admired and valued.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

A little bit of luck...

Caricature fascinates me and people who do it well (like John Kascht and Pete Emslie) have my admiration and bit of envy. Like everything in drawing there is bit of alchemy to it, but it's an alchemy I can't reliably crack. The only time I tend to get a likeness right is by one quick sketch or hours and hours of painstaking trial and error.

Here's a few of the quick and lucky ones I found in an old portfolio I used to use. These have to be at least twenty five years old.

John Candy (as "Johnny LaRue")

John Cleese (as "Basil Fawlty")


John Forstythe (in "DYNASTY")

I do think drawing caricatures can be good practice. Ward Kimball once demonstrated to a group of us that he used to draw caricatures taken from photos of un-famous citizens in his local San Gabriel newspaper. One tip he pointed out was that photographs of small groups of people lent themselves better than "single" shots, because in the groups you'd notice right away a range of contrast and differences.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Get this book

I've read a lot of anatomy books, Bridgeman, Loomis, Hogarth, etc. but I think the Holy Grail just might be SECRETS OF DRAWING, a new book by fantasy and comics artist Mike Hoffman.

This is a slender and simply-written book full of easy-to-understand practical tips that are as eye-opening as they are essential. In addition, the drawings are undeniably solid, loaded with life and appeal. The illustrations highlight as clearly as possible each tip and the plain-spoken text reinforces the art as clearly and concisely as anything I have read. Many books contain either one or the other (as in good tips/mediocre art or great art/vague text)--this book is hits a bull's eye for both targets. I've taken many good figure drawing classes and learned much from instructors, but this book broke through decades of problem areas in figure drawing for me that no amount of practice or study has to date.

Quick gesture drawings have always come easily to me, but in fine-tuning an image I have often got lost or fouled up by innate misunderstanding of an inherent form or concept. Not even knowing exactly why makes it even harder to correct. This is the book that nailed some simple but universal "rules of thumb" for solving those errors. Though I am not an aficianado of comics, I looked up checked out the artist's website and highly recommend it. I'd call the book a must-buy and the price is highly affordable.