Wednesday, April 28, 2010


dedicated to "Kalo"....


I have added a long-winded post script to the end of this post, after the blinding light of a few days on CARTOON BREW. Long and windy a post it is too, but hopefully the last word (from me anyway) on this topic.... Hopefully too it is more in the spirit of a "Springer" final thought than a case of Olbermann's Syndrome....

Monday, April 26, 2010


Somehow, even without Facebook & Twitter, I still manage to have friends.

Three of them have sites I recommend today:
JASON LETHCOE has started a homesite for his alter-ego, CAPTAIN CRUMPT and some of his original creations, including "PIPE THE PELICAN", a combination of Fliescheresque innocence and Robert Crumb weirdness. Enjoy!

LORI MAXWELL is a fellow Art Institute of Pittsburgh alumnus. She is putting up her lively personal and professional artwork and illustrations for general consumption...

Not everyone gets to see BRANDON JEFFORDS artwork every weekday, like I do, but there's plenty to admire on his blog.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tribute to...who now?

Man this is the topic that just doesn't quit.

After spending two solid days ripping on this innocent little image, I was willing to give my inner snarkmeister a rest.

And then this arrived in the mail:
Not so bad you say? Surely we've seen worse. Here's the rub: it's the cover of an invitation from the Motion Picture Academy to come see an exhibit of CHUCK JONES' artwork.


Yes, CHUCK JONES, probably the most instantly recognizable visual stylist of all cartoon directors.

Hey, look, I am grateful they are doing it and look forward to seeing it, but how in the blazes is this representative of the Chuck Jones even a casual fan would recognize? Is it even from anything by him? Looks more like middling Freleng to me... (I like Friz, but the guys were worlds apart and knew it). I mean, with a whole collection to choose from, this is what they pick? Might as well put a still of Snoopy on there, or Betty Boop or the Kool Aid man. Imagine a tribute to Jim Henson featuring a shot of "Peanut." Or a Hitchcock film festival represented by an obscure still from the "ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS" TV show. It's a classic case of aiming for the ground and missing...and then not being aware of it.

I have a minuscule collection of original animation art but both the Chuck Jones pieces I own are more representative than this. Almost any google check at random would produce something better. Heck, even a sub-par gallery cel by him would have made more sense. It seems in the almost 4 decades since Joe Adamson wrote eloquently and hilariously about the sloppiness of cinema scholarship regarding animation, (something Mr. Adamson has done a heroic job of correcting), the general attitudes still prevail.

Chuck Jones is an icon. He created in his lifetime dozens, if not hundreds of iconic movie images. Whatever this is, it isn't one of them and he deserves better, especially from an organization as esteemed and knowledgeable as AMPAS.

For all you young people out there who love this stuff here's one warning: be prepared for a lifetime of seeing what you love get disrespected even when they are trying not to!

Friday, April 23, 2010


I am sorry to keep beating up on this image, but
the longer I look at it, the more it pisses me off.
Mainly because by my own personal standards, the design priorities of this series once actually stood for something. In subtle but significant ways, those priorities were gradually and deliberately undermined. A look that was successfully, intelligently and pretty solidly worked out gets basically ruined by "improvements." Two rules to come away with here, as far as I'm concerned:

1. Less is more

2. Leave well enough alone.

Here is a comparable frame grab of a group shot from season one of the original show. It just makes me smile. As deceptively simple as it looks, it displays professionalism that the more recent image lacks.For one thing, notice that in the more recent picture, the layout "rakes" the perspective of the floor line a bit, creating a diagonal that forces the composition elements into something of a diamond. Normally, a diagonal can create a sense of dynamism, which is often desirable, but here it is arbitrary. The figures, after all are literally, self-consciously "posed" in static positions to accommodate the idea of the whole family having their picture taken.Which makes one wonder: what is the camera doing in the image? All it does is clutter up space. If the intention was to create a posed picture of the whole family, why not just draw them as the "camera" would see them and give us a genuine portrait? Why include the actual prop and cramp the already limited space? Especially with ten (count 'em!) ten figures to cope with in a single, limited image!

Where is the camera that took the picture of them posing for this camera? Why not show that one too? The whole idea seems mangled. What is the meta-thinking behind a "candid" snapshot of a group consciously posing for yet another snapshot by a different camera?

If this is from a show (and not a one-off "gallery cel"), why not set up the camera in a separate shot?

Not least of all: notice also that no one (other than those with the last name "Rubble")appears to be looking at the actual camera but well to the right of it.

In the first series, more often than not, the floor line is a relatively straight horizontal line, somewhat irregularly drawn. The irregularity goes with the organic feel of the concept of a largely organic world, and the horizontal quality lends maximum space for the stylized figures to appear in. It also allows props (like the piano) to have a slight diagonal witout being forced into paralell perspective like the couch (above).
The nice thing about the straight horizontal horizons of the original series is that the show was concieved on a strict budget and very stringent schedules: lateral motion of both character and camera are easy and quick to plan and execute (as opposed to "perspective" actions). Someone, somewhere knew back then that it was better to work with the limitations of the whole setup instead of against them. Furthermore, the general flatness of it compliments both the scale and scope of a TV screen, and the level of detail in the characters is accordingly simple. And that simplicity goes to everything in the designs, including the boldness of the actual contours of each line.

Note too that the production image features six adult characters (only one less adult than the gallery cel) but everyone is clearly readable, drawn as simply as possible and no obvious tangents appear. Pretty impressive, given that this is probably not a key and was not intended to be viewed as a static setup, like the later one.

In the later work, the lines suggest a bit more form and complexity of contour, for reasons that make no sense to me. They have moved from looking like characters built precisely for the medium, budget and schedules they are intended for, to looking like hybrids of their old selves and the sort of more "sophisticated" designs we might associate with a more lush production.

And yet all this at a time when the actual money and time spent on each project was almost certainly shrinking, relatively speaking.

The subject of this art is also unsettling on a conceptual level. I don't know if this is from an actual show or if it is that despicable spawn of merchandising satanism known as the "gallery cel", but in either case there is a conspicuous sense of pandering to "Wilma's Mom" in the whole thing. This stinks of a marketing division barking forth the directive that "we need a Mother's Day image and we need it fast. One that particularly flatters "Grandma"." Even the colors here lean toward a mash-up of matronly pastels instead of the concise, well managed and limited palette back in the day.

Nothing against grandmas, but this is the last straw for a slapstick cartoon based on cavemen ostensibly derived from Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden character. When I was a kid the idea that a cartoon would appeal to either of my grandmothers made it automatically suspect. Here we see that the "target audience" of the "product" is in fact, the one person who in my day would have hated the whole medium. It's as if the whole point of cartooning has been utterly subverted and turned into its opposite.

Something that was originally, intentionally crude, stylized, grotesque and comic, geared to the manic impulses of kids, has been transformed into an icon to warm the hearts of old ladies. Utterly baffling. I guess if things had kept going, nuns would have been calling the shots at Hanna Barbera.

4/28/10 POST SCRIPT: Afterthoughts in the aftermath of related a CARTOON BREW link:

Reflecting on the comments generated by an unsolicited mention of this post at CARTOON BREW, I have a few things to add (and a couple to repeat).

Being linked on 'BREW is always something of a surprise, albeit a welcome one and I am grateful that Amid was kind enough to choose quotes from this post that were accurate and representative (I am always startled how many people miss a general point) Thanks Amid...

At the same time, several commenters felt any attention at all to this post seemed unwarranted on 'BREW, justifiably so: this was a piece of basic instruction/observation and not really intended to be newsworthy. Even I was surprised to see this on 'BREW, given that there it would largely seem merely an easy, gratuitous potshot at characters over half a century old, comparing their original state to where they arrived some 30 years later.

BREW Commenter "robcat" wins the golden protractor award for pointing out my diagram of the angle on the 1990's image is not perfectly accurate. I'd say I'm off by about 30 percent but the tilt still serves to crowd the group and make them appear to be standing on a diagonally sinking ship...

'purin' is made nervous by my "Grandma" issues...inferring that I am subscribing to a theory that women "emasculate" cartoons... I'd say guilty, but only in regards to this particular show (and a few others like it). You will see in the comments here, I am content to let "Grandma" cartoons thrive, there are many in this genre IMHO. Likewise, I have hopefully shown evidence throughout the site that I bear no ill will toward the female gender or the elderly, or even individuals who are of both categories. However, THE FLINTSTONES (1960) was, initially at least, a marked alternative to the classic territory of contemporary cartoon rivals, such as (coincidentally) Disney's SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959), with it's typically rarified elegance, balletic motion, central female protagonist(s) (and antagonist!), and floral color scheme. As if to delineate their own separate territory, THE FLINTSTONES was deliberately primitive, blunt, broad and rough, visually as well as conceptually. In a word: masculine, like the sitcom it was largely inspired by. Which in turn was not devoid of a strong, sturdy feminine influence, but in both cases, masculinity was essentially a (the?) dominant theme.

To see this arrive finally in "GrandmaLand", with the dominant alpha lunkhead reduced to sitting in the corner, largely obscured, impotent, dopey, literally marginalized, surrounded by a crazy quilt of lavender pink, violet and teal is, yes, "emasculating" in my view, and diminishing the central appeal of the original idea. Of course that appeal began to erode long before this image was conceived....

For some reason, for instance, very early on, the flexible goofyness of the original character designs was corrupted with "fixed" construction and other "improvements": coy postures of the Fred Moore type, Tom Oreb "scallops" or reverse curves or whatever you want to call them.In any case the sort of subtle "Disney" mannerisms that seem less well suited to a show designed for speedy execution... And so on with the color and layout etc... As I already commented, the effect of "prettying up" THE FLINTSTONES is comparable to hearing someone try to play Sousa marches on a harp. That's as good a metaphor as I can wrangle for this.

Mark Kausler, Animator/Director/Creator of the award-winning IT'S THE CAT (among other things), is also the most inerrant source of animation wisdom I know. He chimed in to sight George Nicholas as the animator of the "Season One" still. Glad to know it. The number of animators I can accurately call at the drop of a hat could be counted on fewer fingers than can make a fist...

SCOTT SHAW! bemoans the frustration of handling the more faithful ancillary art for the franchise while not being allowed time or access to influence the TV productions of the time, which must have been very frustrating...

Lastly, I think it's important to address that in my view, the erosion of the strengths of the original series is not something I would willingly lay at the feet of individuals, including those who made the cautionary frame shown here. My take is that the erosion was gradual and deliberate, yet not consciously coordinated. In any case, it was systemic, and not just isolated to this franchise, this studio or even this industry. The system that made the 1960 image was probably not ideal, but it was made up of a small group of highly seasoned and intelligent pros, working in what must have been some kind of harmony, in top form, inspired by the new medium, and under the direct supervision of a very small handful of focused genuine leaders. These few were still freshly minting the style so beloved by us purists, for a streamlined process still so new that literally they were likely unified as much by limitation of time and resources as by their considerable talent. No less important: they were all surely keen to make the venture of a prime time network series (the first of its kind) successful: quite literally the fate of the whole young studio (the success of which could only be guessed at back then)was at stake...

By contrast, the 'Homage to Grandma' done more than a generation later, was one of any number of "products" done around that time, in a factory fashion; the umpteenth in a huge, successful system that had become corporate, far-flung, over-managed, undercut by shrinking budgets and second-third- and -hundred and third guessed into a kind of consistent, familiar mass-replicateable mush. In addition, the later image was likely produced by at least a high percentage of my generation of animation artisans: and for all our passion we were not only startled by the animation boom that hit us around that time, but compared to the generation of FLINTSONES: SEASON ONE, we were vastly more inexperienced, undereducated, and frankly unprepared. We were grateful, but relatively few were as disciplined as our forebears. My take on the reasons for that is probably fodder enough for another post altogether...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Art School 101: TANGENTS

09/23/2012 UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, it has come to my attention that some are coming away with the lesson that I am recommending  "zero tolerance" for any tangent under any condition.

This is not true. I regret some of the wording that leads to this conclusion. I have no plan to re-edit the text below, but let this disclaimer serve as reminder that no "rules" are absolute.

 As Martin Fagan mentions in the comments of this very post, key aspects of the design of THE SECRET OF  KELLS movie were based entirely on tangents and they are very well worked out.  In a particularly stylized design system, intelligent tangents are not only possible but necessary and desirable. The operative word is intelligent. Very linear, very geometric stylization can tolerate tangents galore. 

The SCOOBY and FLINTSTONE examples here are used because the kind of drawing is not particularly stylized and the tangents are clumsily done. They're supposed to be volumetric (in a sort of default generic way) which in and of itself isn't bad but the awkward collisions of various shapes and lines are all the more conspicuous because of it. 

Friend, colleague and teacher MARK KENNEDY has done a series of art instruction refresher posts lately under the heading "A kick in the head" parts one, two and three on his essential " TEMPLE OF THE 7 GOLDEN CAMELS" blog.

Mark's first post concerns, fittingly enough, silhouette: probably the single most important of all art rules. I highly recommend it. He covers the subject so thoroughly I don't have much to add other than the anecdotal remark that I don't ever recall hearing anyone stress it's importance until my first week as a professional, back in Eric Larson's animation training course at Disney. As far as I can recall, even Preston Blair fails to mention it in his first ANIMATION book (he gets around to it in the second) and I don't even remember it being brought up much in art school, though we did cover negative space quite a bit, which is a roundabout way of thinking of silhouette.

Silhouette is one of those rules that is so important, so fundamental, that it isn't just important to animation: it is essential to clarity in all graphic art, including painting, sculpture and photography. I confess like many "bullheads" when I first heard about it: I immediately questioned whether it was 100 per cent valid in every circumstance. After all, when we are animating, we will have to draw many angles of a figure and many phases of action. True enough, but for that reason, it is important to remember to keep silhouette in mind for all key poses, unless the angle and composition forbids it. If you need (or want) to make an exception to this rule, you better know what you are doing and follow through intelligently.

To put it more simply:

If you can put something in silhouette, you should.

It invariably makes it read better. If it is impossible, make sure that your overlapping forms have good silhouette within the contour of the whole figure.

Allow me now, with Mark's permission, to sidetrack onto the related subject of tangents.

If silhouette is desirable, tangents are not. Tangents occur when lines or shapes begin to collide hap-hazardly, usually right on the contours they are describing.

Here's the Oxford definition of a tangent:

"a straight line or plane that touches a curve or curved surface at a point, but if extended does not cross it at that point."

I also expand the definition to include shapes that collide awkwardly and uneccesarilly, almost invariably compromising silhouette.

To illustrate, here are some examples from a glossy catalog of a Hanna-Barbera museum show that toured in the 1990's. First up: a classic image of the SCOOBY DOO cast on the run.

Never mind that I hate this show and the characters, let's note that there is an incredibly noticeable tangent at the point "Shaggy's" nose encounters the back of "Velma's" head. Forgivable one might say, since this is derived from a cycle of animation containing five characters all running.

Well, yes and no. While it would not be a crime in a single transitional frame of animation, as a key, it is less forgivable, and as a piece of art clearly cleaned up and codified as an icon, it just doesn't make sense. Someone either didn't know enough or care enough to rectify it. These are the sort of errors that always push H-B into the second rate category, even when they are trying to be first class.

In any event, as a still image, and even as a key, it would be better if there were any perceptible "air" between his nose and her head, or, failing that, if these two forms overlapped each other definitively, even if only slightly.

The area where "Fred's" arm encounters "Daphne's" torso is also awkward and technically a tangent, though less obvious than the one just observed, but again, in these circumstances, hard to rationalize.

Ironically, this complicated little area between "Scooby's" 'up' legs and the figures behind him has been relatively intelligently worked out. Also, For clarity's sake, someone has either wisely or accidentally kept a few legs from breaking Scooby's silhouette any more than necessary, although it's a toss up who's leg that is back there. Someone has decided to paint it as the "Daphne's" leg, but it looks more like "Velma's".

Also, this area, where "Scooby's" tail drags along the same line as "Shaggy's" leg is nearly a tangent, but avoids tangenting by slight degrees, which is all it takes to rectify such errors.

The fact that the tangent rule has been so haphazardly applied is something both to ponder and also to be avoided. Similar to the rule of thumb for silhouette:

If you can eliminate a tangent, do it.
If your tangents are intentional (or otherwise unavoidable), strive to make them as elegant as possible (or at least inconspicuous). (added 01/04/13)

Here's another example, from the same catalog: a group shot of the FLINTSTONES, characters I love, but from some crappy TV special done decades after the characters lost all spark. Probably the single worst tangent here is where "Wilma's mom's" hair intersects "Betty's" eye and collides with her pupil. Given that this is a slick cell setup, signed, published and probably sold at a premium price, this is just sloppy and stupid, beyond the weakness of even the artwork.

Likewise is the improbable way "Dino's" nose slips behind "Mom's" arm, despite the fact he is sitting clearly in front of her. Probably just an error of stacking or registration, but it is not the kind of error you want in an image that's supposed to be any kind of icon.

I'll have a little more to add about this image next time.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010


Two blogs of note:

My art school pal and erstwhile doppleganger MIKE GILLETT has revamped his blog "BLANK FIELDS" to concentrate exclusively on his prolific, crisp and funny print cartoon art. Check it out...

The blog of "Michel la Souris" (aka "PouchJunior") is a never-ending source of visual delights. If you have not visited before, prepare to dive in to a stack of hilarious and fresh character designs. People like this give me hope for cartoon-kind!


Monday, April 12, 2010


Hopping on the bandwagon of TODAY'S INSPIRATION Sheilah Beckett posts, allow me to add these scans of her illustrations from a 1959 paperback edition of Voltaire's classic satire CANDIDE. (click on each to enlarge image)

I could not have been happier to come across this book, bringing to life a favorite story of mine with pictures by a favorite artist.
Candide is a kind of gullible bumpkin of illegitimate origin who grows up in a castle of a petty Germanic baron. He falls in love with the baron's daughter Cunegonde, earning him the disfavor of the baron and causing him to be ousted from his homeland, which is shortly afterward invaded and razed.
Candide spends the rest of the story traveling the entire globe in search of Cunegonde, often accompanied by his mentor, the insipidly optimistic philosopher Dr. Pangloss. Candide's predisposition to believe the "best" in everyone and everything sets him up for every imaginable trick, con, misfortune and horror the world has to offer. Although eternally innocent, he has a natural skill for swordplay and manages to kill a number of characters here and there, albeit typically in self defense and he always feels terrible about it afterward.
CANDIDE is a satire, often describing unpleasant and even awful situations (including pillage, cannibalism and the Spanish Inquisition) with exaggeratedly mild euphemism. A number of characters are mutilated, molested and killed, although several manage to survive all three fates.
There's a bit of sex here and there, but again it is euphemistically and sometimes obliquely described for comic effect. Given the reputation for raciness paperbacks had back in the 1950's, no doubt the editors wanted to play this up a good bit in the illustrations.
In my opinion, the kind of soft "R" rated nature of these drawings strangely does not seem out of step with much of Sheilah Beckett's more "G" rated artwork. Her figures often strike me as having a hint of sexiness to them, although not in a gratuitous or crude way. Similar to my eye as the romantic sensuality of Art Nouveau masters, particularly Alphonse Mucha.
Candide and Cunegonde are re-united several times in the book, but some new course of action invariably separates them and Candide's travels continue. By the time they eventually wed, both are tired and jaded. By then they have collected a little ensemble of characters from their travels, including a scullery maid from their lost homeland, now the companion of a fairly liberal man of the cloth (above). After all their searching (in vain) to find "true love" and the "meaning of life," a very ordinary farmer offers the group some highly practical common sense advice and they all settle down on a modest farm. Everyone winds up older, sadder and while not exactly wiser, more resigned to the the less than ideal nature of humankind.
This is the last picture in the book, when Dr. Pangloss turns up near the end after having been thought hanged by the Inquisition (being an optimist, he takes it altogether cheerfully). A surgeon buys his corpse to dissect and study, only to discover that the good Dr. is not quite completely dead. By this point in the story however, pretty much all the characters are dead to his claim that "this is the best of all possible worlds."

Be sure to check out Leif Peng's series of Sheilah Beckett's posts (if you haven't already) starting here. Also see Sean Smith's site , Sean is Sheilah's son and is an artist and photographer in his own right. You can contact him for information about available prints she has done, including scenes from Shakespeare and Gilbert & Sullivan.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sheilah Beckett interview on TODAY'S INSPIRATION

Lief Peng has done a wonderful and much appreciated current interview with Sheilah Beckett, one of the great illustrators of children's books and other publications. He has several posts this week covering her extensive career, associations and latest work. Many beautiful images collected there, as wells as links to many more. At 97 and still doing stunning art, she is truly an inspiration.
(thanks Lief and Steve!)