Thursday, May 31, 2007

AM I JOHN'S TOADY??


No, but it's funny that someone on the net called me that. What is a toady supposed to do anyway? As a toady I assume it would be my job to defend the opinions of the Toady Master,
but defend them to whom? Can I talk directly to the Toady Master's adversary or am I supposed to talk only to the adversary's toadies, you know, toady to toady. I don't know, it's too complicated. Anyway, I'm not a toady. John and I disagree about too many things.
Here's the first thing we disagree about (above), Wally Wood. How can John not like the guy? I picture Wood coming to Spumco for a job and John grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and shouting, "Get out of here you bum, and take those pathetically amateurish drawings with you!"


And what's this about Jack Davis (above) being over-rated? OK he uses fish scales to denote ground. What's wrong with that?


John is completely unmoved by John Sibley, the Disney animator who did the best scenes in the Goofy sports cartoons. He calls Sibley "whacky," which is Johnspeak for what clowns do. Clowns walk around with red noses and slap shoes and shoot people with seltzer water. Believe me, it's not a compliment. Me, I love Sibley and regard him as the funniest animator Disney ever had. (Sigh!) I don't think we'll ever agree about this.
John and I disagree about a whole bunch of things but one of the things we do agree about is that cartoons need to be funny. They need to be written funny, drawn funny and animated funny. That doesn't sound like much to ask for but you'd be amazed how difficult it is to pull off.
John had to figure out a whole new way of writing stories, a new way of organizing a studio...he even figured out a whole new drawing style and when he encountered a problem getting it on TV he co-invented Flash animation so he could put it on the net. Now he's trying to teach that drawing style to potential employees on the net and in the process he's created a blog that's unparalled in the industry. The lad has been pretty busy.
Oops! There I go sounding like a toady again! I think I'll wrap up now so I can hunt for some flies.

REPLY TO MARLO MEEKINS

About six months ago Marlo wrote in to say that she'd identified definite differences in the male and female face. Well of course there must be differences but did she get them right? None of my anatomy books mentioned it so I had to postpone comment. Well thanks to an old, German anatomy book from the 1920s I think I'm finally ready to make an answer.


Marlo said that men have sloping foreheads more frequently than women. Compare what the book calls normal foreheads on the two subjects above. I'd say her belief is confirmed!


Marlo also said that men have deeper-set eyes. Compare the two sets of eyes immediately above. Once again, Marlo's belief is confirmed!



She also claimed that men were more likely to have downward-facing noses. Hmmm...I'd say suspicion confirmed!


Marlo also said that men were more likely to have weak chins than women. Unfortunately I don't have pictures that address this so for the time being I'll have to mark this one unconfirmed!
It's off-topic but I couldn't resist scanning a few extra pictures showing different kinds of male chin. Here (above and below) are both bold and weak examples.





Here's (above) a "Swingblade" chin.




Good Grief! I don't know what these eyes (above and below) are supposed to show but they certainly look psychopathic!



Sheeesh! If someone ever stares at you like this (above) turn the other way and run!



This book is terrific! It's even better than Everard's, though it wasn't intended for artists and isn't as comprehensive. It really demonstrates that there's another , more fun way to present human anatomy.









Tuesday, May 29, 2007

THE LATEST ART COMIC ANTHOLOGY

Remember when comics used to be fun? Kids used to devour the stuff! Not anymore. They've abandoned them and who can blame them? Now comics are for adults.
Boy, adults really messed up. Here's some samples from a new, hardcover comics anthology that's in the bookstores now. (click to enlarge). It's called "An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories." In an effort to explain the title the editor tells us:
"In comics words and pictures are not a mixture but an emulsion. Perhaps calligraphy might be a more apt, if still incomplete, metaphor. the cartoonist uses his own set of marks (or 'visual handwriting') to establish a consistent visual vocabulary in which to communicate experience, memory, and imagination..."
Translated into English that reads, "Expect nothing heroic, manly or interesting. Let us introduce you to characters you'd never want to meet, doing things you'd never want to do. This is the end of Western civilization and perhaps you'd like a comic to read while you're contemplating suicide!"

The character in the last panel (above) says, "...there are worse things than being in prison. Just being alive is worse. Maybe if we're really lucky someone will strangle us in our sleep!"



Here's (above) a rousing story.


Sorry for the slanted frame (above). Maybe the slant will add a little interest to the obsessive horizontals and verticals.
What is this modern obsession with sterility? The whole second half of the 20th century is full of it: shoebox architecture, abstract bebop, Heiddeger, Derrida, giant canvases containing just one color, political correctness, emos, museum shows that are just a bunch of sand and broken glass on the floor, boring novels, ...well, it would be a long list. What's going on?
Gee, art comics are a pretty depressing subject. I'm going to scroll back to the naked girls!

Monday, May 28, 2007

PETER SELLERS, JONATHAN WINTERS AND STAN FREBERG




Gee, that was a pretty steamy post last time! Well, that's the nature of theories. They can get pretty intense sometimes! Maybe we need a change of pace. Whaddaya think of the video above? It's Peter Sellers doing Richard III doing "Hard Days Night."





How about a half minute commercial (above) of a vegetable Jonathan Winters being scraped off a plate?





How about a prune commercial by Stan Freberg? Freberg is an amazingly effective salesman. His commercials always leave you chomping at the bit to buy the product.





Last but not least, Here's (above) a talk show host who's unable to stp laughing at the affliction of his guest.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

MATISSE vs. PICASSO


I don't expect readers to like these pictures. They're not really the best work of these artists. Even so, they're useful for illustrating one of the most intense rivalries in the history of art and for showing how competition stimulates artistic growth
Usually the back and forth started with Matisse. He'd paint something and Picasso would try to top it. Matisse had a reputation for being drastic and cutting edge and and that's the way Picasso wanted to be regarded. What better way than to take whatever the most drastic artist around did and do something similar that's even more drastic?
Here (above) Picasso takes the Matisse picture of the woman surrounded by pattern (topmost) and does his own, even more stylized version of the same subject. It's not one of Picasso's best. It's too forced. He's being drastic just for the sake of being drastic. I imagine that Matisse must have been mad when he saw it. How irritating to have someone following you up, repainting your pictures in their own stupid "look-at-me" style.

Or maybe Matisse wasn't mad. He's on record as having exchanged pictures with Picasso and he was always enquiring about his health. Maybe Matisse valued the stimulus of the competition.


Eventually Picasso's knock-offs became more and more confidant, so much so that Matisse would sometimes copy Picasso. Compare the Matisse (black and white above) with Picasso (immediately above). Somehow Picasso made the knock-offs into a coherent style. Well, whatever works.


In an effort to out-do his imitator Matisse sometimes went to far. In the picture above Matisse tries to be mathematical and cold like Picasso and succeeds too well in a sense. This picture has none of the warmth we normally associate with Matisse.


Picasso (the picture above), on the other hand, for once succeeds in being more warm and appealing than Matisse. Amazing!
The reason I put these pictures up was to suggest that we can learn something from their painters' rivalry. Maybe it's a good idea to pick an illustrious target and try to beat him somewhat at his own game. The idea isn't to steal another person's ideas but to use them as a springboard to create your own original ideas. Sometimes new ideas have to form around the nucleus of an old idea.
I hope I don't create monster copiests by talking like this. I used the word "copy" to describe what Picasso did but as you can see from the examples, Picasso did a lot more than copy. Picasso was influenced but he didn't steal.

Friday, May 25, 2007

WOOD'S DISNEY PARODY


Here's a parody of Disney's characters from a 1960s satire magazine called "The Realist." Wood was actually a big fan of Disney. Maybe that's why the quality of the artwork is so good. Click to enlarge.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

JOHN K'S AMAZING BLOG


I should really break this post into two parts but I'm getting sleepy so I'll take a chance and try to say everything I have to say at once. Don't worry, I'll go fast.


Before blogs we had to rely on fan magazines and books for information about animation. Fan magazines were hard to get hold of and books tended to be coffee table books which were expensive and tended to take a safe, middle-of-the road position about everything. Every book started with Egyptian wall paintings and zoetropes. The coffee table books had big, wasteful margins, I guess to make them appear high class.


Cartoonists seldom had a say about what was in these books. Maybe Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas did but no one I know. Putting these things together was usually the job of professional writers and Vasser-educated New York editors. Funny cartoons were considered low rent and were hardly mentioned.

The first glimmers of an improvement came with Joe Adamson's "Tex Avery : King of Cartoons" and Leslie Carbaga's book on the Fleischers. At last something for the funny cartoonists! It wasn't much but it was something and we all eagerly bought the books and copied the model sheets. I'd hoped this would be the trickle that would become a cataract but that isn't exactly what happened.

Anyway, fast forward to the present. Things are a bit better now but the wine and cheese people still control publishing and there are only a few coffee table books about funny cartoons. That's OK, now cartoonists have the internet. Finally we can talk to each other and compare notes. We can put up favorite scenes on YouTube and argue about them. Now that the fans and the people who actually draw cartoons have a voice there's a big shaking out going on. Reputations are rising and falling and who knows who'll be left standing when it's run its course.
There are a number of good animation opinion sites but the best of them all in my opinion is John K's "All Kinds of Stuff:" http://www.johnkstuff.blogspot.com/ This is the most intelligent discussion of funny cartoons that I've ever seen.
Recently John wrote an essay about McKimson's characters shoving and being brash to each other all the time. According to John that's the way mild-mannered McKimson probably viewed his co-workers. John implies that we ought to be able to do things like that in cartoons too. Whether you agree or disagree you'll have to concede that this is the type of discussion cartoonists should be having. Let historians argue about who directed what and when. We cartoonists should be talking about the best way to have a character fall on his head.
In other posts John talked about comedic acting and what a pity it is that we see the same five expressions on characters all the time, even in features. He passionately argued for a re-evaluation of cartoon acting, backing up his argument with grabs from classic cartoons and "The Honeymooners." Once again you have to concede that this is the kind of discussion cartoonists should be having. You won't get it from clueless writers and executives and you won't get it from coffee table books. This is what happens when cartoonists talk to cartoonists.
John's blog is full of original ideas about background painting, writing, drawing, caricature, animation, direction, character design and the like. Before his blog all we had were Disney fans putting up old model sheets. You wonder why other cartoonists (including me) seldom put up our own theories in such an urgent and forceful way. My guess is that we were all anesthetized by the books that were out and were lolled into thinking that only professional writers and editors knew enough about the subject to have opinions. Well that era is gone. John shattered it.
What lies in the future for John's site? I don't know. I always worry that he'll get too busy to keep it up. He certainly shows no sign of caving in to convention. Recently John tackled stereotyping in cartoons. No one wants to bring back racism or gay bashing but the drunken Irishman, the buck-toothed upper-class Englishman, the thick-lipped black man, the Mafioso Italian, the effeminate gay, and the whooping indian were genuinely funny and no adequate substitute has ever been found. Speaking as a cartoonist to other cartoonists he seems to ask, "Wouldn't you have fun drawing stuff like this?" I can't wait to read the comments!

Well, it's a jumble but I'm too sleepy to rewrite it. My apologies to authors of good will who were slighted in my too-brief history of animation publishing.


THE BEST SODA IN THE WORLD


A question: let's say you're in a restaurant, the kind where you pour the drink yourself...do you take whatever the machine offers straight or do you mix and match your drink?

The reason I ask is that kids take the mixing of drinks very seriously. You see arguments about it. A kid who steals another kid's recipe is considered lower than dirt, but it happens all the time. That's why some kids won't pour their drinks while other kids are around.

Now I hate to brag but my kid was one of the all-time great drink mixers. She was at the peak of her power when she was eleven. In those heady days she could mix a drink that was a million times better than anything you could buy off the shelf. Honestly, I used to look forward to it! I used to bring neighbors to drink the stuff. The kid was the Robert Parker (the famous wine taster) of soft drinks! Well, it didn't last.

I hate to air family secrets here but the day my kid hit twelve the whole dream came crashing down. The great mixer lost the knack! It was pathetic to see the once confident little fingers shaking with indecision. Through sullen eyes she watched mixture after mixture flush down the drain. I tried to help but she pushed me away. Fighting back tears she would drag herself to the car and ride home with her head buried in her hands. Defeated, dejected, no good to anybody(so she thought)...her days of glory were gone forever.

Well, that was years ago. She's all better now. The reason I'm writing this is that I found one of her old recipes in a book! We raced to the local restaurant and tried it. It was delicious! Not as good as her very best stuff but still top-notch! What a treat! Here dear reader is the formula. Try it and tell me what you think!


Root beer..................40%

Dr. Pepper................25%

Sprite........................20%

Red Fanta.................8%

Lemon aide................3%

Iced Tea....................4%


For some reason the recipe emphasizes that the Sprite and lemon aide not be added last.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A TRIBUTE TO ROBERT RISKIN

A lot of fans don't like Frank Capra, the director of films like "It Happened One Night," "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" and "It's a Wonderful Life." I guess he's too sentimental for some people. That's a pity. His best films always feel directed and they always feel written, and that's no small achievement.


A lot of the credit goes to his long-time collaborator, writer Robert Riskin. I just saw "Mr. Deeds" and I have a copy of the screenplay in front of me so I thought I'd pick a couple of pages and talk about what I like about them.


Synopsis of the sequence: Mr. deeds takes his girl to a restaurant where a bunch of writers make fun of him for being a greeting card poet. When he realizes what they're up to he stands up and gets mad.



Let me digress for a moment because the context of these pages is important. Immediately before the restaurant sequence people in a cramped, crowded car driving in the rain were frantically yelling, "Hurry! Hurry!" Capra fades to the dry and spacious restaurant interior where dreamy, romantic music is playing and the camera tracks past busy waiters and customers to Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur.The sequence is wonderful already, and nobody's even said anything yet!

I forgot to say that the restaurant is neat, beautiful and civilized but not gaudy. The film celebrates civilization. Capra (as he always does) fills the scene with a kazillion extras and the gypsy violin music is to die for. What a contrast to the frenzied shouts in the last sequence!


The cuts are incredible! The shots are clipped and have an avant-garde feeling but the gypsy violin and the friendly faces of the stars soothes over the drastic cuts and we hardly notice them.


So what does all this have to do with Riskin's script? Everything! The script allows the visuals and the ambient sound to carry the beginning of the sequence!!!! Nobody says, "Isn't this a beautiful restaurant?" The waiters don't talk to each other. The script knows how to be quiet! It's a cinematic script!


There's some terrific dialogue between Cooper and Arthur, and that part has it's own build and climax, then the wicked, big-city writers invite the couple over to their table.


The writers speak fast and furious and each taunts Deeds with his own style of speaking. The word music is incredible! Imagine that! The writer wrote this section with word music in mind! When has an animation writer ever done that? This whole part of the script is a set-piece to show off the sound of the human voice!


OK ,that takes us to the beginning of the script that I reproduced below.



Mr. Deeds gets mad and the word music shifts to oratory as he scolds. I love oratory! I read a how-to book that advised writers to avoid it...bad advice! Audiences love to hear the roar of the aroused (the right word?) lion!




Deeds punches everybody out and one of the writers apologizes and offers to take him and his date out on the town. This doesn't exactly move the story forward but the dialogue is beautifully written and the actor that delivered it did a tour de force job. He was able to do such a good job because the writer had the courage to write a literate and complex piece of word music for him.


I also call your attention to the fact that Riskin gave this beautiful performance piece to a non-essential actor who we hardly see again in the film. Animation story editors would delete set pieces like this without hesitation which is why the Deity will no doubt send them all to Hell someday. Screen writing is more akin to opera than to straight narrative, as Riskin rightly perceives.

Monday, May 21, 2007

SHORT-LEGGED GIRLS ARE SEXY!

OK, long legs are sexy but we know that already.


What I'm here to say is that short legs are sexy too. Anyone who likes Fred Moore's girls knows that. I wish I could have found an example of the way Moore draws thick arms and thick, short legs on a slender body. It shouldn't work but it does.


Here's a short-legged girl compliments of Kelly from the Kelly Toons blog. Click to enlarge. BE SURE to click to enlarge! When I saw this I almost fell off the chair! Man! If this is an example of short legs then count me as a believer! If this girl's legs were longer she'd still be beautiful, but she'd be...how can I say it?... merely beautiful...not falling down voluptuous as she is here. It's harder for a long-legged girl to be voluptuous.


Well. I made my point I guess. As an afterthought I'll mention that whoever took the black and white picture above was pretty smart. look at the way the legs serve as a foil to the top and the way the shoes serve as a foil to the legs. And the background: the wall is perpendicular to the camera but the desk and chair make a "V"-shaped chevron. For an amateur photographer like myself that's interesting. To judge from the shadows the main light seems to come from the right. Either there's one elevated diffused light close to the model causing the floor shadows to fan out or there's two main lights and the floor shadows were manipulated in Photo Shop. I don't know which.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

HOW walt BECAME WALT


Here's an interesting question for Disney afficionados: when did Disney the businessman who flirted with the idea of bailing out and going into real estate, become Disney the visionary? According to Barrier's "The Animated Man" it came about as a result of a nervous breakdown sometime in 1931 at the new (well fairly new) Hyperion studio (above).
Up until 1931 Disney was a hands-on producer who did a lot of nuts and bolts jobs at the same time he was agonizing over the cost of the films. By this time he'd acquired heavy hitters like Freddie Moore, Art Babbit (actually Babbit came on in '32) (both shown below), Norm Ferguson, and the like. Thanks to guys like this and relentless pounding from Walt the whole tone of the studio had begun to change. The word got around that you had to be good to work at Disney's. This should have made made Walt deliriously happy but instead it made him miserable.
I think I can imagine how he felt. Think of the awesome pictures he must have seen on the walls, of the conversations he must have had! Everybody else seemed to have the interesting jobs. He's the guy who had to worry about quality and deadlines and the cost of paperclips. It got to the point where he'd cry on the telephone. Finally he walked out and took a trip with his wife across the continent.

Apparently the new Walt came out of what he saw and thought of on that trip. Nobody knows the details. What we do know is that he returned full of enthusiasm and energy and with a new conception of himself as a kind of coordinator and full-time visionary. He delegated everything that could be delegated and threw himself into "conducting" the artists. This meant intense sweatbox sessions which stimulated immense creativity among the artists. Rudy Zamora came up with overlapping action, Ferguson with moving holds, and Moore with big improvements on squash and stretch.
The culmination of this effort can be seen in "Three Little Pigs" (1933). To see how far Disney had come in a short time compare that film to "Steamboat Willie" which was done only four years earlier. While we're at it lets compare Steamboat Willie (1929) to Fantasia which was on the drawing boards in 1939. That's a difference of only ten years!!!!!
To be fair to Fleischer fans I have to add that Betty Boop's stunning "Snow White" was done in 1932 and was also the result of an amazing evolution of technique. Why the Fleischers caved into Disney's less funny and cartoony style is hard to understand. Was it the Hayes Office? Did the Hayes people make it difficult to use jazz soundtracks? I don't know.
Thanks to Jenny Lerew for the photo of the animators and Fred Osmond for the caricature of Disney.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

MORE LIFE DRAWING REFERENCE


Here's some more pictures from my favorite reference book for life drawing. I don't have the book at hand but the author/photographer's name is John Everard. It's a British book from the 50s but some libraries have it and there's always ABE Books. Click to enlarge.

Sorry a couple of the pages are crooked!

















DAUMIER AGAIN

Are you tired of seeing this stuff? I love it myself. Daumier was instrumental in beginning newspaper cartoons so every cartoonist should raise a glass to him occassionally. Here he is (above) on a roof striking a heroic pose for his fans.

This bust (above) was in the Daumier book but it doesn't look like Daumier did it. I include the caption in case that helps. Anyway, it's a terrific caricature isn't it?





Here (above and below) are three drawings by Daumier. Boy, Daumier and Thomas Nast together certainly were a scourge on the back of bureaucracy.


Bill linked to some of these on his site but I thought I'd publish them again because these copies seem to be larger with more detail.