Showing posts with label art school. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art school. Show all posts

Saturday, April 08, 2017


Every art school used to have a huge collection of white plaster casts. Some still do. White allowed the student to see shadows more clearly and shadows are a lot of what pulls a composition together and suggests drama.

I'm writing this to suggest that we expand that collection a little bit to include a few colored mannequin heads. Mannequins don't have the same educational value as classical busts but the best ones are nice and cartoony and are often a good way to drive home a few basic lessons about what to emphasize on a face.  What are those lessons? Read on.

Most of the old flapper-era female mannequins favored clear, sharp, Catherine Hepburn-type chins.

Real women on the other hand, often had weak chins, and would probably have preferred to emphasize their eyes. That wasn't so easy to do. According to an article I read the older kinds of eye makeup had problems with dry spatter and required constant touch ups. More about eyes later. 

Back to sharp chins. They show to best advantage when the head is tilted back. That reinforces the haughty, aristocratic image that fashion likes to convey.

 Somewhere along the line a long, vertical mannequin faces were introduced. I think of it as a modified Asiatic look but you can find African masks that look a bit like that.

 The sharp chin never went out of style, though. It got new life when it was combined with the forward-thrusting muzzle. Here the whole bottom half of the face is pushed out. It's a very cartoony look.

For a while bulbous foreheads were in. How that started I can't even guess.

The big game changer was the invention of non-spatter eye make-up.  That changed everything. It allowed for an emphasis on the eyes rather than the chin and that led the mannequin makers to tilt the head down.

Thin faces give greater eye emphasis so the wall-eyed, wide-angle, thin look took over.

Mens mannequins were less influenced by beauty products. About the only major face product change in my lifetime was the use of shampoo to replace bar soap in the washing of mens' hair. Shampoo made straight hair possible and wavy hair models disappeared. Chin emphasis persisted, though.

We men also liked the ultra-manly J. C. Leyendecker look. Later came the Arnold Schwarzenegger look.

The Arnold look receded and the nice guy next door look (above) took over. That was followed by the Urban Hipster look, which is what we have now.

I'll end with the observation that the hippies were never represented in the mannequin world. They had disdain for fashion and the fashion world retaliated by snubbing them. Fascinating, eh?

Friday, February 28, 2014


That's (above) the old Chouinard art school in the 30's, the school that later morphed into Cal Arts. It was Walt Disney's idea to combine the Chouinard Art Institute and the LA Conservatory of Music so that different artistic disciplines would be taught under the same roof. It was an interesting idea...cross pollination and all that...but did it work?

One problem was that formal modern dance got very serious more than half a century ago...too serious... and dancers committed to that might not have been the best people to inspire comedic animators.

You have to wonder what would have happened if a showbiz dancer like Bob Fosse had supervised the Cal Arts dance program. Imagine the young Fosse lecturing to an animation class.

He would have shown them things like the Astaire tilted hat, the Jolson extended arms, face-open palms like a minstrel, clowning pantomimes, hiccuping joints, locking arms and legs that take a pose then suddenly drop it, tiny stepping like Jimmy Durante with knees bent and arms dangling would have been quite a show.

Fosse believed in keeping the actors moving, in establishing a stylized, confident flow that's never contradicted by a wrong gesture. He was influenced by what vaudevillians used to call "eccentric dancing," and he combined that with ballet.

Wow! What a teacher he would have made! What an influence such a teacher might have had on subsequent animation styles. Hmmmm....if any Cal Arts students are reading this will you write to Theory Corner to let us know how the dance/music/ animation synthesis is working out these days?

Monday, May 20, 2013


I had a great Saturday! For one thing I got to hand out the coveted Theory Corner "Percy" Award, named for Percy Dovetonsils. The Percy, for those who've forgotten, is an award for excellence in comedic animation by a student in the LA area.  This time it went to a really funny guy, Mike Pelensky (above) at the Laguna School of Art and Design. Will somebody please hire this man?

Incidentally, if you're not familiar with that school, you will be. The new leadership takes  animation very seriously, and they're located near a spot so beautiful that you'll think you're on the French Riviera.

It's a pleasure to look at Mike's work. The guy has a knack, no doubt about it. He also has some of the world's nicest parents.

Here's the Percy (above) as it is now. Later versions will include a gold frame around a somewhat smaller Percy Dovetonsils, and cartoony white writing near the base.

Later in the day I made arrangements with a friend to pick up my copy (above) of the new IDW Mad Magazine book.

 Here's (above) one of the inside covers.

If some of the pages look yellow that's because the originals photographed for the book turned yellow with age. Speaking as a collector, I value that. I also value the printer's notes, white out splotches, and coffee stains. The pages here are the same size and state as the originals.

Later that night I went over John's to watch the latest UFC fight. Wooooow! If you tuned in then you saw what the announcer called the best kick delivered in the history of the UFC.

Before going to bed I took a close-up picture of my face in the bathroom mirror. I feel silly for posting this, especially since it calls attention to what looks like a really bad shave and to skin covered with mange. What I like about this picture is the inherent drama in close wide angle facial shots. Geez, what you can accomplish with ordinary snapshot cameras these days is nothing short of miraculous!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007



What I'll try to do here is put down a few thoughts on the state of art schools in general (which includes traditional colleges offering an animation/art program) and animation courses in particular. The biggest recent change in animation curriculums is that they're almost all computer-centered. Every school wants to be known as cutting edge, preparing students for the jobs of the future and all that. As a consequence drawing courses have diminished in importance and now you can graduate from art school without being able to draw or paint. That's an historic change! Imagine that! The practice of hundreds of years reversed in my own time! How did such a big change come about?

Well, the computer obsession is the obvious first answer. That's odd because the favored animation of art students -- what they watch for recreation and inspiration when they're not being forced -- is anime, which is 2D. Students seldom watch 3D for fun unless its video game graphics. You get the feeling that they don't really like 3D all that much but they're persuaded that learning it is the only way they'll get a job. Is that true? Who gave them that impression?

The obvious answer is, "The box office told them! 3D is the only animation that makes money!," but is that true? 3D has been in TV animation for well over a decade now and what are the most popular animated programs? The answer is "The Simpsons," "South Park" and "Family Guy," all 2D. OK, south Park is computer animated, but it's deliberately made to look like it's not. No computer TV that looks like computer TV has been a prime-time hit. 3D has beaten 2D at the cinema box office but what was the competition? "Treasure Planet?" "Home on the Range?" These are executive-driven films are not at all what I would call fair competition.

My own guess is that high school teachers and art schools turned things around; high school teachers because they scared their students to death with the "college-or-scrub-toilets-for-a-living" rhetoric, and art schools because they took in so many non-artists that the foxes are beginning to rule the hen house.

The upshot of this irresponsible advice in high school was that every student who wasn't academically inclined went on a frantic search for colleges that offered easy degrees...and what college is easier to graduate from than an art college? In unprecedented numbers non-artists flooded art schools and they were backed up by big, tax-payer-backed student loans, so they were not turned away. How will these students pay back those loans? Remember when art schools had strict entrance requirements?

The influx of non-artists into art school is changing the nature of art school. A lot of students don't feel comfortable with traditional art and are much relieved when they can bail out into computers. Very often non-artists run art schools and they tend to repeat the non-artist mantra: "Everything will be computers right around the corner." That's only a half truth. 3D certainly is the future of animation but good animation programs are not by a long shot right around the corner.

Present-day 3D programs like Maya are clunky and unresponsive and there's no relief in sight. Art schools should be preparing students for a longer transition period but instead they're putting all their eggs in one futuristic basket. Maybe that's because 60s-type people run the schools and that generation was obsessed with what used to be called the "generation gap." They watched their parents lapse into irrelevance and they learned the lesson... on pain of death don't fall behind the trends. Unfortunately for them the anticipated trend in 3D was slow in coming. Today, all these years after "Tron," 3D animation is still expensive, insensitive to cartooning and expressive acting, has difficulty creating appealing characters, and is hard to use.

Even so, the fantasies of non-artists about how art should be done can't be ignored. They're training the next generation of artists and that'll have its effect. We still have to meet the challenge of anime, which is the immediate threat on the horizon, and that battle will likely be fought with 2D. My advice to young animators is to learn how to draw, cartoon and animate effectively, in addition to whatever computer skills you can pick up. If John K ever starts a school then kill to get into it. That's the real article. One day 3D will be as easy to use and creatively useful as a common pencil, and we'll all wonder how we got along without it....but we're far from being there now.

By the way, my own experience with art school management has been the opposite of what I've described here. Everybody I've worked for has been an artist, sometimes really good ones. Good art schools with competent and idealistic managers do exist and they're worth seeking out.

Friday, February 23, 2007


There were lots of art schools and lots of type-A art teachers. Here (above) an angry art teacher goes berserk and possibly beats the class with another student.

Paintings often had to be done on a tight schedule. Here (above) an artist puts the finishing touches on a painting as it's being delivered to the buyer.

According to Daumier one painter paints from nature while another paints from what the first painter painted.

Some painters had fancy studios...

...others painted in hovels. No heat, no bathroom. Rats.

Here (above) is Montmare which, because it was situated on a steep hill, had low rents. Lots of artists here.

Here's a Lautrec poster (above) . Is it for the Moulin Rouge? Does it say "The Queen of Joy (Life?) with Victor Jose"? What the heck is that about? Whatever the real meaning the picture, it reminds me that a number of Lautrec's other posters for that club depicted the customers rather than the stars. Sometime the posters seemed to advertize the interesting people and friendly women you'd meet there. Lautrec did a couple of paintings from the vantage point of someone walking behind adventurer-customers looking for excitement.

The Moulin Rouge Gardens. Outdoor entertainment, good food, spirits, a beautiful giant elephant...looks good to me. Why don't we have more places like this now?