Sunday, August 28, 2011


John K recently did some astonishingly creative cartoons for Cartoon Network, and I'll discuss one of them here. Actually, it's not a whole cartoon, but a half-minute promo for CN's "Adult Swim." Quick spots like this will attempt to lure adults to the late night show, while warning little kids that the cartoons are not for them.

In this cartoon a cute little Girl Scout and her friend head for the Adult Shack to watch Adult Swim Cartoons, and are stopped in their tracks by an irate Kirk Douglas-type character.

He's outraged that these little rugrats would presume to set their unworthy eyes on the ultimate adult TV show.  He chases them away then storms back into the shack, in the process executing one of the funniest walks in the history of TV animation. That's it...that's the whole story! I warned you...these spots are ultra-short!

Here we are (above) at the halfway mark with the curmudgeon ranting at the kids. This is no ordinary curmudgeon, but rather a fearsome, wild, Type "A", bull curmudgeon, the kind that in real life does a wide angle lean down into your face, allowing you to see  to see every microcapillary and boar bristle on his smoking hot skin.

The curmudgeon (above) turns to walk back to the shack. John, being John, chooses to turn him around in a way that makes it clear that he only has two dimensions.

There he goes...

To give punch to the unusual turn, John pops on a yellow background...

...and widens the shot.

The old, blue night sky background dissolves back in... Kirk completes his turn.

Now commences one of the funniest walks you'll ever see on TV.

John's really into animating on his own films now.

He loves doing dialogue scenes.

A lot of people think good dialogue depends on having the right mouth charts. That's not true.

Dialogue involves the whole face, and sometimes the whole body. You have to act the dialogue, and not simply put weird mouth poses on it.

Dialogue is a great excuse to explore emotions that we try to hide from the world. To see what I mean, film a friend as he speaks, then still frame it.

The chances are that you'll discover a whole range of mood changes in what appeared to be simple speech.

In still frames, even happy people appear to be alternately sullen, quizzical, pained, awed, surprised, bored, elated, depressed, suspicious, dominant, submissive, etc. In animation these quick mood swings can be hilarious.

Speech itself is kind of interesting, apart from the emotions it conveys. Sometimes the mouth doesn't want to say what the speaker commands it to say.

Sometimes a syllable can hide inside your character's mouth and he has to dig around for it with his lips and tongue.

When he finds it, he pushes it to the front and it explodes out,

Sometimes the whole body refuses to take orders from the mind. My own, Eddie Fitzgerald belief, (developed from years of watching John K, Scribner, Tyre, etc.) is that the body and face parts don't always work together in harmony.

The brain decides what emotion it wants to convey, and different parts of the body either conform or rebel. It's as if they had minds of their own.

Funny, blustery characters have a special problem with getting parts of their body to co-operate with each other.

You feel sorry for people like that. Even when they're trying to intimidate you, they have to devote part of their attention to putting down this inner mutiny.

Sometimes a character just can't take the weirdness of it all, and he begins to cry.

An instant later he forgets why he was sad, and puts himself to the task of preparing the next syllable.

But I digress.

Back to the film again: the curmudgeon pushes a man out of the way while he rants.

This reminds me of something McKimson was supposed to have said, that much of Warners' humor had to do with pushing people.

He arrives at the shack immediately after pushing the guy. His arm is still extended.

Now he rallies his whole body for a really big syllabic explosion.

I love how he telescopes his pushing arm (above) back into his body while he anticipates down.

BAM! This syllable gets a big accent. I wish I'd included more inbetweens, because I think the unattached tongue travels all over the mouth here.

'More fun with the eyes. No doubt this is justified by something on the soundtrack.

Watching all these inbetween expressions has been a ton of fun. I feel sorry for animators who only do extreme poses and let their assistants do the rest. Surely a really funny animator will want to do his own inbetweens.  On scenes like this an assistant is mostly for cleanup.

We continue to track along as he walks into his shack. He reminds me of a Trapdoor Spider returning to his lair to wait for another victim.

I can't help digressing again to imagine how a lesser director would have handled this final glimpse at Kirk. My guess is he'd have stopped the curmudgeon at the door, then on a new angle had him deliver a final line, and slam the door behind him. What a mistake! That would have given too much emphasis to the door. Like Marty Feldman said: "People are funny, not things."

Here's (above) an excerpt of the cartoon showing most of the poses I discussed here. Many thanks To John K who allowed me to bypass my computer problems and load these pictures remotely from his house.


Joel Brinkerhoff said...

I have started using micro-expressions in my work too after I discovered them in my research on body language and how to 'read' facial expressions. Pretty fascinating stuff.

Joel Brinkerhoff said...

It looks like John is becoming the Picasso of animation. I'm impressed and delighted by such far reaching design work. What next?

kellie said...

I love the Cyclops frames - crazy looking when they're frozen, but perfect in movement.

Anonymous said...

John is doing nothing less than a visual version of what Bird Parker did with Charlie Barnet's "Cherokee" tune just before Christmas of 1939. That little exercise revolutionized jazz and birthed bebop. John is doing nothing less by crawling inside the entrails and sinews of the animation organ to reconstruct it from within. With any luck at all, the animation medium will crap itself into a new level.

Steven M. said...

Johns work amazes me so much.

thomas said...

the drawing is really rich and multi layered. I can see the influence of all the drawing experiments, celeb caricatures, etc. that he's posted over the last couple of years. And that turnaround is something special.
Made me think ofFlatland

Jonathan Lyons said...

If I scroll down the page fast enough, it almost animates. Almost. So I'll have to watch adult swim to see it.

Joshua Marchant (Scrawnycartoons) said...

I approve the title of this post

This scene is fascinating. I've still framed through it a bunch of times looking at each individual part and there's still so much to say!

Besides the facial expressions and dialogue, the movement of the legs is crazy, it looks like he has a limp but it never draws attention to itself.

And the ears move in an unusual way, not boringly glued to his head. Like they move independently of it

& I just realized that the head, jumps off the body and then proceeds to shove itself. A masterstroke! I have to see the whole clip

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Joshua: Interesting analysis!!!

Martinus said...

I do agree that John is a genius, but I personally think these characters are very ugly to look at.
I have recently been wondering about what happened to the old Ed Benedict appealing designs. These designs seem like they come from one of the shows John hates. Also, the guy turning in 2 that a reference to that exact move in Fosters Home for Imaginary friends that John has referred to in his blog?
I obsessively read the Johnkstuff blog, and I can't ait for the newest post, but I really really don't like those designs.

Michael Sporn said...

Yeah, it's great but it's not cgi. Oh wait, cgi can't do this, can it?

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Martinus, Anon: I think he got the idea for the two-dimensional turn from Jim Tyre. It worked great!

I like the character design a lot better than you do. The skewered look of the character helps to justify the unusual animation.

Michael: Good point!

steve said...

I'm sorry Eddie but the best walk cycle of all time is in Stimpy's Invention. Its a belly button driven walk cycle. After all these years it still cracks me up!
skip to 2:23

Anonymous said...

The best argument against CGI I can think of is trying to imagine a Calvin and HObbes cgi movie. Even if you assume that you get Bill Watterson himself to write it and storyboard and it isn't made by some sort of Dreamworks type team that fills it with tude and pop culture references with all the characters breakdancing over the title in the promos....etc. I still can't imagine how you would be able to translate Calvin's facial expressions to cgi without making him look absolutely grotesque.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Steve: HawHawHaw!!!! You might be right! That is one funny walk!

Jason G. said...

LOL! Lets See Where He Gets With It Next! If You Happen To See John Again, Could You Ask Him When It Will Air, And If It Did, To Upload A Link To The Full Cartoon? T'Would Be Appreciated.

- Jason Goodwin

Anonymous said...

Seems like a caricature of every animation cliche.

We need more of this.

kurtwil said...

Thanks for info, Eddie!

So what do you think about JK's HE HOG MOVIE?

The software to make THE HE HOG MOVIE cost-effectively is out there - JK's already used the biggest part of it for the new shorts you discussed.

Do you think HE HOG's talent will be solely based in LA, or might there be collaboration sought from outside (possibly design the feature here, then ship it overseas for actual production?).

I hope you'll be one of the bold and the few called to make HE HOG a reality.
There needs to be animation beyond tired princesses, inverted contour series and the drek most 2D animation has morphed into.