Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Froggie Jump

Here's another exercise from the Blair book:
Currently I'm reading Richard Williams The Animator's Survival Guide.  Excellent book, by the way.  He really makes you examine the sequences and helps you understand the thinking behind them... why things are positioned the way they are... why some sequences require more drawings than others... for that matter, why other sequences require less... how to read a "X-Sheet" and relate it to the number of film frames required to cover a certain amount of time (still a significant concept, I imagine, even now when most these things are done on a computer).

Now, notice the frog exercise.  We begin as Froggy is in mid-jump.  Then he reaches the ground and rests momentarily.  Then away he goes and again is in mid-jump when we leave him.

The resting frog is positioned closer to the left than the right; the remainder of the sequence is 3 drawings.  Thus, the detailing of him descending occurs a little faster than the sequence of him bounding away. 

Personally, because I get more out of seeing him spring into action rather than resting after having sprung... so to speak... the position of the resting frog and the fact that the spring takes a little longer seems right.

Just to set the record straight, I'm not planning on becoming an animator... but I love cartoons, and I love cartoon drawings... so it's probably wise to understand a little bit about the making of cartoons.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Running Lad

This one was a real challenge, a real learning experience, and as frustrated as I got in attempting to draw it... I'm glad I did.
There are several contentious experiences contained in this little learning package... and package is what it is!  This was hard for me to draw, I won't pretend otherwise.

First, I'm using an Intuos drawing tablet and that means working with digital files.  My normal practice is to pull up the original picture for a reference filling one half of the computer screen and my drawing space taking up the other half.  Great for drawing each figure one at a time.  But guess what happened when I compared the first two side-by-side?  They might have been close cousins but they clearly weren't the same little boy.

Lesson one: back in the day animators worked with multiple references and light boxes.  They could overlay a new sheet over the previous drawing so they kept the basic proportions and features consistent from one to the next.  That won't happen when you isolate one .tiff file at a time even if you have the original series as a references.  Little variations will creep in.

So I had to think like an animator.

I eventually figured it out but at first there was pronounced variation in the head shapes and features.  Thus I learned to draw this bodies first... referencing one to the other so they were fairly consistent... and drawing the heads last.  Again referencing one to the other.

What should have been a one-night exercise took me the better part of a week.  Whew!  Puff puff pant pant.

Oh well, onward!

Monday, December 16, 2013


Blair teaches several action series detailing the basic poses to running, walking, shuffling, sneaking, etc.

Here's my take on his running exercise:
The shaded portion helps to distinguish right from left of the running figure.  But I also noticed a time-saver to his design.  You only need to draw half the figures... well, 5 out of the 8, let's put it that way... and the other half is quick!

Can you see why?

Blair, man, he thought of everything!!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Hands... a la Preston Blair

Let's keep the ball rolling with some hands:

I'm not advocating that all cartoon characters should wear gloves.  I'm not even sure why they used to wear 'em... looks funny, I suppose.

Anyway, the thumb-and-3-finger look is highly believable in these examples.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dandy Duck

Preston Blair exercises continued.

Similar to last night's exercise, here's "Dandy Duck" in various stages of development:
The first very rough figure shows a red "action line" describing the character's attitude... both emotionally and what direction he is leaning.

I think this is how you're supposed to do it.

I notice that these pencil drawings come out very gray-ish... including the background which is very gray, not white the way I intended it.  I think I figured out why that is: this blog site automatically adjusts the brightness and contrast of pictures.  Because these are lightly pencilled in, they are adjusted with the brightness brought down and the contrast brought up to render the highest visibility.

Not the way I drew it but... works for me.

Wise guy bunny

Prescott Blair exercise showing the build-up of the character, drawn by yours truly:

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Squash 'n stretch

Still working with the Preston Blair book.  He gives lots of examples of "squash & stretch," which is how animators make their creations appear to have solidity and flexibility, how they appear to react to outside forces... such as a ball bouncing down steps.

Every time the ball hits a step it "squashes," or flattens a little, as a result of impacting a hard surface.  As it bounces again it stretches or becomes somewhat streamlined as it sails through the air.  What would be the point of animating a ball that stays exactly the same shape regardless of whether it's hitting the floor or going airborne?  There would be no character - and no interest - to such a ball.

Similarly, characters faces squash and stretch in reaction to different emotional situations.  Here I've drawn several of Blair's examples. 

First this dumb mutt has a completely vacant look on his face.  Then he notices something: "Huh?"  Something that amuses him.  Makes him smug and silly.  And then something about it seriously pisses him off.  So much so that he barks ferociously.

Heh heh.  Dumb ol' mutt.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Learning from Preston Blair

If you want to learn to draw cartoons, get the Walter Foster book by Preston Blair and start cracking!!

Mr. Blair was a wonderfully talented and enormously accomplished animator (check out the entry to Wikipedia).

All the basic information is here... and you can easily see that the Hanna Barbara animators were quite familiar with him.

Here's an example.  In one section titled Skeleton Foundation you'll wind up with this:
See the blue pencil "skeleton" that defines the character?
...that with a little shading becomes this:
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention.  Tom Cat shown above (from Tom & Jerry) is only in the first edition.  Due to copyright issues, the currently available second edition uses only generic characters.

As soon as I found that out I just had to have that first edition.  I found it free online... but you'll have to hunt for it.  Let me say this: it is available.  There's even a combined volume 1 and 2 out there just filled with great Preston Blair animations and characters.  Again, you'll have to be very resourceful and hunt for it.

You'll note that Mr. Blair's style is the rounder, more robust type of character than the minimalistic characters I love so much by Hanna Barbara.  But it seems to me to be well worth the effort to learn the fundamentals of animation and character development this way... and then later drift to a minimalistic approach that will be, by way of comparison, a walk in the park.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pick a character... any character!...

... and learn to draw him/her/it until you can do it with your eyes closed.  I'm nowhere close to that with Hokey Wolf but I'm leaning.

Here's the HB (now Cartoon Network) model sheet:
The other night I had some fun with it drawing different poses and whatnot:
Then I analyzed a little bit and derived my "ratios":
Hokey is classic HB at 4 heads high.  Slightly less than 1 head width.  His big feet are approximately .75 head.

His legs are short, about .75 head.  It's easy to make his legs too long... but then he doesn't look like Hokey.  One thing I find myself doing is erasing and making his legs shorter.

Pay special attention to his snout.  From a side view a horizontal center line would run just behind the eye.  It's equa-distant from that centerpoint to either the back of the head or the tip of the snout.

I don't know what to say about that hat... it occasionally changes sizes.  Eyeball it to make sure it isn't too big or too small.  Remember: the hat imparts no utility except to emphasize his coolness, his savior-fair, his Machiavelli-ism.  Hokey is a slippery character.

Just now I used my ratios to draw this pose from the model sheet:
I think that's starting to look more like Hokey.  Ratios are a wonderful thing, no?

And again...
Even though I tried sticking to the ratios, in my opinion the legs came out a little too long.
And like so...

It would be easy to draw him lopsided and out-of-proportion and say, "Hey, that's just my style.  Don't fence me in!"  But in young and aspiring animators the studios would look for people who can draw to spec, or "on-model."  They don't need 20 different interpretations; they need the bulk of the drawings to represent a specific character.

Well, I can't draw him with my eyes closed but I know more about Hokey now than I did 2 nights ago.  Onward.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Character Sequence

It's interesting to tear apart cartoons... so to speak... to observe all the nuanced drawings that describe a character: such as what he or she is thinking, doing, feeling, trying to do... etc. etc. etc.

Here are 5 poses from a sequence where Hokey is trying to convince a witch that he mistook her for a glamorous movie starlet:
See if you can imagine what he's saying.

This sequence is from "Which Witch is Which?" featuring Hokey Wolf, his little pal Ding-A-Ling, and of course the Witch.  With a cameo appearance by Hansel and Gretel, who Hokey helpfully directs to the highway, "Follow it for a quarter mile and you're in town.  Nice kids."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hand drawn fire...

... is just dandy! 

One of the reasons I was disappointed in my last piece is I didn't learn anything... and I was so afraid hand-drawing the little fire that I resorted to Photoshop trick which depicted a mighty fine fire, no doubt, but was a bit of cop-out.

Other than learning a little more about Photoshop I didn't learn anything from the last piece.

I put this picture up once before; it's Drake Brodahl's contribution to the Eaton Gallery tribute to Hanna-Barbera:
I love the colors and the shading.  i love the textures.  This is the product of an extremely experienced artist.  I'm very jealous, quite frankly.

But one thing I really love is that fireplace.  So I decided to isolate the fireplace and just draw it, nothing else, including hand-drawing the fire.  This is what I came up with:
Such simple shapes.  And such great colors and textures.

This was a lot of fun to draw and although it looks very simple, getting the textures to look something like Brodahl's was a lot of work.

All drawn in Photoshop except for the fire which I drew in ArtRage that, when it really comes down to it, wasn't entirely necessary... Photoshop has brushes with a chalk texture... but it's fun to switch between programs.

Lesson for today: you draw with shapes.  Once your shapes are committed that's when you go nuts with the colors and textures.

Shapes.  And the simpler the shapes, it seems, the better.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Project Firelight: final rendering

Well, if the object was to produce one of those artistically simple but gawd-that's-awesome! compositions... I didn't even budge the needle.
It's the same thing I always do... overblown, overwrought, too much hoping the complexity will cover for essentially a blah design.

But it is Hokey and Ding roasting marshmallows... at least give me that.

Too much reliance on Photoshop wound up with highlighting in illogical places.  But...

Friday, November 8, 2013

Project Firelight: a better idea for the background

Here I've added the foreground foliage, top and bottom:
... and if you ask me, this makes the scene a little friendlier.  A little less likely for Druids to appear coercing a virgin for sacrifice and instead, a nicer place to kick back and roast some marshmallows.

I added a few bore holes in the trunk... woodpeckers, probably... and highlighted the overhanging foliage a bit as if they were capturing the firelight.  Unfortunately Venus, Jupitar and Mars got obscured a bit, hanging low by the horizon as they were.

Firelight in the forest can be incredibly scary or warm and inviting.  Just depends on your perspective.

More to come.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Project Firelight: One idea for the background

Well, somehow the "cartoony-ness" always seems to evade me.  Anyway, here's one possibility as to the background.

The fire is a trick I learned in Photoshop.  Later we'll compare the pros and cons of Photoshop flames versus painted flames... I could very well be wrong about this decision.

Compare to the blue pencil layout.  Some changes have been made, no doubt, but overall it's still the same composition.

Only thing is... what I've got here isn't spooky.  It's downright horrifying.  It looks like some type of sacrificial ritual is about to be performed in this little copse of trees.

Because the flames look as if they're being blown around in the wind this picture isn't saying "Summer" to me.  It's saying: cold and crisp, as in late Fall.  One of those clear, freezing nights of the sort you get in the mountains.  So as I say, I could very well be making a mistake with the Photoshop flames.

Also, I didn't include the foreground foliage... neither the weeds from the ground level or leaves from above... because that type of cutsi-wootsiness doesn't seem to suit the background.  Again, I could be wrong about that.  But forground foliage would serve to miniaturize the scene making it safe and cartooney.  So maybe that would be a good thing.

We shall see.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Project Firelight: first blue pencil

Here's how I visualize the basic layout:

Hokey to the left: Ding to the right.  Kickin' back and roasting marshmallows. 

A few thoughts:

  1. The thin line across the midpoint suggests where the "foliage" will stop and the night sky will begin.  There's not enough room for a lot of detail... like a full moon partially covered by clouds (that'd be great!)... so I'm thinking midnight blue highlighted by some bright stars.  A clear night... maybe no moon to explain the brightness of the stars (gotta think of this stuff).
  2. The sky is always lightest at the horizon and gets progressively deeper in color the further up you go.  Since the horizon in our picture is obscured by foliage, the gradient representing the darkening sky will be in fairly advanced mode where we see it at the midpoint.
  3. There will be foreground foliage both from the ground level (weeds) and above (leaves)... just as in Arriaga's picture.  Things too close to the camera appear out of focus.  So, too, will our foreground foliage appear softened.
  4. The furthest foliage points between the tree trunks will be absolutely jet black.  Our guys aren't camping at 6:00 in the evening... it's gettin' on midnight!  The sky by contrast will be a very deep... and I visualize, a very satisfying... indigo blue.  Stars will be so bright as to be almost be white.
  5. Light cast by the fire will of course greatly highlight our guys, the rocks (with sharply contrasting shadows) and the nearest tree trunk.  The trunks further away, though, will have their lower areas illuminated by fading orange light that can't climb very high.  Firelight is very bright in proximity, very faint as you get further away.
  6. The nearest highlights will be accented by bright, bright, edges.  That again is the nature of firelight.  Intense in proximity, very soft and faint at a distance.
 I want the light to say, "late Spring, early Summer... where the air holds the warmth and there is little to no haze in the distance.  Good night for a fire because you can kick back; warmth isn't an issue.  Don't huddle around the fire; lay back and lose yourself to your thoughts."

Friday, November 1, 2013

Project Firelight

Quite frankly I'm disappointed in those last 2 posts.  Ignore them.

Here's what we're gonna do.  I really enjoy the pictures from this blog: Daniel Arriaga.  This guy works for Disney and he really knows his stuff.

I like all his pictures but I love the lighting to this one:

 I'll be honest with you, though, not too crazy about the rabbit and the owl.  I'm sure I could learn to love these characters if I got familiar with them... but I don't see that happening soon.

So I got to thinking: I love the contrast and the lighting to this picture; I'd like to see it done with other characters.  But who... who would be a better casting choice?

And then it occurred to me... it's so obvious.  Why, none other than Hokey Wolf and his lil' buddy Ding-a-ling, of course:

Right? Right??!! I mean, riiiiiiiighhhhhtttt!!!!???? Hokey and Ding-a-ling oughta be nice and comfortable around that fire cooking marshmallows.

Well, OK, at least that's what I think.

So here's the game plan:
  1. We draw and paint the background, including the fire.
  2. We draw, paint and insert the 2 characters.
  3. We then shade and highlight to capture the mood of a fire in the dark woods.
This is a mood exercise, people.  We're after that dark, spooky, but fun vibe of camping out in the woods and enjoying a fire and one another's company.  The fun keeps the strange sounds at bay.  Don't even think about bears, or mountain lions, or wolves.... wait a minute!
Stay tuned for Phase 1.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Simplicity: Drawing a Kitty Cat

In looking over some of the very excellent animators' blogs I continue to be impressed at the essence of simplicity in design.  I'll try imitating that simplicity.

For instance, to draw a cat start with a very simple shape, like so:

Add a blocky kind of head with big ears...

Fill in the eyes, mouth, nose, whiskers...

...and add a little tail.  One kitty!

Here's a side view.  Start with very simple shapes:

Choose your colors and color it in.  Add some shading... actually, I'm not sure what I'm doing with this...

I guess if you slap out hundreds of these simple little drawings it becomes a way of life.

Monday, October 21, 2013


Well, it's been about a month and a half.  I got real busy at work.  I had a bad cold.  I had several things I had to take care of.

But mostly, I lost my direction and I'm only now picking back up the thread.

Something I notice about most the great cartoonists' blogs... none of them are afraid of simplicity.  Quite the reverse, they thrive on it.  So I thought: here's a good way to back into learning.  Learn to simplify.

Now, this is the type of "squiggle" I used to do back in high school (many, many, many years ago).  I never thought too much of them because they were "easy" and "quick."  Quite the opposite - or so I thought - of what "real" cartooning ought to be.
I used to do thousands of these "squiggles" when I was a kid. 
But what many of the great cartoonists seem to do is to take very simple ideas like this one and run with it.  Imagine, you can color it in:
... you can really tweak the colors: can shade it if you're so inclined and give it a 3-D effect:
OK, maybe I overdid it on the shading...
... slap on a background and viola!... not a half bad lil' cartoon.

This whole exercise took maybe half an hour... and that was mostly fiddling around with the colors.

Any bean or kidney shape can be a swell cartoon character.  Although it feels like a return to bad habits... well, what can I say.  Maybe somewhere it says cartooning should be quick and fun.

I am inexperienced enough to admit: I have absolutely no clue.  Just draw.  Don't fixate.  Draw!

Well, I guess it's back to my squiggles.  By the tens, the hundreds... the thousands.

Moral of story, don't be afraid to simplify.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Yet another...

I call it "Self Portrait of the Artist... with a beer."  Mmm-hmmm.

Friday, August 30, 2013

...And Another

I used to go for larger bikes than a 350.  I had a CX500... a great little Honda... that I rode all around Southern California.  Then I graduated to a Gold Wing.  But I always missed that 500.  It was a wonderful bike.

Anyway, my girlfriend's nephew had this CB350.  I used it to pass my driving exam for my motorcycle license.  It was such a fun little bike. 

The nice thing about this art project is I knew exactly what it would look like before drawing one line.  That felt good.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Still out to lunch...

... but here's one that I sorta like:

Some tropical foliage.  Kinda sorta.  Enjoy.

SketchBook Pro with a little finishing in Photoshop CS6.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Out to Lunch...

... for maybe the rest of the year as I venture out into my personal "voyage of discovery" (hyark... barf... urrp...) learning my elements as I draw them.

Everyone's gotta go through it.  I just wish I had done this 50 years ago.  I'm not so proud of everything that I've drawn these past weeks but I'll post a couple that don't embarrass me too badly.

All hand drawn... no ruler tools or anything like that.  Not so great... but everything was done in SketchBook Pro.  I didn't use Photoshop for anything.  Great little exercise in shading.  Decent.  Still learning...

Folks at the SketchBook Pro Facebook page seem to like this one.  Crazy... because I was convinced it was coming out so horribly.
Right now I'm working on a painting of some tropical foliage.  It's coming along.  Nothin' special.

Voyage of discovery.  Yeah.  But slowly things are starting to "take."  Give it time.

To be continued.  At some point.  Anyway...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

UPA building design

I tried some drawing exercises of buildings.  I'm not particularly happy with the result so I'm going to continue to draw until I start producing something I can show.

In the meantime I put together this composite of a tall building from the UPA cartoon Magoo's Masterpiece.
See Magoo on the sidewalk?  He enters the building and camera pans up to the roof.  (Sorry for the side-gaps in the composite... I tried to put this together in Photoshop and I guess I still have some learning to do).

Apparently I missed the furious blog-bulletin board discussion from perhaps 3 or 4 years ago regarding UPA.  Some folks think they are an atrocity... others love them.  If I had chimed in I would have been in the camp that loves them.

I mean, look at this building.  It was a pan shot... and a very funny one... starting with Magoo marching in the front door through a police cordon and continuing up to the rooftop.  The quality of the drawing is so impromptu, so spontaneous... it required an extra-large poster board, that's for sure.  And yet the shapes and the colors are perfect.

Pete Burness was the director, and design is credited to Sterling Sturtevant (who incidentally was a gal,
Credits panel for Magoo's Masterpiece

Well, a lot of folks have a lot to say about UPA and the modern-art style they brought to cartoons.  This gentleman wrote a dissertation on that very subject and I happen to agree with him.  UPA represented a break from Disney and their realistic style of cartooning.  I love them both... and apparently so did Ward Kimball when he adopted the style and oversaw the Disney classic Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom.*

*Incidentally, this is an extremely clean copy and the use of color is extraordinary, demonstrating that Disney did UPA better than UPA did UPA.  I'm sorry... there's no beating Disney.  Hands down they were the best.  One man's opinion, of course.  But at age 5 I began watching UPA and absolutely loved their cartoons... in other words I "got" it.  Apparently not everyone does, or maybe they get it but they dislike what they get.  I dunno.  I do know that an appreciation of their style has stayed with me through the rest of my life.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

It is tough letting go...

I mentioned somewhere on this blog that I've never taken a drawing lesson.  That is probably patently obvious to anyone following along... but it also means that I never experimented and developed a "style."

My comfort zone allows just this: if I use a photo for reference, I try to draw the photo exactly.  I don't stylize the drawing... I don't selectively add or subtract for the sake of achieving a look.  It is a tough habit to undo... but a critical skill that I imagine most art students eventually master.

We don't draw "things," we draw representations of things.  So I'm learning.  But it's tough to let go ... no, to loosen my death grip... of a bad habit that gives some semblance of comfort.  But it doesn't feel so comfortable when I can't spontaneously create cartoon-style drawings based on photo reference material.

Well, blah blah blah.  I'm rambling.  So let me give you a concrete example.  Today I "reversed engineered" one of Frederick Garner's sketches for a set design to Powerpuff Girls, the western episode:

This is my interpretation of Gardner's already very loose, liberally stylized drawing.  It's a breath of fresh air to me... especially considering how - if it were me - I'd clutch the stylus in a vice grip and try to faithfully reproduce every board, every nail, I'd try to get the perspective exactly right... I'd make an impossible project of it.

Gardner probably jotted this clock tower in a few minutes.

So I set the stylus down, marveled at the simplicity and beauty of Gardner's drawing, and took the pledge.  Simplicity.  Aim for simplicity first, last, always.

If we seek only to achieve simplicity, then no project becomes too difficult.  Doesn't that sound right?  If we convey the simplest of shapes, of lines, of concepts, then no drawing is beyond our ability.  Because our rendering is simplicity in itself.  Ommmmm.... study your navel.  It's starting to make sense.

And if that's our philosophy, that in our hands every drawing becomes simple, then we should be able to draw just about anything.  Wouldn't you agree?  I mean, we should be able to jot out a sketch of... of... oh, I dunno... say Buckingham Palace!... with ease.

Shouldn't we?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Project Five: stepping back and reassessing

I had some fun yesterday transforming a Google map structure into a model.  That would be fine if I was creating a realistic drawing... but when I noticed I spending way too damn much time playing with the perspective grid... gawd that thing can be infuriating... at that point I asked myself: exactly what am I doing?

The object is to draw "cartooney" houses... not realistic houses.  So, back to the drawing board.

Not so long ago I saw Paranorman and what I really loved about that movie was the look and design of the sets.  Although the artists at Laika Studios created actual physical models, the structures looked so wonderfully cartooney.  See if you agree:

You can see the amount of work that goes into these sets:

Think anybody at Laika cares whether the perspective lines are exact?  Neither do I.

So I got to thinking: what about my Google house?  How to make it look cartooney?  Well, it seems Laika prefers 'em thin and tall and they really exaggerate the angle of the roof.  Big doors and windows and squeezed dimensions that couldn't possibly be comfortable for the inhabitants. 

With all those Photoshop tools, couldn't I do that with my house?

What do you think?
Man, that's a far cry from how it appears in Google Maps.  But tall and thin, with exaggerated roof angles... it's a cartoon house!

I'm starting to really dig this pad!

I think to capture the "cartooney-ness" you don't even need a guide.  Draw it freehand.  The crazy angles will come out like a cartoon, like it or not.  See if you can avoid any perfectly straight lines.  That's tomorrow nights' project.

Stay tuned.