Monday, April 29, 2013

Sidebar: some (probably idiotic) ideas on drawing cartoons.

Obviously I like Hanna Barbera characters.  You might find that tedious... but I've loved these guys for over 50 years.  And I ain't about to stop lovin' 'em now!!

My posters wind up taking a semi-realistic look... that's assuming, of course, you think they look like anything at all.  One reason is I get such a kick from using the Photoshop effects... but that's a pretty lame reason for drawing and painting a certain way.  It should be something deeper than that. 

Well, let's see.  I think I like the semi-realistic look to my posters because I remember those old ViewMaster wheels.  For those of you who don't know what a ViewMaster is or was (they still make 'em, by the way) it's a device where you look in through the viewer ... resembling sort of a pair of binoculars... and look at something resembling tiny splices of acetate film - like movie film - set to opposite sides of a cardboard circle.  As you worked the lever on the side of the ViewMaster it would shift the circle to a different set of film/pictures.  The effect was 3-D and it was and still is marvelous.

Now, you could look at the Grand Canyon, or New York City, or the Space Needle.. or what have you.  But they also had ViewMaster wheels of cartoon characters.  To make the 3-D effect work rather than taking pictures of drawings there would be pictures of models of the characters.  And something else.

This I imagine was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  I mean, check out the detail!  Somebody worked their butt off making this set! 
First, the models by themselves were great.  They were very cleverly and skillfully crafted.  I loved those photos... the sets were so wonderful, the colors were just right... and I remember I had one where Huck stepped on a rake and it hit him in the face.  Emanating from his face were colorful stars...3D stars... made of light.  I still don't know how they did it.  But the combination of the physical models and the "light stars" was fascinating.  I loved that wheel... until my brother pulled all the little pictures out of it one day and destroyed it.
For instance, check out the Flintstones.

Somehow Yogi escaped from Jellystone and carjacked somebody's Austin Healy.  Sheesh.  Mike Angelo oughta set him straight.
Anyway, those 3D models added a dimension to my favorite cartoon characters that really impressed me.

I'm hearing myself drone on and on so let's move on to what will be Project Number Four.  Now, here's my theory.  We draw with shapes.  We use lines to define our shapes.  Thus, quality of line is important... but quality of shape is critically important if we want to communicate our ideas.

When I blue pencil a character I don't much care about the quality of the line.  I leave it rough and sketchy.  It's the shapes I'm after.  Once I feel I've captured the shapes, then I put a layer over that blue pencil rough and trace it with a high quality line.  I think this puts things in the right order: shape takes priority over lines.  But I only barely know what I talking about.  There's loads and loads of professional artists out there who'd probably say I'm fulla shaving cream... but I'll bet not too many cartoonists are among them.  You draw with shapes.

For Project Four I think we'll concentrate on some of the shapes used to create a character.  Communicating poses will be important.  For instance, running.  We can pose a character in a realistic running pose but quite frankly I don't find that terribly funny.*  I like the way HB cartoons would run: only their legs and feet would do the work.  Otherwise, they were straight up and down with their arms at their sides.  Now that's funny!

In fact, that will be the first set of poses for Project Four.  Characters that run.  Stay tuned.

*One technique that got used a lot by cartoon studios was rotoscoping.  You fix up a projector over a drawing table and statically project a film of some physical activity - frame by frame - and trace each frame onto a separate sheet of paper.  Then you modify the drawings to look like your character and when filmed it appears your character is doing the action.  This was especially useful for, say, complicated dancing routines where animating from scratch would be unacceptably complicated and time consuming. 

The problem with rotoscoping is it looked too real, too natural, to be very funny.  I never enjoyed it.


  1. I was very much in love with my View-Master when I was a kid and I actually still have it to this day, along with a couple of vintage reels from Disney and some comic books. That aside, it's too bad that your brother destroyed what sounded like an awesome reel, but I think it's amazing how the 3D reels inspired you to become an artist.

    1. Well, "artist" is a funny term, isn't it? Naw, but seriously, those 3D wheels were fascinating. They brought a whole new dimension to what was already a defining experience. I'm glad to have grown up in an era when the cartooning of funny characters was economically viable... viable? They were HOT properties generating tons of revenue. Consider that the Flintstones STILL to this day are used in branding products. That says something about the type of society we were and, to a much smaller extent, still are.