Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Project Four: Entering the final stage

All the elements, including the background, have been colored in.  I haven't begun on the final shading but thus far things are laying nicely together.
I like the primitiveness of it.  In fact, I wish this had been my picture because it captures for me what a "cartoony" background is all about... oddball shapes, odd angles, lots of color.  Colorful but not gaudy, not garish.  Good cartoons are pleasing to the eye.  And Mighty B! (in the early seasons at least) is a good cartoon.

I encourage all of you to try drawing these buildings.  You don't have to put the entire composition together but at least take a crack at some of the elements.  They are each and every one a learning experience.  Gotta tell ya, I'm having a blast.

A word about that apartment building to the right.  I wanted to capture the rough texture of cement or stone siding so I brought that drawing into Photoshop and "pixilated" the walls.  In Photoshop at least the siding became almost shiny to look at.  It might be the color.  Even a touch of guassian blur didn't tamp down the shininess.

Study it closely and see what you think.  I'm not unhappy with it but it didn't turn out the way I expected.  Things seldom do.

Stay tuned for the final shading.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Project Four progress report: police station and cafe

Gotta tell ya, I'm enjoying the haaaa-le out of this project.

After establishing my blue pencil layout I went to work on the police station first.  I love the colors and I love the suggestion of texture to the walls... just enough stippling to give the impression of rough bricks:
The only thing missing is the American flag from the original.  I'll add that before the project is over.  This is not the final product as I'll add my final shading when I've completed all elements.

The original picture has that "brick stippling" texture in droves and I'm not sure how they get it.  Either they add to a basic color layer with a good texture brush or they Photoshop the walls with a pixelation filter, then add a slight guassian blur.  Either way is highly effective to suggest bricks.

Next I got to work on the little cafe.  Here's my progress:
Love the awning.  When I fit them to my layout sheet, this is what we get:
... and when I make the layout layer visible, here are the two buildings in context:
That's as much progress as I made so far and I worked most the afternoon on it.  So, pretty slow going.  But good things are worth waiting for.

More to come.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Project Four: Fitting your elements to your composite drawing

One thing we can see from the original painting, there is a lot of "front space," dead empty space comprising the street probably arranged that way so cars or other action can be depicted in front of the police station.

That is the purpose of backgrounding, to lay out the terrain for your action.  Backgrounds don't necessarily form beautifully composed pictures.  They're "working pictures," they have a job to do and being pretty is not always one of them.

Here I've arranged my blue pencil elements to form my composite rough: blue pencil element per layer.

You'll note that everything appears transparent and obviously leaving it this way would be too confusing to paint.  So we erase those parts from each layer we don't need, giving us this:

Additionally, I've put some curve to the curb!!  ... to create a bit of an eye path so the straight edges don't seem too bland.  The perspective isn't perfect but it never is.

So now we paint.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Project Four: Blue pencil elements

Step 1: draw your elements.  Here I have the blue pencils:
The police station
The little cafe next to the police station
Apartment building right...
...and apartment building left
The paddy wagon in the police station parking lot
And the background over which we'll lay all our elements.
Step 2: arrange your elements and fit them together.  This might require some resizing.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Project Four: Blue penciling the model

Using the police building from the Mighty B! cartoon Space Evaders as my model, I've worked up the blue pencil:
As you can see, it's shaping up to be a funny building.

I don't like relying too heavily on the model... and you'll notice it varies pretty much. But I like that the perspective lines really help to define this building.  The perspective isn't exact - it shouldn't be, it's a cartoon! - but there's enough to give it a feel of solidity.  I encourage you to try it.  Think of it as just a box with some steps and doors and windows and stuff.  Not too hard but lots of fun.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Is there an art director in the house?

Continuing with the last post's theme of using reference material to create a suburban background, I made some obvious choices and came up with this:
Well, it's a house.  Which either faces west into a setting sun or east into a rising one.  In either case, it's pretty straight forward and not too exciting.

A studio would have an art director overseeing background work so as to maintain the look and feel of the project.  I doubt if the uninspiring background I drew would pass muster.  In fact, I doubt if it would be approved beyond the blue pencil stage. 

You'd probably want more dramatic angles; maybe a height perspective.  Whenever you have the opportunity watch Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated.  Buildings are always featured from a bird's eye view or a worm's eye view.  In either case, the effect is melodramatic.  This is the very obvious way we create interest in our sets and then draw attention to our characters and the action of the cartoon.  Makes sense, doesn't it?

Maybe we ought to try drawing a couple of established background shots before continuing.  Here's a couple that I like:
This is from Mighty B! which is supposedly based in San Francisco.  I really like this imaginative cartoon and I generally like the sets.  This example of a police station is great. 

Note the background: enough info to convey hilly San Francisco but otherwise extremely simple.  A squiggly line, one side painted green, with some translucent rectangles to represent buildings. 

This set would be an excellent drawing exercise because there it satisfies 2 competing priorities: an impulse to "overdraw" and make things look almost photo-realistic (shading, perspective, color) but also the necessity to keep the composition very simple.  Melodramatic, but simple.

Here's Huckleberry Hound's Foreign Legion fortress:
Now compare this very early 60s H-B background to the recent Mighty B! background above.  Again, the battle for competing priorities has been won by the need to keep things extremely simple.  The shading, the light, the perspective, the colors, the textures... all highly realistic.  And yet the composition is so simple: we never loose sight of the fact it's a cartoon.

An art director would keep the background artist's impulses in check.  By all means incorporate realism, but keep the composition so simple we remain focused on the characters and the action.  We don't need distractions, we need simple and declarative paintings against which our action takes place.  We want consistency in color, in tone, in the look and feel...

Well, never too late to learn.  Let's treat the police station painting as an exercise and see what it reveals.  Onward, then!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Urban landscape: some reference material

As I said in the last post, many stucco homes from the '60s were little more than stucco boxes on grass.  They often weren't terribly photogenic or a lot of fun to look at, but they were by and large functional and comfortable.

So let's pretend... we're background artists for H-B back in the 60s and our assignment is to create some home exteriors, front and back, to a very typical So Cal home.  To get some ideas you might flip through Sunset magazine, or the local paper, or maybe take photos of homes in the neighborhood.

But if you were really pressed for time - or really resourceful - why not grab one of the free real estate mags that littered every newsstand, business foyer, grocery store entrance and elevator lobby?  Lots of reference photos and the price was right!

 If you flipped through the listings you would probably come up with a few pics like these:

You'll notice my eye is attracted to the homes where the garage forms an L to the home proper.  A little more interesting angle-wise.
For backyard shots how true do these photos ring?
If I knew one guy I knew a thousand who lived in homes in which the backyard looked exactly like this!
These are some pretty typical shots of So Cal homes from the 60s.  If we keep it very simple... and these are very simple homes... we should be able to churn out a couple of backgrounds.

Refer back to the H-B examples in the last post.  See how they kept details to a minimum; they emphasized only those things that added to the ambiance?  That is to say, no need to include the dying back lawn or the crappy cinder-block side fence. Grass is green; fences are wood.  Angles are straight, walls are clean, windows are whatever you want them to be.  And wherever you want them to be.

When you draw you are drawing representationsHow do you want to represent the house, the lawn, the fence, the windows, a tree?

Now, let's say concurrently you were given the assignment to make a pool scene featuring an ultra-modern house.  Contrasted against the house should be nighttime cityscape.  Flipping through your glossy magazines you might have found these:
Here are some good examples of how one artist - I believe it is Scott Wills - handled the ultra-modern house:
Ultra coolness?  You can watch this background work in "action" here: Buy One Get One Free.

Edit [6/06/13] Check out Mac George's take on the futuristic house:

Feelin' the urge to draw some backgrounds?  Let's get started!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Change of pace: suburbia

I always loved the early '60s world portrayed in so many H-B cartoons.  You only had to watch them for a short while to understand the studio was based out of Los Angeles and everything had a Southern California look to it.

Having grown up in Southern California it was very easy to relate to the feel of H-B cartoons.  In fact, they provided for me a template on how a modern, suburban landscape should be.  Overall H-B backgrounds were very faithful to how San Diego and Los Angeles actually looked ... back in the day.

Here's a nice example of the back of a house, leading out to the backyard:
Let's ignore the cat in the chef's hat for the time being.  This is a nice background layout from an Augie Doggie cartoon.

H-B background artists would do these paintings quickly.  In one interview Art Lozzi said he'd normally do around 15 in a day.  That is a lot of painting.  I imagine you learn to become very economical and very decisive when doing so much painting.

Notice the perspective drawing, including the back steps, and the design to the windows.  The lawnmower is a nice touch.  The back fence is essentially two perpendicular straight lines to give a little bounce to the perspective angles of the house.  The tree is little more than a lollipop tree.  Also notice the flagstone walkway and the shrubbery next to the house.  Lots of nice, clean, economical elements that hold up well together.

We shall draw and paint such a background, you can count on it!

Here's another example from a Loopy de Loop cartoon:
This is much more modern design.  I love the stone planter with the big frond leaves coming out of it.  The ornate door lamp is nice and economical... just what you need to suggest such a light, no need to elaborate.

Also we get a look at what today we can only think of as an Ikea sofa in the living room.  Early 60s furniture was "space age," spare and modern.  Few lines.  Lots of kidney shapes.  Spare and economical... just like the H-B background art. 

Lots of So. Cal. homes were little more than a stucco box on grass.  You still see a lot of that today in older neighborhoods.  Much cozier, I think, then the stupid McMansions they mass produce these days: stupid big houses with weird, uncomfortable spaces.  Economically inefficient, ridiculously expensive, with big beige underutilized carpeted rooms that make no sense.

Early '60s tract homes were small and cleaned up well.  The backyards were cozy.  A fence, some flagstones, a patio and subtle outdoor lighting, just the place for an evening barbeque with cocktails or, during baseball season, a few beers.  Martin Denny playing softly on the stereo, men wore sport coats, women wore dresses or slacks.  That's how I remember So Cal.

A lot of folks worked in the aerospace factories, as I did myself as a young guy (in the early '70s... but I digress).  These people worked hard and lived relatively well.  Most stayed within their means, I think, although there did used to be lots of talk about trips to Vegas.  But overall life was good.

Well, for nostalgia's sake, here's one more:
This is my study based on a background painting by Scott C. Adams for a Mystery Incorporated (Scooby Doo) episode.  This is supposed to be Sheriff Bronson Stone's house that he shares with his mother.  This house would have been so completely in place in the neighborhoods I grew up in.

Although the original artwork is very recent and painted in Photoshop rather than gouache on thick paper, it continues a H-B theme to base their episodes in So. Cal.  Yeah, yeah, the town is called Crystal Cove and we're not supposed to know where it is... is it California?... is it Florida?... people, Crystal Cove State Park is just below Huntington Beach.  Right next to that is Laguna Beach.  Get it?  Crystal Cove is Laguna Beach.  It looks like Laguna Beach, it feels like Laguna Beach, and it's called Crystal Cove!!

I mean, how obvious!

Well, anyway, let's draw one of these suburban landscapes.

Next time.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Refer again to the Huckleberry Hound model sheet from the last post.  Top row, second from left.  Notice the arm and hand.  "Hand" is a term we're using loosely here because it appears the trunk of the arm resolves into a cluster of fingers.  There is an offsetting slant to define where the hand begins, but otherwise it's all fingers.

Our arm curvature and straight edge are in place, and the arm concludes in the "finger cluster."  Funny, huh?

I found an old H-B model sheet for Yogi Bear & Co. hands on the 'net.  This is actually pretty cool:
Let's take an especially close look at the reaching arm, right side second up from the bottom.  When we draw pay special attention to the proportions - they gave me a little difficulty:

Fingers are bulbous and loosely defined.  Almost carelessly drawn... but don't you believe it.  They are beautifully drawn, as you'll find out as you practice them.  It requires some skill to appear careless.

The more usual arm and hand that I've noticed in H-B cartoons is this one, which is considerably more graceful than the previous two examples:
Again, we maintain the front straight edge/ back curved edge to the arm but the hand is sharply defined and the fingers are slender and graceful.  You can study the example on the model sheet, right between Ranger Smith and the telephone.  (Dig the old rotary phone, by the way).

Practice the different hand poses from the model and get familiar with them.  As we draw projects they will be a good reference point until they are "internalized" and you can draw them spontaneously. 

This is a topic ... along with other basic cartoon body parts... that I'll return to again and again.  You can't draw them enough, you can't get too familiar with them.  I just wish I was a better artist but... ah, well...

Till next time.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Body Parts

Great name for a post, by the way.

Let's study our pal Huck for a minute.  Here's the barely legible model sheet:
Let's focus on the drawing at top row, second from left.  Here's a very quick and very rough sketch of everything but Huck's head (it's not necessary for this exercise) or his tail:
A little sloppy but you get my point.
To draw Huck we need to understand a few things about his "construction," so to speak.  First there is what I call the "body bean":
This is Huck's basic shape from his neck - hah! what neck?!! - down to the bottom of his torso... sorta like a bean.  Or a squash.
Now we need to connect different parts to this body bean.  The leading leg - in our picture, the left leg - has a distinct shape.  Here it is superimposed over the body bean:
There's a nice curve to it.  It's a very aerodynamic shape.  In relation to the torso - the bean - the legs are short.  Look at Huck on the model sheet; he's basically all torso and head with very short legs, large feet, surprisingly graceful arms that conclude in clumsy looking hands.

Then there's the matter of Hanna-Barbera style arms.  Note the curvature:
If you closed the ends it wouldn't be unlike an aircraft wing.  The front of the arm, or the leading edge, is always straight.  The back of the arm contains the curve which - as in this case - often intersects and completes the back edge of the torso.  Check out all your favorite HB funny characters from the early 60s... they all share these basic body shapes, leading leg shapes, and arm shapes.

The feet are also very similar.  They are very large in relation to the short legs and to the body bean.  They are soft looking, cuddly even, and completely non-threatening.  The only exceptions I can think of offhand are Yogi Bear and Wally Gator.  They both have claws, or nails, emanating from relatively small feet.  It wouldn't make sense to put cuddly feet on an alligator but a bear?  C'mon, haven't you ever heard of a teddy bear?? 
The end of the foot isn't round like a filled sock, it tapers.  There is the suggestion of a solid, shaped foot.  Toes are indicated by short lines.  The bottom of the foot is formed by a shallow curve. 

Practice drawing these feet.  I find them to be harder to draw than they might first appear.

Next sesh we concentrate on hands.  Till then!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Classic poses: see Benny the Ball run

[Fortunately no one reads this blog because I completely screwed up Benny's name and kept referring to him as "Benji."  Be kind to the elderly, gentle readers.  Allow us to babble away happily in a corner].

It is possible to have a funny, forward leaning running pose, as this poster demonstrates:
Lookit lil' Benji.  He's really leaning into his run and that looks funny as hell!

So let's count:

1) we have TC's "straight up and down" run, courtesy of the model sheet.
2) we have TC's cool run, courtesy of this poster.
and 3) we have Benji's "leaning into it" run, again courtesy of this poster.

And there's a couple other running poses here.  I've forgotten the name, but the olive green guy with th black scarf is actually leaning backwards while running. Choo-choo (I believe that's the correct name for the pink cat) is really working his arms while running.  And Brain is leaning forward while, similar to the model sheet, keeping his arms to his sides.

And look at Officer Dibble!  Now that's a funny pose. This poster is a virtual cornucopia of funny cartoon running poses!

Let's capture Benji's forward leaning run.  First I rough it out with blue pencil:
Then I refine the blue pencil so I have something I can ink:
Finally, I ink it and in this instance I added color so I could try out my new Wacom airbrush pen.

I'm not much good with that airbrush pen.  It works better in Photoshop than Sketchbook Pro - or at least, so the YouTubes say - and you can set the airbrush parameters.  As you can see I still have much to learn.

Well, we now have 3 running poses in our inventory.  That's enough for now.  Next sesh we go over some basics: Hands 'n Feet.  As we increase our inventory we'll re-visit the running poses but we'll try it with a different character.  We won't have a model sheet or poster to reference but we won't need it.  We'll have some standardized elements under our belt and that should get us through the exercise.

Please give lil' Benji a try and if you like the result, send it to me and I'll post it.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Classic poses: more running

Last night's exercise was fairly simple and I'm sure any of you who tried it did a good job.  You might be asking yourself: why would H-B use such a simple, silly pose for a running character?

It's lucky that it looks funny... hence, a cartoon... because probably the better reason is what was called "limited animation" or, as Iwao Takamoto insisted, "planned animation."  Because by the late 50s the studios no longer had the market or budget to produce theatrical trailers, they set their sights on producing cartoons for TV.  Cartoons are costly things to produce and thus clever minds - such as Joe Barbera - thought up ways to produce economically.

Consider: if you limit your animation drawings strictly to parts that move, you can re-photograph the static parts and superimpose the moving parts on separate cells.  With a figure that runs straight up and down you only need one drawing of the torso with the arms hanging at its side and use your animators to create moving legs and feet.  And even those would be photographed in cycles such that a couple seconds of animation might only require 8 or 10 drawings.  Compare that to theatrical features that might consume as many as 48 drawings for 2 seconds of film (in the costliest scenario).  Limited animation would represent huge savings, wouldn't you agree?

Now we start to understand the model sheets a little better.  The reason the models sheets look so tame is that they encourage the animators to use cost effective character poses.  Nothing too exciting, fellahs, time costs money!!

There is no such restriction, though, when artists use these characters in posters, comic books, Golden Books, and other projects.  And that explains why the comic book characters often bore no relation to the figure you saw on TV... with few exceptions.  Personally i always though Harvey Eisenberg stayed pretty true to character when he drew H-B comic books.

A long time ago I discovered a poster of Top Cat with Officer Dibble chasing Top and the gang and they adopted most un-TV-like poses.  Really funny poses but not the straight up and down kind in the model sheets.  I've extracted TC from the poster here:
Now this is nothing like the model sheet but it's still a funny pose.  The center of gravity is still off-kilter like the up and down pose... but to me this communicates a little more of TC's manipulative personality.

Drawing this figure was a hell of a lot harder than the model sheet pose.  I hope you try it.  Here's my initial blue pencil:
Man, this was tough!  I kept getting the proportions screwed up and even in this example he looks a little off-center.
Once I had him laid out pretty well I refined the blue pencil so I could ink it:
Finally, I used SketchBook Pro's brush # 2 and the steady stroke function (I know, I'm addicted to it) to produce this rendering:
I like the quality of thick/thin line using SBP's # 2 brush.  In fact, I'll probably be using this one for finish work from now on... I like it that much!!  Hyuck hyuck!!
Try it, guys and gals.  And don't get discouraged with this one because I admit it's tough.  But even if it comes out looking lopsided you'll learn something.

I didn't show you the entire poster because there are other great poses... especially Benji, he really looks funny.  So we can milk this poster for a few more practices.

Stay sane.  And stay tuned!

And please don't trace the original.  You learn very little that way.  Use your eyes and your sense of balance to build the character; draw slowly... so slowly it feels ridiculous.  That's the best way to control your lines.  Use deliberate motions and get your line angles right.  If they stray, Cntrl+Z and do it over again!