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.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Project Five: lookit me! I'm a designer... so to speak

I'm taking the blue pencil set design to "new heights"... well, new to me at least... by starting with a simple element and figuring out how to design it.

The word "cartoon" is often used to say, "Not to be taken seriously."  Odd, because I have seen breath-taking artwork in cartoons that I take very, very seriously.  Good cartoon backgrounds are serious art: (incidentally,Walt Peregoy later became the Scooby Doo show's first art director).

One thing i like are old clapboard houses.  They are all around the country but it seems in Southern California they are slowly vanishing as they are bulldozed in favor of "development."  Such is progress.

I took a spin on Google Maps to see where I might find a nice juicy clapboard house and in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, I came across this one:
The dual doors tell me this is probably a rental.  Hope the tenants treat this place well.
Pretty cool, huh?  Kinda has it all.  Dutch lap siding, porch with wraparound awning, wooden steps, railing, the works.

Now this pic is so loaded with perspective that if all I did was trace it and Ta-Da! check out my clapboard house!, not so good.  The perspective is so alarmingly distorted.  Well, I'm not a big fan of when people load their camera pictures into Photoshop or Corel or whatever and simply apply an "oil painting" filter.  It looks.... again, to me... phony.  I prefer to draw the house.  I prefer that you draw the house.  I prefer that we all draw the house.

That's not to say we don't want to first create a guide.  We want to lose the crazy amount of perspective in this pic and we want to emphasize those things that make this house interesting.

Photoshop allows you to play around with the perspective and to change the dimensions.  Thus we can take an ordinary photo of a house and transform it into something we cartoonists can use.

After really messing with it I came up with this:
...same house but now it doesn't appear as if we're looking through the wrong end of a telescope.  I also increased the height to make it seem a little more imposing. This has actually become a pretty cool looking pad.

Next, I created a blue pencil guide:

Note that I changed a duplex into a "one-plex."
Why make a guide? you might be asking.  Why not just trace the corrected picture?  Well, funny things happen when you trace.  Your focus is on tracing and not on the overall composition... and it always seems to show.  Don't trace, draw.

This is just the guide, don't forget.  I did this in stages.  Houses, after all, are a series of boxes set in, beside, or atop one another.  By using the photo to justify my perspective angles - every vertical line in this one is straight up and down, no variations - I created my boxes with sloping roofs and got something that is pretty true to the picture.  I might be off by a bit but that's what makes it a drawing.

Incidentally, I created each box in its separate layer so that a bad decision in one box was easily correctable and didn't translate into a disastrous decision for the whole composition.  It was time consuming but this is how we learn.

Now don't forget this is a clapboard house.  Meaning I have to draw... or at least imply... all those clapboard slats in the siding.  That makes for a perspective headache.  You ever drawn a picture where your lines are nicely in perspective when you start and wildly out of whack when you finish?  What's a cartoonist to do?

Well, Photoshop also has an answer for that.  It might seem like cheating... but if you think the backgrounders at Nicktoons are above using it due to professional scruples... well, dream on.

Photoshop permits you to impose a perspective grid.  You can make is as fine or as large as you want.  By establishing a vanishing point (hence the name, Vanishing Point tool) you can keep all points in your plane in perspective.  Let's see it in conjunction with the facing plane of our house:
Amazing, isn't it?  No clapboard slat can escape me!  And what is especially gratifying is that all my major lines appear to conform to overall perspective.  This guide is starting out as very legit.

So what comes next?  Now we draw.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Dreamworks drawing tutorials

Some interesting stuff here:

The thing I notice is all these drawing tutorials are done in Photoshop.  I've also noticed Nicktoons job postings for storyboarders and backgrounders where they emphasize your Photoshop skills.

So I guess the moral of the story, boys 'n girls, is the studios look for people who can draw in Photoshop.  It's more cumbersome than SketchBook Pro but there are a bunch of tools uniquely available to you in Photoshop: masks, gradients, great transformation tools, superior selection tools (allowing you to modify and fine tune your selections), layer grouping...etc. etc. etc.

If Photoshop is too expensive for you... and soon it will not be available as a separate download, you'll have to subscribe to the whole Creative Cloud enchilada (*... you might want to look into Corel Painter (

I own Painter 12 and I'll be honest, I don't enjoy it as much as Photoshop or SketchBook Pro.  However, it has its own version of most the Photoshop tools.  It's good stuff but, in my experience, a little harder to manipulate.  But that might just be me.

Painter 12 is software for people who like hardware.  That is to say... it's supposed to digitally mimic the actual experience of painting and drawing in different medium.  And it is true... you can produce works that really look like they were produced in oils, or chalk, or watercolor, etc.

I don't use it all that often but I intend to keep it updated... and I'll buy into any future versions.  Hey, as a registered owner I should get a price break.

It doesn't cost anywhere near as much as Photoshop so, overall, it's something to think about. 

Here's something else to think about.  One way to break into Painter 12 so that the experience doesn't seem overwhelming is to first buy ArtRage.  Extremely affordable and I have seen people do some amazing things in ArtRage.  Get used to ArtRage, decide whether you're ready for Painter 12.  But if you're going to buy Photoshop better do so quick... because that product is only going to get a whole lot more expensive.

*By the way, if you - like me - think compelling a subscription to Creative Cloud so you can use Photoshop is a bad idea, here is one way to make your voice heard: Eliminate the Mandatory Creative Cloud Subscription Model

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bird's eye view of tall buildings

Four different ways of seeing it:
A panorama of buildings against the skyline from Top Cat...
Intense "directly under the helicopter" perspective from the PowerPuff Girls... notice the cars are on their sides (...?)
Looking down on Bedrock...
...and probably the most intense perspective of them all from Mighty B!  Very similar to the scene from PowerPuff Girls but this one looks like a fall would hurt you.
All of the examples above are excellent perspective studies.  We're going to try one of these in the near future... but first:

The folks who draw the backgrounds... the blue pencils... and who then submit them to the background painters are called designers.  There is a very interesting subdivision of labor in an animation studio.

When a show is sold to sponsors, part of the package is in how the show looks.  An appealing show attracts viewers, who in turn watch the advertising and then purchase the sponsors' products, and then everyone makes a ton of dough.  That's how it should work.

The studio utilizes art directors to supervise the project and ensure design consistency.  The clever art director knows to use his or her people effectively.  Thus, what would be the point of having someone produce superior background designs and then insist that they must also paint them?  You'll wear these people out... and they are vital to the continued success of the project.

Instead, let the designers concentrate on what they do best: design.  Then turn over the designs to the painters who do what they do best: color and texture.  Now everyone's working efficiently.

Here's a blog from one professional who describes the process: Arte del Frederico

Check out the bus stop project.  That's going to be the basis of our next project... first we're going to act like designers and blue pencil a set (as you can see, virtually any mundane scene can be made "artistic.")  Then we're going to act like painters and paint the set.

I am very much looking forward to this.  Sharpen yer digital pencils; clean yer digital paint brushes... here we go!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Harvey Eisenberg shows us how to draw trees

As mentioned in the last post, Harvey Eisenberg used to draw the HB Yogi Bear newspaper comics.  Because Yogi lives in the forest... Harvey drew a lot of trees.  He got really, really good at it.  Here's my best effort to show you his technique:

Start with a basic shape for the trunk... nuthin' fancy...

Darken your pencil lines...
Suggest a little texture...

All you need are squiggly lines for foliage...

Add 'em together and it starts to look like a tree!...

For the area around the roots we can draw some vaque mound-like shapes...

...and then define the edges.

Remove your "mound guides"... mound-like bushes.  Huh!  Whatdya know?

Distant pines can be squiggly triangular configurations...
Straight lines suggest "off in the hazy distance."  I lightened my pencil and used the SHIFT key to make more or less random straight lines...
... erase what you don't need...
You can use the same trick for distant mountains.  Also please note I add a few hazy "off in the distance" pines to the left side of our picture.
I'm using a pencil tool in SketchBook Pro for my "pencil rendering."  I add a little of the Space parameter... just a little... to suggest a rough sketching pencil.  By flicking the color puck you can increase and decrease the opacity, allowing you to draw with lighter or darker lines.

Remember, no intersecting lines between foreground and background.  The background should always give way, suggesting distance.

This is a great exercise I'm sure you can do better than me.  Give it a try!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

HB Characters: as drawn by Harvey Eisenberg

Harvey Eisenberg was involved in the making of cartoons since the 1920s.  He eventually worked with HB, working in layouts and other such things, and eventually drew the Yogi Bear newspaper comics... both daily, Sunday, and single panels.

He also drew a ton of HB comic books.  His son Jerry also worked for HB from the early 60s until the late 80s.  Harvey died in 1965; his son recently did an interview for Yowp!

Personally, Harvey Eisenberg is one of my favorite cartoonists.  Whereas his earlier works incorporated the rounder, much more action packed style of the times when he got the HB gig he adapted his style quickly to suit their tamer material.  I've always loved the result.  Refer to Yowp! for loads of examples of his newspaper comic work.

I found an auction site selling several of Harvey's pencil roughs... "rough" is a funny word.  Eisenberg was so meticulous that his "roughs" are several orders of magnitude better than anything I could ever do.  But these roughs, set up for the inker, now collect a pretty penny.  Unfortunately I can no longer find that auction site... maybe they found out guys like me were downloading the displays rather than buying the product (believe me, if I were a wealthy man I'd buy all the Harvey Eisenberg pencil roughs and frame each of them!)

Here are a few of my impressions of Harvey Eisenberg's impressions of HB characters:
Have you ever seen a more cute, adorable Boo Boo Bear?

I call this "guy with hitler mustache."  That look was at one time much more common than now.

Ranger Smith with a stylish hat.  Didn't know the Park Service offered them that way.

Yogi Bear nice and comfortable against some rocks.  If you try drawing this one notice the drape of the tie.  It has to drape naturally in conformity with gravity and the rather rotund contours of Yogi's ample stomach.  If it lays out straight down it'll look like either (a) it's glued to Yogi's body or (b) the laundry used too much starch.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Project Four: Spray on a coat of shellac

I'm going to stop here for now...
...because I'm spending too much time monkey-d%cking with the shading and losing sight of the project.  Which is to demonstrate simplicity in backgrounds.

Similar to the original I put some visual "noise" in front.  Don't ask me why.  Maybe it's better just to have a simple, clean picture.

Frankly I'm not so crazy about the translucent squares on the background hills to represent buildings.  To me they look eerily like tombstones.  So there are things I like and don't like about this Mighty B! background.

I do like how it's a ramshackle group of several buildings pushed together at odd angles.  I do like the simplicity of the background hills, basically a squiggly line with one side painted green.

I have this thing about "anatomically correct" shadows that actually aren't so correct.  Maybe they add to the picture, maybe they detract.  In any case those aren't in the original.  Probably a wise decision on the behalf of the professional backgrounders.

So let's return to our original thesis which is that effective backgrounds are simple enough that they don't distract from the action but finished enough that they add depth and congruous emotion to the cartoon.  Here's what I've learned: the background should be as much fun to look at as the cartoon characters themselves.

As for this picture we'll put it on the shelf to allow the paint to dry.  We aren't done with it yet; it shall return.  Oh yes indeed.  Stay tuned.