Friday, May 30, 2014

The Art of Speed Buggy

When my wife leaves the T.V. set on, it's tuned to a news channel.  When my father-in-law watches, it's tuned to basketball.  And when I watch... it's cartoons.

One Sunday morning I left it tuned to Boomerang and noticed a cartoon called Speed Buggy.  I wasn't terribly impressed by the cartoon itself but what caught my eye were the backgrounds.  Hand painted in the Peregoy tradition, all done with the usual Hanna-Barbera competence.

This series ran from 1973 to 1975 although  I never watched it.  At that time I imagined myself "too old" to watch cartoons.  Thankfully I've grown to become much younger because I watch tons of 'em now!

I ordered the Complete Series, a 4 DVD set, and last night I made some captures.  I have to say I am impressed.

The credits list Iwao Takamoto as the Creative Producer.  Character design is by none other than Jerry Eisenberg.  Production Design is credited to Bob Singer.  Thus far, classic HB.

I couldn't find specific credits for the background artists but the following are listed under Layout; unfortunately I have never heard of any of them... although apparently I should have:

John Aherm
Hak Ficq (yes, I am spelling that correctly)
Moe Gollub
Frank Gonzales
Adam Szwejkowski

A little research shows that this was one high-octane crew.  Nothing second-tier about this assemblage, no sirree!  You want great background paintings on demand?  These are the guys to pop them out!

These backgrounds are handled so deftly, so professionally... so beautifully!... that I can only be amazed.

This episode, Speed Buggy Falls in Love, has our intrepid auto and pals going to Eastern Europe - behind the Iron Curtain - to attend a race. 

Whereas I've got them out of sequence, what counts here is the beauty of the paintings.  When possible I isolated the background by itself.
The bad guys hole up in this classic decrepit warehouse.

Love struck Speed Buggy is lured into the bad guys' castle.

Classic Eastern European airport lobby.  Check out the marbling on the counter.  That takes some real brush skills.
...and contrast it to the sleek, modern American airport interior.

Here's the bad guys' castle.  Bad guys live in a castle?  These ones do!

The unveiling of their "sexy" car... the better to lure Speed Buggy to his demise.  Check out the detail work to the work bench and the stone walls.  And, man! check out the size of the hinges on that back door!!

Just a nice street scene.
Comin' to retrieve Speed Buggy.
A nice aerial view of the Eastern European auto race course.
There were dozens upon dozens of backgrounds painted for this episode.  This type of semi-realistic painting... in gouache, no doubt, because it had to be mounted behind a glass platen for filming and gouache is nice and flat... was done by what I can only describe as expert painters.  It was painting on demand: new scene, new paintings!!  Chop chop.  And this crew pumped them out.

Imagine the skill it would take to pop these paintings out on a schedule.  My guess is they were mostly based on photographs.  For instance, the "Eastern European" airport counter could just as easily be Union Station... or the Santa Fe station in San Diego.  And this shot of the airport exterior...

... looks an awful lot like Disneyland.

There was some stunning attention to detail regarding the stones set into the castle walls and arches:

The inevitable chase occurs.  Check out the countryside in this composite of the Speed Buggy making his getaway:

... I especially like the little roadside shrine.

When the airplane carrying our pals lands in this unnamed... or vaguely named... Eastern European country, it landed at an especially picturesque little airport:

Bear with the bits and pieces of the airplane.  Check out the airport.

When this episode was done, HB had a pile of these background paintings.  How much you want to bet that at some point they got sold on Ebay?

The painters must have worked around the clock to produce so many high quality backgrounds.  That kind of talent doesn't grow on trees, my friends, and I wonder if it really ever gets displaced by people who are crafty at Photoshop.  This was the old-fashioned way of doing it by people who were enormously talented and industrious. 

In my humble opinion... my very humble opinion... the quality of the background art outshone the story, the writing, and the horrible jokes.  This was just one episode; I haven't even scratched the surface in uncovering all the wonderful paintings to this series.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

First attempt at paint

[Note: whereas today animation backgrounds are likely to be painted in Photoshop or perhaps they will be a 3D model in Maya... at any rate, they are created in a computer... traditionally animation backgrounds were painted on thick Bristol paper by very skilled artists.  The medium used was gouache, or what some stores call opaque watercolor.

I want very much to learn about this medium but I've never painted anything.  So a-learning I must go.  Here's my first attempt... ]
I selected another of Peregoy's masterpieces, the magnificent mansion-on-a-rocky-isle from Scooby Doo, first season.

I recently purchased two sets of gouache; both sets are pan sets... you know, the sort of watercolor you used as a kid; the better to learn the medium without spending a lot of time messing with tubes.  And both offer pretty much the same 24 colors.  So why buy two?  Because one is produced in Germany (Pelikan Opaque Watercolor) and one is produced in Holland (Talens Opaque Watercolor) and each is used in the school systems of the respective country.  Had to try 'em both.  Both, incidentally, are relatively cheap.  Good, inexpensive way to gain some experience.

I figure by the time I go through 48 pans I'll know the medium pretty dang well.

Here's the finished product:
Hmmm... a house only Edgar Allen Poe could love.
... and here's the story.

Having never painted with gouache before... in fact, I've never seriously painted with any medium; I'm a complete novice to painting... I figured I'd go in stages.

Stage 1: I traced the composition but in the interest of time I left out the stormy sky and angry sea.  I was plenty busy with what you see before you, believe me.

Stage 2: I blew up the tracing and got the mansion as big as I could get it yet keep it to a 8.5 x 11 piece of paper and printed that.  I did the same for the island.  I keep the dimensions to letter size because that's what my scanner accepts.  Good little scanner, but not very big.

I then traced each element to a separate sheet of watercolor paper.

Now to paint my two paintings: the island and the mansion.

Stage 3: After painting those two elements, the result, to my mind, was less than impressive.  I'm still not very good at controlling opacity or the amount of pigment I put on the paper. 

So I accept something about my pan sets: since they aren't as opaque as I would like the technique is to keep building up the pigment and opacity.  Painting means repainting.  Eventually it will start to look like something.

Also, I was able to work in a few highlights with colored pencil and a little pastel.  So what I wound up with is a mixed media piece: gouache, pastel, and colored pencil.

Stage 4: scan and pull into Photoshop for some "compositing."  I had to create layer masks to remove the surrounding white paper, then set the island on a layer above the mansion.  A little resizing and it started to pop.  A colored background and a few highlights in SketchBook Pro and viola!!  ... mansion on an island!!

It might look a little more Kincaid than Peregoy... but I'm gettin' there!

Friday, May 16, 2014


Lately I've understood that if you're going to draw and paint digitally, it's wise to have at least some familiarity with physical medium.

My last couple of submissions were colored pencil "paintings" scanned into an art sofware and fixed up.  That's fine... although colored pencil is a hard medium to make it behave the way you like.  I'm finding out a couple of things: it's hard to mix colors with colored pencil, and probably you want to use a paper with very little tooth.  Otherwise the paper shows through and just wrecks the drawing.  Either that, or press real hard to "fill in" your colored pencil areas.  Or whatever... I'm no expert with colored pencil.

I have some opaque paints on order; they should be here any day day now.  I want to experiment with gouache and get some familiarity with it as that was the preferred medium for animation backgrounders.  

In the meantime I thought it would be interesting to experiment digitally to see if I could duplicate the gouache brush strokes of a Walter Peregoy background from Scooby Doo season one.  I selected one element from his "Skull Island" background, shown here:
This is NOT my rendition.  This is the original Scooby Doo background.
Here, then, is my digital interpretation of Peregoy's use of gouache in painting the actual skull formation.  I limited this exercise to only the skull and didn't attempt the other elements... although I reserve the option to come back to it sometime:
This is my rendition of only the skull element.
Pretty dang close, wouldn't you agree?

The dimensions are exact because I traced Peregoy's element and applied my digital paint to the pencil rendering.  The point of the exercise was to simulate the brush strokes and produce something that looked like it was painted in gouache.

The first thing I notice is Peregoy's use of dry brush.  This produces a nice, grainy texture... particularly in his night sky.  The digital brush, by comparison, is a bit of a one-trick pony.  I had other options in SketchBook Pro... there's a chalk texture that comes close... but the actual physical dry brush medium is hard to emulate.  Maybe in Corel Painter, perhaps.  But I'm limiting the exercise to SketchBook Pro because I think it's more than adequate to capture the actual skull formation.

I'm looking forward to experimenting with actual paint.

I have a collection of Peregoy Scooby Doo backgrounds that I've downloaded from various sources.  Peregoy was a master of spooky houses, terrifying castles, creepy night scenes, and other frightening imagery.  His interior scenes depicting stone walls were particularly effective. 

As blocky as the animation was to those first Scooby Doo episodes, as clunky as the dialog was and the flat jokes, I have a special fondness for them that's probably based on the effective use of background paintings.  They were top-notch!

Today's digital backgrounds are vastly more finished-looking and much more detailed, particularly in the hands of some of the geniuses they hire in animation studios these days.  But I think everyone has an appreciation of the "old fashioned" way of doing it, of assigning some top notch artist a background and then watching the magic he or she would create with thick Bristol paper and paint.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Again With the Colored Pencil!

I took our Mr. Mayor, traced him to some decent drawing paper, and colored him in with colored pencil.

"This time," I thought to myself, "I want to show the texture of the pencil."  Well, that didn't work out so well.

By showing the "texture," I thought that meant coloring lightly so the air showed through the pigment.  Nice and grainy, I thought, how artistic.  Instead, I wound up with some sort of pointillist nightmare that just looked horrible.

Well, things don't "pop" with colored pencil unless (a) you seriously know what you're doing, which I don't, or (b) you pull it into a graphics software and start figuring out how to fix it.  That's what I did and I think things really did "pop."
To fix things my thinking went this way:

  1. The air showing through the pencil coloring wouldn't be so bad if the color of the paper showing through was decent.  Sort of like the way pastel painters use colored paper.  To make that happen, you scan in the drawing and set it to a layer and make the blend mode "multiply."
  2. That works for some parts of the drawing, not for others.  The white of the eyeballs, the cuffs, the shirt all disappeared, which is to be expected.  Placing a layer beneath the original you can easily restore the lost white.
  3. Overall, though, a "multipied" layer needs color (or, as I found out, colors) to adhere to.  So I created a duplicate of the original layer, got rid of everything except Mr. Mayor, and now set that layer to Protect Transparency.  Now you can experiment with your colors under your character and see what color makes the upper layer "pop."  For me, the pants were hard because they were supposed to be light purple but I had them too dark.  With some experimenting I got a nice gaberdine grey... I think.
  4. Lines, shading, and highlights were all done to separate layers above the original.
Now it makes sense.  Now it "pops." I like the notion of building digitally on a physical drawing.  I wasn't expecting it to be so much work... but that's how we learn.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Gal in A Cowboy Hat... in Colored Pencil

Same project, but this time I used my new Artograph Lightpad and traced the design to a decent piece of watercolor paper.  Then I used colored pencil.
The Lightpad worked like a charm, incidentally.  

I scanned the picture and brought it into Photoshop to make some layers, do some clean up (I had smeared colored pencil all over the place; I know nothing about the medium), and to do a little color adjusting (I increased the reds to counter a washed out look... due to my color choices).  Finally I brought it into SketchBook Pro to do some line work and a tiny bit of shading.

Physical medium finished digitally.  Whatta concept.  Trust me, the actual picture was nowhere near this finished looking.... I'm very sloppy with actual "stuff."

Thursday, May 8, 2014


Time for another Shane Glines creation:
Here's the progression from initial construction "squiggles" to finished drawing:
This was a tough one to get right.  As you can see, I was having issues with the initial angle of the legs and  the placement of the right arm.  Glines has her really leaning into it.  That's the hallmark of good character design and good cartooning, I suppose, that the poses are exaggerated.

My instinct is to have characters standing straight up and down.  I was raised on Hanna Barbera funny animal cartoons, after all, and they always stood straight up and down.  We've discussed the reasons why... the artists at HB were the best in the business but time was money and within the confines of limited animation character poses were kept sedate.

If these guys stepped out for an evening life drawing class, though, at the local community college I'm sure they captured the twists and angles of actual, flexible poses. 

Here's my quick analysis of her ratios:
Remember that Tinkerbell was about 4.5 heads tall.  This little gal is approximately 5 heads high.

From her tippy toes to her waist (BTW - I misspelled it "waiste") is 3 heads, from her waist to the top of her head is 2 heads.  Width wise, well she never exceeds 1 head.  Even at those hips.  Her head, though, is a wide cartoon-head... which is what makes this character look so dang cute.

Maybe the magic ratio is 2/5 (head to waist) to 3/5 (waist to toes).  It sure works here.

Incidentally, I love the shape of the hands, especially the hand and fingers holding that rope.  Superior cartooning, Mr. Glines, superior cartooning.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Drawing with Shapes: Some Side-by-Side Composites

Here are a few composites for your contemplation... food for thought before we soldier on and draw some more characters.  That, and I think these composites look cool!
Winsome Witch riding a broom
Winsome Witch chasing after something(/one)
The "Space Gal"... oooo la la !!
Boog in his natural state...
Boog, good 'n pissed off about somethin'!!
I would have thought the Space Gal would be the hardest to draw... one messed up shape and it's immediately noticeable.  But Boog, despite the simplicity of his basic "hot dog" shape (someone at work suggested it looked more like a Twinkie...yeah, I'll go along with that), was the hardest for me to get just right.  And it's still debatable how well I've got him.

So now let us continue examining the design and the basic shapes of more characters.  Later!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Drawing with Shapes... Angry Boog!

Eric Robles has a composite sheet on Tumblr showing the many poses of Boog... the guy with the Frosty cup on his head... from Fan Boy & Chum Chum.  Here's another great one:
Basic hot dog shape
Add the oversized arms and tiny legs and feet (it took me forever to get that right!)
Add some details...
...more details
Lookin' like Boog!
Slather on the air brush shading and viola!